At 2:30 a.m. on July 1, 2017, more than 60 shots were fired inside a downtown Little Rock nightclub. The initial information from police was that more than a dozen people were hit. That number ended up being 25.
This highlights an inopportune time when breaking news happens and you need to rush to air. You have to get people into the station, and you need to do it fast.
I was brought up in the businesses to take on the mindset that when big news happens, you don’t wait to be called — you rush to the newsroom. I learned this as a student at the University of North Texas. When the shuttle Columbia exploded over East Texas, a couple of my working professors immediately packed up and headed that way. They offered me a seat in the car. The trip was one of the best learning experiences of my career. I had the chance to do live radio reports across stations in Texas and shoot video that was used on WFAA-TV in Dallas. There’s only so much you can soak in from a textbook or watching other people in action. You have to be in the middle of it and be part of the decision-making process.
During the club shooting coverage, this “old school” mindset was best highlighted by KARK/Fox16 weekday morning show editor Lew Short. Lew has more than 50 years of experience in the television news business. He was called in the early morning hours of that Saturday to help at the station. The phone call went something like this:
Lew: What happened?
Assignments: We have 25 people shot in a club. It happened…
Lew hung up on the desk and walked into the newsroom some 15 minutes later. He didn’t need to hear anymore. That’s just the way he operates.
He didn’t ask what he’d be doing. He didn’t wonder who he’d work with. He didn’t ask when he’d get off. He went to work to serve the viewers.
There were several others in ours and several other Central Arkansas newsrooms who did the exact same thing that day. But you have to love it when a veteran with a half century of experience exhibits the same (if not more) passion than your newest reporter.
This past Saturday, Lew was inducted into the NATAS Mid-America EMMYs Gold Circle in honor of his more than 50 years in television news. Over the last five decades, Lew has shot exclusive video of Elvis, been on the scene of a missile explosion, and was barreled over by a running back on the sidelines of a high school football game. Lew’s leg was broken, but he still got the shot.
Every step of the way, he’s exhibited a standout work ethic. That includes showing up at the station hours after a heart procedure “because someone’s going to have to edit the noon show.” No joke.
Lew’s response showcases an old school mentality journalism can’t afford to lose. It’s not hard to find someone to to edit video, but it’s invaluable to have an employee in your newsroom who’s a living example of how to approach the job each day. That’s what Lew is for our newsroom.
A few months ago, I had an eager journalist ask me if he could be called in the next time there was a big story. He said the experience could be invaluable.
My response: Don’t wait for the call.
And if you happen to get it? Follow Lew’s lead. Hang up and go.
(Post originally appeared at https://www.rtdna.org/article/learn_from_lew)