Mar 5, 2011

What I learned from the newsroom

After the first two days of working in the newsroom I had a feeling that things were going fairly well, but sometimes it was hard to gauge. One precious commodity in the newsroom is feedback time and advice. These are so important to a newcomer because its the only way to get better. And many, many people generously gave their time to teach me the following things.

On the whole, the feedback I was getting wasn't negative, so I let it be, until Stephen Puddicombe, our national reporter, gave me a suggestion.

"How do they like you?" he asked me. I replied I wasn't sure - things seemed to be going all right.

"Ask," he said.

"Build relationships with people," Rob North, a long-time CBC reporter, told me. It's one thing to get opinions on the pre-broadcast item, he said. But there's also value to be had in dissecting a post-broadcast item. He suggested that every now and then when I had a question about a particular piece of work, I run it by people who had time and get their opinion.

Good writing is descriptive writing, Rob explained. "Imagine that there are pictures slapped on to your script, and you have to tell me what's going on," he said.

Rob went on to explain, "Lots of good ideas don't get through." He told me to save them up, work on them, and bring them up again when the time was right. If you believe in the story, don't let it go. I had a story about a group of veterans who were spending the night with the homeless, hoping to find homeless veterans and connect them with the right services. My gut told me that it was the best idea I had, so I pitched it. Turns out that this very story was picked up by the national radio news.

Stephen Puddicombe came to see me half an hour after I pitched my veterans story. Puddy (as everyone calls him) is the national reporter for Halifax, so he will often handle the stories for the national news. But he told me that he didn't want to take my story - he thought I should do it. Twenty minutes later I heard him on the phone with Toronto, telling them about me. "Yeah, she's young," he said. "A few years out of school, I think." I skedaddled, not wanting to hear any more. Afterward Puddy came over to my desk and told me that Toronto was about to call me to find out what kind of person I was. "DON'T BE SHY," he ordered. So when the phone rang, I wasn't.

Puddy took a lot of time with me that day, although I'm sure he had his own work to do. Before I went out to do interviews, he reminded me to pay attention to what the interviewees had to say. "A lot of reporters go into a story thinking their shit doesn't smell and they know everything," he said. "I just try to let THEM tell me the story."

After I came back and was putting everything together, Puddy read over my script, listened to my editing job, and checked in with me regularly just to see that everything was going well, and stayed an extra half hour late on a Friday just so he could hear the finished product. None of this was his responsibility, and he gruffly said that he was just doing it for the story, but I'm grateful anyhow.

The first time Puddy listened to my story, he said that my voice was fine but there was a problem with the way I pronounced my P's and he wanted me to do it again. He showed me how to position the microphone better and told me to stand up. "Did you ever see a musician sitting down to perform?" he asked.

At the end of two weeks, I learned a lot. I am going back on Monday, and this time I will stay for the month of March. I'm sure there's much more to learn, but I'll keep working away and improve as much as I can. I take it as a high compliment that Puddy saw me passing one day and called out in his gravelly voice:

"Luck, you're a keeper."

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