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Help After Harvey: How a Local News Station Raised More than $234K to Help Flooding Victims Almost 1,500 Miles Away

Today some of the first evacuees of one of the worst flood disasters in recent history returned to their homes — or at least to what was left of them. It’s also the first of the month, which means whether or not the homes those people returned to were inhabitable by the standards of you and me and every other average Joe, their rent is still due. Legally, there are very few circumstances, especially in hard-hit Houston, that would allow a tenant to get out of paying his or her rent. And to spare you a bunch of boring legal mumbo jumbo, suffice it to say most residents — both those headed back to their damaged houses and those still stuck in shelters tonight — are obligated to sign and send in that check.

Let that sink in and consider how it would make you feel.

Working in news, I see a lot of yucky stuff. In the beginning, I let everything get to me. Everything. I spent the first year of my career faking countless bathroom breaks while producing my newscasts just so I could hide in a toilet stall to cry. Car accidents and court hearings, homicides and house fires, human trafficking cases in my own small city, suicide blasts on the other side of the world — I carried the weight of everyone’s heartache on my own two shoulders. Over time, I somehow managed to develop a sort of numbness to the yucky stuff. I had to. Or else I’d have never left the toilet stall.

When Harvey first made landfall, my mom was in town and wanted to watch the news as it unfolded. It was a Friday night and I’d just gotten home from work, which meant doing so was the very last thing on my agenda. But we did. We watched live coverage throughout the weekend as Harvey wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast. We watched as it tore through parts of Texas like a fire hose versus a house of cards, watched as neighborhood streets transformed into raging rivers, and as the death toll climbed from what some state and federal officials described as an “impressive,” “only” 2 people to nearly 40. We watched as one reporter went rogue during his live shot (a producer’s worst nightmare) to help save a woman trapped in the floodwaters. That actually ended up making for great T.V., which many people on social media were quick assume was the only reason he did it.

At some point before I returned to work on Monday, it really resonated with me that each of the devastating images I’d seen and each of the heartbreaking stories I’d heard belonged to real life human beings. The ones I used to take fake bathroom breaks to cry for.

When I arrived to our editorial meeting Monday morning and learned we’d be devoting the majority of our resources to not only sharing the stories of Harvey’s victims but hosting a telethon for their benefit as well, I became overwhelmed with a sense of duty and pride. I felt like I did back in J school, when I was naive enough to believe I was capable of changing the world and saving the people. Back before I had to train myself not to cry over their every heartache.

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Photo still from this story by the CBS Evening News: “How the worst of Harvey brought out America’s best” http://cbsn.ws/2wYNGcc

It’s Friday now and we just closed the phone lines for our telethon, capping off at $234,487 raised. Much of that came from individual contributions by members of the Las Vegas community. A couple stories from callers that stuck out most: a woman who had $3 left in her checking account but wanted to give because she said they seemed less fortunate, another woman who was getting ready to purchase a $500 smartphone before seeing our telethon and deciding the people of Houston were “more important,” a man who called to donate $100 but asked we please wait until the end of the month when his social security check cleared. Those who seemingly had the least to give were among those most eager to donate whatever they could. Towards the end of the telethon a few local companies came forward, offering to match $5,000, even $10,000 in contributions from viewers. Las Vegans proved, as they have time and time again, that to them it’s important to help their fellow Americans during times of need. It felt nice to play a very small role in helping them do that this week.

Here’s a little spot my video editor and I put together for our 5 p.m. newscast tonight, before we even reached $200k:

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Month in Review/An Accidental Ode to KTVN

What a month it’s been! In the 30 days since my last post, I produced my final newscast at KTVN in Reno, packed up my pets and moved down to Las Vegas, and started a new job at KLAS-TV. Oh, and Donald Trump became President Elect of the United States of America. Did not see that one coming.

Working Election Day was a bit disappointing. No, not because Trump won the vote! (Well, not the popular vote, but you know what I mean.) But because after hyping myself up on finally being a real life news producer working Election Day — nothing short of my wildest dreams come true — because the president had still not been called by showtime, we had to stay with Network and the show I produced never made air. 😦 I also ate my body weight in free pizza and am lactose intolerant so we all know how this story ends. 😦 😦

Anyway, Election Day was November 8th. November 9th was my last day at the station. My bosses got me a cake and my coworkers snuck this segment into my last newscast:

Afterward, a bunch of us went to Public House, a bar in midtown where we’d enjoyed an after-shifter or two before.

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We shared stories and memories of my past two years there — like the time Landon dropped and shattered his personal iPhone on air while doing a walk-to-school segment as a morning show reporter. He later became a co-anchor for the nightly newscasts, providing us with this gem after our director accidentally took the wrong camera, catching him off guard:

There were the days Arianna wore production’s favorite dress — the chroma-green one we could superimpose anything onto, including Landon’s face.

