Going live and the living dead

When I was a student, I used to think the work load made me akin to a mindless zombie – get through this and then you can get some BRAAAAAIIIINNNNNNSSSS.

That was until I joined the real world and found out the demands of producing a product you are both happy with and within your capacity to create. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, working in a community station in a quote “smaller market” opens up many roles – and just as many opportunities to do something new and scary.

In October alone, I was fortunate enough to join the on-air team to cover the Saskatoon civic election. This would be my fourth election that I’ve covered in some regard (October 2010 – Winnipeg Civic election, May 2011 – Federal Election, October 2011 – Manitoba provincial election).

Getting ready in the truck – I guess an election is like a sport

Having done live hits for radio and web work in the past, this time it was the whole nine yards – going live on television.  I was set up in the council chamber with a computer, smart phone and a desk doing intermittent live hits as needed by the host providing feedback from twitter. I would also be tracking live results and the progress of other Saskatchewan cities.

Smiles before going live

In the midst of making sure I was prepared with my ward maps and my phonetics cards (which I threw out the window at one point, sorry Pat Lorje) I didn’t have time to get nearly as freaked out as during the infamous CreComm “Live Hit Derby’s.”

Despite almost losing power to my laptop (my whole raison d’etre as social media reporter) due to a damaged power cord, and almost having no contact with my director – ears are too small for even the smallest ear packs (custom buds for the win!) we did it: 2.5 hours of live television, with many live hits and tweets in between.

I can’t say it was flawless, but that is the beauty of live television – it’s moving forward, being confident and having some back-ups. After reviewing, I’ve decided my phrase of the night was “of course” (better than “um,” I suppose *shudder*) but most importantly, I learned a few key lessons I want to share with others (feel free to add more in the comment section!):

1)      Breathe and slow down: It’s so easy to start speaking fast to hurry everything up, but when you have to fill 2-3 minutes at a time, just you at a desk with nothing but some notes and tweets, slowing down is key.

2)      Have a number of extra points to discuss: and then double that number. Especially in a situation where you can’t banter with other on-air people and you have to fill time, talking about something like the new ways to vote in Saskatchewan offers some additional information to the cast.

3)      Know what you are going to cover: sounds simple enough, but I knew going in that as social media reporter, I wanted to supplement my cast and not just parrot it. I tweeted out results for the mayor, and discussed some tight races in the wards – but it was about starting a conversation I could bring to viewers at home.

Trying to compete with other media to “get results out first” seemed futile, as I was monitoring many different hashtags, responding to tweets and preparing graphics for my next live hit. Plus, my audience online was already following the results from the city website or on Shaw TV – so they didn’t need another reminder. Creating the conversation, asking what people thought of the turn-out, etc. proved to be a far more engaging tactic and made for good discussion on television.

We were also the only television crew doing live election results – so we were working together to present that the best way possible.

4)      Use your surroundings: Being the only one in the council chamber for the first while was eerily quiet, but then came candidates waiting for results, fellow reporters, members of the public, etc. Always a good way to start and continue the on-air conversation is bringing up what you see – “wow, candidate John Doe in ward 5 just shook hands with fellow candidate Jimmy Dean to concede his seat.” Sharing anecdotes about being there offers moments perfectly suited for live television.

5)      Do the best you can: it sounds trite, but as the second time I have ever done live tv and it being a mini-marathon of sorts – doing all you can and executing it the best way possible is all you can ask. Reviewing work and thinking about all the things to improve is the path to bettering “your best.” Oh and remembering all the things from Live TV Production with Joanne Kelly is also important.

As for the living dead part – Halloween came and went, but not without some fun! Having to produce a full Halloween-only show was a great challenge of being creative, and not so frugal with the overtime hours. We will be posting some of our spooky content soon, but I have to say the highlight was getting the opportunity to do some good!

Some of the media people in Saskatoon made it out to carve pumpkins for the Canadian Breast Cancer Society. And while my kitty-kat didn’t win any prizes, she was the first scooped up by a happy donor to take the spot on their front porch.

The highly technical carving

Happy Halloween!


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