Newspeak

Today is my last day as a journalist.

Sad, I know. But I’m moving over to the political world to be the Deputy Director of Communications for the Borough President. So I’ll still be dabbling in journalism (making headlines instead of writing them).

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the blog. I may repurpose it based on my experiences in my new job. I’m sure I’ll have a ton of stories to tell!

But until then, I will leave you with this last post about how news has infiltrated every part of my life:

I’ve written a little bit about “newspeak,” or how we talk in news. We make up words and terms all the time. And they have become so much a part of me that I end up using them all the time, even in non-news situations.

For example, a word I learned in the news biz is “efforting.” Now, “efforting” is not technically a word. Effort isn’t a verb, but we made it one. Basically, efforting means that  you’re trying to set up something. So we’ll say that a reporter is efforting a story on a new program designed to help the homeless. It means that the story hasn’t exactly been set up yet, and it may or may not come through.

At first, I hated the word efforting. I was annoying that we made up a word where there didn’t need to be one. We could have said “trying to set up” or something. But eventually, efforting entered my lexicon, and now I use it nonstop. I currently use it in situations that have nothing to do with news. If I’m a bit tired, I’ll lay in my bed and say I’m efforting a nap. If I see a cute guy, I’ll think to myself that I’m efforting a date with him. Despite my initial dislike, efforting turned out to be one of my favorite words.

Another similar term I use all the time is “possible.” We don’t really use the term possibility, we use the term possible, or for short, poss. You might be efforting a poss story to put cameras in a park where a lot of crime has happened. In real life I’ll look at a menu and decide which item is a poss (I guess that would mean I’m efforting my dinner?)

A different weird term I’ve taken on is “I’ll fix it in post.” For those not in the know, this means that you will fix whatever problem is happening after you film in by editing it. I have begun to use this in a totally non-filmic way. This began one day when I took a shower and then decided to take a nap with wet hair. If you’ve ever slept on wet hair, you know that it doesn’t usually dry in an aesthetically pleasing way. In fact, my hair tends to take on the shape of whatever pillow I lay it down on. As I was drifting off to sleep, this occurred to me, but I thought to myself, “I’ll fix it in post.” Meaning that I would have to work some magic on my hair when I woke up. Since then, I have used it for all sorts of things (usually having to do with having to do something to my face, hair, or body to make it look more acceptable).

I’m sure that despite leaving the news business, I will still use these terms, as well as many others in my daily life. You can take the girl out of the newsroom, but you can never really take the newsroom out of the girl.

Cry into your pillow

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my coworker. She was having a particularly bad day…on top of a particularly bad week. I was trying to cheer her up.

“You know, as you’re crying into your pillow tonight about all of this, you can at least take some comfort knowing that this is one of the best experiences you’ll ever get in this industry.”

She laughed at that. But it’s not just funny–it’s true.

I say this as someone who isn’t a big fan of crying–in this job, you need to cry. If you don’t, you’ll probably kill yourself or go into serial killer mode or something.

That being said, there’s a time and a place for crying. And 99% of the time, it’s when you’re alone at home.

There are a few exceptions. If a story hits particularly close to home, I think it’s okay to shed a few tears. I’ve discussed this with my coworkers and came up with a few instances where we cried:

  • The only times I’ve ever cried at a shoot was at 9/11 memorials. This wasn’t so bad because everyone around me was crying too–including other photographers.
  • A coworker told me she cried covering a cop’s funeral, because her dad is a cop. But luckily she hid the tears behind big sunglasses (I need to remember this for 9/11 next year).
  • A coworker told me she cried doing a story about Osama bin Laden being killed because it brought back old memories for her. She ended up being really embarrassed about it because it happened during a one-on-one interview with a 9/11 victim’s family member.
  • Another coworker cried a few days after Sandy…and was comforted by two women who had lost their homes. The picture of him bawling made it into the Daily News, and of course is now famous in our office.

I think these were all instances when it was completely okay. I also think if you’re crying at work, you should try not to do it loudly or grossly. I try not to draw any attention to myself when I cry. But I have heard of “journalists” who start bawling all the time at nothing, and I think that’s crazy. You’ve got to be tough–at least outwardly–when you’re on the job.

One of my coworker always gives me a tip on how to cope with stressful situations at work. She always laughs, because as she says, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

So I laugh. A lot.

Crazy Callers, An Ongoing Series

When I first started working in the field, a coworker gave me a great piece of advice.

As we were sitting in our office in Staten Island, the phone rang. It wasn’t our extension. It was some weird line that had a 718 area code.

I went to pick it up, and the coworker stopped me.

“Don’t pick that up,” she said.

