We in television news do a lot. We cover weather, sports, traffic, the latest house fire, traffic on 95N, you name it.
While I always believed political reporting is of the utmost importance to any newsroom (I am obsessed with politics what would you expect?), I am quickly discovering solid, investigative reporting is THE most important (OKAY maybe weather is when there is a tornado warning) item that appears on our rundowns.
That happened to me late last week in a story you can watch right here.
In short, I discovered Richmond Public School buses were crossing a bridge they were not supposed to because of weight restrictions.
That was not the story I thought I would get when I began my investigation however.
I was tipped off by someone in City Hall that RPS was not paying its Eazy Pass bill and that RPS drivers had to pay out of their pocket at times to cross a popular bridge in the City.
I went out and interviewed a student on a bus that got its Smart Tag rejected.
Of course, I have to counter what the student was saying and I reached out to the Superintendent.
Dr. Dana Bedden responded quickly and confirmed that it happened. He – like me – was confused why buses were stopped in the first place and were not given a warning. After all, bridge authorities know where the buses are coming from right??
At that point, we both reached out to bridge. They were surprised saying “why is a bus crossing the bridge in the first place? It is way over the bridge weight limit of 7500 per vehicle.”
Right then and there I knew I was onto something.
As a result of our story new orders were issued to bus drivers and new signs will be placed on the bridge that more visibly tell drivers what vehicles are not allowed to cross.
I know it might not sound like the biggest of news – but I like to think we may have prevented something with our reporting. Maybe if we never did the story major damage or a major accident would have happened.
Now – I am confident – it will not.
News reacts to what occurs – that is important. But just as important is our commitment to preventing tragedy, scandal, hard ache. We have a lot of power. Let’s use it to investigate and prevent BAD news from happening.
April Showers bring….
The answer is May Sweeps if you work in television news.
I should mention that I have never bought into the whole concept of stressing out over the four “sweeps” months of May, July, November, and February.
After all, shouldn’t we bring our A game everyday? Don’t we bring our A game everyday?
BUT it is an important month and while we can’t take any vacation during these periods there are some benefits.
One thing in particular that I like is that reporters get a chance to do “long form” journalism.
That is, stories that are not thought of, produced, written, and delivered within a few hours.
At CBS 6, we call them TSRs and generally these reports range anywhere between 3-5 minutes on a topic that we believe viewers might tune in to watch.
This May, my sweeps story was slightly different than some of the investigative pieces I have done in the past that have been usually aimed at exposing government spending.
I revisited the Michael Vick dog fighting case – not because I had any particular interest in Michael Vick – but because I had an interest in his dogs.
Amazingly, almost all of the fifty plus animals that were seized when the Vick operation went down were able to be rehabilitated.
The animals have since become icons in the animal community – symbols of hope for abused animals everywhere.
It was a real joy getting to know some of the dogs and meeting people who did so much to ensure these dogs – who are now in their final years – were able to live such amazing lives.
The response to the story was overwhelming- emails and letters from viewers in Canada, Europe, California, and of course Central Virginia. Of course there were hate emails as well – from people who believed I shouldn’t be revisiting an “old topic”.
Clearly, what made the story unique is that we were allowed a tour of the actual sheds that the dog fighting took place in — for the first time!
Sometimes you stumble into an exclusive and that is what happened with me down in Surry County.
I went to Vick’s old house – which is now a dog therapy center in its own right – thinking that the sheds would of been destroyed.
Turns out they were not and beer cans and clothes from the last fight there were still in the shed! Unreal footage for TV!
Many thanks to my photographer Tyler Conta who shot and edited the piece with me.
Spending so much time on a subject can be a real joy – as was this story. I was able to write until the script was “perfect” by my standards as opposed to writing until deadline on a normal day.
Long form journalism should be conducted in all markets, I believe, throughout the year. Sure you might lose a reporter for a day or a live shot during one newscast – but the final product is almost always worth it.
Why do you think Nightline and 60 minutes are #1?
Here is the link to watch the story.
Till next time,
How shootings on Military Bases have become normal…
I found myself in Norfolk, Virginia Tuesday for coverage of a shooting that left a sailor dead and the alleged shooter killed as well.
In this job, there are lots of benefits but one benefit is really getting to know members of our military. It is heart breaking such a young man had to die and my thoughts are with the family.
What struck me with this story is how “normal” everything seemed to be after the news first broke.
Now I know it wasn’t a “Navy Yard – like” shooting, (I was there for that too last year) but in my opinion it was still a significant event!
The shooting happened around midnight and people went to work the next morning, tours on the base were not even cancelled.
Tourists told me after their visit everything looked “normal” – people at gas stations in the City didn’t even know the crime had happened.
Richmond is only an hour and a half from the base – the largest base in the world mind you – and I was the only reporter there. The other Richmond stations thought the TV stations in Norfolk could cover it for them. It was a VOSOT in the other Richmond stations’ shows.
There was no CNN satellite truck or NPR radio reporter. Indeed a shooting on a Navy Base, in fact on a Navy destroyer docked there, indeed is apparently “normal” in our new world.
What does that say about us?
Till next time –
It is amazing how fast news travels these days.
A story that years ago may have only been seen by a couple thousand – can now be easily scene by millions!
That is what happened to me this week regarding my Burger King Story.
The story is simple enough to understand – woman goes to Burger King, woman gets her receipt, woman is called a B**** A** H* on her receipt, woman gets upset, Burger King fires employee.
(There of course was ample fun to have while writing the piece “she didn’t have it her way” or “a ‘whopper’ of a complaint” might have been used once or twice.)
How the story developed is how so many good stories develop now a days – the woman posted the receipt on our facebook page and wanted CBS 6 to investigate. I jumped at the chance to get this story on air.
It happened on Sunday and although I knew this was going to be a story that I would have to wait until Monday to broadcast (getting a Burger King response on Sunday was going to be difficult) I nevertheless called the woman up and said can I come over and do the interview.
Part of the reason I went over and did the interview on Sunday even though I knew it wasn’t going to air that day was because I find that the more time people wait to be interviewed the more likely they are to come up with an excuse as to why they DONT want to be interviewed.
I cannot tell you how many times I have lost interviews with people because they had too much time to think about it.
So for any young reporters out there my advice is always get the interview on camera – it doesn’t have to be used for days but it guarantees the story makes air.
At any rate I digress, we knew the story was going to be a big deal so my web editor and I had a discussion about the headline.
(The headline is often the difference between going viral or not)
The original title was something along the lines of “Grandma moved to tears by restaurant receipt.”
Good title but I suggested to add Burger King in the title – people know the franchise and would be more likely to click on it if that is the case.
The more clicks – the more shares – and the more likely an international news site would pick it up.
Turns out I was right – in a matter of hours gawker, CNN, NY Daily News, Perez Hilton, Huffington Post, and virtually ever CNN affiliate had a version of our story on their website.
Many of those sites would include a link to the original story on our site which no doubt is the reason why we got tens of thousands of views in a matter of hours.
I am not a reporter who typically covers stories like this – I have interviewed presidential candidates, broadcasted live from mass shootings, exposed government abuse etc. – but its my B**** A** H* story that is now the most popular story I have ever broadcasted – and one that I will never forget.
Going Viral is pretty cool.
Thanks for visiting. I will try to post when time permits….but know I am always posting on twitter!