This is a little bit different compared to what I normally write, but I have been thinking a lot about this, considering I work in the news industry. I think this might be Part 1 of a 2 or 3 part little series. Working in the news, is like working in your own little world- so different from the many careers every body else has. So often, when I tell people where I work, they are shocked, and think it’s the coolest thing ever.. Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty unique job. Nonetheless, the stress and anxiety, along with a slew of other side effects, come along with this job.
Enter a dark, cold basement, surrounded by lit up buttons on big boards. Around you, are people yelling commands, talking into earpieces, an audio operator slamming their door shut, and reporters and anchors coming in and out of the control room. The robotic sounds of someone shouting a countdown rings through the air and people move around systematically throughout the small space, issuing quick words to each other. An engineer runs past into the studio, holding a screwdriver and miscellaneous cords. In the studio, cameras surround a lanky, awkward-looking crew member, wearing a headset and issuing a countdown to the anchors. He raises his hand above the camera head to signal the start of the show. The tally light turns on, and the anchors begin their introduction. Upstairs in the newsroom, a police scanner roars to life, and journalists frantically type on their keyboards, updating the latest news and reports. A reporter runs out of the room. A photographer comes in, carrying a bulky camera and a bag of camera equipment. Phone lines ring incessantly as producers work to write scripts, change shows, and keep up with the noise around them. The executive producer comes out of her office, yelling about breaking news and runs out the door to update those in the control room downstairs. A reporter throws his coat on, grabs a set of keys, and swings an equipment bag around his shoulders, preparing to leave to go to the scene of the breaking news. “Don’t forget a mic!” someone yells. Coffee is spilled on someone’s desk and an anxious producer leaves the room to smoke a cigarette. In the room across the hall, editors impatiently throw together video, attach animations and quickly scribble down times to give to their producers. Welcome to the news world.
Going back a few years to 1935, we are able to see the beginning of broadcast news. We can take a look at Edward Roscoe Murrow who was crucial to the start of broadcast news at the time. He began as a radio host and quickly made his name more well-known. “Following the advent of FM radio in 1935, Murrow was assigned by CBS –the largest radio network in the United States at the time – as director of talks. But it wasn’t until his move to London in 1937 to become the network’s chief correspondent for Europe that he became a household name. Having gathered the best group of reporters to work with (famously known as “Murrow’s Boys”) he oversaw the creation of what we know today as foreign news broadcasting.” (Eugene) Upon Murrow’s return to New York in 1941, he was quickly asked to become a television host, as television was quickly on the rise. From there, more and more television channels quickly made their way to fame. This soon became one of the primary sources for news in America. T.V. also covered some of the most famous events of our time. Any event from the JFK assassination to 9/11- which significantly changed the way news was reported. “The 9/11 attacks significantly changed how news is covered. Ever since the color-coded terror alert system was changed, rumors of violence or attacks are reported if they have any inkling of credibility; even after the system retired in 2011. Because of this, journalists have had to re-interpret their classification of reportable news versus rumor, which still remains today.” (Eugene)
Television hasn’t been around that long. But while it has been around, the media has quickly grown into a huge and constantly expanding industry. So much so, that it could be considered it’s very own culture. As a director at my local news station, I am able to see first hand the way things happen every single day. Working in the news is like working in a beehive. You’ve got worker bees, and the pretty bees that sit around and do nothing, and the queen bee, and stuff like that. It’s completely fascinating to watch all these different people come together to make something amazing happen. I’ve experienced a lot, but the fact that at the end of the day, we can all pull together and create something super cool blows me away every time. Television is such an interesting subculture, with so many statistics and stereotypes, it can almost seem like a completely different world.
To any outsider, working in the news may seem like the most stressful, hectic job. That outsider just might be correct. There’s a reason divorce rates among news-folk and journalists are so high. In The Global Journalist, David Hugh Weaver and Lars Willnat state some of their findings of today’s journalists. “In 1997, the divorce rate (for journalists) of women were almost twice that of men- 14% vs. 26%.” (Weaver/Willnat)
I interviewed with Brent Allen, a newsy, who now teaches broadcasting to students at Columbia High School. When asked about what got him started in the broadcasting business, he said “I got accepted in the journalism program (at BYU). I had the signed paperwork from the journalism program, I was walking up to the newsroom, and I watched everyone in there eat TUMS and antacids like there was no tomorrow, and I said, “huh”. And I went across the hall to the studio and everyone was relaxed and having a good time. And I realized I think I’d rather be in production.” After working in the business for many years, doing anything from photography work, editing, directing, producing, reporting, engineering, and everything in between, Allen has a vast array of knowledge in the broadcast area. He jokes about the news often, and when we spoke about the high levels of stress in this line of work, he said “I’ll put it this way: it’s rare to find people in news who haven’t been divorced.”
