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Weekly Features
Life in the Small Market
A collaborative weekly feature, Life in the Small Market offers up thoughts and views from small town broadcasters across America.
Brendan Gage is a native of Davis, California. He received his BS in Radio/TV journalism with a geography minor from San Jose State University. He has also interned at KCRA and KXTV in Sacramento, is a winner of the William Randolph Hearst journalism competiton, and is also a veteran of the United States Army. He was a general assignment reporter at WWNY-TV in Watertown New York. He currently works as a weekday reporter and weekend weathercaster for KMIR 6 in Palm Springs, California.

When it comes to small markets, I got my start at one of the smallest - the jointly owned and operated WWNY (CBS) and WNYF (FOX), Watertown, New York.

At the time, I was miserable. After driving across the country from my northern California hometown to one of the coldest, most desolate places in the country, I started work as a one man band 2 days after Christmas 2000 in one of the biggest blizzards the area had seen that year.

When it comes to reporting in a small market, be prepared to do it all. I worked nightside Tuesday-Friday, and dayside Saturdays. Usually my weeknights went something like this:

Arrive at work 4 pm. Make beat calls. Work on 6 pm show. Usually forced to stay at the station for two hours to simply tease the 11 at the end of the 6 before being allowed out on my story. Get to story. Shoot all video and interviews as well as standup. Hustle back to station in order to front a package for our Fox affiliate at 10 pm and then turn right around and cut an entirely different package to front live for the 11. I was editor, photog, writer and reporter at all times. It was hustle, hustle, hustle from the moment I walked in the door until the 11 ended. More often than not I would come to work to discover I was going out to operate the camera for either our sports or weather anchor's live hit. Needless to say, the station I worked at expected us to be everywhere doing everything at once. And every Friday night I had to get home and go right to bed in order to turn around and come to work by 8 the next morning.

I learned several things about small markets at WWNY. First, expect nepotism, professional incest and anchors who will cling to their desks until the day they die. Expect to be treated with contempt. Expect to be asked to do the impossible. Expect to do the impossible. Expect to be told you're no good by people who have never reported outside the broadcast area they've lived and worked in their whole lives. Expect to interview the same officials over and over about the same things. Expect low pay. Expect long hours. I cannot count the number of times I was sitting there counting the minutes until I could go home when invariably the scanners would go off at 11:45 pm with a tragedy or emergency requiring me to stand in the snow and sub-zero temperatures with my camera and microphone until I was relieved by a fresh reporter the next morning. I cannot count the number of live hits I had to do for our morning shows after covering a story all night long, spitting things out from a mouth and mind numb from cold and exhaustion. Expect your station to be short staffed. Expect to write a few different versions of your story for subsequent newscasts, all with fresh sound. In short, expect a lot of thankless hard work and long hours.

The one thing I didn't expect was how much I'd learn. If nothing else, at a small market, you're bulletproof. I was allowed to make all my mistakes without getting in too much trouble. I was blessed to have a news director who would wake me with a phone call the next day to scream at me about the previous night's gaffe, only to say, "here's how you do it right next time." I learned how to write, edit, and front packages live in the newsroom in next to no time. I learned how to think on my feet, and how far I could push myself personally and professionally. I learned being a one man band gave me a healthy appreciation for the work others have to do, and it enables me to talk to others in the newsroom (e.g. photogs, engineers) at length and intelligently about their jobs. I can communicate with my photog better because I've also done the job. Being a one man band forced me to be efficient in everything from time management to interviewing.

I spent 20 months at WWNY, and I don't miss it a bit. But I will always remember the lessons I learned. I recommend a small market experience for everyone. To paraphrase Nietzche, if it doesn't kill you, you'll come out of it a much stronger person and reporter.