Stupid rules

This post isn’t necessarily about journalism, but just about media jobs in general.

A couple years ago I interned for a network show. You’d probably know the name if I wrote it, which is why I’m not going to say which one it is. But it was a longform news(ish) program.

The thing about this network show was that interns there had a lot of rules that they were expected to follow: Don’t leave the office unless you’re on your lunch break (I broke that one). Don’t prowl around the studios looking for celebrities (I broke that one too). And the weirdest rule was an unspoken one–don’t get too friendly anyone, because they’re your competition (I broke that one big time).

It’s such a contrast to my current job, where there are, by comparison, almost no rules.

But back to the network internship. Every so often they would force us to work the phones at the main desk. I’m no stranger to being a secretary. I worked almost every summer as a kid answering phones in my dad’s law office, so I was used to talking to complete wackos about almost anything.

But at the network, things were a little different than at the law office. I was instructed on my first day at the desk that I absolutely must pick up the phone on the first ring.

What???

I thought they were kidding. Because who really cares about whether someone picks up immediately or not (unless it’s an emergency, of course).

I learned that they were serious the hard way. I didn’t pick up the call on the first ring, and by the second ring someone else had picked it up. Then I was promptly yelled at for making some “very important person” wait .05 seconds to have their call picked up.

Another “fun” rule was that you were expected to know who all of the important people were. They gave you a sheet that you were supposed to memorize with names of presidents and vice presidents and other network hotshots. Of course, being the spaz I am, I was unable to remember most of the names. This caused problems.

One time a woman who I didn’t recognize called and I asked who she was. She got all huffy and informed me that she was a vice president of something or other. And then she got all snappy and asked to be transferred to some other higher up. Which I did, after apologizing. She didn’t seem to forgive me.

I still don’t really understand why she got mad at me. She had to know I was an intern, and who really cares if I know your job title? I make it my policy to treat everyone the same, whether you’re the president of the company or a random caller pitching a story idea.

But rules are rules. And because of that, I’ve made my own rule–I’ll never work at a show like that ever again.

Fashion and Journalism

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”

And while in some professions, this is great advice, in mine, it’s fairly stupid.

So here, I have laid out all the rules for journalists who work in the field (and are not on camera, because then you should ignore some of these things):

1. Dress for comfort.

In my internship at NBC, we were expected to dress nicely. This meant nice sweaters and khakis on the more casual end, with blazers and tailored pants being the norm.

When I got to my next internship, at my current company, we had orientation. The attire was “business casual,” so I wore a button down and khakis. All the other girls looked like they were going to a sorority mixer–one even had pearls!

The intern coordinator looked at them and said, “You’re probably not going to want to wear that when you’re out in the field. Jeans and a t-shirt are fine.”

They balked. I did too, though I was glad they got yelled at for wearing sundresses to their first day at work (because really, it’s not appropriate). But I wasn’t about to wear jeans and a t-shirt. I was going to dress to impress!

This all changed when I actually got the job a year later. Because I found out I’d be heading anywhere from a murder scene to a fire. And who wants to be all dressed up at a fire? So yeah, I’m the t-shirt and jeans girl. But I pull it off at nice events (a cameraman can get away with anything) and it’s great when I’m filming outside in the elements as well.

2. Avoid Dry Clean Only.

Last year I was training one of our new hires out in the field. She was wearing a really cute floral dress with a fitted blazer on top.

“I love your blazer,” I said.

“Thanks!” she said, beaming.

“Never wear that to work again.”

Her face dropped, “What do you mean? I used to work in fashion. We wore things like this all the time.”

I shook my head, “You’re not going to want to wear that out in the field, unless you’re okay with it getting ruined.”

She brushed off the comment and looked at me like I was crazy.

But a few weeks later, I ran into her and realized she had gotten the message. She was wearing an oversized sweater and jeans. She looked comfortable and appropriate.

The reason I told her not to wear the outfit is because unless you have unlimited funds to pay for dry cleaning, you should always wear things you don’t really care about.

Because they will get ruined. You will sweat in them, or get them dirty, or even make them smell like fire permanently by standing to close to a blaze. They’ll get marks from where the camera bag strap touches them–or when the camera bag hits your side as you’re walking.

