First rough draft of history

First rough draft of history

Although there are many ways to be a reporter — you can be a print or radio journalist, or a podcaster; you can cover breaking news or provide context and background later, you can write briefs or go long-form — it’s possible that Jen Maxfield is the iconic kind…

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The Story Behind the Story: The Yellow School Bus Goes Green

In this feature, I go back to stories I’ve reported for NBC NY and explain how we got them on the air.

When I hear that my next assignment is on Long Island, I worry. I check Waze. I analyze Google Maps days ahead of time, strategizing about exactly when I will need to leave my home in New Jersey to make it to our location on time. I know my Long Island friends would concur– traveling between New Jersey and Long Island, which involves some mix of bridges, tunnels, and traffic no matter what time you leave– is complicated. I left my home in Bergen County, New Jersey two-and-a-half hours before I needed to be at Unique Electric Solutions in Holbrook, New York on that Friday morning in May and barely made it on time. Between the pouring rain and the rush-hour traffic, I listened to multiple podcasts before pulling up to meet photojournalist Jeff Richardson, who is based on Long Island and had a much smoother commute. The story had been set up ahead of time by Howard Price and Enez Paganuzzi, two of the most talented and hard-working people I have the pleasure of calling my friends and colleagues. The concept was about how school buses in New York State are starting to go “green,” due to a regulation that says all New York City school buses must be zero-emissions by 2035. Unique Electric Solutions (UES) is a local company that is “repowering” school buses– taking out their diesel engines and replacing them with electric batteries, delivering buses that plug in and charge just like electric cars. With new diesel buses hard to come by due to supply chain shortages, and new electric buses costing more than double the price of a “repowered” version, UES was seeing its business soar. Especially with diesel fuel prices at record levels.

Jeff and I spent hours at UES, getting interviews and video for what would ultimately be a story that ran less than three minutes. People who are with us out on assignment are frequently commenting on how much time and energy goes into such a short final product. Part of this is that Jeff and I want to “shoot now, edit later.” Until we understand the full scope of the story, we don’t want to edit down our questions or video, because you never know what you might discover. Jeff was also using both the broadcast camera and the smaller DJI pocket camera, which allowed him to get shots of the underside of the school bus when he (carefully) directed the school bus driver to drive over the camera that he had positioned on the street, and other close-up shots of the mechanics working. Jeff’s creativity really shines in the finished product.

Reporting the story about the yellow school bus going green reinforced one of the key reasons I pursued journalism as a career in the first place: to meet interesting people and learn new things from them. The story that aired gave our viewers a look inside a local business that is growing (and hiring!), insight into new technology, and a chance to see how the innovation was impacting kids in our area, as children in Brooklyn starting riding the “green” bus to school last month. It’s a story that was worth driving all the way to Long Island for.

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What Is on Your Summer Reading List?

What Is on Your Summer Reading List?

For many Rutgers faculty and staff members, the summer is a time to relax and settle back with that book they’ve been longing to read when academic pressures ease up….

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Jewish Book Council “Meet the Author”

This speech was delivered at the Jewish Book Council “Meet the Author” event on May 25, 2022:
As a TV news reporter at NBC in New York, I meet people on the best and worst days of their lives. I ring their doorbells, sit in their living rooms, ask them personal questions on camera, say goodbye when I realize my deadline is approaching, and likely never see them again.

After more than twenty years of repeating this cycle, I decided it was time to go back. Return to the families who had welcomed me into their homes during traumatic times, revisit the people at the center of major news events, and investigate what happened after our live truck pulled away from the scene.

More After the Break offers a “behind the scenes” look at TV news reporting. How do we manage to get those interviews that you watch on the news or see on your Twitter feed? It also offers ten stories of inspiration and hope, accounts of how people who have suffered have emerged triumphant. This is *not* a book about politics or so called “fake news.” This *is* a book about people, about the connections we local news reporters form in our communities, and about the strength and resilience of the people we cover.

As an adjunct professor at Columbia Journalism School, I was prompted by my students to direct the same tough ethical questions to myself that I had been asking them: why do we still knock on grieving families’ doors when we could find most of what we are looking for on social media? How can we help a person who has lost everything in a natural disaster? And as a wife and mother, how can I cover so much tragedy without sacrificing a part of my own mental health?

Several years ago during High Holy Day services, I was thinking about people to whom I owed an apology, people whose forgiveness I desired before starting the New Year. I have made mistakes at work, times when I could have treated people with more kindness and respect. Those tough conversations are featured in my book as well, and I hope that my unflinching account prompts complicated and interesting conversations among readers like you.

TV news reporting is not a glamorous job, which you will appreciate when you read my chapter about covering hurricanes and desperately searching for suitable restrooms. But it is an important job, even a “noble” job as some reviewers have written. I look forward to sharing these ten wonderful stories with you, and I hope that the people featured in them will enrich your lives in the same way they have brightened mine. Thank you.

NBC New York’s Jen Maxfield on life as a TV ‘first responder’ and the ten local stories she can’t forget

NBC New York’s Jen Maxfield on life as a TV ‘first responder’ and the ten local stories she can’t forget recounts the 10 (mostly Jersey-based) stories, with added context and updated interviews with those involved, in a forthcoming book, ‘More After the Break,’ set to be released July 12

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