Interestingly enough, I started in this crazy business on a technical path. I worked as a shooter and editor in my first job out of college and eventually as a TD, director, chyron op, stagehand, studio camera, boom operator, graphic designer and (please God, never again) a master control operator. Why do I bring you this short history lesson? I’ll get to that.
After holding my various jobs in news production, I eventually slipped, somehow, into the journalism side of things, producing for the CBS affiliate in Youngstown, Ohio. We were number one for murders in the mid to late 90’s, hooray! Gang warfare, Mafia warfare, you name it. It made the job very easy. The old, if it bleeds it leads concept. But I didn’t like it. I was hell bent on changing the world! I wanted more positive news, less negative. I impressed my friends and family. They would say “Oh wow, you are a news producer. How cool”. And it was, for a while at least. Then the fight got old and I, like any good producer, needed a change. So I moved on and eventually landed in New York City.
Flash forward or in this case scroll through the years. I held onto my technical know-how along the way, by doing the jobs that I could when not in a union shop. When I ended up with a union gig, I was disappointed that I couldn’t touch the machinery. It took getting yelled at a few times, by someone jaded and in the business for decades, for me to learn. Although I still have issues with the “you can touch this deck but not that one” mentality.
Here’s where I revert to the beginning. All these years later as we see the diminution (it annoys me that I just used this word) of the local news business, my earlier skills are coming back as a blessing. Across the country, TV stations are changing the way they do things. In the once union heavy market of NYC, where I used to get my knuckles smacked with a ruler for touching eject, I am now editing on a desktop. Companies looking for new ways to save money are beating down IATSE and NABET which in turn is forcing the writers and producers to do more with less. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have an eye for shooting, when it eventually comes to that and I am sure it will, and I have an eye for editing. I’m now in a shop where producers and writers make their own graphics and we’re not the only newsroom in the number 1 market that is doing so.
I suppose the end result after 18 years is that I am forced to embrace the changes. I hear the scripted phrase “lucky to have a job”, over and over again. I get it. I am lucky to have a job. I am not lucky to be in a position where I am now not only critiqued on the content and writing of a news show, but on the look of it as well. When I made my transition I expected to be judged on writing ability and producing know-how. Now I hear “that video didn’t match the script, what happened?” Or, “that graphic didn’t work with the story”. In essence, the job of a News Writer is becoming quite blurred and the actual writing of it is not the main focus anymore. I’ll expound on that in a later entry. That is unless I find a brand new career between now and the next time I sit down to write one of these.
Patrick Mason works as a Producer for WNYW FOX 5. Most recently as a producer for Good Day New York. He previously worked as a producer and copy editor for WWOR My 9 and News 12 New Jersey.