What's wrong with broadcast television news? The expense vouchers.
For example, a typical TV crew travels with 10-18 cases of equipment.
The "gratuities" allowance for the Sky Cap is $1 per bag.
That's not realistic. Forty bucks is more like it. But the networks
won't reimburse the $40, so the smart thing would be to take 18 cases
to the counter, and wait in line to get a receipt for excess baggage,
which they will reimburse.
on the airlines, it costs about $50 for the first excess bag, $75
each for the next two, $100 for the fourth little sweetie, and then
it escalates exponentially till it tops out at something like $280
million for the last excess bag. While they're waiting in the line
at the airline counter, the crew's car might get towed. But that's
allright because the cameraman can get a receipt and put in for it.
It takes some extra time, though. Usually overtime.
Another thing that takes some extra time is the take-off roll with
those seven hundred pounds of excess. I obsessively time all my take-off
rolls whether I'm traveling with a crew with sixteen cases of equipment
or not. When my plane to Dallas on a hot day in June didn't rotate
after 38 seconds and didn't seem to be accelerating, I knew we were
not gonna make it. Having already made my pre-flight petition to the
travel angels ("my children need me"), I relaxed my breathing
and tightened my seat belt. At 48 seconds the pilots cut the engines
and we coasted to a stop. The captain explained the reason for our
aborted take-off as we taxied back to the gate. There's no space on
the expense voucher for aggravation penalty, so there's no smart thing
If you're in a broadcast union, you can put in for unscheduled flights.
You get about forty dollars for each up-and-down in a helicopter or
charter plane, with a daily maximum of two unscheduled flights per
day. So the smart thing would be to let someone else fly after you've
made two trips in the chopper.
Network television news will continue to suffer until it acknowledges
the existence of parking meters. If I drop four quarters in a meter,
I can't put in for it, without a receipt. So I'm out a buck. If I
don't feed the meter, and get a $52 parking ticket, I can put in for
it, because I have a receipt. So the smart thing would be to keep
my change and take the ticket. I've heard that policy is changing,
and some of the networks will no longer reimburse for parking tickets.
So the smart thing would be to let the meter expire, have the car
towed, get a receipt, and put in for it. I encourage my crews to park
on the sidewalk so they don't waste valuable time deciding whether
to feed the meter.
One very nice thing about broadcast news is that they reimburse for
flowers. I can send flowers to a guest on our morning show and I can
buy flowers to decorate a live shot. In August a morning show asked
me to produce a live shot with a guest they booked at the National
Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho but the show had to cancel,
late in the evening. They booked again the next evening, but cancelled
again. When they started talking about another live guest the following
day, I decided to send flowers to the folks in Public Affairs to let
them know we appreciated their efforts. When I got home from Boise,
I asked whether I could put in for the flowers. No, I was told, we
are being careful about gifts. The smart thing to do would be to send
them hats from the bureau, instead.
It's also smart to know what to call your expenses. Years ago, I got
stopped by a motorcycle cop in Tijuana for no apparent violation.
He said I had changed lanes on an overpass. The cop wanted us to follow
him to the police station in our two rental cars filled with tv equipment.
I had a bad feeling about this, and asked the cop to pay our ticket
for us. He accepted forty bucks and rode away. Obviously, no news
organization would want its employee to offer a bribe and certainly
would not reimburse for one. Naturally, my request was not a bribe,
but a way to expedite our fine. The smart thing to do would be to
put in for a "filming permit."
If the news finance managers ever make it easier for the crews to
save the networks some excess baggage fees, TV news will start to
recover. Money will flow into news budgets and news ratings will improve.
Then we can talk about what's right with television news. "I
like to watch the news in the morning," says my friend Kim, who
loves to read books but does not subscribe to the newspaper. "I
like George Stephanopoulous when
he's on and I like to watch breaking news. I don't like to watch war,"
Kim adds. "I like to see bear invasions and shark attacks."
And the best in television, according to Kim? "I love to see
people's houses floating away. Usually the houses float away in Texas.
Everything's always in Texas," she observed.
The smart thing to do would be to go to Texas and put in for the house.