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.