So don’t wear things you can’t wash or throw away.

3. Never wear shoes you haven’t already broken in.

This is probably a good rule of thumb for everyone in any profession. But you do a lot of walking as a journalist, and you don’t want blisters.

4. Don’t wear flip flops.

I broke my own rule on this for a whole summer. But since you never know what you’ll be facing, it’s a good rule. I personally recommend always wearing closed toe shoes. Because sometimes you end up wading through sewage (so gross, I know) or filming in the mud.

I personally stopped wearing flip flops when one fell off my foot in the lobby of a police precinct. My bare foot touched the floor–the one that countless criminals have walked on. Someone who got a DUI probably once threw up on that floor. It looked like it hadn’t been washed in about twenty years. And because of that incident, I’ve never worn anything that wasn’t firmly attached to my foot since.

5. Even if you’re only supposed to be in the office, wear things you would be comfortable working in the field in.

You’re going to work in-house, they said. Don’t worry, they said.

Well, they lied.

Because something bad happened–maybe a shooting or a car pileup–and now you have to go outside and shoot it in your designer dress.

So always be prepared.

6. Be prepared for any conditions you might be faced with.

You have to dress for the occasion. And if the occasion is a hurricane, or a snowstorm, or a heatwave, then you can’t be embarrassed dressing for that. During Sandy, I walked around my office in sweatshirts, and yeah, I got dirty looks from the people who don’t work for the news. But it was more important to be warm and comfortable during that time.

On the other end, I used to think it was a heinous crime to wear shorts to work, until I worked through a weeklong heatwave in jeans. After that, I was more than happy to show a little leg.

It’s always good to prepare for the unknown as well. I keep my raincoat and boots in my car, just in case. When it gets colder, I also bring along a scarf, hat and gloves. And sometimes during hotter months, it’s good to pack a sweater in case the A/C is blasting inside somewhere.

7. If you’re covering something nice or unique, you’re allowed to break these rules.

I went to a Fashion Week event last year, so of course I ignored all these rules and dressed up. Because sometimes you have to look your best–or at least a little better than a t-shirt and jeans.

I’m sure there are more rules I could think up, but for now, that’s all I’ve got!

Crazies

There are several types of crazy people. And in this business, you get to deal with all of them.

There are intense crazies. People who insist their story is super important, even though it’s not. People who call you repeatedly, begging you to cover their event.

There are angry crazies, who scream and yell until they get their way. Sometimes these people are also intense crazies.

And then there are just crazy crazies. I encounter these people alarmingly often.

Yesterday, I was walking to a shoot, holding my camera and tripod. A man walked by me, looked at me, and growled like a dog.

This isn’t the first time this has happened.

In one of my earliest assignments, I was sent to a really bad neighborhood right around dusk. Half the cars I drove by had flat or slashed tires and broken windows. It was so bad that I had to make the uncomfortable decision of whether to take my valuables with me, because I thought if I left them in the car, the car might be stolen or broken into. If I took them with me, I might get mugged. I decided to lock them in the trunk but take my cell phone to call for help if needed.

As I was walking to my shoot, a man walked past me. Suddenly, he turned and started barking at me. I wasn’t sure if it was some type of mating call or possibly a warning that he was about to attack. In case of the latter, I held my tripod out as if it were a weapon. That’s really one of the few upsides to having to carry it around everywhere–it serves well as a defense mechanism.

He finally continued down the street, deciding not to pursue me. I dashed off to my shoot, feeling grateful that I had not been attacked by a crazy person.

Besides menacing crazies, there are also friendly crazies. One time I was getting interviews and this woman who I asked for an interview spent 20 minutes talking to me (while holding my hand in a death grip) about how she was homeless, but god had a plan for her. Also she had started an Indiegogo campaign to get herself out of poverty, and she wanted me to put it on the news. She also went on a rant for about 10 minutes about how even though we had different skin colors, we were all of one blood, and that I was her sister.

After a while, it got pretty old. But at least she didn’t growl or bark at me, so I appreciated that.

That Time Anthony Weiner Touched Me

You’re probably scared reading the title. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

Now that primaries are over, I thought I’d share the craziness that I experienced when Anthony Weiner held a press conference at a house in Tottenville.

