I stood smiling in front of the brightly lit Christmas tree, trying hard not to let my teeth chatter in the sub-zero weather. The camera was jammed and we were silently waiting to film the "beauty shot". For those not employed in television news, that's the footage shown at the end of a news broadcast while the show's credits run. It's usually local footage of a human interest story, something designed to leave viewers with a smile after the dreary 6 pm report. Just a few days before Christmas, my bosses felt it would give people a high to see their latest newscaster waving to them in from of the town hall's recently decorated tree. Smiling mindlessly into the camera, I lifted my right arm to wave and realized that I had done it all before. I finished the piece, but hoped that my Yuletide insincerity didn't come across on film.
I was so tired of doing inconsequential "fluff" pieces that I was ready to scream into my egg nog! I never knew that the news business in Des Moines would be so unglamorous. As the newest female newscaster in our market, I inherited most of the lighter "fluff" pieces that ended most of our broadcasts. It was a true entry-level position. On any given day, I might film a cat show, high school spelling bee or a Halloween pumpkin carving competition. For the first two years, I enjoyed even the traffic spots, fortunate to have a job in front of the camera in such a competitive field. But I was now feeling itchy, longing to spread my wings and be intellectually challenged by the position.
My station manager suggested that I choose an area of news in which to specialize. We'd film a few test spots and if the viewers liked it, he'd consider making it a regular feature. I immediately knew it would be related to the law. I had already completed several legal spots as part of our community awareness program. We tried to offer an informational piece on common legal issues at least monthly. Nothing too deep, just practical, informative advice on dealing with landlords, noisy neighbors, botched home repairs and "lemon"-quality appliances. The interviews with local legal experts were usually short, upbeat and specific. I yearned to do something more substantial.
My first test piece was an interview with our local State Attorney Steven Collins. Mr. Collins had recently successfully prosecuted several high-profile child abuse cases that outraged the community. I interviewed him for advice on how neighbors and friends can detect the early warning signs of abuse in young children. We received over 400 calls after the piece ran, requesting contact information to report offenders. I was touched by the support of the community and their obvious interest in protecting the rights of children. Viewers encouraged us to keep airing the legal segments. I proceeded to do a weekly in-depth interview at the courthouse exposing serious legal issues in our community. I investigated reports of companies leaking chemicals into our river, elderly abuse in a nursing home and recycled tainted meat in a local fast-food restaurant. In each piece, I featured our local State Attorney, who summarized the state's role in investigating the case and their commitment to protecting the public.
I came to enjoy the legal pieces more than I ever dreamed possible and I envied Steven Collins his job. He used his talents to improve the quality of life for the public and I was both awestruck and humbled by that. I also enjoyed the opportunity to flex my investigative skills and wished that I could follow the cases through to their conclusion. I was unfulfilled on a basic level just being a "talking head". I yearned to research and report my own investigative pieces and make a unique contribution to the field.
I decided to incorporate more legal pieces into my work, even though I would not be paid extra for them. One feature in patrticular received positive support from the community. We featured a listing, including photos and recent addresses, of convicted sex offenders who were released back into our community. While this information must be disclosed by federal law, it is often buried in the fine print of the classified section of the newspaper. Most citizens want the information but don't know where to find it. I decided to present a five minute weekly segment that summarized the current locations of new parolees and the updated addresses of those who had recently moved.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The national news crew from CBS came to interview both Steven Collins and me and cited our program as a model for other cities to emulate. I was more touched by the response from the local community. We receive at least 100 calls of gratitude per week from local citizens who are grateful to know the criminal background of their new neighbors. They credit us for feeling safer in their communities and for bringing crucial public safety information into their living room. I'm proud that I made it part of my job.
My decision to enter an MBA program is fueled by my desire to pursue a managerial career in broadcasting. I've gained incredible confidence in my current position and want the responsibility of programming at a national network. I've learned what I can accomplish by taking initiative and believe that I can make a more valuable contribution to my field with a more rounded business background. My close friends can't understand why I am making the change, dazzled as I once was by the high pay and visibility of my current position. Yet it's impossible to know another person's dreams or identify their true calling. I've been blessed with a unique set of talents that will serve me well professionally. While I enjoy working as a "talking head", I feel I would be more challenged and more helpful to my community in an administrative capacity. The next time I'm photographed in front of a Christmas tree, I'm hoping that it will be at Harvard, surrounded by fellow members of my business school class.