The Naked Truth

Ike’s final day in television…

Am I venting too hard on journalism lately? Maybe it needs a kick in the pants. I teased the other day to some people that I would share the story of my last day as a television reporter. It certainly doesn’t have the gravity of the “Day They Forced Me To Reschedule My Colonoscopy” story, but it was just as inwardly revealing.

My final day in television news was Friday, January 16, 2004. Earlier in my career, those leaving usually had other matters to attend to which precluded actually appearing on camera, but I was accustomed to the reality that I was not going to get away without turning something. I was proud of earning my keep.

However, Human Resources had other plans for me. I was compelled to go down for an exit interview, which is now fairly standard. In an ideal world, it’s the corporation’s way of getting naked and unfiltered feedback. It’s the way employees who are leaving can help those who are still beholden to the paycheck. In reality, it’s an exercise in ensuring there are no outstanding gripes or complaints on my part that might mysteriously surface later in a lawsuit. I made no mention of the manager who ordered me to change my appointment, he had suffered enough.

Naked Pockets

My exit interview was accompanied by the other formalities of separation, including turning in my phone, my card key, and any other identification and passwords. I think the producers took this into account when they made my assignment for that day.

I was to go to Birmingham’s Five Points South, and cover a PeTA protest at 11 o’clock. A woman – wearing nothing but a paint job meant to make her look like a leopard – was to demonstrate by sitting inside of a steel cage on the sidewalk. The circus was coming to town, and PeTA’s grand scheme appeared to be providing the people of Birmingham with additional reminders that the circus was coming to town. But it was an assignment, and I rolled with it.

There she was, right there on the concrete. And you didn’t have to look at her to tell it was cold. But more than a few people tried.

Naked Expectations

I did what I had done all during my reporting career. I stood back and watched.

I didn’t run right up to the PeTA handlers and grab soundbites. For me, the curiosity came in seeing how people would react to this display. I eventually did perform the obligatory interview, but given no direct marching orders about this story, I sat back and waited for the narrative to come to me. It didn’t take long.

People walking by thought this was one of the dumbest, most idiotic things they had ever seen. I’m not sure anyone’s opinions budged, except for the people who told me they were more inclined to go to the circus now.

Jud Hulon was partner that day, a very talented videographer that I didn’t get the chance to work with as often as I would have liked. His style was compatible with the technique we used that day. We set up the mic in various places around the cage, then moved far away to eavesdrop on the people as they walked past. People tend to be much more honest and open when the camera is sixty feet away than they are when the distance is just six feet.

The Truth, Unpeeled

In one of those moments that is too real for fiction, we were somewhat accosted by the mascot from Planet Smoothie, across the street. He obviously saw this as his chance to break into standup comedy, because he was begging to be interviewed.

He was also very, very stoned. You could see the dilation in his eyes, even behind the sunglasses he wore. And unless I am mistaken, Planet Smoothie did not offer a THC/Patchouli shake, and the aroma was quite strong.

After a brief negotiation, I decided to interview the Stoned Banana. And there it came, the moment of naked truth.

Stoner: “This woman looks completely ridiculous”

Me: “This, from the guy dressed as a seven-foot banana?

Stoner: (pregnant pause) “You have a point.”

Such exchanges are worth their weight in journalism gold. Because deep down, even Stoner Bananaman knew that he had very little leeway to make fun of another’s appearance, yet he did anyway.

The Aftermath

This story is worth telling because it is a microcosm about what’s wrong with broadcast journalism today.

Sometime just after four o’clock, the producer chewed us out for ruining his newscast.

You see, he had pulled a piece of wire copy about a survey, where average Americans were asked questions about whether activists and extremists had gone too far with their displays and protests. (You would think the word “extremist” might taint that…) It was supposed to be his lead story, and now he had to reshuffle his entire lineup because I didn’t meet his (unshared) expectations.

No one had given us that wire story. No one supplied us with that as a template. No one mentioned it to us, we were just handed a slip of paper by a grinning assignment editor who said “you guys ought to have fun with this today!” No one that we spoke with that day, including that producer, bothered to tell us how constrained we were supposed to be.

Bare Lessons

We were given a planned event, which in and of itself is rarely news.

However, we were being placed in what I like to call a “target-rich environment,” where the unusual collides with human nature on a mass scale.

We went to the unusual confluence, we took the temperature of the city (still cold,) and we neatly summarized the event in a way that communicated the futility of it all.

And what we did was wrong, because we didn’t attempt to connect a poorly attended circus, the ill-considered media stunt, and an irrelevant survey. Grasping for straws doesn’t begin to describe the contortions made in newsrooms, and I can’t imagine it’s gotten any better.

I did learn three things that day, however.

I learned that I needed no further confirmation that my decision to exit that career was a good one for me.

I learned that Planet Smoothie, as of 2004, did not conduct drug screenings.

And I learned that if you’re ever trapped outdoors in the cold, you can measure the temperature on a leopard’s chest.

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  1. Very interesting, Ike.  Thanks for sharing that with us.  Makes you feel for the poor people who are still stuck in that environment and think they’re unable to get out.  Local TV news has been on a downhill slide for quite some time now.  Too bad they can’t keep the good ones around, like you.

    • Thanks Dave… it’s good to be missed, but not at the expense of my sanity, and “missed” doesn’t pay the bills.

      You’re right about another aspect, though. TV news is filled with people who want to get out, but are mortally afraid they have no applicable skills. They don’t know how to make a non-TV resume, and don’t have the first clue how to sell themselves.

  2. Ike – Great story. Back in my daily newspaper days (but not on my last day on the job) I had something similar happen. I was given a story assignment, with little guidance, so went out and reported and wrote the story that presented itself to me. After the city editor reviewed it, he informed me it did not meet the preconceived notions that newsroom management had come up with when they assigned this story – notions that nobody bothered to tell me.
    Since I was a good employee, I ended up rewriting it to conform to those notions as much as I could without completely abandoning the actual facts. It was a fairly innocent feature, so I suppose no harm was done in the end. But it still galls me that they had the nerve to decide ahead of time what the story should be, and that they had the nerve to tell me to rewrite the actual reported story based on those preconceived notions.

    • Thanks, Mark…

      I am fairly sure that if I’d been in print, I’d have been forced to rewrite. Working in video and being long past the event meant those cards were already exposed. They were stuck with Banana Boy.

  3. Ike–Well-written, telling, entertaining and the best part, is that there is no doubt you did not embellish this tale.
    Also glad to be out–


  1. Ike Pigott says:

    The "Naked Truth" about my last day in television news. |

  2. Ike Pigott says:

    My final day in television news involved a naked woman in public |

  3. Ike Pigott says:

    I had a previous life as a TV reporter. My last day was a doozy.

  4. Ike Pigott says:

    @DarynKagan – Do you remember your last day?

  5. Ike Pigott says:

    @MelWebster – Nothing wrong with you. Might try culling your feed, though. And read this:

  6. An insightful and true story you will enjoy from @ikepigott:

  7. Carrie Bond says:

    RT @markwschaefer: An insightful and true story you will enjoy from @ikepigott:

  8. What do a 'stoned banana' and a 'painted leopard' have to do w/b-cast journalism? via@ikepigott (I laughed. Alot)