Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect at News 12

By Paul Harding

After reflecting on the time I spent working in News 12 Long Island’s sports department, I could write any number of eye-grabbing ledes for this memoir. There were plenty of high-stress moments in the editing bay, a multitude of exciting games to cover and subjects to interview, even some embarrassing mistakes that taught me some difficult but invaluable lessons. But as I started to draft my paper I felt that I was burying the lede, because the most significant thing about my internship may be the fact that I almost passed up what turned out to be an invaluable experience.

Heading toward my final semester, I didn’t think the off-campus internship would be necessary for ensuring my success outside of the J- School. It’s optional for a reason, I thought. All I really need to get a job after college is a degree. I already knew how to operate a camera, edit a video, publish a story. I thought I could easily do the job in a professional environment, so for me it would be little more than a change of scenery.

Then Professor Selvin passed along an email that caught my eye. News 12 Sports needed an intern. A huge New York sports fan like me couldn’t pass up the opportunity to earn credits simply for watching the same games I did every weekend. The internship sounded better than any of the other classes I was considering taking instead.

I was shocked at how quickly it all came together. The interview was fast and I went in for my first day just five days later. In retrospect I should have seen it as a sign of the fast-paced world I was about to become a part of. In those first days on the job, the rhythm of creating highlight reels on deadline felt like a sport in and of itself.

Day one: Jaime Stewart, the anchor of the core of three people who make up the News 12 sports team, asks me to cut a SOT/VO of a pro football player I didn’t know, commenting on a mistake that cost his team the win in a game I didn’t watch. “The game and the [news] conference are right there in today’s project,” Jamie said. “Just lay down the fumble and one good sound bite we can use.” Acting like I knew what I was doing, I sat at the computer and started rolling the press conference in Final Cut while Googling furiously to figure out what exactly this guy did. As if on cue, an article about the play popped up as I simultaneously heard the player responding irately to a reporter’s question about the fumble. But the relief I felt after pausing the press conference quickly subsided when I realized the only thing I knew about Final Cut was how to start and stop videos. Panic set in as Jamie leaned over.

“You almost set?” he asked. “I have to cut something soon.”

“Uh, yeah,” I replied. “I have the play right here, plus the guy chewed a reporter’s head off in this part of the conference.” Then I swallowed my pride; the show was airing live in 40 minutes. “But I can’t remember how to cut it out,” I confessed. “It’s been a while.”

Not missing a beat, Jamie showed me how to mark in, mark out, set it on the timeline, name the sequence, properly render it, and transfer it – FTP it, in the lingo—to the right location for the guys in the control room, all in the span of a minute. I was able to remember about two of those steps and jotted them down in my notebook, but I realized then that this wasn’t a classroom. Seeing how Jaime cut the video from muscle memory, never looking down at the keyboard, I figured I could maybe get half as fast as him if I asked to help out more. So the lesson I learned in week one? Practice consistently and consistent work will follow.

In three weeks I felt relatively comfortable going into work, even though I still made plenty of mistakes that the two producers, Rob Del Muro and Andrew Rappaport, were sure to point out even before I knew I was making them. Then in week four I was taken out of the small comfort zone I had started to establish when they sent me out to a high school football game. The evening started out fine. I was getting along really well with my photog Sandy. Then, inevitably, I screwed up. I made no record of how far each touchdown pass was thrown, nor could I confirm the name of a player who made a touchdown reception because his jersey number was blurred out on the replay. Yet another invaluable lesson learned.

Speaking as a student on the text/web track, if getting reprimanded taught me anything it was the understanding that I needed to learn the basics fast in order to get the job done. Making mistakes now and then was part of the process—perfection can come later. If you cover the basics of logging each game, learn the best kinds of shots to use for highlight reels, restructure and relearn how to write for a different medium, then the rest will come naturally. By becoming a part of a team under the stress of hard deadlines, where the work you create goes on air regardless of its quality, it doesn’t take long to find out who the weak link is. In that way I found my motivation by swearing to myself to not let my team down. I did my best to work quickly, consistently, and accurately. This was especially true while working in the field, where you tend to not forget an angry call from a parent saying Jamie got her kid’s name wrong on the Sports Rush.

I like to think I did all right, and knowing that by this time next weekend it’ll all be over is disappointing, considering all the progress I’ve made. I certainly don’t regret accepting their invitation to extend my internship by a full month back in November, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Knowing that I may finally be halfway decent by now, I’m looking forward to facing the challenges ahead in my last three days, including a mock show which I’ll be anchoring myself on set. Hell, I kind of wish I could do it live on the air–something I never would have said when I started.

Working at News 12 taught me, more than anything else, how to get over your weaknesses by facing problems directly and being a little fearless: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to fail. And believe in your own ability to improve.