I stood smiling in front of the brightly lit Christmas tree, trying hard not to let my teeth chatter in the sub-zero weather. The camera was jammed and we were silently waiting to film the "beauty shot". For those not employed in television news, that's the footage shown at the end of a news broadcast while the show's credits run. It's usually local footage of a human interest story, something designed to leave viewers with a smile after the dreary 6 pm report. Just a few days before Christmas, my bosses felt it would give people a high to see their latest newscaster waving to them in from of the town hall's recently decorated tree. Smiling mindlessly into the camera, I lifted my right arm to wave and realized that I had done it all before. I finished the piece, but hoped that my Yuletide insincerity didn't come across on film. I was so tired of doing inconsequential "fluff" pieces that I was ready to scream into my egg nog!
I never knew that the news business in Des Moines would be so unglamorous. As the newest female newscaster in our market, I inherited most of the lighter "fluff" pieces that ended most of our broadcasts. It was a true entry-level position. On any given day, I might film a cat show, high school spelling bee or a Halloween pumpkin carving competition. For the first two years, I enjoyed even the traffic spots, fortunate to have a job in front of the camera in such a competitive field. But I was now feeling itchy, longing to spread my wings and be intellectually challenged by the position.
My station manager suggested that I choose an area of news in which to specialize. We'd film a few test spots and if the viewers liked it, he'd consider making it a regular feature. I immediately knew it would be related to the law. I had already completed several legal spots as part of our community awareness program. We tried to offer an informational piece on common legal issues at least monthly. Nothing too deep, just practical, informative advice on dealing with landlords, noisy neighbors, botched home repairs and "lemon"-quality appliances. The interviews with local legal experts were usually short, upbeat and specific. I yearned to do something more substantial.
My first test piece was an interview with our local State Attorney Steven Collins. Mr. Collins had recently successfully prosecuted several high-profile child abuse cases that outraged the community. I interviewed him for advice on how neighbors and friends can detect the early warning signs of abuse in young children. We received over 400 calls after the piece ran, requesting contact information to report offenders. I was touched by the support of the community and their obvious interest in protecting the rights of children. Viewers encouraged us to keep airing the legal segments. I proceeded to do a weekly in-depth interview at the courthouse exposing serious legal issues in our community. I investigated reports of companies leaking chemicals into...