Sitting at lunch one
day, I asked a colleague, if you could cover any story that ever
happened in the world --- with today’s
media, running around with a television camera or a satellite
phone --- from a time before we had today’s modern media,
what one story would it be?
He thought for a moment and was quick with the answer.
War. It would have to be a war. Thinking a moment more, to a
time back in history, he narrowed it further. The Greeks. I would
like to have been there to see how the Greeks fought their wars.
Joining the game, my thoughts took me falling back in time to
the Roman Empire. If I could have been a reporter on the scene,
I would want to have been there the night Nero fiddled while
Rome burned. Even today when I walk the streets of ancient Rome,
I feel at home, as if I might once have lived there. Surely I
have no desire to see Rome suffer disaster, then or now. But,
after years of covering big city fires and other chaos, what
could be more exciting than covering the greatest city of antiquity
going up in flames?
Excitement. That’s the key. To my friend who chose the
Greeks at war, after making his own bones covering the war in
Vietnam. To me, who lives in Gotham, and loves to see the city
at peace, but has been stirred covering her streets when pandemonium
Which brings me to my topic.
Some days, drat, not very much happens. Not every day is a winner.
And there’s only so much you can do about it. Second day
leads. Side angles to side angles of stories that already happened.
Working on the advance obit file.
There is a rhythm to the newsman or woman’s life. A rhythm
you like to feel stir and sing, but whose song you yourself can’t
write. After all, the news, like the weather or the birth or
a baby, is not in our control. You can’t will it to happen.
It happens when it happens. We sit, ready to pounce if something
does. And, if something does, pounce we do. But if nothing happens,
There’s the rub.
Go too long with too many slow days, too few busy ones, and the
gears feel like they’re beginning to rust. You could say
you could be zen about it. Take it as it comes, when it comes.
But most of us aren’t built that way. We need to be doing
What we need is action.
Recently, on the way to an appointment, I stumbled across
the crowd of newspeople posted out in front of Bernie
Madoff’s apartment house, on the corner of
New York’s 64th Street and Lexington Avenue. As
said perp was not at that moment coming or going to or
from court, the reporters and camera crews were basically just
hanging out, cups of coffee in hand, chatting up their
fellow journalists. Stakeouts aren’t exactly a slow day. Waiting
for a verdict. Waiting at the precinct for a perp walk.
They are down time, but within the larger framework of doing a
story. At least you can say you are working.
But those slow days, when the police have nothing to report.
No news conferences are scheduled. All is quiet on the
western front. Zilch is happening and you
can’t make it up or go out and murder someone yourself just to get something
going. Um. Tough to take. Boring.
Like a racehorse, we’re built to ride ‘em, cowboy. Much better when
the phones are ringing, the newsroom is abuzz, and you don’t have a moment
Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent
documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter
Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down
Heart,” and co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml:
My Heart Remembers.” She can be reached at http://www.douglas-steinman.com/