His cell phone started to play its Guess Who strain of "No Time Left for You." Calls at this time were never good and seldom when from a small pool of coworkers. The phone's display indicated that the rule would hold true that day. The name on it increased his heart rate more than three cups of coffee and provided the sensation of a kick to the stomach. Kathryn Torrance!
"Good morning, Kathryn," Keith said with as much serenity as he could muster.
"No, it's not!" was her terse reply.
"What's wrong?" he asked, knowing that his department had created some real or perceived affront to her newscast.
"Once again, your department is destroying my newscast by flaunting their incompetence."
Keith wondered how long before her harsh conversational tone would be ratcheted up. "How this time?" He tried to sound as monotone as he could.
While he couldn't always manage it, Keith knew that his best defense with her was to stay steady and let her engage in the histrionics.
Herb Stocklin, the station manager, dressed and with the posture of a salesman who knew he was always able to close the deal, and Joyce Milligan, the news director, as usual was dressed to the nines' in her case, not flamboyantly but smartly. She was confident and had the intellect to sustain it. Her whole focus was news. Everything within her gravitational pull existed to make her news product, that is, all her news shows, the best in the market. In her mind, news was the station's main product, and all the programming between her morning, noon, evening, and latenight news programs were nothing more than interstitial space to give her department time to produce their next performance.
Herb was the second highest ranking manger in the building, eclipsed only by the station's general manager. The operations manager, whom some stations called the station manager, was charged with the day-today operation of the station. He was the tactical leader. The GM, or general manager, was concerned with advertising sales, or spot sales, as the industry called it, and the strategic direction of the station, and thus the station manager supplied the tactical input to help the GM craft the overall scope and direction of the station's business effort. The GM reported to their handlers at the corporate parent.
While Herb was of ordinary height, his demeanor and confidence made the mind think he was a few inches taller. His roots were modest, but every inside track that came his way he astutely applied to his advantage.
Keith surveyed this kingdom for where the meeting might be that day. It varied day to day. The newsroom players always seemed to have a sense of where it would be. He didn't know if it was the common Kool-Aid they drank or some inner club understanding that was never parlayed to him.
He saw no one in the conference room; all the producers' areas were empty. Then he saw them in the news director's office around an eight-seat table. "Great!" he said loud enough for others to hear. He always thought this whole format was unfair not meeting on neutral ground, always on their turf. That day, it would be in the lion's den.
Keith adopted his best straight-spine, shoulders-back posture and tried to enact his best confidential stride toward Joyce's office. As he walked by Alice, who was manning the gateway into Joyce's command center, he said, "Good morning."
She responded, "Good morning; they're waiting for you."
By her tone, he wasn't sure if this was a verbal stab or a good-natured warning. Alice usually seemed not to treat Keith as the enemy. Keith entered Joyce's office and acknowledged Joyce, Kathryn, a couple of assistant news producers, an assignment editor, and Bucky Stearns, the director for the morning and noon newscasts. Chuck was also there. Keith took the last seat toward the opposite end of the conference table from Joyce and Kathryn. He often felt like the junior partner at these meetings.
While Kathryn, as the morning news producer, orchestrated the stories covered with the help of the assignment editors, it was up to Bucky to take all the sources and other resources, story clips, studio cameras, live shots, network feeds, graphics, other effects equipment, and a myriad of other sources and literally direct the technical director, or TD for short, as to what to include and when. The TD was the person who compiled all the video sources into the layers of live studio and remote video, along with all the graphics needed to support the visual story. There was also an audio mixing person, along with a graphics operator, and a person who set up live shots. All the efforts funneled to the TD to give him the sources needed at any given moment in a news cast to compose a video mosaic as directed by Bucky. Oh yeah, all in real time as the newscast progressed.
Bucky was an old and steady hand. Outside of a newscast, he was a prankster and didn't seem to take much very seriously. It was during a newscast that the steady hand aspect of his personality took hold.
