April 13, 1997
Two Stories, and Chicken
Do these things happen in other parts of the country? Itís 10:45 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, so, of course, Iím sleeping. (Hey, I work until 11:00 p.m. most nights; leave me alone.) The phone rings, and I pick it up.
"Buenos dias," says a very pleasant female voice.
In my coming-out-of-sleep stupor, I can think of nothing more appropriate to say than:
"Buenos dias," in my best Spanish accent.
This, of course, was a mistake.
"Donde esta Ö(something else in Spanish) Ö Señor Macillas?"
Now, Iím certainly no wizard at speaking Spanish. Letís put it this way: Iím very good at the Taco Bell menu, and "Hello." But somehow, perhaps because I was still half asleep, I understood her perfectly. She wanted to know if Mr. Macillas was available. Of course, he wasnít.
"No, no," I said, technically still speaking Spanish, but quickly reverting to my native (and only) tongue, "thereís no Macillasís here. We have Campbells, but no Macillasís."
"Oh, Iím sorry, Mr. Campbell," she said, clearly puzzled. "Forgive me for asking, but do you speak Spanish and English?"
"No, not really, just the English."
She laughed. "Itís just that from the way you said "Buenos dias," I thought you were a native Spanish speaker."
"Oh! Well, thank you, but just English for me." Now that was cool. I must have a killer "Buenos dias." But before I could explore my burgeoning foreign language skills further, the woman on the phone quickly moved on to other business.
"Mr. Campbell, Iím calling from MCI, and weíd like to talk to you about changing your long-distance serviceÖ"
So this weekend, I produced the big newscasts at KCAL (one-hour shows on Saturday and Sunday nights), the Los Angeles television station I work for. It had been a while since I last produced a show (I produced newscasts for about five years at a smaller TV station in San Luis Obispo, my hometown, but that ended almost two years ago when I came to KCAL), but all things considered, we did a fairly good job. I say "we" of course, because while I am technically the producer, the show doesnít happen without the help of at least 20 other people. (For those of you keeping score at home, that includes numerous photographers, editors, assignment desk people, writers, reporters, an associate producer, two anchors, and a technical crew of about ten people to run the cameras, type in the graphics, run the audio board, etc.) Still, being captain of the KCAL ship, even if only for a weekend, was a unique experience.
There were lots of decisions to be made, as there always are. Which stories do we cover? Which stories do we blow off? Is the day-old story about a suspected flasher on the loose really worth a reporter and a live shot? What about this one Ė should we really even cover the San Fernando Valley High School Jazz Festival? (The answers, by the way, were yes and yes.)
That got me thinking about an age-old question: What is news? Sometimes, as a news viewer, I think to myself, "What on Earth are they doing covering this story? This story is so lame!" Maybe you do that too Ė wonder what possessed your TV news station to cover certain events.
All I will say is this: Please try to remember that for the most part, TV news people are not monsters, looking to prey on the weak and exploit tragedies. For the most part, TV news people are people just like you, who got in to the business because they want to be part of the solution to the worldís problems, and hope to do so by serving a greater public interest. (At least, that's why I do what I do.)
That interest, of course, sometimes is hard to see. And there are exceptions occurring with alarming frequency these days. For example, I have no idea what interest is served with continuing coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case. People with (allegedly) sexually abused six-year-old beauty queens living in their homes may be getting something out of the media orgy, but I have a feeling the rest of us are tired of hearing about this case.
All weekend, I tried to make the right choices. To find the balance between what needed to be told, and what deserved to be told. In Los Angeles, itís easy to do crime story after crime story, death after death. In fact, thatís how Channel 7, the ABC owned and operated station, started its 6:00 p.m. news. We went for something a bit different (our show runs at 8:00 p.m.), and I think we hit the right balance. In addition to the tragic (a 2-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet in a gang-related shoot-out), we also found time for the uplifting (a woman who takes melted weapons and turns them into sculptures called "Peace Angels"). In all, it was a tough balancing act. But I think it all worked out. The anchors were happy, the assignment desk people were happy, the reporters were happy, the tech crew was happy Ö
Tomorrow, Iíll find out if the bosses were happy. Our new News Director starts tomorrow. His new office is about six feet from my desk. Fun.
People have been feeding me chicken this week. Iím not sure why, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank two very good friends, Linda Aha and Larisa Montelindo, for two very good meals. Thanks for the pollo!