Wednesday, October 1, 2008

REPORTER BLOG: Great Conversation Doesn't Require Batteries

Danielle Sills

Broadcast journalists have to worry about a lot more than perfect grammar. In addition to the standard skills that all journalists need to function, people in the broadcast field must know the technical side of things - how to connect a microphone to a camera, how to edit video clips, and yes, even how to attach a battery to a video camera.

But attaching a battery to the camera is difficult... if you forget to bring it with you. And sometimes, in the shuffle of things, you are bound to forget even the most necessary of tools.

This happened to Carlyn and me when we were reporting on Homecoming Weekend's "green" theme. Surprise, surprise. Like I said, it was bound to happen sometime. Luckily, in this case, forgetting the batteries was a blessing in disguise.

How Did We Cope With No Batteries?
Life is full of surprises. Even small ones, like forgetting something vital to the task at hand. Carlyn and I arrived at the Office of Sustainability and started setting up for our interview with Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus. And then - surprise! - as we took out the camera we realized that it was sans batteries. So Carlyn ran back to the newsroom to grab a couple. I waited there in Marcus' office.

She was getting some work done and I dug out some homework to pass the time until Carlyn got back. But some way or another, Marcus and I got to talking.

Boy, Did I Wish I Had a Camera...
The conversation picked up rapidly. Marcus had a lot of fascinating things to say. I learned that she used to work in TV. She was putting together documentaries for networks like the Discovery Channel. When she went into the profession, she had passion for what she was doing. But the longer she worked, the more she felt like her work was "fluff."

Marcus said that at first, she felt as if the program she worked on exaggerated the truth and didn't give viewers the right impression of a situation or place. Things got increasingly worse. She ended up working on a program where she actually felt like she was misleading the audience. There didn't seem to be a purpose for her work anymore. Why was she putting together television that was distorting the truth? It got to the point where she didn't even have her own TV anymore.

Bonding Over Bad TV
Marcus and I haVE a lot in common when it comes to our views on TV. We both feel that the majority of the content is a general waste of time. How do so many people spend hours a day rotting in front of reality shows and over-produced programs? It's not that the programs don't look good, but the fact that they don't mean anything.

And Talk Leads to Green Living...
When we began talking about sustainability, I really wished I had a camera with a battery. The things Marcus said were so interesting, so "in the moment," so passionate. But I really do believe that a camera can get in the way of people speaking candidly and passionately about the things they love.

Marcus was explaining her frustration with the TV news. Many of the things she said are topics we have discussed in my journalism classes. When you are putting together a daily newscast, there's just not always time for things that really matter. We get to focus on the environment with stories like Homecoming Weekend's "going green" theme. Yet, what about every other day of the year? When there isn't something that is packagable for news, it isn't likely that a station or a class will cover the daily efforts of the Office of Sustainability because it's not "newsworthy."

It's understandable, but it's efforts from workplaces like this office that are working day in and day out to make a difference. Most of the time, we just don't notice. Or give it the time of day.

Someone Who Really Cares
I was really inspired by the work that Marcus and the Office of Sustainability do. There is nothing superficial or selfish about their goals. We've all met businessmen and businesswomen who are in it for the money, the presige, etc. None of that exists there. It's pure passion and working for a cause.

Who knows? If Carlyn and I hadn't forgotten the camera batteries, I might have never gotten a moment to get to know Marcus. Twists and turns and surprises are expected in journalism. You never know who you'll meet and what you'll learn. But that day I re-discovered that good conversation doesn't always require batteries.

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