Kathryn immediately started the playback of the intercom voice traffic from the early newscast. Keith and many others had never liked this practice of recording what was said during the heat of battle but understood that it often was a valuable tool for conducting post mortems of the show. Several channels of audio were heard at once. One channel was mainly centered on Bucky giving directions to the TD, camera, and graphics operators, and the floor director, the person in the studio who gave the cue signals, usually hand gestures, to the talent. Other channels had communications between the producer and her assistant to talent in the studio and out in the field. Producers also had direct communications with the truck operator, and the operator could monitor directions from the producer toward the talent.
"They know that we make the most money of any product delivered, no?" blurted Kathryn.
"Product, not content?" asked one of the associate producers. "Yes," said Joyce. "Our product is actually not our content. What we deliver to our clients, advertisers, are eyeballs, viewers."
"That's a cold way to describe our viewers," said the assistant.
Joyce nodded in agreement and added, "Looking at the business in this analytical way is why I'm the news director. You know one of the reasons I became a producer and then a news director? We had a dog breeder on a newscast with a dog that naturally took a dump right before we were going to them, right in front of the person interviewing and the breeder. I got up from the back bench of the control room, walked out into the studio, grabbed someone's coffee cup, and scooped the mess into the cup with my bare hands. You must be able to literally handle shit to move up in this business."
"What happened to the coffee cup?"
"No idea, I definitely had no further use for it," said Joyce. "I know that is something I will have to atone for in the afterlife." She chuckled. "The thing you folks should understand is that you need to always stay one step ahead of the curve. When TBC decided I was no longer flaming hot enough to be a female anchor, I reinvented myself as a producer." "So, what are they asking of us now?" said Kathryn.
"Joyce, dear, you think you're the Wall Street Journal, when being USA Today will serve our purpose. TBC never had the stellar Edward Murrow legacy to uphold. Our culture here is to simply make TV shows based on news."
Skip continued, "You still think you run a shop full of journalists. As you well know, most TV news staffers today are communications majors, with maybe a journalism class or two behind them. Most know how to effectively deliver information via TV. You know, news.
"The few journalists left in our employ have been forced to think like TV producers, and luckily, we have a few TV producers who work at journalism. Come on, most of our stars in news at the network and the local station level should never be mistaken as serious journalists."
"Well, thanks for the enlightenment!" Joyce retorted. "I was under the delusion that we were serving a noble purpose, instead of merely selling soap."
"We really ought to get together for dinner and drinks next time I'm in Cleveland or when you get to New York."
"How's your wife?" Joyce couldn't resist.
"She's fine. You seeing anyone?" His tone was obviously sarcastic to drive home that he knew she was still married to her career. "Always!" as good of a no answer as she could muster at the moment.
With reporters and photogs, dreams of Emmys often seemed to dance through their heads, especially with stories of tragedy and grief, and good visuals. The instinct was to overproduce, find the best camera angles, the best human angle, a "Que Vadis in a phone booth," which Keith heard from a mentor in his early career. This referred trying to mimic a million dollars of production value with a fifteen-dollar budget.
Keith heard a woman wailing near where the kid had fallen. The reporter or photog must have lobbied Joey into the move to allow for a reporter standup with the covered body in the background.
"Damn! Always so eager to please and not always thinking through the ramifications." And as he said that, a chill reverberated through his body.
"About 3:00 p.m., the assignment desk started sending out fake radio communications, with microwave and satellite operators responding in like fashion. First one truck appeared to be sent, followed by a second. Then a Sat truck was called on to head to the site. Additional photogs seemed to be dispatched out to the nonexistent disaster. None of this activity, outside of the fake radio traffic, was occurring. Guess we invented 'fake news.'"
She sat in the left seat of the two that directly faced Herb's desk, closest to Liz.
"You look tired," he said.
"I've been recently reminded of that," she responded.
"You need to be taking better care of yourself." came a voice over her right shoulder.
Joyce wheeled around to see Skip leaning against a bureau on the rear wall, which was hidden by the open door when she entered. Joyce didn't want to make immediate eye contact and focused on all the trophies, awards, and other trinkets that adorned not only this cabinet but most of the walls and shelves that lined what she thought of as almost his "man cave." A visiting producer who was his neighbor for a couple of weeks called it his "hidey hole." Somehow, that seemed a more derogatory term, which she liked.
