Most days I make the news. Today, I pretty much just watched it. Moments before joining Jeff Varner in a hard-target search for Rita evacuees lurking in the Piedmont, I was summoned to the conference room where a cabal of well-dressed news managers paced about like the hopped-up news junkies they were.
"Change of plans, Stew. Matt's gonna take Varner to the airport. We want YOU to monitor all the satellite feeds and pull the best stuff for the early shows."
I stared back at the clutch of nervous news executives, waiting for the catch, When they only stared back, I heard myself ask feebly, "Ya want me to...go watch TV?"
Their enthusiastic nods told me they were indeed serious so I immediately turned on my heels and left the room before they could see me roll my eyes. On the way out, I swear I heard two of them clumsily high-five each other.
A few minutes later, I was firmly ensconsed in my station's 'Sat Center'. Okay, so it's just a corner of our tape room where the outdated beta decks hang out, but branding is everything in television, so allow me that. Whatever you call it, I took to my new assignment with considerable enthusiasm. With cold soda and notepad in hand, I leaned back in my low-sitting chair and stared up at the bank of monitors, wondering exactly which News God I'd recently appeased to score such a cushy gig. Little did I know then the Earth was about to spin a little slower.
On screen, a torrent of images poured forth. A wide shot of the Galveston shore took up one monitor; the one next to it showed miles and miles of stagnant headlights. A few screens over, a battered black and white screen displayed aerial footage of a bus full of elderly evacuees parked underneath a billowing tower of smoke and flames. Not so long ago, such nightmare scenarios could only be found in the climactic chapters of a Stephen King novel, now they're readily available on the evening news - but not before some poor schlub seperates the easily-sequenced wheat from the reams of broadcast chaff.
Which is exactly what I proceeded to do. Utilizing the penmanship of a third-grader I scribbled times and tape numbers as reporter stand-ups and sweeping chopper shots fought for my diminished attention. Just when the horrible bus fire seemed like the top story, a breeched levee in New Orleans' ninth ward became the marquee event of the day. Almost instantly, shots of elderly people on stretchers vanished, replaced by slightly less disturbing footage of water gushing through man-made walls. Shortly after that, time...stood...still.
Well, maybe not totally still - but the hands on my freebie FOX watch moved a heckuva lot slower than if I'd been out somewhere chasing the daily deadline. Of course I can't complain when so many other Americans are so displaced and downtrodden. Instead, I found myself counting my many blessings as the different scenes from the same sad passion play unfolded before me. By the end of the day I'd filled several pages with my chicken-scratch vernacular, handing off cued-up tapes to colleagues in need of a certain shot. Overall, not a hard way to spend the day - but a damned depressing one, nonetheless. While nine out of ten newsdays aren't one -tenth as troubling, I'll know better than to rejoice inside the next time the suits want me to spend the day staring at the tube.
Is it any wonder I don't watch TV at home?