We've got 1 minute!" the frantic director bellows into the mic on his headset. "we're gonna float!" "floating," is a no-no, "floating," is industry jargon meaning your story is not going to make it on air on time, and for reporters and photographers, "we're gonna float," means you have sinned against the news gods. If you "float," you must hang your head in shame as members of the production crew, the producer, other reporters and the boss shoot sharp glances your way as you make the humiliating trudge back to your desk.
Aside from getting the fact straight, there are few things more important than making your "slot."
On this night, the night of the second Presidential Debate, something warns me that the evening is going to be a pressure cooker, only compounded by the fact that I have tossed out the idea of using a brand new gizmo obtained by the TV station.
2News has recently added a new, massive, interactive big screen to our coverage. It allows reporters to manipulate the gleaming glass like a gargantuan smart phone, to do tasks like pull up data by touching the screen and displaying it to the audience, we can also draw on the surface and bring attention to certain issues. You've likely seen something similar to this on CNN during election coverage. It is a breathtaking new technology, but if you don't touch the right part of the plasma screen you might find yourself dragging a long yellow line across a graphic instead of pushing the colorful statistic out of the way. In short getting it right takes practice.
Other than photographer and editors using the Telestrator to draw glasses and mustaches on the head shots of reporters during their down time, the screen has not yet been utilized by any on-air types, and certainly not been used on television. I for some reason have volunteered myself as the proverbial test rat.
My task is to analyze data provided to us by Google. The company keeps track of everything users search and they will do so during the presidential debate. The search term, "binders full of women," increased by 435% after Mitt Romney mentioned it during the presidential face-off.
The Google guy, says expect the data to be posted 30 minutes after the debate, "an hour tops," he adds a chipper yet ominous warning. In the final analysis, more like an hour and a half, and that means the data drops at 9:30, half an hour before news time.
So all I have to do, is cull the data (9:40), pick the best bits (9:43), write a script, talk to the fellas in graphics, (9:47) who have to import the data, create a graphic, transfer to a hard drive(9:49), transfer the graphic from the hard drive to the big screen. (9:50) Now grab a photographer, have him shoot my presentation on the big board (9:55), run to the editors have them piece it all together (9:57), Jay wraps that up at 9:59, just in time for us to hear, "we're gonna float!"
Usually the editors must take that file and drop it into some other file that goes into the news program, but that process takes about 2 minutes, unfortunately we only have one. "We'll have to roll it from here," shouts the editor. That means instead of letting the sophisticated computer do all the work, Jay will have to listen to the anchor, and push the buttons himself to make the story end up on TV. "are we gonna make it!?" the producer's voice quivers the question at me on my cell phone, "Yes!" I pop into the receiver "Now Google tracks all this data," I hear anchor Mark Koelbel over a nearby monitor, calmly and pleasantly telling viewers, "Chris Jones has been looking over the data, Chris," Mark recites, "go!" blasts the director, and that is exactly what Jay does, and there I am, on TV, to the viewers at home it was seamless, to our crew behind the scenes it was utter chaos. No "floating" tonight, as I take my pulse, and collapse in my chair.