When the storytelling never stops: Working at an all-day news channel
Selena Drepaul, a producer at CHCH news in Hamilton, Ontario, describes the juggling act required to work at an all-day news channel, learning lessons the hard way, and how news keeps you humble.
Selena Drepaul, a producer at CHCH news in Hamilton, Ontario, describes the juggling act required to work at an all-day news channel.
I started in the CHCH newsroom as a writer, just days after the station launched its all-day news format in the fall of 2009. There was a lot of airtime to fill—a LOT. Every story was needed right away. I thought I was a great multitasker. Turns out, I was great at multitasking my simple life, but I had to learn how to juggle infinite news stories.
Almost everyone at the station was used to years of working on a morning show, with time to prepare for the noon news, which was followed later in the day by the 6 and 11 o’clock newscasts. Suddenly, everyone was spending eight, nine, or ten-hour shifts in the control room or newsroom contributing to a show that never ends.
It's a cycle of minimal breaks, little time to chat, and a lot of time spent trying to catch your breath while keeping your head above water. I learned when to ask questions—and to keep those questions short, simple and to the point. Just like news.
Everyone I work with has this incredible ability to monitor the globe. We each have our own method and sources to track stories that are local, provincial, national, and global. If a story isn't local, the goal is to find out if there is a local tie-in—something I learned the hard way.
On one of my first days, I wrote a story about someone who had been appointed to a federal position dealing with education. I felt I had enough information from the news wires to write my story. When my version of events ran, I was proud that I got it to air rather quickly—a new story to add to the rotation! Then we got a few emails from viewers. Then the news director called. Uh-oh.
It turns out there was a very local angle that I had missed. The gentleman was well known and served in the Hamilton area school district for years, and still lived in town. My script made him sound like some guy heading to Ottawa. But he was one of our guys heading to Ottawa. I learned a lesson that I thought I already knew—while speed is important, research and facts always come first. Don't simply rewrite a script; make it your own and remember whom it is you’re writing for. With local news, your audience expects you to connect with them on a very personal level.
Now, unless I'm producing the 6 o'clock news on the weekends, I can be found producing the all-day news wheel. I am in charge of nine, half-hour slots. To say I have learned a new level of multitasking is an understatement—I live a new level of multitasking. I try to listen to everything around me while writing and reviewing stories. Many things said around me, not directly to me, turn out to be important. I read stories online, monitor our feeds, read endless news releases and emails, talk to the assignment desk, writers, editors, and reporters.
In the control room, I listen. My director, the production assistant, audio, graphics, and my anchor (just to name a few) all have things to say. While the final decision is mine, I value their opinion.
On a day off from my job, I am usually watching the news, reading papers online, and posting or emailing links to stories I think family and friends will like. Just because I can't put a story on-air that day doesn't mean I can't influence or suggest stories for people to absorb. I love it.
When I'm at home I even go as far as to email our assignment desk to ask, “Do we have this story?” The answer is usually yes.[node:ad]
I find when describing my job to others, the response is often “I could never do that” or “Don't you leave with a headache every day?”
I will admit that there is never a shortage of Advil in the newsroom, and at times it can be overwhelming. I make mistakes; however, I learn lessons every day, and each day is different. Some stories make me laugh, or cry. Some make me mad. Some inspire, while others have slipped my mind by the time I get home. But I feel accomplished juggling hundreds of stories a week. I know I can't tell them all, but I will continue to try.
You can't go into news thinking you have it all figured out. You’ll find out rather quickly that you don’t—the newsroom will be more than happy to give you a humbling crash course. There are countless lessons to be learned and many skills to be gained. But if you are a news junkie, you'll welcome the experience.
Selena Drepaul is a producer at CHCH news in Hamilton. She formerly worked as a reporter for the CTV affiliate in Brandon, Manitoba, and is a graduate of the Journalism Broadcast Program at Sheridan Institute for Technology. Selena also works for Skyward Eye Media, a company she co-founded, as Project Manager & Field Producer. You can follow Selena on Twitter at www.twitter.com/selenadrepaul