October 26, 2014

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Dan Coughlin: You have to have drive to be on TV

Technology is a two-edged sword. It makes newspapering easier. It makes television more difficult.
I’m writing this on a computer in my little home office. I could write in a press box. I could write in a plane or on a park bench. No wires. No electricity.
When I started in this racket we went to the newspaper office to write on a typewriter and we handed the hard copy to an editor who improved it with a few pencil marks and wrote a headline on top.
Except for covering games, we could write almost any sports story without leaving the office. We worked the phones. We talked to people on the phone and we wrote down what they said. We could cover a wide area in a short period of time.
Years ago I worked with a fellow named Dennis Lustig who seemed to have everybody’s phone number. When President Eisenhower was dying, Dennis called his hospital room. Someone who identified himself as a Secret Service agent answered the phone.
“How’s the President?” asked Dennis.
“He’s sleeping right now,” said the Secret Service agent.
“Thank you,” said Dennis.
He liked to track down old ballplayers for a series called, “Where are they now?”
Late one night he called Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
“Why are you calling at this hour? I was sleeping,” growled a very grumpy Don Larsen.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Dennis retorted, “except you.”
At this time of year, for example, we could preview an entire high school football conference by talking to the coaches on the phone. We didn’t have to get off our duff. The photographer would drive out to the school and snap a picture or two, but the story was crafted from phone interviews.
Computers make it even easier today because you can make your calls, write your story and hit “send” without ever getting out of bed.
Then I stumbled into television. It looks effortless, doesn’t it? A guy sits there and yaks while moving pictures float in and out and instead of printed quotes, you actually see and hear the person speaking. The stories come alive, even if nothing important is said. Instead of a newspaper being tossed on your front lawn, you turn on the television set and the signal comes out of sky.
That’s like eating a sausage. Here’s how the sausage is made.
In television, you don’t get the interviews over the phone. You and a photographer get in a car and you drive. TV crews put more miles on their cars than the cab company. Television is all pictures.
That’s the difference between TV and newspapers. Television pictures move and talk. They’re now in color, high definition, surround sound, TVO’d, slow-mo’d, flat screen and plasma. Modern technology allows us to send out pictures with attitude. But we have to go out and bring them back.
A day or two ago, for example, photographer Ron Mounts and I drove to Canton McKinley, Massillon Jackson, Barberton and Wadsworth gathering interviews and practice video for our high school football previews and then drove back to Fox 8 to begin the editing process.
It was the same the day before and the day after. Some of these “stories” will be only 10 seconds. We spend an hour on the road for 10 seconds on the air.
And while I’m dealing with directions, maps, cell phones and notebooks the safety belt starts beeping whenever I unplug. Try working at your desk while strapped into a seat belt.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for Channel 8. Contact him at ctsports@chroniclet.com.