"I suppose you must be the surprise?" Joyce asked.
"You know I always look out for you," Skip remarked. He stood upright and walked toward the chair next to hers, but instead of sitting down directly, he moved the chair off toward the right, off the forward right corner of Herb's desk, and faced it toward her. He sat down, straddling the backward chair.
"Why do I think this is to be an inquiry?" Joyce said. "Also, why aren't you in the guest office?"
"Oh, I am. But we decided to meet in Herb's office."
"We!" she responded.
"You know that there is a term for what you need to do?" Skip asked.
Herb shook his head no.
"It is called gaslighting."
Herb looked perplexed. "Gaslighting?"
"It's from an old Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer movie. It's about steering a person, Bergman in this case, to question all that she thought she knew and perceived. Boyer was the perpetrator. Boyer was quite an honorable man in real life, married forever to the same woman. He chose to follow her in death a couple days after she passed. So, an honorable guy can do unpleasant things when called upon."
"He was just acting. You want me to mislead and exaggerate." Herb was trying to pick his words carefully. "To me, it seems like the 'gaslighter' creates a negative narrative about the 'gaslightee,' like there's something wrong and inadequate about him or her, no?"
"You have second thoughts?"
"No, because I believe there is something wrong and inadequate about Mr. Collins, and sometimes the ends do justify the means; I'm just confirming what needs to be done."
"Yes, there was, but our truth is stranger than that fiction. Somehow, he was always able to erase his past, at least to non-law enforcement. An exec with Screenplays asked him how he knew so much about the various careers he impersonated. He said Ryan simply said he read a book about each. What the.. Turns out the kid had a photographic memory! In many cases, he might have been the smartest guy in the room! Too bad he didn't apply that intellect to things more positive."
A soft tap on his shoulder and Keith straightened up in his chair. He felt the touch of a hand lightly resting on his shoulder. He looked down on his left shoulder, and there was a feminine hand not the rounded smooth hand of a younger woman and definitely not boney as an older woman might have. The hand was not petite but smaller than his. Her nails were fairly short but manicured and covered by clear nail polish.
He looked up and noticed her smile. It was broad and showed all her top row of teeth. He had heard that some considered dimples a flaw, but the muscles that created that fabulous smile had puckered into a gorgeous set of flaws. Her face was slightly but proportionately rounded and her nose petite, with thin eyebrows above her eyes.
"Boy, I'm glad to see you," she said.
Keith stared at that face and into her green eyes. Somehow, he had a feeling that he had been lost in those eyes before. She blinked, and he noticed just a hint of eye shadow.
"The space reeked of burnt carbon and a sweet but pungent smell of ozone and other overheated components. There was another smell also. The transmitter, which should have been making a racket with all the blowers, fans, motors, and pumps running, was eerily quiet, as it had scorched itself into total nonoperation. I was surprised that the halon fire suppression system hadn't gone off.
"While nothing was still smoldering, you could see many blackened circuit boards and the discoloration of metal tuning plates that had been very hot. In fact, in the final part of the transmitter, where the high power was generated to feed the antenna, it appeared obvious that there had been a fire. As we approached, we saw something else.." Chuck finally trailed off.
"Dude, look at those cameras!" Tommy exclaimed. "They're all tricked out!"
"We have six of them at WCUY," Liz said. "I assume by 'tricked out' you mean the big lenses and the prompter on the front."
"Yeah! What's a prompter?" Tommy asked.
"It's short for teleprompter," Keith interjected. "They display the scripts, news stories in the case of the news. Our recent presidents have made them famous. The display facing up under the lenses is reflected off the angled glass in front of the lens so the person talking can look straight into the lens and read the script at the same time."
"You really don't understand the landscape," Skip offered.
"Oh, I think I do, better than you can ever imagine. You forget, I was one of the steps in your ladder toward the top. When we met, I was the hot up-and-comer; you were a presenter and not a real reporter. It was me who improved your diction. Remember, you couldn't even pronounce tour. You said 'tore.' You didn't know a predicate from a conjunction. You spoke too fast. I had the connections in New York, whom I introduced you to."
"Shut up." She stood up.