There was that time I was promoted to morning show producer and got my own AP, Matt, who introduced himself as “not totally a sociopath because I actually cry all the time.” The stories he told daily later became part of an off-air segment we referred to as “KTVN After Dark”, which started at 11:35 p.m., right after my show finished and he showed up to start putting together his own.

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There were the weather naps, especially working morning show with Charlie, when our hours were 11pm-9am.

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There was that time we went viral — it was actually the first morning show I’d ever produced on my own. The funniest part is that this comment is what it took to make John Potter go viral. It was hardly the most controversial comment he’d made during chat, but alas. Give the people what they want.

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(TIME, Jimmy Kimmel, The Chive, Huffington Post)

The time my mom made the news:

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And Share Your Christmas, KTVN’s annual food drive, where I was selected to field produce the segment at the Governor’s Mansion. This ended up being not only a highlight of my time at KTVN, but of my entire life.

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While we’re reminiscing about Christmas, lets not forget that one time my boss fell asleep at the company Christmas party.

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That one time I accidentally keyed our meteorologist as “Straight Out of Compton”:

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And just so. many. other. times.

I didn’t mean for this to become an ode to KTVN, but in the words of my grandmother (and I swear to God she said this before it was a thing) “It is what it is.”

About the move: It was almost too quick to be memorable. As I said earlier, my last shift at KTVN was November 9th. My first at KLAS: November 14th. That gave me a whopping four days to pack my junk, stuff it into a Uhaul and make the 8.5-hour drive down south. There I’d be moving in with my bachelor-in-every-sense-of-the-word boyfriend, along with my French Bulldog Yoshi, who is only 80% potty trained and barfs when he drinks too much water, and my cat, John Lennon, who is exactly zero percent as loving and kind as his namesake. To say my gent has accepted my zoo and I warmly would be the absolute understatement of the century. Transitioning to my new home has gone more smoothly than I could have ever hoped for.

I’m still transitioning into my new job, but have the highest hopes I’ll soon find my place and start making both memories and newscasts like those I made in Reno.

Cue that “I will remember you” song by Sarah McLachlan:

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I Voted

My kindergarten classroom donned a wall filled with photos of every U.S. President. At the time, there had been 41 of them. On my very first day of school I asked my teacher why the presidents were all boys. Years later she would remind me of this moment and how it was a defining one in her career in education.

Needless to say, I got a little emotional in the voting booth today. Regardless of where you stand or who you voted for — or who I voted for — for the first time in United States history, a woman’s name appeared on the ballot for the highest office in all the land.

I wish I could go back in time and give 5-year-old me a high five, and Mrs. Thornton a big hug.

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Not Okay, California

I’m not normally one to spend my off days writing United States senators and congressional representatives, but waking up to this headline absolutely made my blood boil.

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I urge you to read the article and see for yourself how unbelievably unacceptable this is. I hope you too are angered enough to write your elected officials (and current candidates) to let them know this is simply not okay.

Below is the letter I will be sending on blast, as well as links to how you can contact senators and representatives from California (where this is happening) and Nevada (where I live). You are more than welcome to use my letter if you don’t know exactly what to say.

Dear _____,

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns after reading the attached L.A. Times article revealing that thousands of California soldiers are being forced to repay enlistment bonuses almost a decade after going to war. I hope you understand and share my outrage over this.

The article states that “Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war. Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back.”

Not only are these nearly 10,000 soldiers now being forced to repay large enlistment bonuses because of mistakes made by the California Guard, but these brave men and women — many of whom left behind families and many of whom served multiple tours in war torn countries — are being slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse.

The reporter interviewed one veteran who served 26 years of her life in the United States Army. A quarter of her family’s income now goes straight back to the Pentagon to repay bonuses it says the Guard gave to her improperly. If that’s not enough, her husband and son also both served. Her son lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan.

It seems we are living in a time when Americans are more skeptical than ever of their government. I hope you will do what you can to remind us that this country is run by the people, for the people. I hope you will do whatever you can to ensure that these great heroes of our nation are not punished for the government’s mistake. I can assure The People are not okay with this.

Thank you again for your time.

Sincerely,
Jessica Farkas

www.senate.gov/senators/contact

Email California Senator Dianne Feinstein

Email California Senator Barbara Boxer

Email Senator Harry Reid

Email Senator Dean Heller

Email Congressman Joe Heck (running for U.S. Senate)

Email Catherine Cortez Masto (running for U.S. Senate)

Like a Bad Breakup

Last night I clicked the ‘Accept Offer’ button of an online contract with a new station in Las Vegas. It was one of the most bittersweet moments of my entire life.

