Viewers often wonder why I do what I do.
“You’re crazy!” is the usual response when people find out that I’m heading towards the thing that everyone else is running away from.
Whether it’s a hurricane, an earthquake or a riot, journalists always face risks, but what you don’t see on TV is all the work we put into keeping ourselves safe.
We’re not the story, so that’s the side of the story you don’t usually see.
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The most important thing to remember is that those of us in the field have final say over what risks we’re willing to take. Our producers trust us to make our own judgment calls, and we, in turn, trust our producers not to ask us to do anything we’re not comfortable with.
In my experience, most news managers have long sleepless nights worrying about how those of us in the thick of it are doing.
Reporters are always asked about their level of comfort before they’re assigned to a potentially dangerous story.
And there’s always one golden rule: no story is worth your life.
How do we prepare?
A tremendous amount of planning goes into an assignment that has any element of risk.
In the case of Hurricane Florence, we started monitoring the storm late last week and talking about how we might deploy. By the time we hit the road on Tuesday, we had a full game plan in place for our two crews.
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The focus is on planning for every eventuality, and oftentimes, that planning is based on past experience.
Natural questions include: How will we get there? Where will we stay? How will we transmit our television signal? How will we get out, if things get bad?
What do you bring?
The plan is always to be self-sufficient. We do not want to be a strain on local resources, and we can’t rely on services that may cease to exist.
That means bringing in enough food, water and fuel to last for many days.
Just like a home emergency kit, the food must be non-perishable and should be containers that don’t require a can opener. Don’t forget knives, forks and spoons!
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We pack flashlights, batteries, lanterns, backup chargers, a first-aid kit, and on and on the list goes.
There’s a satellite phone if cellphone communications fail, baby wipes should we be unable to shower and plenty of clothes so that we can stay as dry as possible.
Over time, you learn from experience.
Hurricane Harvey taught me the value of simple things like Ziploc bags and rubber bands in storm coverage – put them together and they’ll keep everything dry (and you can still type on your phone through a bag!). Those little tricks make the difference between a smooth assignment and a painful one.
Where do you stay?
Anywhere that will have us. Oftentimes, there are usually a couple of well-built hotels that decide to stay open, and they typically end up full of journalists.
The hotels often make accommodations to keep their own staff on site, and safe. Even if the power goes out, being with other people in a hotel is still better than being out there on your own.
There’s safety in numbers, as they say.
What if it all goes wrong?
That’s the one thing we all go out of our way to avoid.
In some ways, TV news forces you to play it safe. There’s no value in putting yourself at such risk that you break equipment, end up getting injured, or are in a place where you can’t send video back.
After all, that’s why we’re here in the first place.
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