Feb 26, 2011

What it's like to work in the CBCNS newsroom

For the past two weeks I backfilled as a reporter at CBC News Nova Scotia. It was a wonderful time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Although I've worked at CBC on and off for the last three years, freelancing and associate producing on Information Morning, this is the first time I have been in the newsroom as a daily general assignment reporter. For that matter, it's the first time I've returned to daily news since I was at the Chronicle Herald five years ago.

I was told that the pace was fast, and that's true, but after a couple of days it settled into a rhythm. Every morning at 9:15 there's the story meeting. We sit around the boardroom table, perhaps a dozen reporters, and the executive producer goes around the table, looking each one of us in the eye and asking the same question: "What have you got?" They did not give me any soft treatment on this: the new girl is asked the same question as the old hands. It's important to always be looking around, talking to people, and finding out about the world around you, because you want to be able to answer that nerve-wracking question with something good.

Then we go away and work on our stories for the day. Television reporters disappear, accompanied by cameramen. Radio reporters take their recorders out and start working the phones. Web writers start ingesting the stories as they come in, enlarging them and supplementing them with maps, timelines, or pictures for the website. Every hour the newsreader disappears into one of three studios to read the headlines. On every wall and many desks there are banks of televisions that are on constantly, tuned to different channels. There is a radio that gets turned on every afternoon to the competing stations so we can hear what they are doing. A large clock on the wall ticks out the seconds. Racks of video tapes (yes, we still use tape as backup - the quality is better) are fastened to the hall walls. The Radio-Canada reporters call across the room to each other in French (as I was seated near them, I discovered that my comprehension is better than I thought).

By 4:30, the cameras are back and TV reporters are flying in and out of the edit suites, getting their pieces put together and checking to make sure all their scripts and their 'supers' are right (those are the words overlaid on top of a person on screen identifying him as "Cnst. Joe Smith, RCMP").

Radio reporters file for the 4:30pm news, the 5:30pm news, or the next morning's news, depending on their story. TV reporters file for the 6pm newscast. The two hosts of the 6 o'clock news, Tom Murphy and Amy Smith, start doing set-ups around 5, giving teasers about the upcoming stories. A camera is set up on a tripod right beside my desk, right in the middle of the aisle of the newsroom. Tom sits down on a desk across the way and talks to the camera: "Tonight, Preston Mulligan will have an update on the family of an oil worker fleeing from Libya...."

If my phone rings or if I walk across the background of Tom's shot while he's on the air, that's all captured and broadcast. Later, during the news, reporters will stand in the same spot and talk to Tom live from the newsroom. By 6pm, most people's day is done and they head home. A skeleton crew will keep watch on the late night news until 11 or 12pm, and then the room will have a few hours of quiet until the early morning shift begins around 5:30am.

You have to focus intensely in order to get the work done, but at the same time, I learned to keep half an ear open for new developments in the room.

You might think in all this hustle and bustle that I would get lost or trampled on. But I did not. I kept up with the herd, had a few adventures of my own, and learned a lot from some generous mentors. I'll tell you all about THAT next time.

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