Thursday, April 19, 2007

Media Whirlwind

Disclaimer: This post is going to be about my experiences at Blacksburg, Virginia I am very saddened by what happened, but being in the media I had to view this as work and I just hope noone will think that I am disrespecting the lives of the students and faculty lost on the Virginia Tech campus.

Monday morning was my first Monday of my new schedule (Mon- Fri. 3pm-midnight), I'm trying to get into better shape so I'm trying to go to the YMCA at least three times a week and Monday was the first day. I get to the Y and I jump on a bike and start my workout. The gym has TVs all over the place, I had my MP3 player, but I'd glance up to see what Murray or any other crappy day time TV shows have on. Near the end of my time on the bike I look up and see FOXNews has something about a shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech, I look on with interest trying to figure out if this is a real news story or if Fox is doing what Fox does best, over hype things. I see video of SWAT and people running around and start to wonder if this is a real story. I finish the bike and move on to other aspects of my current routine.

I hear nothing else of this till I finish my work out and call The Wife to see what we are doing for lunch. She asks if I have hear what is going on at Va Tech, I say yes and then she mention that at least 20 people are injured. OK this is real and getting bad, but I'm in Raleigh and can't do anything so I go ahead with Lunch.

We head to Remington Grill and have more the most part a really good lunch, with the new schedule this was the first time we ate together in about a week and a half. We are enjoying ourselves and then my work cell starts to ring. I'm thinking I'm getting called in early to do local reaxs to the shooting. It's the head assignment guy, "I need someone to go to Blacksburg, Virginia there are 21 dead, do you want to go." I'm now shocked that the death toll has jumped from 1 to 21. I ask The Wife, we worry about the money, but in the end I say yes. "I need you hear as soon as possible." I get off the phone we finish up lunch and the next 40 minutes are spent driving and then getting ready for a trip.

After throwing four days worth of cloths into a suitcase and hoping I grabbed everything I start to the station. I find out I'm with Blondie, with that nickname I hope you can figure out why I call her this... it's not just because she is Blondie, news people I hope you figure out what I mean. I'm little worried about that and I know it's way to late to back out. I get my marching orders, Blondie arrives and we finally start towards Blacksburg after 2:30pm.

Not to make this long than it is I'll try to sum up some of the lesser points now with my favorite thing in the world... bullet points.
  • Takes at least 4 hours to get there. JDOG-17 wants us live at 6 if we can... do the math with out leaving time
  • We are not working for JDOG-17, we are working to the parent company who shall be known as Media Parent.
  • Our field producer is not going to be in Blacksburg (found that out at 9pm), field producer is back in North Carolina.
  • Our Sat Truck is old and our Sat Op is new at this (To be honest he did the best job he could considering... you did good T-Dog)
  • We have a station within Media Parent in Roanoke, who is all over the story, but can't do their stuff and do everything of the other stations in the group so that is why we are going

We arrive late and the chaos starts. it's 6:55 and we are told that Blondie needs to do a live shot at 7:01. Traffic is nuts with parents and incoming media, so somehow we find the building and work our way to the truck. I tell Blondie to get out and go I'll park the truck, because I'm not the camera for the live.

This is still within the first day and the amount of media there was staggering. At that moment it was near what I saw for Jessica Lynch. We luckily find out that there is a press conference being held at 8pm. At this point in the media room there are 49 other TV cameras and not a lot of room left. I find a small corner and wedge my tripod in it and roll on the presser. That raps up and we head to out sat truck at a local hospital. This is where we run into a major problem. Due to the fact I left so quick I did not grab any video before I left. and I assumed that we could get some from our affiliate... wrong. The people with the video were at the truck were the presser was. I had to feed back a story for 30 stations without any b-roll. It was track and a few sound bites... All the stations were not happy about that. The worst part of the night was the wind, it was gust up near 50MPH and was messing with the satellite causing breakup and total video drop out. At the end of the night I'm staggering around after the whirlwind I went through and another gust came through, pushing me backwards and my camera downward. My camera fell and hit the asphalt pretty hard. The only lucky break on the trip was that my camera was fine. The wireless was done for, but T-Dog had his so I swap with him.

We end the night and head to the hotel which is 30 minutes away. I get to bed at 1AM and set the alarm for 3:30AM. T-Dog had to do morning live shots so I had to drive him back to his truck. I get back to the hotel at almost 5 and can not go back to sleep.

There was another press at 8AM at hospital, we get there set up and then Blondie hears about another presser on campus. We rush over and find out that the amount of media quadrupled over night. I have never seen that many satellite trucks before, where were certain people that were overwhelmed by this. I seriously think if affected then too much and made things worse. We get into the alumni center and find out we can't get in... to many people. OK remember last night it was at least 49 cameras inside, there were that many outside that could not get in. Blondie just wants the info and goes to another room to watch while I sit and wait.