“Why not?”

She shuddered, “That’s the tip line. I never pick up the tip line.”

Turns out the number is the one that plays after our segment airs. Anyone can call in. But half the time, the people are actually certifiable. You never know what psycho has memorized the number and decided to call in.

Recently I’ve been filling in as a researcher, which means many things, but mostly that I have to pick up the tip line. It is literally part of the job description.

So, I have decided to do a series of posts about all the crazy calls I have received while picking up the tip line. Here’s part 1:

CALL #1

A few days after Paul Walker died, we were running a story about the crash investigation. A woman called our tip line (which specifically plays after the Queens, Staten Island, and Bergen County news) about the story. The conversation went like this:

Crazy Lady: I saw that the guy from the Fast and Furious died. Which guy was it?

Me: Paul Walker.

CL: The bald guy?

Me: No, the other guy.

CL: Which other guy?

Me: The blond guy. The other main character.

CL: Oh, so not the bald guy?

Me: Not the bald guy.

CL: Oh because I thought it was the bald guy. They showed the picture.

Me: They showed a picture of Paul Walker.

CL: Okay. How did he die?

(By this point I wanted to scream “DIDN’T YOU WATCH THE STORY???” but I remained calm.)

Me: A car crash.

CL: Oh yes, that’s right. It’s terrible. Can you give me more details about that.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t cover that story. I only know what we’ve covered.

CL: So you don’t have any more information.

Me: No, we’re getting all our information from national news sources. You can look it up on CNN if you’re interested. It happened in LA and we’re in New York, so we’re getting everything from national sites.

CL: Oh, okay. It’s such a shame. I really liked that guy who died.

(I wanted to yell “YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHO HE WAS FIVE SECONDS AGO” but didn’t)

CALL #2

Insane Woman: I just saw a story about a cop that was arrested in Staten Island. What was he arrested for?

Me: Extortion.

IW: I left my young son in daycare on Staten Island today. I’m worried that he’s in danger from the cop.

Me: Well, the extortion took place in Queens, so you really don’t need to worry.

IW: But what if the cop is still out there? And dangerous?

Me: Ma’am, he’s been arrested.

(I wanted to add that extortion doesn’t really pose a physical danger to young children)

IW: So in your opinion, should I go pick up my son from daycare?

Me: He’s not in danger from the cop. The cop isn’t on the street anymore. He’s been arrested. He’s in court right now.

IW: Okay, if you think he’s safe, I won’t go get him.

CALL #3

Me: Hello, how can I help you.

Whacko: I’m in the hospital and they aren’t serving me tasty food. The food is absolutely disgusting here. It’s inedible. I told them I won’t eat it, but they keep bringing it to me and I said I won’t eat it but they don’t stop. I wanted them to bring me chicken but they brought me some slop and I have diabetes and this is not food and I hate it. I hate the food here. I’ve been here a week and the food is awful and I can’t even eat it.

(He went on for about 5 minutes without taking a breath, but I’ll spare you for now)

Me: I’m sorry, there isn’t anything I can do.

Whacko: Okay (hangs up)

The Doctor Is In

Sometimes in my job, I get to meet celebrities. Usually, they are D-listers.

Last week, I filled in producing an interview show. The producer told me that one of the guests was Dr. Ruth, the famous sex therapist.

I didn’t think much of it. Of course, I told my parents, who were excited for me. But they were alive through the entire ’80s, and I wasn’t, so Dr. Ruth’s appeal was a little bit lost on me.

I got an email the day we were supposed to tape the show that Dr. Ruth was taking an earlier train back from a trip to Washington DC. She wanted to come to our studios early to get out of the cold and sit and make phone calls.

Even though this meant I would have to go into work two hours earlier than I had originally planned, I said yes. To be honest, I was annoyed by the entire thing.

When Dr. Ruth arrived, the first thing I noticed was that she was tiny. I towered over her, and I’m only 5’4. She’s probably no more than 4’9, if that. She immediately greeted me (in her signature German accent), “Hello Allison, nice to meet you,” and then thrust her bag and coat into my hands.

As she walked in, she gave me a list of demands. She wanted to know where the bathroom was, where she would be sitting, and if she could have herbal tea, a sandwich, and the NY Post, in that order.

This all added to my annoyance. I sat her down, asked her what kind of sandwich she wanted, and went downstairs to buy one.

When I came back up, she was on the phone. I laid down the sandwich and tea, leaving the room quietly. When I returned with the Post, she was off the phone.

“This is the best sandwich I’ve ever had! Did you pay for this with your own money?” she asked.

“Yes, but I’ll expense it through the company,” I responded.