When I started at KTVN in Reno just over a year and a half ago, I didn’t even know what a sound bite was. I remember calling my mom after that first day on the job in tears, questioning how I’d ever be able to produce an entire newscast by myself. “You’ll be the best one there in six months,” she said. She was wrong. I was promoted and given my own show in five. Four months after that I was promoted again.

The only reason I even got a chance in this industry is because a single, solitary man – who happened to be a higher up at Channel 2 News – saw in me a drive even I didn’t know I had. With a degree in print journalism and mostly a bunch of bartending experience under my belt, he agreed to give me a crack at an entry level position assisting the morning show producer with the potential of advancing into a higher role later down the road.

As I grew into my job and strived to be better, I often went to him with questions. Though he had far more important things to deal with as news director, he never once made me feel as though I was inconveniencing him with inquiries I now know were trivial to say the least. He saw in me a will to succeed and made it a priority to ensure I did just that. If that’s not the definition of a leader, then I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile I created relationships with coworkers I value as much, if not more than, those I’ve had with close friends and family members. I’ve never been surrounded by a group of such passionate, dedicated, and hard-working people, who can make me laugh even during my most stressful moments. These are people I look up to and have learned from, with whom I’ve spent hours of after-hours drinking beer after beer, discussing how we can make the show better, despite starting the night with a promise not to talk shop.

For that reason, leaving KTVN – market 106 – to work for KLAS – market 40 – feels more like a painful breakup than the advancement it truly is. That’s not to say I’m not 100 percent grateful for the opportunity I’ve been granted. God knows I couldn’t be more thankful that a station I’ve trusted for so long chose me to be the next creator of newscasts that inform others. It’s just hard to leave behind people who I’ve truly grown to love.

More on this incredibly wonderful adventure to follow!

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Where Were You?

I was curling my hair in our rubber duck-decorated bathroom.

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My grandpa saved that now 15-year-old journal entry I wrote the day after September 11, 2001. I don’t need to reread it to relive that day. Like many Americans, I can close my eyes and recall each horrific moment. Like many Americans, I will Never Forget.

It’s not hard for me to believe all the pain that still exists today, 15 years after the terrorist attacks. What is hard to believe is that for the first time ever, high school freshmen are learning about September 11th in history books — because they were not yet born, and thus didn’t live through it like so many of us did. High school freshmen are just about the age that I was when it happened, and many couldn’t tell you how many planes went down that day, how many people died. We did a story on it at work, and you’d be shocked how many of the kids we interviewed didn’t even know who was responsible for carrying out the attacks.

I’m not judging; History wasn’t exactly my forte in high school either. I guess it just astonishes me that September 11th is in fact history.

Be that as it may, I promises to never, ever forget.

Presidential Visit

Being a part of covering President Obama’s visit to Northern Nevada today was one of the greatest honors of my life. KTVN was the only local station with live cut-ins of his arrival to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport via Air Force One,  as well as his departure to Tahoe via Marine One.

We had live reporters offering different angles of the president’s visit, including his keynote speech at the Lake Tahoe Summit and the peaceful protesters making their voices heard.

Each of our newscasts featured updated information with new sound bites, keeping the story dynamic moving forward. Our reporters and anchors clearly did their homework and were able to adlib (with ease) portions of the newscast we weren’t capable of writing ahead of time.

I was so incredibly proud of everyone involved in today’s coverage. Viewers often don’t realize how much work and how many people it takes to pull off something of this magnitude. That’s not a bad thing; really it’s just a testament to the fact that we’re doing our jobs well. If you can’t tell there are dozens of us scrambling behind the scenes to execute the clean show that makes it to your TV screen, it probably means we are doing something right.

Somewhere amid all of today’s chaos, I was reminded that the newsroom is not only where I belong, but thrive.

For a link to the “Presidential Visit” portion of my 7:00 newscast, click the photo below.

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I didn’t have time to take many behind the scenes photos today, but below is a good one of director Chad, manning the board like a total boss. (He actually is a boss now. He was recently promoted.) This was taken during a live cut-in — where we cut into regularly scheduled programming for breaking news or big events like this one — as the president returned to the Reno-Tahoe airport after the Lake Tahoe Summit and prior to heading to his next stop, Hawaii.

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Thanks for reading/watching 🙂

Newsroom Dog

I woke up bright and early this morning to cover desk at work and give our weekend assignment editor a well-deserved day off. Because I’m also working at the bar tonight, I decided to bring Yoshi along so he wouldn’t be home alone for a solid 16 hours.

Weekends are usually pretty slow news days and the scanners were especially quiet today. So in between writing web stories and updating social media, we decided to have a little fun around the newsroom. Here’s what ensued:

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Listening to scanners for possible story leads

Continue reading “Newsroom Dog”