Grrr! No Such Thing as Free Publicity

Just as there's no such thing as a free lunch, there's also no such thing as free publicity.

A lot of times I'll be on assignment where the prevailing sentiment from my interview subjects or event coverage is that a hit on FOX News is free publicity.

That's not true.

My time is not free. The airlines that take me to locations do not carry me out of the kindness of their hearts, and the hotels aren't letting me stay on their pillow mattresses because they like me.

Likewise, the camera crew gets paid, the audio tech gets paid, etc., etc. My employer trusts me to make the right decisions on which stories I am covering, and that the expense comes with a payoff that benefits you, the reader and the viewer.

That's my job.

But to me, the most expensive aspect of traveling out of town, or on late-night shoots, or long days and nights in edit rooms and writing pieces is the fact that I miss out on family time, and I'm not saying I'm unique in this.

I'm fortunate in that I love my job, but anybody who wants to be successful in any industry (to say nothing of the military) knows that sacrifice is key, and very often quality time with our children and spouses is the first to go.

So it really Grrrs me when I arrange to cover an event, and the people I'm covering decide to pull power plays and try to get me to do a story their way, or don't deliver on their promise of access.

For instance, I was doing a feature story last week, and in the middle of shooting someone from the event approached my cameraman and rudely stated "last shot."

Last shot? We were there a total of five minutes, and to make matters worse, it was their public relations firm who got me there in the first place.

In fact, Thursday night was the second day shooting this story. I had already been there during the day interviewing a spokesman for the event, and all I needed to finish the piece was some footage of the event in progress — known in the industry as b-roll.

I didn't argue with the "last shot" man, but instantly I knew this story was dead.

Last shot? No problemo. Hey, it's your event. Just don't expect a feature piece about it on my watch. When I wrapped the camera and made a hasty exit, the public relations folks asked me what was going on. I told them what happened, and they assured me it was a misunderstanding.

A misunderstanding? Perhaps between them and their client, maybe. But as far as I was concerned, "last shot" means last shot. No misunderstanding.

But it's not the first time something like this has happened, and believe me, it won't be the last.

One of my fondest memories of such a time is when I was pitched to cover a live, debut performance of a fledgling rock star — the sister of a very famous actor — at some yoga club in New York City a few years ago.

When we arrived at the yoga center, I quickly found out that the woman who made the pitch was actually more interested in getting the yoga center mentioned in the piece than she was in me covering the fledgling rock stars, and I began to think I was duped.

In fact, when the band began to play, the person who pitched me actually told me we had to stop shooting the event. I was flabbergasted, because that was the only reason I was there in the first place.

"Then what am I doing here," I asked? She responded, "I don't know, what are you doing here?"

This is the person whose very own office sent me numerous e-mails asking for coverage, with the promise of "access" to various celebrities and performers who would be in attendance.

We left with no more than some footage of people doing yoga — which I knew I would never use, and to make matters worse, a fire truck had our crew vehicle blocked in, and we ended up waiting another hour while the FDNY finished putting out a fire before we could leave.

What was really astonishing is that the next day the public relations representative who pitched me the story in the first place called me to ask when the piece "about the yoga center" was going to air.

I laughed and hung up. Maybe his boss filled him in later on what happened, I don't know, but I do have their cards hanging on my office corkboard with a giant X going through them, and I vow to never again waste my time on one of their events.

What really Grrrs me about stuff like this is the family sacrifice that comes with covering these non-stories. Stories, mind you, that had potential, but didn't live up to the pitch.

Last Thursday night in my hometown there was a Halloween parade, where a certain 2-and-a-half-year-old donned her little ladybug costume and marched proudly around a football field.

She smiled brightly as Mommy took pictures, and she made new friends among the "Buzz Lightyears" and the "Lightning McQueens" in attendance. She understood why her Daddy couldn't be there that night, though, because he had explained to her in the morning that he had to work late.

Daddy told her to have fun in her costume and to smile for the camera so he could see how pretty she looked in it.

Where was her daddy? He was doing a feature piece on some celebrity event in New York City, and you'll never guess what happened. Just as they started shooting b-roll, an event organizer went up to his cameraman, and, well, you know the rest. Grrr!

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