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DAY IN THE LIFE: Covering the Return of Olympic Gold to California

Published On March 19, 2014 | By Mike Carroll | KCRA-TV, Mike's TV News Stories, One-Man Newsman

In this post I started out wanting to provide a moment-by-moment chronicle of covering one of my one-person reporter-photographer TV news stories. But as you will see, when you’re covering a the mountains without the best of wifi situations, the best made plans have to be modified.

On Thursday KCRA received a press release:

Feb. 27, 2014 (South Lake Tahoe, Calif.) – South Lake Tahoe, the tight-knit ski community big on Olympic athletes will honor its three USA team members in a city-wide celebration, Saturday, March 15.
 
Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman, who won gold for snowboarding slopestyle and freeskiing halfpipe respectively, and Hannah Teter who placed fourth in snowboarding halfpipe, will be lauded at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort.

Meyers, Calif., residents Anderson, Bowman, and Teter may have put the tiny town of 3,000 just west of South Lake Tahoe on the international map as having the most gold medals per capita.

Jamie Anderson, 23, won her Olympic gold medal in the women’s inaugural snowboard slopestyle competition at Sochi. She also won four Winter X Games gold medals in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013.
Maddie Bowman, 20, struck gold in the women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe competition at Sochi, also her first. The skier also brought home gold at the Winter X Games in 2013 and 2014 in the superpipe division.
 
Hannah Teter, 27, was a 2006 Olympic gold and 2010 Olympic silver medalist in the women’s snowboarding halfpipe. Teter finished fourth at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in the halfpipe event. She was a 2003 Winter X Games gold medal winner and 5-time bronze medalist.

Saturday, March 15 7:56 AM
Taking the dogs for an early walk. Have to be into the station at 10 AM to start heading up to South Lake Tahoe for an Olympic celebration of athletes returning from Sochi. Could be big.

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A few days ago I was approached about driving up and covering this for Saturday’s news as a one-person reporter-photographer.

At first, I must confess, I was a bit reluctant because I’m not a sports guy. I love watching the Olympics, but I don’t know who any of these athletes are or what to ask them.

Then it was explained that the station was less interested in focusing on the athletes as much as seeing the community celebrating the return of their Olympians. That’s something that I feel much more confident about being able to cover.

10:09 AM Saturday, March 16, 2014
Heading off! Driving up Highway 50 to Sierra at Tahoe resort – on the south side of Lake Tahoe up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Most of Highway 50 consists of only one lane going east and one lane going west.

I need to be at the resort no later than 1 PM. This gives me three hours to get there. This SHOULDN’T be a problem. But it is a Saturday and the weather is beautiful so there’s no telling how many people might want to be taking a drive up to Tahoe.

My one concern is that the event is not scheduled to start until 2 o’clock. From my 30 years of experience in covering news I’ve learned to expect that NOTHING ever happens exactly on time.

If this is the case then I will probably not be able to turn one of my one-person reporter-photographer packages for the 5 o’clock news. Three hours to shoot, write and feedback is not an issue when working with a reporter, but today I’m on my own so double the load.

The newsroom will probably want me to feed back some video for the 5 o’clock news. So the story that I will be working on today is tentatively slated for the 6 o’clock news.

Still want to try and turn one of my reporter-photographer packages. If I get enough sound/interviews from people there for the event then I shouldn’t have to write too much.  Barring that I might be able to feed back as a natural-sound package.
Whatever way the day works out, it should be a good challenge. Fun way to wrap up a week. And best of all – I get a couple hours of driving time all by myself. Play some music, catch up on some podcasts, think a bit. Maybe dictate some stuff.

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11:25 AM
Driving up Highway 50. Traffic is much better than expected. About 30 minutes from getting to Sierra at Tahoe.

Had seen a traffic advisory before I left the station saying to expect heavy traffic conditions on Highway 50 heading eastbound to Tahoe with people going up to enjoy the nice weather, skiing and the Olympic event. But the road has been normal & smooth sailing!

