As we watched in shock at the disasters of recent hurricanes, devastating floods and forest fires around the globe, I found myself feeling defensive of the on-scene reporters.
As Hurricane Ida swept through Louisiana and we saw dozens of broadcast journalists out in the elements the Facebook chirpers were saying things like: “Duh, we know its raining. Why are these idiots out in the storm to prove it?”
Here’s why: So, you don’t have to be.
Hopefully to prove the point you shouldn’t be.
To give out the emergency numbers you will need if you are stuck in it.
These are the storytellers. They are painting the pictures and asking the questions for the good of the general public. They do it, in most cases, for lousy pay. The hours are brutal. It is hard work and it's quite often disrespected and unappreciated.
Journalism, in all its forms, is a calling. It’s somewhat like first-responders who run into a dangerous situation while the rest of the population is running out.
Journalists also run toward the danger because that’s where the story is.
Aside from that, these reporters have assignment editors and news directors telling them to “head into the eye of the storm.”
I have a feeling they didn’t wake up that morning hoping to slip on some stylish hip boots and wade through snake-infested floodwaters.
I can recall a few incidents from my own career that illustrate the less-than-glamorous life of a reporter.
I worked in London, Ont., for a few years and we had this news director who demanded that every report we did from the street have ambient sound. He felt it made it sound more like we were actually there.
If we covered a meeting, he wanted crowd noise in the background.
Once I went to a silent protest. That was going to cause a problem. It was silent. Every time I tried to tape a report, I got shushed.
His premise made sense to a point since we were in radio, which tells its story through sound.
Other times, it was just ridiculous.
Many times, when reporting on a story about how the transit system was raising rates, you’d find a reporter taping a report from behind an idling bus, choking from the exhaust fumes, trying to get that live broadcast with background sound. We may have gotten carbon-monoxide poisoning, but it sounded good!
I will never forget the time I was sent door to door in the pitch black of early morning to find homeowners who would comment on the tax hike voted in the night before at city council.
Let me just tell you, most people hadn’t even heard about the decision yet at 5 a.m. They certainly didn’t want to hear about it from some complete stranger standing on their porch with a microphone! One lady actually did invite me in, which was shocking, but she really didn’t have time to do an interview as her dog was sick. I realized that, too, when the puppy barfed on my shoe.
How’s that for ambient sound?
Me: “How do you feel about the tax hike?”
Dog: “barf sound"
Sums it up pretty well.
There was another time when a London neighbourhood was put in lockdown because of a gunman holed up in a residential home. I was sent to the scene to do live cut-ins. Trouble was, aside from the general direction, we didn’t know where the gunshots were coming from.
Police had cordoned off the general area, but it wasn’t known exactly which house the guy was in. I remember cowering behind the open door of the news cruiser trying to figure out what was happening. Every so often, I got the sound of the sporadic gunfire.
I will never forget the news director suggesting I get closer to the gunfire so they could hear it more clearly on the air.
It was at that exact moment something in me snapped.
I remember getting on the (old-school) walkie-talkie and suggesting that he didn’t pay me enough to get closer to gunfire and maybe he would like to come down and take my place.
I recount these stories just as an example to remind you that reporters are just doing a job they’ve been told to do. They are put in situations they may not want to be in.
So, instead of mocking the journalist who is being blown away in a wind storm, maybe take a step back and appreciate they are doing what you would not want to do in places you would not want to go.
I respect those who do the job.