Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Learning by watching

On Saturday, I went out with WTOP reporter Rahul Bali. Hands-on learning is good, but I tried the watch and learn approach for a day. It was worth it.
We drove to FedEx Field (home of the Redskins. Maybe you know that, but I always assume ignorance when it comes to sports. After all, I am mostly ignorant myself on that topic). There, Rahul was supposed to cover a veterans health event, where vets could come and have several medical tests for free. As part of the coverage, he was going to meet up with Joe Theismann, a former Redskins player that is famous, partially, for his gruesome leg injury broadcast on Monday Night Football. (Watch at your own risk)

The interview had many aims. For one, the Redskins aren't doing very well this season. OK, they're actually doing a phenomenally bad job this season. And WTOP is getting some on-air commentary from John Riggins, a Hall of Fame running back. (OK, I'm honestly not sure what a running back does.) As far as I understand, he wants the Redskins under new management NOW and he's being pretty vocal about who he thinks is at fault for the team's dismal record. So Rahul was supposed to get some feedback on that.

Also, we needed to get some quotes about veterans' mental health services in light of the recent Fort Hood shooting.

Going out with a pro is good for couple of reasons. For one, I get a lot of advice about the field, including some information about how to find a job one day (eek!). Also, I get to see how things really work, outside of textbooks and classroom lectures. Rahul even hit the speaker phone button and let me listen in while he and the producer made decisions about his story.

Some interesting things I learned...

Things to keep in a reporter's bag (they all lug bulky satchels and totes): a flashlight (for reading notes or scripts when reporting after sunset); a pack of cigarettes, even though Rahul doesn't smoke (people might talk to you if you offer them a smoke, especially in a situation where they can't leave the scene to get a cigarette somewhere else).

Things I need to know to function at my first job: high school and college sports (first-time journalists usually get jobs in smaller towns. In these places, the whole population can turn out at a high school football game). This is going to be tough for me.

How to get the best sound bite: make sure your question matches the emotional level of the response you want. An example, Rahul covers Redskins fans. Instead of asking a team fanatic "What do you think about the game so far?" Rahul will jam the microphone in the person's face and simply yell "What the hell is going on out there?!" The fans pick up on the emotion and they'll yell back. I tried this the other day in a phone interview and it works. I still need some practice, though.

I also got to play with some neato technology. WTOP owns a device the reporters call an "access". It uses a 3G network or wireless internet to connect to the newsroom. This way, a reporter can call in a story live without worrying about being near a phone or the iffy signal of a cell phone. The access is about the size of a pound cake. To use it, you simply plug in a battery, stick the wireless card inside of it, turn it on, and wait for it to connect with the newsroom. Rahul said most newsrooms don't have these devices yet.

Another good thing about the access, it works best outdoors. At FedEx field that means, well, on the field. I got to stand on a football field for the first time in my life. And I realized that 100 yards is actually pretty small. It looks much bigger on TV.

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