Tuesday, October 25, 2005

And there was no sound

Today's news radio class was a disaster; we went to air with nothing but SILENCE.

Let me first explain the way the class works; twice a week, we are asked to produce, as a team (ranging from 5-8 people), a 15 minute newscast for radio. We are in the newsroom from 9am until the newscast goes to "air" (we're not really on the radio, but record the show as if we were) at noon.

We have been producing newscasts for the past few weeks - there are better ones than others. Mistakes happen, things don't go according to plan, the show is a little shaky, but it's part of the learning curve. Today, was by far, the most frustrating experience I've had yet.

I had the role of assignement editor today, essentially deciding what goes to air, how and who will do it. Not an easy job, I must say. Today, we had, I belive, a great lineup of stories: Story of a Canadian that just came back after being stranded in Cancun after WIlma hit / Concordia teachers asking for better equity / Streeter on Rosa Park's death / Debrief on why students over 25 cannot get transport rebates for the bus and metro / Report on why English schools are so empty...etc.

Essentially, things were going great - I checked up on everyone a few times during the morning, gaging where people where at with their stories. Everyone told me, things are coming along - I'll be ready. Some even asked me for a little more time. I tried to accomodate as much as I could. 11;30 rolled around, time where ALL scripts should be on the table for the announcers to look over - there was only 2 or 3 stories. Things started to unravel....11:45am - our biggest story (the hurricane survivor interview) was not ready, the editorial was being written on the fly, the printer was going crazy, the debrief wasn't ready....Panic set in...

11:55 - I tell everyone - there is 5 minutes to air - Announcers, grab whatever is on the table, and go. But noon came and music for the intro played....onto dead air. Oh it was dreadful! I felt like a complete failure, not having been able to lead the group to create, what couls have been a great newscast.

Everyone's news piece was potentially great - and al of it was wasted by not going to air. We worked our butts off for 3 hours and then, nothing.

The teacher, was obviously furious. I can't blame him. I take this class as the real deal - if this were my job, I would have been fired for what happened today, not doubt about it.

So what happened?

A few things: 1. one person, in charge of lineup editing, never showed up to class today (???) 2. People assuring me that everything was ok - they were going to produce their piece. I never felt so helpless, not being able to put something on air because they were still working on it. 3. People constantly asking to change the length of their piece - after times have been pre-established so everyone gets their time on air.

Now, I am as much to blame for the disaster as anyone else. Should I have given this big story to my announcer, when she should have focused on copy stories? Why didn't I prepare the headline / weather sheet / intro - extro right from the start? Should I have forced people to submit somethign for 11:30am or threaten to cut the story altogether?

To be sure, this is a group effort, as much as it is a group failure - we are all somehow responsible for making the castle crumble. I am upset that all this work was "wasted", but I know I am learning from my mistakes - better now than to get fired on my first job!

The teacher was harsh, yes, but as journalists, we must be able to take criticism. If hundreds, or thousands of people will read, listen to or watch our reports, it is in the public eye for dissection. People will remember your mistakes. Let's just hope one of my mistakes will never lead to dead air actually happening at a TV or radio newsroom. My reputation and credibility is on the line.


Anonymous wendy said...

Hey Melanie,

Once again (because I CANNOT stress this enough, and anyone who's ever been in the position of AE who was watching you today knows) you did a GREAT job today. You did everything you could have done, I think - what more can you do to "demand" from your reporters how long everything is gonna be and when it'll be done - start threatening to cut them in ways that'll make 'em useless to a woman? Lasso your announcers and drag them into the booth?

Seriously though, short of physical torture, I don't know what else you could've done.

I can only speak for myself, but I know I'm still at a stage where I don't have an exact feel for the clock yet, and I can't accurately estimate how long reports will take (factoring in technological difficulties, human limitations and the like), and thus, I try to do too much in too little time.

Which is what happened to me today.

I think it was like that with a lot of this morning's stories. People say, "Yeah, it's coming along great!" when they don't know the difference between five and fifteen minutes.

So, although I'm loathe to admit it, I think today was a good learning experience. It helped us learn (hopefully) that we always need to be vigilant of the ticking clock. I'm sure it's a skill one develops over time through actually doing it and facing the stress and frustrations of deadlines.

And as you pointed out, an 'F' is much less of a bitter pill to swallow than a firing. Which leads me to wonder, what did reporters in radio newsrooms DO before there was a class like this? Not make mistakes? Get fired? I know we all like to hash and re-hash the J-school's shortcomings, but it is a relief to be able to make mistakes without any consequences more severe than a pissed-off prof and a bad grade.

5:09 PM  

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