Schwarma leads to scoop for a multi platform journalist

Picking up dinner at Joe’s Restaurant in Richmond Hill has always been a success: the falafel, lentil soup and chicken brochettes in pita are family favourites, and they save me from cooking once a month! Plus the owners, Joe and his wife, are so friendly, and they are always in the know about what’s going on in the news. But last week, I got something extra with my order of three schwarmas and a falafel.

Another customer was paying for her meal at the cash and I was waiting to order, and, as usual, evesdropping on other people’s conversations. That’s just a professional deformation, I guess. She was telling Joe’s wife (Sorry, I never did know your name!) about the fact she was back to school already (Aug.5) when most schools don’t open until after Labour Day. She started telling the owner’s wife (let’s call her O.W.) about Bill Crothers Secondary School, a new high school that’s opened in Markham that she is administrator at, where it’s for athletes only, it’s public, so it’s open to any students who are either elite athletes, or just like house league and healthy living, and that they are opening a new facility with 3 double gyms, weight rooms, and amazing facilities.

Sounded like a great story. Plus, she said it was the only one of its kind in Canada. My nose started twitching, O.W. lent me some scraps of order paper to write on, and I dug a pen out of my purse to take down her name, and some notes.

The next day, when I went in to work, we had a story meeting at CBC Radio News, as usual, and it was all “PROPANE” “PROPANE”, referring to how the newsroom was continuing to dig up stuff on the Aug 10th propane explosion. But folks were getting sick of this story, and the editor agreed to let me cover the sports school story.

I called the principal, researched the story on the ‘Net, to see if indeed it WAS the only public all sports high school in Canada, and then we agreed I could come out to Markham and do some interviewing and see it for myself. Trouble was, we had only one CBC Van, and Markham is some 40 k away from the CBC offices on Front Street across from the Rogers Centre.
With the propane story requiring a van, we were stuck!

Then the assignment editor decided to reveal details of my “scoop” to the CBC TV news crew at the CBC News at 6, in exchange for them lending me a camera and driver to take me to do the radio story. The deal was: I do stories for radio and for tv, and it would be shared between the news services. I think:”Cripes, I’m not wearing any makeup today!” and “Thank God I wore a nice suit to work!” and we proceeded to get on the road.

Now I have worked for TV for many years as a reporter and anchor, so I wasn’t worried about doing TV. I prepared my radio recorder and mics and earphones to be all set for my radio stories which I had to file. As we got into the van, I chit chatted with Neith MacDonald, the veteran cameraman, as we drove out to Markham on a beautiful sunny Friday.

Once we arrived, it was like riding a bicycle. You never forget how to work with a cameraman, and how to carry gear, how to ask where to stand during interviews for TV, and how to suggest shots (gently), how to make sure the sound check was done before asking important questions for TV, and also how to introduce the cameraman as an integral part of the story. And to let your camera operator get the shots he or she needs, once you’ve discussed the all important “Focus” of the story.

Remarkable how much longer it takes for a TV story to be gathered, then a story for radio. I did my radio interviews quietly, unobtrusively, and quickly, and folks didn’t clown around, or jump up and down behind the interviewee screaming “Hi Mom!. And with radio, the students weren’t mugging for the camera which required Neith to make folks re-do the shot, to make sure it looked natural. We got there about 11 30 a.m. I was done by 1 :15, for radio.

it took us until 2:30 to finish working for TV. Neith shot the hallways, the cafeteria, the lunchroom, the classes, teachers, playing field, gym, basketball games, and about 10 interviews with kids, faculty and school board staff. And my bridge. And it only took me 4 takes to get the on-camera bridge down right, which isn’t bad, considering I hadn’t done one since 2007, when I went back to work in radio. And he carried gear from downstairs to upstairs. And changed tapes once. And didn’t take a break for bathroom, or food, or anything.

Luckily I didn’t have to file on air for radio that afternoon, as the stories were for Monday or Tuesday. And the TV story would be rolled out that next week too, once I cut it. So I sat in the passenger seat of the CBC TV Van, apologized in advance for ignoring him on the ride back to the station, and shotlisted my interviews and sound for my radio stories. We returned to the station at 3:30 and I was finished writing, editing, and recording the 2 radio stories by 8 p.m. Here is one of those stories which aired on CBC on Wednesday Morning August 20, 2008.

That Friday night, I wrote my rough TV story script as well, while I was on the GO bus from Union Station to Richmond Hill. I wrote it out longhand, in my notebook.

On the Wednesday, I rewrote the TV script at home, sent it to the editor by e-mail, and then went in at 12:45 to screen the tapes (which I hadn’t seen yet.) It would have been great to learn the CBC TV digital editing software DTV, which is an AVID application, I think. But the material had been erased from the system, so it was back to old fashioned time coding of the Beta SX tapes on their viewing station in the TV newsroom.

It took me about 40 minutes to shotlist the 2 tapes (we shot about 25 minutes of stuff I think) and then I was ready to go to the editor at 3 p.m. We did tape to tape editing, which is old school. Tony Martino and I had worked together when i was a reporter for CBLT’s supper hour news show in the late 1990s ( I went to CTV after my first child was born in 1997).

We were organized, and we cut the piece in just over 1 hour, for a minute 39. It was actually going to be 1:45 but the lineup editor had stipulated 1:30 and so we cut out one final interview with the school board official, to get it as close to 1:30 as we could.

I am waiting to see the piece air sometime soon, but even if not, it was great to be a multiplatform journalist.

It’s so important to be “talking the talk” as well as “walking the walk” when you are teaching journalism to students.

I think it’s vital that teachers keep current, not only so they can have fresh current experiences to share with their classes, but also because they see what the industry is requiring journalists to do.

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