“Fundamentals Of Journalism” feature story

“Well, this is ridiculous.” The young reporter glared at the projection screen in the classroom, showing a live stream of the town hall meeting going on downstairs in the auditorium of Manchester Community College.  “I mean, if you want it to be closed, just say it’s closed to the media. Don’t announce it.”

Beau Berman has been sent from FOX Connecticut to cover a meeting about the Manchester Community College lockdown that had happened a few days before. However, things did not go as planned. News teams from all of the Hartford stations had converged on the college to cover this meeting that had been billed as “open to the media”, only to be told that they were not allowed into the auditorium.

He looked over at the photographer that had accompanied him, who was trying to set up the camera. “We could try talking to them about how bad the feed is,” Berman said, turning back to the projection screen. “Like, how it’s unusable.”

Getting up from the desk he had been sitting in, he set out to find public relations.

The college’s public relations representative insisted that the media stay out of the auditorium, saying that people won’t be as willing to talk if there’s a camera. Leaving the photographer outside, Berman headed into the auditorium alone, intent on taking notes and having a story ready for the 5 p.m. newscast.

After being told to leave again, he paced around outside the auditorium, waiting to grab community members for quick interviews as they left the meeting. “The thing is, I want to be up there listening to what people are saying, but then I might miss interviews down here. So, it’s like, you’ve gotta just roll the dice.”  He looked back at the auditorium doors and shook his head. “But we’re missing everything that’s being said. When people come out, they don’t say the same things.”

After grabbing a couple of interviews, making a few phone calls back and forth to the newsroom, and having the assignment desk talk to the college officials, Berman was told he was allowed to enter the auditorium – but only by himself. He could only take notes, and he had to stay near the back.  Berman’s perseverance finally got him into the auditorium, and he says persistence is only one of the many qualities that make someone a good reporter.

“It’s a lot of factors. I like to say that in terms of being good on camera, some people are naturals, and some people are not naturals, but they know how to fake it, and other people just can’t do it. And at this point in my career, I firmly believe that.”

And Berman sees himself as more of the second type. “I am sort of shy in my personal life. Sometimes I can be outgoing, but sometimes I’m shy, and I just don’t think I have that it factor naturally, but I do think I am able to compose myself and that I’m able to fake it.”

However, none of that shyness or apprehension was visible while Berman reasoned with the college officials, trying to gain entry to the meeting. “We called and they said it was open to media.” Berman leans on the satellite truck. “So then I go in, you know, just like this, nothing that says media, or FOX, or anything, and they say ‘no, you have to leave.’ And it’s like, come on, it’s a public meeting. I’m a person. What’s the problem? I’m just taking notes.”

He climbed into the truck and began writing out the piece for the 5:30 show.

The truck operator scoffed. “What are they even afraid of?”

Berman glanced at him and said, “I don’t know if they wanted it to get out that kids were using their belts and backpack straps to hold the doors shut.”

He has experience covering stories like this – Berman was one of the first reporters on the scene of the Sandy Hook shootings. “I’ll never forget the looks on the parents’ faces as they started showing up a few hours after it happened, coming there to pick up their children…not knowing if they were dead or alive. I don’t want to remember that, but likewise, I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever be able to forget.”

Berman recalls two times he decided he wanted to be a reporter, a job he’s held for the past six years. “One was when I was about twelve years old, and I visited my uncle, who’s a reporter in Dallas, Texas.” He smiled. “It was really strange. He drove a nice car – he drove a Corvette – had a really pretty girlfriend, he lived in a nice place, and I thought, ‘wow, this is a great job. You’re rich, you do all these fun things, and you’re famous.’ It was kind of from that light as a little kid that gave me the original idea, but as I got older I started to realize that wasn’t exactly the truth of the matter.”

He said the second time was when he was in high school. “I just decided I liked writing more than math or science, a math and science career wasn’t really what I wanted, and I liked the idea of being able to do news stories that had an impact on people and affected their lives, and informed them of what was going on in an entertaining way.”

He says that making a story interesting and accessible is almost as important as making it accurate. “Sure, accuracy is comes first. But, you can make it as accurate as you want, but if no one is watching, it’s almost not worth it.”

Berman said he remembers watching all of the CNN reporters and anchors filing into Newtown that day. “It’s probably a similar experience to the first time a basketball player debuts in the NBA,” he says. “It’s like, you went from high school or college basketball and the temptation might be to, you know, get their autograph or be in awe of them, but the truth is that you might be on your way to becoming them.”


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