If you ever wonder how local television stations decide which stories to cover, it’s kind of a mixed bag. Most places have a morning meeting with all the reporters and photographers pitching stories. Sometimes the assignment editor hands out press releases and then asks for suggestions. 

But it was a dictatorship in one place I worked. The news director didn’t have a meeting with the field crews, which made no sense, since we were out in public every day talking with dozens of people. Instead, he assigned stories based on what he thought was interesting or had spotted on the way to work. The latter were known as “TJS” stories, the acronym meaning “Things Jake Saw.” Some of the stories were not exactly breaking news in Alabama. 

Every summer I got stuck with the “It’s Hot!” story. 

After doing this same story for several years, I walked into the newsroom and again saw “It’s Hot!” next to my name on the assignment board. 

I rolled my eyes, walked to a producer and pointed at the board. “Again? Seriously?” 

She shrugged. “The boss wants it done.” 

“We gonna break into programming?” I asked. 


“Just make sure it runs with the Exclusive banner. And call the network.” 

Every year I’d do the “man on the street” interviews about the heat, talking to people who had ridiculously hot jobs (roofers, highway resurfacing crews), or showing people eating ice cream cones, vanilla dripping down their hands. Rinse, repeat. This did not even qualify as what is known as a “chicken salad” story, meaning you make something good out of chicken poop. 

I headed to the photog’s lounge and found the guy stuck with me for this ultimate non-story. “We’re on heat patrol,” he said as he looked up. 

“Yeah. But I’ve got an idea,” I replied. “The boss said we have to do a heat story. He did not say we had to get out of the car to do it.” 

The photog flashed a big grin as I lined out my devious plan. 

First the man on the street interviews. We drove to a crowded park, the car’s AC running full blast, beeped the horn, and called people over. I cracked the window just enough to stick the microphone through while the photog shot from the passenger seat. Amazingly, we had no problem doing interviews this way. 

We needed video to illustrate the heat, so we rolled through a bank parking lot that had an electronic time and temperature sign, capturing it just as it clicked over to the mid-90s. We cruised till we found a road crew, getting drive-by video as they put down asphalt. 

Next, we pulled up to an ice cream shop, called, and asked the young lady working there to deliver cones to the car. Probably the first and only time she did this. 

We headed back to the station, not saying a word to anyone about what we’d done. 

The newsroom gang thought it was clever when it hit the air. But the news director never asked me to do that story again. Maybe he got the point that people in Alabama don’t need to be told it’s hot in the summer. 

I got a bit of a flashback when I took a job in upstate New York. One summer day a weatherman read the forecast. “Tomorrow, oppressive. High of 86.” I laughed as I called the people in the newsroom a bunch of “heat wimps” and said, “maybe we should do a story.” Everyone laughed at that idea. Because, ya know, it’s hot in the summer. 

Of course they got even with me that winter when our weatherman said, “Tomorrow’s high, one below.” I shuddered. Someone called me a “cold wimp.” 

But no one did a story on the fact that it was cold in Upstate New York with a ton of snow on the ground in January. People kind of figure out that sort of stuff when it comes to weather. 

So I really don’t need to tell anyone in Alabama it’s going to be hot this summer. You can just step outside.  No reporter required.

Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.

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