If you have not worked in news you may not realize how small the news business is. I met about 30 people that either I worked with, worked against or knew someone at our station. It's very strange, you are covering something so horrible then you see someone and get a little happy because you have not seen them in a few years. The presser ends and we get our marching orders to cover the convocation with the Governor of Virginia and well President Bush. Up till then I had not been on campus, my only contact was through the alumni center so I need to get some video of the buildings. Obviously that area is blocked off and I have to walk to Norris Hall where most of the killing occurred. It was a very surreal sight. It was very quite, I know it's a college campus and generally not noise but it was as if it was a vacuum and sound was unable to be heard. I find the building and start shooting. There are students on one end near a memorial and TV crews all around this giant field interviewing people. I get my shots and start the long trip back to the car.

We head over to Cassell Coliseum to get ready for the Convocation. People are already starting to line up for the 2PM event and it's not even 11 yet. We try to get interviews, but between some "hesitation" and the fact that all the students are in shock and have probably had 20 other crews ask them for interviews it takes a while. This is where it starts to get hard to do my job. On a lesser scale, back when I was working in Toledo, Bowling Green lost six students in a bus crash. As an alumni I was shocked what happened, the campus though was in a state of shock and sadness. With covering that story I know nothing is going to be easy, but I struggle and get everything done. By 1pm the crowd reaches over ten thousand, they were going to open up the football stadium for the over flow. Even though something awful has happened the campus, community and alumni base came together to help each other and to celebrate the lives of the 32 that have died.

The next few hours where the roughest for working conditions that I have had in a while and I want to get past it so here are some more bullet points:

  • None of the NBC sat trucks could get the feed because everyone was live, except one.
  • The truck we went to had problems getting us a feed and we almost missed it.
  • Blondie want to sit inside the truck so I could not monitor the laptop taking the feed and well, my hard drive filled and she never noticed the message saying hard drive full.
  • We get part of a copy from another station and almost caused them to miss their feed window.
  • The Sat Truck decided to not work and we missed 6 straight live shots
  • After that we had to move the truck for a 7pm live shot for the candlelight vigil. We had only 45 minutes to do it.
  • The local crew that had the 7pm shot treated us like jerks and would not help us break down... thanks guys.

By now it was 7:45, I've been up since 3:30am and had not eaten since 8AM. I am dragging and hoping I can deal with Blondie and get my story done. Well the scene was overwhelming. Just like the Convocation the entire Hokie nation showed up. There are memorials people crying and that's when I broke down. While working I need to keep myself separated from the story. You need to, if you don't you will either break down and go nuts because of all the horrible things we see or you can't do the story right. The point that I started to get emotional was a family showed up to a big VT sign and she just started to cry, it wasn't the kind of crying of I can't believe this happened here it was I'm crying because I just lost my child. I start shooting and I feel like crap. I need this for my story, but damn I am a vulture. Not that far away a guy is playing hymns and christian songs. I know them all from church, I start to tear up. I realize I am at the worst shooting event in American history. We interview a grandmother and granddaughter about why there are their, they start crying and fell more tears in my eyes.

The candle light vigil was amazing and the candles lit up the night. The most inspiring moment was when they started chanting HOKIES! HOKIES! HOKIES! Chill factor was off the charts. At campus is amazing, they take this tragedy and turned it inward and made them stronger.

We end the night and I get an amazing 5 hours of sleep. We arrive for the 9AM presser at 8AM just so we can get a spot. I get one of the last pieces of carpet and wait. While waiting I noticed some movement around the room, something is going on. Come to find out that there was a scare on campus, some suspicious person was spotted and they over reacted (with good reason) and send in SWAT. Turns out it was a false alarm and the campus lets out a giant sigh of relief. Then the stupidity of the day occur. They tell us the presser is delayed, but here is what happened this morning, well nothing it was a false alarm. "How many people were arrested?" was yelled by some reporter. The police chief answer was great "It was a false alarm and we don't arrest people for false alarms." What an idiot! Think before you speaks stupid reporter.

The presser finally starts after 10, they are going to give us a time line involving Cho Seoung-hui. They give the first incident in 2005, then another, then another, then he was committed, then the professor that warned the university. I look over to another photographer and we give each other a shocked look. Wow that kid was crazy for quit a while. Then the envelope that was sent to NBC was reviled. Virginia Tech can't fully be blames for this, they may have had pieces of the puzzle, but no one had the picture for that puzzle. His room mates could not believe it, we interviewed a student that had a high school class with him and never thought he'd do this. Everyone thought he was different and a strange, but never a killer. Another person that slip through the cracks.

We left last night at 9:30 and I got into bed at 2:30AM. I am drained and glad I have at least today off. Now I have to get back into the daily grind. If I do work Friday it will be tough with more information coming out, but that's what we do, do the story and wait for the next one to happen.

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