“No! I don’t want you paying for me! Did you pay for the newspaper?”

I explained to her that we got newspapers delivered to our office daily, and reassured her that I wasn’t paying for any of it. She kept alternating between thanking me and insisting that she would pay for whatever she had taken. And then she asked me for about five more requests, but by this time I didn’t take offense to it. Even though she wants a lot, you can tell that she’s a nice, friendly old lady.

I went back out to my desk after getting her what she wanted, but every so often she would come out and ask me for something else. She wanted to see the video of her that we were going to use. She wanted her manager to email me material to print out for her (she doesn’t know how to use a computer, but I did note that she had an iPhone). She wanted me to put pillows on her seat in the studio so she could be eye-level with the interviewer. And every time she would emerge from the room to ask me about something new, one of my coworkers would see her and talk to her, or ask for a picture. She gladly posed for every single one (including one with me).

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When it finally came time for the interview, I walked her back to the green room. By this point, she had another bag, filled with things that people from my office had given her.

“You’re really popular here,” I noted.

She smiled and said delightfully, “It’s good to be Dr. Ruth! So many freebies!”

I could see why. There’s something about her that just lights up–and makes you want to give her stuff.

In the interview, she shone. I even laughed out loud when she started talking about sexual stuff. At 85 years old, she’s so full of life and energy.

On her way out, she thanked me again for everything I had done and made sure to tell my coworkers that I had shown her a good time and taken care of her.

As she walked out the door, she said, “If you don’t get the money for the sandwich, I’ll send it to you!”

And you know what? I bet she would.

Stalking Whitney

I remember the moment I found out that Whitney Houston died.

I was sitting in Applebees in the Staten Island Mall. This is particularly strange because I eat at Applebees about once every 3 years. And I almost never go to the one in the mall. But I was hanging out with some friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in a while, and they wanted to go there.

My phone pinged, as it usually does every 45 seconds, and I looked down at it.

“AP reporting Whitney Houston is dead at 48,” the email said.

I was shocked. I mean, yeah, I knew about her issues. But I didn’t expect her to die.

I told my friends, and we chatted about how sad it was for a bit. But I thought it would end there.

The next day, I was working with our New Jersey unit. Even though we have the words New York in the name of our station, we cover parts of Bergen County, NJ. Weird, I know.

The thing about our Bergen unit is that there is almost no news to cover. A big story is a water main break or a car robbery. So I figured I’d have a nice quiet day–maybe I’d cover a farmer’s market or something.

Turns out Whitney Houston’s mother, Sissy Houston, lives in Bergen County.

I drove to Edgewater and found Sissy’s building, all while listening to Whitney’s music blaring through the car radio. I could tell I was in the right place, because there was another news van parked outside. But the apartment complex looked deserted.

So for about an hour, I waited outside the building. During that time, only about 3 people went in or out of the building–and I could tell by looking at them that none of them were related to Whitney.

The whole time I felt kind of sick to my stomach. I don’t know how the people from TMZ do it every day. If I did encounter Sissy, what was I supposed to say? Sorry about Whitney, but do you have time to comment about it to your favorite local news station? I really loved “The Bodyguard”…so how do you feel about your dead daughter? Do you think she was lying when she said “crack is whack”???

After waiting in the January chill for over an hour, I was finally cleared from the scene by our assignment desk (the news truck had left as well–I guess no one talked to Sissy that day). I went down to a local shopping center and interviewed random people about how they felt about Whitney’s death.

I was glad to finally go home at the end of the day, mentally exhausted and physically frozen from standing outside for so long.

Even though I never got the interview, I have become famous around my office for my attempts to chase down Sissy Houston. In fact, many of my coworkers refer to me as “the girl who got the exclusive sit down,” even though I didn’t. They like to tell people she picked me over an interview with Anderson Cooper or Katie Couric. If only.

But I guess I could be known for far worse things.

Checking My Phone, or How I Gave Myself ADD and OCD

First, I’d like to thank everyone for all the comments about my Sandy posts. It meant a lot to me that so many people took the time to read them and give me such positive feedback.

But now…on to other stories!

If you ever see me out in the field, or anywhere really, chances are, you’ve noticed that I look down at my phone.

A lot.

This is because I’m constantly getting emails. I get over a thousand every single day. It’s pretty nuts.

Now, most of the emails don’t pertain to me. But many of them do. So I feel the compulsion to check them. Constantly.

Even when I’m not working, like today, I go through and see if any of them are important or interesting. I can’t help myself.

Before I started this job, I was never like this. I was always super focused on the task at hand. I looked at my phone at the end of the day, or maybe between classes. Even when I got a smartphone during my senior year of college, I only took it out of my bag if I heard it ringing.

