A Reporter's Life
Hanging Out
September 2009

by Eileen Douglas

I love the stories reporters tell. Sitting around talking to each other.

Not the stories that get into the newspaper or onto the air.

The stories you hear from your fellow journalists – and that includes the photographers, the soundmen, and the producers – at the edges of the job. On the road around the dinner table at the end of a day's shoot. Or, whether you drink or not, late at night at the hotel bar. Waiting around hours for a verdict in the courthouse corridors. Even when you're just hanging out in the newsroom at the end of the day.

Some are adventure tales.

"Remember when we were in Brazil," one of the guys in the crew will say, catching up with a long-lost producer he's just met up with again out of town, "and the plane crashed in the jungle?"

"Remember that time we got arrested in Baton Rouge?"

Some are just fun.

At a lunch break in a diner, a network guy will reminisce about the time Ethel Kennedy delivered a rack of evening dresses for Barbara Walters to "choose something" when Walters had nothing to wear for a last-minute party invitation. And he was tasked with going through the rack in her Washington hotel room and deciding which gown she should wear. Fluffy or elegant? Simple or chic? It was his call.

Standing in front of a world-famous painting David Hockney had done of his living room, called "Large Interior, Los Angeles 1988," with a producer colleague of mine one day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I was stunned and delighted when he pointed to the red chair that is the painting’s focal point, to hear him tell me, "I sat here." And, moving his pointed finger, the added little inside detail, "And Garrick Utley sat there."

That was pretty neat. It enlarges your world.

I was reminded of all this looking at the comments some of our Digital Journalist family have left of late. "Assignment Sheet" columnist Dick Kraus, for many years a photographer at Newsday, remembers how the photo department was always a warm and welcoming place. "Coming back after a long, hard day of covering blizzards or hurricanes," he writes, "there were often deli sandwiches and hot coffee spread out on the tables." Furthermore, "there were always your associates, photographers, writers and editors, who spoke the same language." He especially loved the stories that the old-time veterans would tell. "When I was the new kid on the block, I would report for work hours ahead of time. I would hang around after quitting time to hear those guys talk about their experiences. I called it sitting at the feet of the gurus. My former wife never understood. It was the best journalism class that ever existed."

Sometimes it's inside pool.

Commenting on Ron Steinman's recent "Drowning Pool" piece, former cameraman Steven Alexander admits he reveled in the extreme competition. "Getting to the story first or finding a unique angle and beating the competition" were what he thrived on as a cameraman. He remembers almost getting into a fight with a CBS cameraman "because I beat him to a location and had already lit it." He also remembers "going to a congressman's office and being told by the assignment desk, the producer and reporter, this was a special secret story and not to discuss it on the outside. As a freelancer, several days later, another network desk sent me to the same congressman's office with the same injunction. It is a secret. Well, you guessed it," he writes, "the third network assigned me to do this special top secret story. The congressman and I did our best not to break up." And all three networks ran their "exclusive" stories. These are the stories, about how we do our jobs, which only we share. Only we may hear. And only we may care about. The storytellers doing storytelling.

Sometimes it's the best part of the job.

© Eileen Douglas

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist-turned-independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for "ABC-TV's 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.

blog comments powered by Disqus