11:50
Arrived!

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12:30
Checked into the media office. Have my press credentials. Plenty of time before the event so I shot some weather video of skiers and snow on the mountains. Not much snow – but a little. (California is officially in a drought with only 30% of the rain and snowfall that is normal for this time of year.)

I had an hour and a half or so before anything before anything was scheduled to happen. I decided to shoot a quick test to make sure that I’d be able to Wi-Fi my story back to the station.

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Got the tripod and camera out of the car, went to the other side of the parking lot and shot some simple weather video of people skiing and shots of the snow (what there was of it) on the mountains. Then went back to the car, edited the footage in my laptop into a short video clip to Wi-Fi back.

This is when the best laid plans started to go to pieces.

I couldn’t get a strong enough Wi-Fi signal for feeding video through with my laptop.

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Anticipating just such a problem, I’d brought along a backup – a TVU backpack that I can connect to the laptop or the camera and feed a signal back to the station using multiple cell phone sources — provided you can get six or seven good cell phone signals. I could only get two.

I went to the media office and asked if they had any better Wi-Fi or ethernet connections? I was met with curious faces. Then they encouraged me to go to one of the restaurants which had good Wi-Fi.

At the restaurant I still could not get a signal that was stable. Looking around the restaurant and at the decks outside everyone who was not talking or eating was looking at their cell phone. I can only venture that cell phone and the Wi-Fi signal strength was being sapped everyone’s smart phones.

I tried a few more locations, to no avail.

This left me with only one option: I would to have to leave the event before it was over and make a dash for the nearest town of Myers, about 15 miles down the Highway 50 towards Lake Tahoe where I should be able to get a decent Wi-Fi signal.

Throughout this I called back to the assignment desk to keep the newsroom updated on the situation. I was still confident that I’d still be able to get something on for the 5 and 6 o’clock, but it would not being the reporter-photographer package or a natural sound package that we’d hoped for.

It was now around 1:30 or so and the parade was supposed to be arriving at 2 o’clock. Time to shift into shooting mode. Got my camera and microphone and headed over to where a crowd had gathered around a raised stage where Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teter were to be honored. Then I just looked around for people who were excited and started interviewing them about why they’d come and their excitement about the moment. I was not going to be able to stick around for very long once the event got going so I had to get my interview sound now.

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The one thing about events like this that you can always count on — they always run late. In this case it was approaching 3 o’clock was — almost an hour late — before the procession started to arrive. A  series of police cars with sirens and red lights flashing followed by a couple fire engines, with the Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teter standing atop the last fire engine waving to the people who lined the road to greet them.

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There was a bunch of cameramen and photographers who were waiting where the Olympians were supposed to step down off of the fire truck. Once I got a couple of shots of them arriving atop the fire truck I dashed behind the fans and photographers and went halfway down some stairs that lead to where the crowd was waiting to greet them. If I’d did stayed up at the top with the rest of the photographers I’d have only gotten a shot of them from behind. I wanted to get them coming down the stairs towards me.

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I was the only photographer at this position and got a terrific shot of the Olympic women triumphantly descending the stairs, arms held high, gold-medal’s glinting in the sun, I needed cheers of, “USA! USA! USA! USA!”

I then headed down the stairs to shoot the event with dignitaries from the state legislature Tahoe cities presenting the women with citations and resolutions. All the while I was constantly checking the time on my iPhone. I could only stay for 20 or 30 minutes, before I’d have to make a dash back to my car to get back on Highway 50 heading east into Lake Tahoe order to try to make the 5 o’clock news.

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I just about to leave when a woman touched me on the arm and said she was the aunt of Maddie Bowman, the Olympic gold medal winner, and would I like to speak to Maddie’s dad and grandfather? Would I?!?! There was no way I was going to be able to stick around to try to talk to Maddie or any of the other athletes, but to be able to talk to some of their family members would be icing on the cake for this day.

