Cold Reporting (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

Telling a story when you can't even talk.


The temperature is a single digit, the wind is whipping the wind chill is way below zero.  Everyone with any sense is warm , indoors, maybe watching the news.  We've got a reporter standing outside, shaking and quaking his way through a live report about just how cold it is. 

It happens all the time, all winter long. I've had viewers ask me about it, why do we do it.  The answer is pretty simple. TV is a visual medium, the best way to help viewers understand the situation is to show it to them.  Sometimes having someone stand out there talking about it is the best way to point out how much snow is falling, how much wind is blowing how much ice is on the roads.

I can tell you that we're pretty careful about how we do it. The reporter and photographer are in a live van to make the whole live report happen.  They can spend as much time as possible inside that vehicle, with the heat blowing, staying warm until those few moment when they have to be out  in it. 

I spent 17 years as a reporter in the field before I became a full-time anchor. I've done dozens of very, very cold live reports, or live shots,  in 5 different states.  It's never pleasant, I remember a few in conditions so cold that the photographer actually set up the camera, on the tripod, inside the back of the van!  Then I would step outside just long enough for the report.  I was outside, but he was inside.  Viewers (and bosses) probably couldn't tell, and possibly wouldn't mind.

The hardest part is to focus.  We all know what it's like to feel the cold. A lot of poeple may not realize how hard it is to talk in an authoritative, confident, competent way...when your mouth won't work.  Your entire face stings and stiffens up.  Your lips get numb, for me even the chin starts to hurt for some reason.  It's hard to speak without the slurring that makes you sound like you've been relying on a little liquid warmth to get through the night. (For the record, I've never done that). You're trying to remember the script you wrote for the report, or at least ad-lib to the mental outline of the points you want to make...and all you can do is think about how freakin' freezin' you are!  I used to consciously try to challenge myself to be nice and slow and deliberate so that I could win my own little cold war and get through my two minutes on TV.

An old friend who is a reporter in Denver gives me a hard time now about being in the warm studio while the reporters and photogaphers are out freezing!  He's got a good point. Have I done it...yes, many many times.  Do I feel like I ever need to do it!..but you never know!  For now the closest I get is every December when my co-anchor Shannon Brinias and I host our live coverage of the Festival Of Light Parade.  A couple of years ago it was face-pain cold. This year, not so bad..but we cheated. We had a blanket covering our laps, below camera level!

We just asssigned 11 News Reporter David Nancarrow, and photographer Kurt Story to be on cold weather duty tonight. I checked in with them both before they left. Kurt told me, "I think I need to remember to bring something to cover my face.  It's hard because your fingers don't move to operate the camera."  He's right about that.

Dave told me, "It's something we all have to do and I just hope 10 O'clock gets here quickly!"  I'm with you, Dave. 10 O'clock sounds good....and at this pont, so does 10 degrees!

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward

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