Breaking news means rolling with the punches
I love covering breaking news. There’s something about the adrenaline rush of getting to a scene, trying to figure out what has happened, and talking to people who witnessed the events first hand.
On more than one occasion I’ve been deep into a story, when suddenly I get a call from the assignment desk to switch gears and head to something new. On this particular night, I was re-working a fire story I had reported on earlier in the day, adding some new witness clips for the late newscast. It was about 9:45pm and I was just about ready to start editing the report when we heard about a fire over the emergency scanners. Multiple crews were being called in to help, and my producer and assignment editor began discussing whether I should drop my story and head to the scene. It was about an hour away and I was the only night reporter on shift. Finally, we heard that the location was the same place a massive fire had occurred almost exactly a year ago, so the decision was made. I flew out the door, loaded my camera gear, and headed out onto the dark country roads.
A big part of being a good news reporter is time management. You can shoot the greatest video and get the most compelling interview, but it’s all for naught if you don’t make your deadline. I did the math and figured by the time I arrived I would have about 45 minutes to shoot video, find someone to interview, write a script, send it all back to the station, and set up for a live hit at 11:30pm. It was going to be tight. But everyone was now relying on me to get the lead story for our late newscast, and I wasn’t about to let them down.
10:45. I managed to get to the scene without getting lost and thankfully the assignment desk had sent my colleague to help shoot video. He arrived a few minutes after me and began shooting, while I tried to find someone to interview. I stopped two women coming out of one of the offices and they told me their father owned the plant. He came out and gave me an interview explaining they’d had another fire a year ago almost to the day and that one had gutted the plant, shutting their business down. They were still rebuilding from that, and were planning to reopen in February when this fire broke out on the roof. No one was hurt, but it would set them back another month.
I thanked him for his time and ran back to my van to call the station with the information, while my colleague began sending back the video to be edited.
11:07. I began typing script on my phone as fast as I could, my fingers numb and nose running from the cold. The adrenaline was rushing and I knew I had only a few minutes to get it done and get it right. Even when time is limited, there is no room for error. I emailed the script back to my producer, then cued up the interview with the owner, watching it back to find an excerpt to use. I picked a short clip, and my colleague sent it back to the station.
11:23. We positioned ourselves on the side of the road with fire trucks and activity behind me for our live shot. My colleague tested the signal as I read over my script, and tried to catch my breath after all the running around. I plugged my earpiece into my phone and dialed the number for the control room. Suddenly my phone froze. Then it turned off.
11:27 “Ginella? They’re asking for a mic check. Can you hear the control room?” My colleague was trying to get my attention.
“Uhhh… my phone just died,” I informed him.
His eyes widened. “Crap. Do you want to use mine?”
“It had my script on it.”
“Oh, no.” We shared a panicked look. “Guys, Ginella’s phone just died. Can someone email her script to my phone?” He shook his head. “No one’s answering.”
I knew they were probably dealing with their own issues in the control room this close to show time. I would have to solve this problem myself. To say I was stressed would be a massive understatement.
11:29. “We’re a minute away,” he informed me. “What can I do? Do you have a charger?”
I shook my head, knowing we were running out of time and out of options. I couldn’t bear the thought of being the reason this story didn’t make it to air.
“Forget it. I’m just going to have to wing it,” I concluded, reality setting in.
The thought was terrifying. I always had script as a security blanket. Going live without any notes to refer to was like being in the ocean without a life raft. It was something I’d never done before, and was always scared it would lead to me falling flat on my face.
“Okay,” he said. “I'll cue you. 30 seconds.”
In the dark, all I could see was the bright light of the camera. My heart was racing. I tried to steady my breathing and remember everything I’d written. Focus, I told myself. Just tell them what happened.
“You’re in the box.”
I looked straight at the camera and nodded, knowing the anchor was speaking to me, though I couldn’t hear her.
“The owners were still rebuilding after last year’s fire, but tonight crews arrived to find the roof engulfed in flames…” I rattled off everything I could remember and threw to the clip with the owner.
“We’re clear,” I finally heard.
I let out a huge sigh and clutched my chest. “That was really scary.”
"One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do."