But now? Not having my phone attached to my hand gives me anxiety. Recently, I took a couple vacation days. During this time, I went to get my hair straightened. The process takes about 3 hours, which meant 3 hours away from my phone. I could feel myself missing important texts and emails, and as soon as my hair was finished I was digging around in my bag, making sure I hadn’t missed anything important.

It hit me after that how ridiculous my phone addiction is. I mean, I was on vacation. I had no responsibility to check my emails. If anyone from work texted or called me, they would just have to wait.

But I can’t help it. I usually stop in the middle of whatever I’m doing every few minutes to look at my phone and make sure no emails or texts have come in. The fact that I’ve written this much without stopping to grab my phone is a feat in itself, and I’m currently itching to click the home button as I write this.

This whole thing makes it hard to focus on anything. I like to tell people I have a homemade case of ADD and OCD. Knowing that at any time, an important message could be lurking means that I can’t really focus on what I’m doing.

Other people have begun to notice this about me as well. In my family, we used to have a firm “no electronics at the dinner table” rule. Now it’s become more of a “put your phone on silent so we don’t have to hear that email noise every five seconds” rule. Whenever I go to a movie, I like to take bets about how many emails I’ve gotten during the time my phone was off. My friends have gotten fairly good at guessing the number, which is usually around 150 depending on the length of the movie. Depending on breaking news, it could be an even bigger amount. For example, I flew to Las Vegas the day Ed Koch died, and when I got off I had around 700 emails waiting for me just about him.

Some who don’t know me as well are disturbed by the amount of times my phone goes off. A friend recently told me seeing all the emails on my phone gave her anxiety. One time I was out with a guy and he got jealous because he thought I was getting texts from another boy. I explained about the emails, but he didn’t seem to buy it.

The moral of the story is, if you’re with me and I’m looking at my phone, I’m not being purposefully rude. I have an addiction–one there’s no rehab for. But at the end of the day, at least I know that I’m more informed about what’s going on in the city for having read all the thousands of emails.

What I’ve learned

Here are some things that I’ve found out from working here:

  • Flash flooding sucks.
  • A lot of people think tv stations can “write up a story” without any accompanying video. They can’t.
  • Press conferences are never exciting.
  • You can never just “grab” a story quickly.
  • Even if you tell someone not to touch the mic, they will try to grab it anyway.
  • Very few people notice a camera, even if it’s in plain sight.
  • More men will volunteer to be on camera than women (and old men will almost always agree to do an interview).
  • There is no such thing as a “lazy news assistant.”

 

No, I’m not an intern

I constantly get asked if I’m an intern. As if my company would let an intern go out by herself and use a camera.

Today a guy at one of my shoots asked if I was in college. I said that I had graduated (2 years ago). Then he asked if this was what I wanted to do for my career.

I almost laughed. Because this already is my career.

The funny thing is that no one ever asks my actual interns if they are interns. They assume they are my crew or reporters. One time I let an intern ask questions in an interview, and the interviewee thought my intern was in charge and that I was the intern. Which didn’t make any sense, since I had asked for the interview and told her where to stand and was working the camera.

It’s probably because I have the face of a 14 year old. People are always asking if I’m doing a project for school–and they mean high school.

So no, I’m not an intern, or a student. I’m a full-time employee. Deal with it, world.

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!

The Perks of Being a Journalist

Ok…obviously I got my title from the book/movie Perks of Being a Wallflower (if you haven’t read or seen it, stop reading this and go do it!)

But back to the topic at hand…I know I complain a lot about my job. But there are a ton of perks that come along with the pain.

Like, for instance, food. I get offered food all the time. Usually I don’t take it, because I feel like it’s sort of wrong to eat at a shoot. I don’t want to look like I’m taking bribes.

But sometimes I don’t have a choice. More often than not, I get the food forced upon me–which really isn’t a bad thing. One time I did a story about a young girl who had gotten an award for volunteering. Her family threw her a little party, and her mom insisted that I eat something. I told her no, but before I knew it, I was holding a full plate that she had filled up for me.

Sometimes I don’t feel bad taking the food. Like today, I did a story at Mother Mousse Bakery. I didn’t even try to protest when the owner gave me a pack of cookies to take back to the office.

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(My coworker and I have already decimated the cookies. They were delish.)

Maybe it’s just because I love cookies so much that I took them so readily. Either way, things like this just make the job a little bit better.

P.S. If you’re on the Island, head to either Mother Mousse location and buy a charity cookie-all proceeds go to breast cancer research! I promise your taste buds will thank you.