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(All pictures in this post were taken by my lovely former intern, Ricky)

To set the stage, let me explain when this happened. It was late July, a few days after the Carlos Danger allegations had come out. Anthony Weiner was everywhere–in the news, on late night tv, in my family dinner conversations. So when I got assigned to cover him, my intern and I of course made off color jokes the whole day leading up to the press conference.

When I first arrived at the house, I could tell it would be crazy. There were so many people there, from all different news organizations. We all set up, waiting diligently for the mayoral hopeful to arrive.

A black SUV pulled up. We all turned, assuming it would be Weiner. But it was only his press person, who introduced herself by screaming at us (without being provoked) about how she was in charge, and how dare we have all set up our cameras and microphones near the podium before she had a chance to move it.

A few days later when I heard one of his key staff members quit, I assumed it was her. You could tell she was not in a good place, emotionally.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t rattled. Yes, there were all these people there. But there was a podium, which was a good sign. We would all just have to stand here and get what we could get. Things would be civilized.

Boy, was I wrong.

A few minutes later, another SUV pulled up. This time, you could tell it was the real deal. Everyone crowded around, trying to get a shot of him walking up to the podium.

We were told that since the house he was touring had been severely damaged in Sandy, it wasn’t safe for all of us to follow him around inside. CNN would go and then give us the feed later. I was grateful, thinking that I had been spared getting elbowed out of the way trying to follow him.

Because journalists can be aggressive. Really aggressive.

He soon came back out and began to answer questions from us. The reporter from my station was the only one who asked about the actual reason he was there–to help a family that had gotten a crappy insurance settlement post-Sandy. Everyone else wanted to know about Carlos Danger.

Weiner was clearly annoyed. At that point, I didn’t really blame him. Who would want to continually answer questions about their sexting and infidelity? But one thing kept bothering me about what he was saying. As much as he said he had apologized to his wife, he never actually seemed sorry. Like he didn’t really think what he did was wrong, even though by all accounts of decency, it really was.

This only got worse when he spoke to one of the women who lived in the neighborhood. She noted that she had been a teacher, and that if she had done what he did, she would have been fired. How could he presume to run a city–where he would oversee all the heads of city agencies–when he had done something that any normal professional would be sacked for?

Instead of saying that he was sorry that she felt that way, he merely said, “I guess you’re not voting for me.”

And by his tone, you could clearly tell he was pretty annoyed. And not really remorseful.

I should add that by this point, he was no longer speaking at the podium. Instead, he had decided to talk one-on-one with voters. Which meant that all hell had broken loose for us media types. We diligently followed him as he walked around the property, talking to local homeowners. Luckily, I was working with one of our reporters. Since she’s a lot taller than I am, she offered to take the camera and do overhead shots while I stuck the microphone close to him.

At one point, the media had completely surrounded him in a circle. I stuck my hand in, holding the microphone, right next to someone’s ear. It was completely, utterly gross.

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Then, he started to move. Suddenly, everything was just a sea of people. People were grabbing onto each other to steady themselves in the crowd. I felt a hand on my arm. I looked up, and saw the hand was attached to none other than Mr. Carlos Danger himself.

I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of grossed out.

Then we stopped again. I stood back a little while the reporter got shots of Weiner talking to more voters.

But he moved again. As I was about to follow him, the man standing in front of me–who was about 6’3 and 400 pounds–turned around and pushed me with both hands.

I stumbled backwards, nearly falling. I looked up and saw in the man’s face that he hadn’t realized the person who was standing behind him was a small girl. I had just been a body in the way to him, until he looked down and realized that I was a young woman.

But instead of saying sorry–just like Weiner–he tried to twist it around.

“You…you’ve gotta move!” he said, fumbling over his words.

If he had said that in the first place, I would have moved. But of course, actions speak louder than words.

Finally, Weiner decided he’d had enough of facing public scrutiny. He went back to the black SUV, got in, and drove away, cameras flashing in his wake.

A few minutes later, a man came up to me, looking confused. He asked, “What’s going on here?”

I looked at him gravely and said, “Weinsanity.”