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She directed me over to where the family members were and pulled out Maddie’s father Bill Bowman, who was terrific on camera, and then to her two grandfathers. It was very nice of them to share a few moments of their time with me while Maddie was being honored by the crowd.

It was then approaching 3:45. I apologized to the woman, explaining my situation with the poor Wi-Fi strength and that I had to make a run for Lake Tahoe in order to try to get the story and so that it could be on the news at 5 o’clock. She said, “Then you better get running! Good luck!”.

Got to my news car, loaded my gear and started driving out of the parking lot and down the winding road back to Highway 50. I was afraid of getting stuck in a logjam of other people trying to leave the resort to try to make it home for dinner.

A few miles down Highway 50 I pulled off the road, pulled out my laptop and started loading the 45-minutes of footage that I had shot. It takes a little while for HD video clips to transcode and get loaded into the computer and I wanted to take advantage of the drive time to get that done.

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Fifteen minutes later I arrived at Myers on the outskirts of Lake Tahoe and pulled into the parking lot of Lira’s Supermarket – a favorite pit stop on the way into or out of Lake Tahoe. I found the one parking spot with shade under a tree to park, which would keep the glare of the sun off of my computer screen while I worked.

Immediately, I switched on the Wi-Fi and found lots of signal strength!

It was 4:15 or 4:20. I called the station. For 5 o’clock they just wanted a bunch of good action video of Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teter arriving and being welcomed by the crowd. I could string some interview sound together for the 6 o’clock.

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The day has started out with one set of plans and hope for how today would work out. Along the way we had to modify and come up with a new plan. Such is the case in TV news – you can only plan so far, everything else is running – going by the seat of your pants, improvising, adapting.

I quickly cut some B-Roll of the Olympic women arriving, coming down the stairs, being greeted by the crowd, receiving their awards, and the crowd cheering them on. Then I quickly pulled a piece of sound from Bill Bowman and attached that to the footage as well. Hooked up the laptop to the TVU backpack transmitter, had a good signal back to the station, called ENG and fed in the footage. It was 4:45 – perfect deadline time.

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I then spoke with the 6 o’clock producer who said to just string together some sound bites.

There was about 15-minutes of sound with various people that I’d pre-shot. I scrubbed through. found the best 8-10 seconds of each person, also writing down their name and a brief description of what they looked like. Sent that back as well as emailed the list of names to the producer.

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5:45
Done! All the footage had been fed in!

I took a breath. Exhausted! I hadn’t eaten anything since leaving home this morning and was now starving — And desperate to use the bathroom!

Lira’s has killer deli and as I was getting out of the car my cell phone rang. It was an unfamiliar phone number. I answered it and it was the aunt of Maddie Bowman who’d pulled me aside to interview of her family members.

She’d called to ask if I’d made my deadline and gotten it onto the 5 and 6 o’clock news. I assured her that it did get on the air and I thanked her again for pulling me aside and having me interview a couple of her family members.

After that, as I was getting out of my new car to go into the supermarket it suddenly occurred to me, how cool is that? Get a phone call from the aunt of an Olympic gold-medal winner to ask if I’d been able to make my deadline! A pretty neat wrap up to what became pretty wild day.

Thank goodness I’d gotten to Sierra at Tahoe with time to test out the Wi-Fi connection. If I’d arrived just in time to cover the event and then had to start dealing with all of the Wi-Fi calamities while still trying to get the footage back to the station –– I shudder at what kind of a disaster that would have been.

My next thought was, “Man, oh man — I need to pee!”

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - - -

I wrote this piece because I’ve written about all of the stories I’ve worked on that have gone right, I felt it only fitting – for those interested in how the news works – to tell about how things don’t go the way you want them to.

Bottom Line in TV News: Get the story on.

If nothing gets on the air, then all the best intentions don’t add up to anything. It all gets down to covering something and then just getting something on the air.

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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

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