Through the glass of my office at my last News Director position stood the bumper sticker I received as part of my birthday present from my staff that year. “Mean People Suck” it proclaimed to all who could see it, and it stood as a reminder of how I felt about certain ‘types’ of television news people. I fought for compassion in and out of our newsroom, and despised arrogance and self-importance. Some of my co-workers liked that about me. Others felt it was my weakness. Through the years, when those friends outside of the news business would ask me how I liked television, my standard response would be: “I love television. Sometimes it’s just the people I hate.”
OK, so of course not EVERY television person sucks. But the percentage who does would stagger you. Now I’m not talking about just the on-air people, that would be too easy. I mean with all the ego that comes with that job, the adulation of the viewers, most any one of us might suck too. I’m referring to entire groups of TV people. Promotions people, producers, assignment editors, and yes, some photographers.
Maybe they suck because they have unique pressures in their jobs. Or maybe they suck just because they think they are better than most ‘normal’ people. But most television people have this arrogance, this notion that somehow rules were not written for them, that their adrenaline-laced, deadline-driven lives supercede anything that society considers the norm.
Maybe one reason is that those who enter TV do it for the wrong reasons. Much like the police officer that always wanted to be a bully, many TV anchors and reporters are frustrated actors and actresses. Think I’m assuming? No. I’ve been handed dozens of resumes from theater folks who, sitting across from me pitching for that first job, would look me straight in the eye and say “I couldn’t get a job as an actress so I thought being a TV anchor would be the next best thing!”
Maybe another reason is that we can get away with pretty much anything. Get pulled over racing the news car to a story? Most officers will let you go with a warning. Arrive at the story twenty minutes late? If you’re one of the big stations, don’t worry. Chances are the Governor will hold up the news conference until your sticks are up and tape is running.
For those of us lucky enough to have to run, or sit through, a morning editorial meeting, you’d understand what I’m saying. It’s like being the coach of the Yankees, or Lakers. Everyone is a star. Everyone has an ego, some more fragile than the next. Everyone wants to talk longest, make the best point, be the most impressive. And that’s behind closed doors! Our arrogance to get the story first bleeds into how we deal with the public each day. Listen as your Assignment Editor tells the woman on the phone who just lost her husband that she really ought to tell her story, the very day he died, to show others the grief she is feeling. It will be cathartic he’ll say. We understand your pain. We do. Tell our viewers how you feel. No, tomorrow will be too late, he’ll say. We need it tonight. Before the competition gets to you first.
The public thinks photographers are wrong for putting a camera in the face of the newsmaker when that newsmaker doesn’t want to be shot. But that’s the shooter’s job. However, photographers are usually the drivers of news cars, so some of them suck in their own special way. Some think ‘handicapped parking’ means parking for those who carry a tripod. Or maybe some shooters feel they are handicapped when they get stuck with the station’s worst reporter. But I’ve seen many a photog pull that news car right up on the sidewalk of the building of a newsmaker without even a passing glance of guilt around him.
How do promotions people suck you ask? Maybe you don’t realize that they are the culprits for creating the scary teases that make you cry every night. “You may want to hug your child as you watch this next story”…they write. “Could you be drinking water that is killing your family?” another asks. Facts are not a concern to the promotions writers. Most aren’t even journalists. They just read some copy, and, well, kinda make it sound scary. It’s a talent they will tell you. Making viewers watch. Making copy sing! Making people…scared.
In television, even those waaaaay behind the scenes find unique ways to suck. Like the way the finance people act like you are spending their own hard earned cash when you seek money for a special story. Or maybe the condescending way your IT person treats your technology-challenged reporters. Ever deal with engineers at a TV station? ‘Nuff said about that!
TV people are notorious back-stabbers. But for this, I don’t blame them. Let’s make this comparison to the structure of a radio station. In radio, the newsperson can root for the jock, and vice-versa, because the success of each of them is actually greater when the other does well. In simpler terms, if the morning personality gets fired, it doesn’t help the newsperson. Not so in TV. In television news, the room is filled with reporters who each morning vie for the top story. When I choose who does that coveted story, I would make one person very happy, and a dozen hate my guts, convinced I’m a total idiot because I didn’t see how they were clearly more qualified to ‘do that story justice’. Some reporters will then actually hope the person I chose for that lead story does a poor job, to justify their feelings about my choice, and their rejection. Let’s take it a step further. Many News Directors are constantly barraged with complaints about the performance of the station’s primary anchor. Not from viewers, mind you. But from reporters who see themselves as ‘in-line’ for that anchor chair. Again, it’s only human nature. If you are a good back-up anchor, maybe in your mid 30’s, and you’d like to stay at your station, you will never be promoted unless that 60-something anchor finally retires. Or messes up bad enough to get fired.
Creative managers work hard to change this dynamic. Dole out perks in a fair way. Maybe even help those stuck with no way to advance, get a better job at a different station. Maybe promote the reporter who works the hardest, not the one who is the prettiest. Some of us are even silly enough to put people ahead of the business of television. Many of us who do that are considered weak. Or maybe we are actually strong enough to put life ahead of the chaos, ego and money that is now TV. It depends on how you view life.
I love television. Sometimes it’s just the people I hate.
© Jim Parisi