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So I’m sure you’re all not surprised that I was thrilled when Weiner lost his lead in the polls and eventually lost the primary. Not because of any policy stuff, or even because it would be kind of embarrassing to have a mayor who is famous for sexting. But because I’m just not into being pushed, shoved, or touched by people I don’t know all so I can get another soundbite about Carlos Danger.

Maybe that makes me a bad journalist. But you know what? I don’t care.

Using Your Own Judgment

Yesterday, I was on the phone with our HR rep about my eye.

“I want you to know your health comes first. Don’t do anything to endanger your health.”

I assured her that my eye had pretty much recovered and that I would be perfectly fine to go back to work.

So today, I’m back at work. And guess what I’m covering?

A bomb threat. That’s right, you read that correctly. So much for protecting my health.

I’m stationed right across the street from the area, where a bunch of police cars have blocked the street.

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A reporter from another news agency asked why I didn’t go closer. And then he looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was worried that it might actually be a bomb and I wanted to stay safe.

To me, it seems perfectly logical to not want to die covering a bomb threat. It’s not like anyone would let me close enough to see the supposed bomb anyway.

So I’m staying what seems like a safe distance away. Although it might not be. Who knows.

But my point is, sometimes you need to use your own judgment in these situations. Because as the HR rep said, my health comes first.

Injured

You know what’s not fun? Getting hit in the eye with a piece of rust.

(Side note: Hi! I’m back! I abandoned this blog after I experienced PTSD from Hurricane Sandy–that’s a post for another day–but with some urging from one of my friends, I have decided to start up again.)

I’ve been so many places where I’ve put my life in real and serious danger. I’ve stood on the boardwalk during a hurricane that wiped out homes. I’ve antagonized people who definitely were carrying weapons. I’ve stood in homes that were designated by the city as being red-tagged, which basically means it could collapse at any moment.

But of course, I get injured on the job while walking down the street.

Let me explain:

Yesterday, I was covering a wake for a local soldier who died in Afghanistan a few weeks ago. I was working with a fellow reporter, who is five months pregnant. Basically, our job was to stand (or sit, as we ended up doing) outside the funeral home and try to interview people about how they felt about the soldier’s death. Not the best assignment, but not particularly physically challenging.

As the wake was winding down, we decided to move to the other side of the block, where people who had just exited were walking to their cars. I began to walk, with the camera–still attached to the tripod–in my grasp.

Suddenly, something flew at me and hit me in the face. Or more specifically, my right eye.

It hurt. Really hurt. I’m not a baby when it comes to pain, but this stopped me in my tracks. I told the reporter to wait a second so I could get whatever had just attacked my eye out.

It wouldn’t come out. It felt like it was lodged in there, under my eyelid. And every time I opened or closed my eye, it hurt even worse.

The reporter, for her part, was super helpful. She tried flushing it out several times. Of course, the first few times I blinked and the water went streaming down my face. But that wasn’t her fault.

Meanwhile, throughout this process, we were still doing interviews. Even though the reporter offered to work the camera, I felt bad making her do that, since that’s the whole reason I was there. So there I was, squinting, tears streaming down my face, adjusting the iris and white balancing.

In between interviews, we’d try to flush out the eye some more. Onlookers must have thought it was crazy–this pregnant woman throwing water into my eye right next to a camera on a tripod.

The reporter kept me in good spirits.

“Al, If someone comes out of the wake in the next minute, I’m going to throw the water at your face while I interview them.”

As much as I wanted to laugh, my eye hurt too much. I finally called my mom, who got me an emergency appointment with an eye doctor.

Turns out, the thing that hit my eye was a piece of rust. I have no idea where it came from, since we were in front of a funeral home with no construction site nearby. It was breezy, but not windy enough that it should have hit me with the force it did, or gotten lodged into my eyelid.

But somehow, that’s exactly what happen.

So now, I sit here, in my bed, recovering from corneal abrasions caused by the rust. Every time I blinked, it cut my cornea a little bit. It doesn’t hurt so badly anymore, but the medicine I have to put in makes my vision blurry for a while.

The whole thing seems so ridiculous when you consider that two days ago, I was in an attic that volunteers were rebuilding from Sandy. I swear I inhaled pounds of sawdust. But not a bit of it went anywhere near my eyes.

But that’s life. Sometimes you get injured when you least expect it…like walking down the street.