Behind the headlines - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Late last week I watched Broadcast News for the first time. The 1987 film is credited as being very prophetic about where the world of news collecting would go in the coming years. But, as I watched it, I found it really captured some of the real behind-the-scenes world of news collection.
As I write this column - full disclosure - I hadn’t even finished watching the movie. (Between parenting duties, cooking dinner nightly and work, Jess and I are lucky to watch a movie together over three nights.) However, within the first half-hour, I’d seen parts of my life, as a veteran of the news world of nearly 15 years (this October), reflected back at me.
We’ll get the resentful one out of the way first. Holly Hunter’s character, a television news producer, on her way into the office, buys every newspaper on the street to find stories. No offence to those in the world of radio and television (some of my best friends are broadcasters), but that’s the view from the newspaper office, anyway: we do the dirty work and someone with nice hair in a suit reads it that night, grabbing all the glory.
Second was the chaos behind the scenes to get a story to air (in Broadcast News, on a VHS tape and physically brought to a studio and inserted into a machine). Hunter and the reporter create the piece, racing against the clock of a live broadcast, and then a woman has to take the tape and run it to the studio, getting it to a man who inserts it into the VCR seconds before the station would have had to broadcast dead air. The movie then cuts to executives watching the smooth transition from one segment to another, oblivious to the mayhem it took to make that happen.
Like a duck floating peacefully on the water, the world of news collection may look easy to those who consume news, but there is a lot of leg-kicking happening under the water.
Third was the confession of William Hurt’s character that, frankly, he doesn’t understand the majority of the news he’s tasked with reading. Now, Hurt’s character is meant to be a bit of a mimbo (male bimbo) in the film, but that one hit home for me too.
It happens. Denny and I have both been tasked with reporting on topics that, frankly, we couldn’t explain if pressed. You do your research and examine reports, but when push comes to shove, sometimes you just quote the experts and hope for the best.
The fourth and final one came just after a jovial conversation between characters played by Hunter and Albert Brooks. In separate hotel rooms, they flirt over the phone and schedule a meeting in the lobby in 30 minutes to go over a segment they’re producing together. Smiling widely, Hunter hangs up the phone and then unplugs it (back when phones had cords) to have a good, yet brief, cry. She gets it out of her system and then prepares for her meeting.
No doubt we’ve all had days like this, but sometimes, after presenting a brave face to the world, you just need to calmly, safely and quietly break down for a bit. And the world of news collection, for many reasons, can offer plenty of provocations resulting in a good cry.
Late last year, I wrote a handful of columns about the behind-the-scenes world of life here at The Citizen. I heard from a number of people who were happy to learn more.
Watching Broadcast News, it was good to see that there are some universal truths to this profession I’ve chosen and been lucky enough to retain for all these years; that it’s not always Woodward and Bernstein bringing down a president in spectacular fashion, sometimes it’s crying alone in a crappy hotel room.