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From the Field

Helicopter Newsgathering
Flying and reporting brings it all together and lends creditability to the newscast
By Jim Holcomb

Flying KCOP's Newscopter-13 and reporting breaking news is one of the best jobs a retired cop could possibly have.

Although the two careers may seem at odds some of the time, there are actually many similarities. For instance, investigation and newsgathering are basically the same thing.

In one scenario the "product" is presented to a judge of law; in the other, it is presented to the public. Another similarity would be responding to emergencies. In helicopter news most of our stories are breakers-they're happening now and need immediate description. While airborne, we continually monitor scanner traffic, radio calls and aircraft communication between police air units.

Our most important resource, however, is the information we get from the news desk and ground units. By drawing from my police background, I also often pick-up a lot of things that are seemingly "incidental" but have significance to me in certain situations.

We put it all together and provide a description of what's occurring now! The trick, of course, is making it all come together when the crush is on!

While the transition from police officer to reporter seemed natural for me, there were hurdles. In no small measure, I owe my "jump start" and what I have managed to learn about the news business to veteran reporters, cameramen and producers-the people at KCOP who took me under their wing.

The biggest hurdle?

The adjustment from "cop-talk" to more conversational language-it takes time getting use to. As a member of the law enforcement community, we commonly describe entire events in a series of codes, cliches and jargon. We're taught to use the same sterile words over-and-over.

In news it has to be conversational and something the average viewer can understand. My biggest suprise after switching rolls were the calls I received from former partners, acquaintances and police department staff and command officers. It's a known fact there is an innate suspicion of the media by cops. It's just one of those things.

Coming from law enforcement has allowed me to bridge that gap in some respects.

Nevertheless, as is true of police work, the most sacred quality in any contact with a news source is trust. Developing that is essential. Balancing what you know-against various consequences-and what you go public with is always a tough call.

Overall, from one exciting career to another- for me, breaking news is the best rush in the world! I get to be there, overhead, and the viewer is with me. The pictures outline the story, but the reporting brings life and relevance to the event. People watching want realism and credibility when things are unfolding. I try to bring it to them.

There is a distinct quality in describing an event that causes the viewer to unmistakably know you've been there and done it. It's one step beyond mere reporting to be able to know and tell what goes through an officer's mind during a tense, life threatening, event like a pursuit, shooting or other serious situation.

As a newcomer to the news business, I try each day to improve the quality of my reporting. In the meantime, I have the best job in LA!

About the Author

JIM HOLCOMB is a Reporter-Pilot for KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. He is a former 26-year veteran of the LAPD and has worked in several diverse assignments, including tactical flight operations in the Air Support Division.