Jumping Headfirst Into a Newsroom With Almost No Experience—Blog
Of all the ways I expected this year to end, sitting in the heart of a newsroom listening to a dozen police scanners sound off simultaneously was not one of them.
Just 10 days ago, I finished up a wonderful internship with NBC 7 (KNSD). After seven months with their investigative team, I spent a grand total of three minutes in their newsroom. Since the internship was virtual and the company had strict COVID policies for “guests,” I had to be snuck in by very eager colleagues who wanted me to see what it was like at least once before I left. (Shoutout to redacted for making that happen! Hope NBCUniversal doesn’t smite you for such a heinous act…)
Being in that newsroom was inspiring, which is why it was beyond exciting to be offered a job with ABC 10 (KGTV) as a part-time Associate Producer. Even though I’m in my junior year of college, I can actually work in a real newsroom every day!
On top of getting to work in-person, I also get to learn how to produce shows and manage the assignment desk. I had always heard the news business was stressful and busy, and so far that definitely seems to be the case. But even though I’m still in training, the job feels like it will be an enjoyable chaos. I feel like it will be rewarding.
Living the Stereotypes
Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s pretty cool to walk into the newsroom with a laptop under my arm and a cup of coffee in my hand. I feel like one of those old-fashioned muckrakers who will walk into work every morning saying something stereotypical and pretentious like “Oh my god, please do NOT speak to me until I’ve had my second cup!” It’s a small thing, but sometimes it’s nice to enjoy the mundane.
It’s also exciting that I have my own badge that scans me into the building! It feels so official as if I have “special clearance” even though literally everyone in the building has the same ID.
And as nerdy as it sounds, it’s almost surreal to see the anchors casually walking around the newsroom between shows. Some of these people I’ve been watching since I was a kid and my parents would have the news on, so when I’m working and suddenly see Steve Atkinson walk in front of my desk and smile I almost fall out of my chair.
Sitting in front of the police scanners is also a really cool feeling. Since I’m still training, I’m not required to sit near them, but I’ve been getting some of my introductory work done at the assignment desk so I can get used to the noise. I want to practice listening to the scanners in the background in case something important happens while I’m not paying attention.
Once I’m done training, I’ll likely be on the assignment desk weekend nights and helping produce Friday night. It’s a nice schedule especially as I’m starting since it’s usually less busy on weekends which will help me slowly get used to everything. I’m really excited to both AP and be on the assignment desk in just another week.
Learning to Produce
As someone primarily used to writing for print, I’ve had to quickly adapt and be able to write more conversationally. Writing for TV is a whole different animal, as it needs to sound good when spoken aloud, not just look pretty when a plethora of overly verbose expressions are utilized conjointly which conjures a pleasant reading experience but fails to materialize as intended when spoken.
Thankfully, I’ve had some experience with this by writing scripts for video packages and practicing broadcast writing in Jerry McCormick’s broadcast journalism class. This meant I was at least the tiniest bit prepared coming in.
On Wednesday I got my first chance to write a VO and prove myself. I was under no big time crunch as it wasn’t airing for several more hours, so I took my time and wrote the best twenty seconds I possibly could about Scott Peters announcing he was going to run for reelection.
It was absolutely terrible and was almost entirely torn apart. But thankfully, I learned a lot from failing so miserably! I was able to figure out what it was I did wrong, as well as what I did right. While my writing for that VO wasn’t tight enough, I did have some good ideas for it I’m proud of and were actually used. For example, given Peters will be running in the newly redrawn 50th district, I figured we could reference that and put a map of it on the screen to remind viewers the district was changing. Michael Rozzen, who I’ve been shadowing, really liked the idea! So even though that first attempt at a VO was a train wreck, I still learned a lot from it and have only been improving.
By the next day, I had practiced more and written a few VOs and VOSOTs I was proud of and didn’t need many changes. So all in all I’ve made decent progress three days in!
Learning the Assignment Desk
Perhaps the most fun I’ve had is learning every facet of the assignment desk. It certainly is a lot of info to have thrown at me all at once, but I’ve been absorbing everything the best I can!
For one, it’s really helpful to be learning from a couple of assignment desk legends. On my first day I had a wonderful conversation with Brad McLellan who has been with ABC 10 on the assignment desk for decades, and is the best of the best in the news business. He gave me a lot of great advice, and after speaking with him, my confidence leaped up a ton.
One of the coolest parts of this job in my opinion is getting to juggle where to send reporters in the event of breaking news. On the weekends it’s usually just one reporter since things are slower, but it still is awesome getting to use news judgement to determine what is most important on any given day and being able to handle developing situations.
Because I had a lot of experience speaking with PIOs from various different police departments at NBC 7, in a way I feel right at home on the assignment desk. Even though most PIOs are off on the weekends, I think I’ll enjoy calling dispatchers and watch commanders to find out more when important things are happening. I like being the main source of what’s going on for the rest of the newsroom! Sure, it’s a lot of pressure and you’ll often get blamed if some big story is missed, but I think I’m ready to be thrown into it and keep up with all the emails, phone calls, police alerts, etc.
I’ve been doing a lot of this training with Melissa Alexander, who is another assignment desk legend who spent years doing the job herself! (She even trained under Brad!) I’ve appreciated the confidence she has in me which has been really helpful as I begin to learn more details of the job.
It’s only been three days!! A lot of times I’m over-critical of myself and the rate at which I’m learning and improving, but I think it’s a good sign that I feel like I’ve been training for weeks but it’s only been a few days.
I go back into the station tomorrow to begin shadowing Michael Rozzen some more, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things! So far this experience has been really fun, and I’m hoping I keep learning a ton about the news business that will help me with future endeavors.
But for now, I’m so lucky to be where I am!