So, is the news industry really a subculture? By definition, absolutely. Merriam-Webster defines a subculture as “an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society.” When asked about the news community, Don Nelson, anchor at KIVI, and previous radio-host called the news world a fraternity. “It’s a loosely knit fraternity, that if you’re in the business long enough, you’ll meet people you either worked against, or worked with.”
After working in the business for a year and a half, I have gained quite a bit of expertise and have grown accustomed to the jargon and the certain slang that is used in the industry. To any outsider, the things people in the news world would say, would sound like absolute gibberish. Something like “The VIZ engine”, -the system that controls everything that happens on the green screen. “Tally light”, -the light that tells the anchors when their microphones are cued. “BitCentral”, -the system that controls all the video. Or “iNews” -the system that allows producers, directors, and crew members to put a show together. There are also certain commands that go along with being able to understand and work with others in the industry. “Standby”, “Cue”, “Ped down”, or “Tilt up” are all commands that would otherwise be lost on any outsider of the business, but are so pivotal to create a solid flow and make all the shows run smoothly.
Even the way everyone dresses is stereotypical of someone who works in news, and it’s very easy to pick out who works in what department. In the newsroom, we have all of the talent who wear nice slacks, or a nice suit everyday, and the women wear pretty dresses, with flashy jewelry and nicely done hair. When we move over to the editors, they’re all wearing hoodies, jeans, and some sort of comfortable shoe. Some of them may even wear beanies. More often than not, this is the case. The editing rooms are kept extremely cold in order to keep all the computer hardware from overheating. When we go downstairs to engineering, the engineers are all geared up with certain engineering equipment. They wear tool belts around their waist, tennis shoes, and polo shirts with a pocket protector, to hold their pens and other miscellaneous tools. Lastly, the control room, where the employees wear the most casual clothes, and have the most casual attitudes (despite their job being one of the most difficult, and stressful). There is also an unspoken rule in news that one can never wear open-toed shoes. Not only for professional reasons, but for safety reasons as well.
Although their uncommon vernacular, and differing styles all lend well to this industry being its own subculture, the most interesting thing that all newsies have in common, is their attitude- they’re all cynical. In an industry where bad things are happening in the world all around you, and you’re constantly having to report on it, and share all the bad things in the world with other people, it’s easy to become so, even becoming numb to the things that are happening all around us everyday. In every interview that was conducted, when asked whether or not working in news had changed them, (the interviewee) the response was always a resounding “yes!” followed by something like “it has made me a lot more cynical.” In fact, I personally can attest to this. Before I started here, I was a very happy-go-lucky type person. I got sad at things, I got happy at things, I got mad at things. Now, I’m such a cynic, when we’re doing stories that totally suck, I don’t even feel bad. You kind of just become numb after a while.
Saman Ghani Khan writes an article touching on the mental health of journalists. He follows them in their field, and listens as they relay stories of reporting during wars and shootings. Most of them speak about becoming numb to the things around them. One reporter tells Khan “My family says I’m no longer a human being. I don’t get extremely happy on happy occasions and I don’t get too upset when someone close to me dies. I just don’t feel anything,” At the Dart Centre at Columbia University, an analysis was recently published studying the exposure journalists and those working in the news industry are prone to. “-over two dozen studies conducted between 2001 and 2014, which included journalists from all over the world and across mediums. The research collectively showed that 80 to 100% of journalists have been exposed to work-related traumatic events. These include fires, murders, disasters, war and mass casualties. “A significant minority of those exposed are at risk for long-term psychological problems, including PTSD, depression and substance abuse.” (Khan)
In the end, the basic matters that bring people together to create a subculture- their apparel, their slang, their attitudes and behaviours, all help to create the environment of a subculture. However, the most important part, is the way they all interact with one another to complete tasks and create something together. Cultures within cultures are able to work together, and this helps them create something wonderful.
Here are all the articles I pulled from. Feel free to check them out for some amazing reads.
- @nyfa. “A Brief Look at the History of Broadcast Journalism.” Student Resources. N.p., 01 Apr. 2015
- Weaver, David H., and Lars Willnat. The Global Journalist in the 21st Century. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
- Khan, Saman Ghani. “Suffering in Silence: Journalists and Mental Health – The Wire.” The Wire. N.p., 19 June 2016.