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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

This Is How We Do It

May 22, 2002

If I could pick a newscast to end the May 2002 sweeps run on... well, I'm not sure if I could find one better than what we put on the air this morning. On this final day of the all-important May book, we hit a home run. Here's how it went down...

3:55 AM. The show was coming along well, though I had several stories still waiting to be knocked out. The scanner traffic was sounding a bit out of the ordinary... and then the hammer dropped. We heard that a postal worker in Clearwater had been exposed to something inside a package or letter... which contained arabic writing on the front. He had driven himself to the hospital, but then there were fears by workers there of possible contamination. We made the call quickly -- pull Elaine Lucadano from her scheduled live interview for Kids Week and send her on the story.

In the TV news business, that's the way it goes. There's always the possibility of breaking news. And on this one, we had a potentially huge story. I quickly played some shuffling games with my rundown, putting Elaine as the lead at 5 and 5:30, and knocking out the 5:25 interview and moving up the 5:55 Something To Talk About PKG to fill the C-block hole. We decided to send Mike Dixon to the hospital where the worker was taken, and we called in Rebecca Clark to work as a reporter on the scene there for the 6 AM hour.

Stories fell by the wasteside as I chopped unwritten scripts to make room for the breaking news. With one hour to go, the pressure was on, for sure. The minutes fly by when you're in that situation, playing beat the clock. But it's a thrill. Exciting breaking news situations are why I got in the TV news biz. There's nothing else like it in the world. Nothing.

Elaine and Van Williams (her photographer) quickly made it to Clearwater, and did an excellent job in being ready for a 5 o'clock turnaround. I made the decision to float down the usual first check of weather to quickly get to the breaking news. I'm glad I did.

Elaine hit a home run with the live shot, giving a live report with the information she had learned... and landing a live interview with one of the Clearwater fire and rescue crew members. Elaine excels in breaking news situations like these, and she did everything we asked of her. And from what I'm told, no one else had it at 5 AM -- the competition all lead with the NYC Terrorism Threat (which was my original lead). At 5:30 Elaine pulled through again with new information and another live interview. Pairing that with Mike Dixon's live picture from the hospital, we had our bases covered, dominating the breaking news situation. Winning in breaking local news is what it's all about.

Behind the scenes, my editors did a good job handling my rundown changes (mostly dropping tapes and stories and what not), and my director Jeff LeMaster did an amazing job with all the curveballs I threw his way (killing stories and changing teases and replacing headline video with a live picture and what not). Plus, we still had strong news content to go with the breaking news, which was nice.

As it turned out, the material wasn't anthrax, or anything poisonous for that matter, and the postal worker ended up returning to finish his shift. We didn't use scare tactics in telling the story, and we updated the public on what we knew about their findings as quickly as we could. I'm proud of our effort.

But that's just another day on the job. It could be chaotic like that tomorrow... or perfectly calm. You never know quite for sure what to expect. I imagine the Chandra Levy story will be placed high... but who knows what might happen. That's part of the excitement level in what I do, the unknown, the capacity for anything and everything to happen.

I did manage to work in Joe Kennedy's four-hit shutout of the Mariners in Seattle in my A-block tease. We don't do much with sports anymore, with us focusing on a female audience, but I did manage to find a home for it with the 5:10 sports scoreboard. As I've mentioned on here before, Kennedy continues to impress me, and I think he has the capacity to be an All-Star. Let's hope the D-Rays don't do anything silly with him...

Time to go play some more Final Fantasy X now. Only one work day stands between right now and a three-day weekend...

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