Tuesday, June 06, 2006
And That's the Way It Is...
"You must do the things you think you cannot do."
Katie Couric has nothing to worry about.
I made my web video debut on Tuesday and that 6-6-6 date turned out to be quite fitting. It was hell on earth.
I'm a reporter for an online business news outfit and I've been threatening to do a video commentary for the site for several months.
Part of the problem, aside from cowardice, was the structure of my beat, which is pretty much meatball business journalism.
I write about stocks, any stocks, that are moving dramatically up or down.
Without a "normal" beat, where I cover one industry or sector, it gets hard to know particular companies. In the course of a day, I write about biotechs, mining companies, dotcoms, retailers, and anything else that looks remotely newsworthy.
I had seen other reporters do video spots and I was itching to try it. I had a chance to do live TV while I was at CNNfn.com, but I never took the opportunity and I always regretted it. Now I have a chance to do TV, of sorts, without the terror of going on live.
As a newspaper reporter, I have a built-in dislike for TV reporters. I always hated when they pulled up to a crime or accident scene in their big satellite dish vans, because they got all the attention and usually got it my way.
Nine times out of ten they would take newspaper stories, read them on the air, and pretend it was their “scoop.”
I knew a reporter for the Allentown Morning Call who used to do a dead-on impersonation of a local TV hack. He’d put on this intense mug, grip a phantom microphone, and intone, “behind me are a group of parents and they are...angry!”
I once covered a huge fire at service station in East Stroudsburg. The place was just consumed by the blaze and I could see flames leaping into the air as I drove to the scene.
I got hold of the owner, who, not surprisingly, was in a foul mood. It’s always tough conducting these interviews because every question sounds idiotic. You lost everything? Will you rebuild? Are you pulling an insurance scam?
I got a few quotes, talked to the fire chief and a few witnesses, and high-tailed it back to the newsroom to write my story. That night I watched the 11pm news out of Scranton and there was this pretty young thing telling viewers all about the awful fire in E-burg.
And then the service station owner comes on the screen and, golly, he was just so polite and helpful. He spoke in full sentences, not grunts, like I got, and he never glowered or growled at this cute little woman in the short skirt. Hmmm…do you suppose that had something do with it?
Okay, so that was years ago and I should be over my video bigotry (videotry?). We have a feature section that basically comes up with ways people who have money can burn through it faster.
I did one story about vintage posters, which was a lot of fun, and today they posted my article about expensive fountain pens.
In case you didn't know, you can blow a mess of cash on a freaking pen, if you so desire. I mean, like hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Like Mel Brooks said, it's good to be the king.
Have A Seat...
It was tough writing the story, since my daily routine chews up a lot of time, but I finally finished it, turned it in to my editor and then walked into the studio the way a condemned man walks the last mile.
The studio is slightly bigger than a broom closet and it was hotter than a Turkish bath. I took my seat in front of the teleprompter as Ryan, a young man who helps run the video department, switched on the lights. Ryan, who was great, by the way, did his best to put me at my ease.
Then he turned on the camera.
It was freaky. My voice, fueled by several cans of Diet Coke, came out all fast and wheezy. I had written the script that was now flashing before my eyes, but it suddenly looked like a foreign language.
I stuttered, I stammered, and as I sure as hell did not project, the way my old high school history teacher wanted me to.
The temperature seemed to rise with every word I read. I wanted to run back to my computer and resume my life as a word rat and leave video to the TV star boneheads who can't string two words together unless they're being piped into their ears.
Then it was over. I read the sign off and turned to look at Ryan. God bless him, he said I did a good job and gave me some tips for the future. Out of nowhere, he asked me what I had for lunch that day and we started talking about our favorite foods.
"You see," he said, "that's what it has to be like with you and the camera. You have to have a conversation with the camera."
It was good advice and I walked out of the studio, I swung by the desk of one our top video reporters and whispered, "Greenberg, watch your ass!"
I watched myself today—couldn’t get the sound to work—but from the look on my face you’d swear I had been taken hostage by Iraqi insurgents and was seconds away from my beheading.
The video was nicely assembled, with the Manhattan skyline in the background and images of fine pens appearing on the screen while I spoke.
I take back all the nasty things I’ve said about TV reporters. Well, no, actually, I don’t. I still think most of them are smiling androids with no talent and less brains, but I admit reading that teleprompter is harder than it looks.
I can’t wait to do it again.