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A Day with Jay: The Newsroom Chronicles
JUPITER, FL – August 28, 2017 – In order to stay informed, Palm Beach County residents, work commuters, and visitors have numerous options available. Whether it’s by turning on the TV and flipping to the local channel, or loading up a live stream on your tablet, or getting a breaking news app alert on your smartphone, or checking social media for the latest updates on a groundbreaking topic, staying up-to-date with current affairs has never been easier. With this in mind, there’s no news outlet more renowned in providing the latest, up-to-the-minute, 24-hour coverage in the area than WPTV NewsChannel 5. Recently, InJupiter obtained a first-hand account of the thrilling world of broadcast journalism and overall news production while inside the WPTV news station, witnessing beat by beat the inner workings of a medium that never sleeps.
As my colleague and I sat in the waiting room of the sizable WPTV building located in West Palm Beach, we tapped our feet in excitement to the prospect of getting a glimpse behind the curtain. We notice a giant banner of the Jupiter Lighthouse hanging from the roof of the building that nearly touches the ground, reminding us of the importance that this station places on the Jupiter community, which, in turn, exclusively depends on this outlet to stay in the know. Our host, news anchor Jay Cashmere, appears through the doors that lead to a hallway connected to the main nerve of the station. He warmly greets us and introductions ensue as we follow Jay inside – and then, we are in the middle of it.
The sound of phones ringing incessantly, accelerated typing, and what seems like hundreds of overlapping voices fills the newsroom. Producers, directors, reporters, editors, associate producers, camera operators, sound operators, and anchors working in concert at a pace that would put daily runners to shame. This is the station that produces 40 hours of local news every week and where the latest information from all over the world lands. The undertaking of the WPTV team in delivering that news to its audience is a collaborative effort that, very much like a house of cards, requires an even footing of all the active departments to function properly. An even effort coupled with a sense of urgency that I’ve seldom seen anywhere else.
“When it comes to reporting the news, we strive to get it first and get it right,” Jay says. “We are the eyes, ears, and voice of the community, and we have an obligation to our viewers to make sure we give them as much information, as fast as possible, and as accurately as possible. In order to do that, everyone here has to work together—it’s a large team effort. We are like a football team, everyone has to do their job in order to achieve success.”
A familiar face to the Palm Beach County communities, Jay has been part of the WPTV news team since 2001, and he currently anchors the 5:30 PM prime time news show. His reporting duties take him all over South Florida, from Jupiter to the Keys, as well as to international locations such as the Bahamas, Haiti, and Bonaire.
Outside of the newsroom, Jay remains active. He enjoys running, surfing, biking, and swimming; and you can catch him doing one or more of these things in the Jupiter area. He admits that he had originally planned on staying in Florida for three years before taking the next step in his career elsewhere. Judging by the activities he enjoys, it’s not hard to comprehend why Jay decided to stay.
“I’m deeply rooted in the lifestyle,” says Jay. “If I can put the board in and have a surf session for a few hours and then come to work and do what I love, then this is the place for me.”
Jay has always been attuned to ocean conservation and the preservation of the environment. In 2003, Jay was certified to dive by way of the Jupiter Dive Center—this had a profound impact on his career. It allowed Jay to host a news series of his own device called “Underwater Wednesday’s.” The series aired once a month and it featured Jay and his news team on the water reporting stories surrounding ocean awareness and highlighting coral reefs off the coast of Jupiter, the Keys, and the Caribbean. In December 2008, Jay won a Suncoast Emmy Award for a piece entitled “Wounded Warriors,” featuring a group of single and double amputee soldiers who went diving in Caribbean waters after returning from the war. The piece was shot in the island of Bonaire as part of “Underwater Wednesday’s.”
As he prepares for the day, Jay regales us with the experience of his first story as a reporter at WPTV. It took place at the former Suni Sands Mobile Home Park in Jupiter, and Jay reported about its residents and life near the water.
“Suni Sands was already a recurring topic when I got here, and it is still a relevant subject today.” Jay notes. “I’ll never forget driving up to Jupiter and seeing the Jupiter Inlet and the lighthouse for the very first time and being in awe of the raw beauty that the town has. I was 25-years-old and ready to show this community why they should trust me to deliver their news—that story was the beginning of that step.”
Even though he is an award-winning journalist, Jay is as humble as they come. He understands that he’s in a position where others look up to him, and shows his gratitude by bringing the same level of energy and dedication of his first newscast to each one of his reports. His feet remain on the ground, and as an ambassador for WPTV, he understands that viewership loyalty is not automatic – you have to earn it.
It’s nearly 4:30 p.m., half-an-hour has transpired since our arrival, and duty calls for our host.
“My first hit is in five minutes,” Jay tells me. “I’m waiting to find out where they want me to be.”
By “hit,” he means that he is going live to report on a particular daily topic of interest and he’s going to do it somewhere in the middle of the newsroom. This is one of four live hits he will do throughout the course of the day. He is waiting for the go-ahead from his producer, who is establishing the timing of the cue that will be provided to Jay by the anchor team currently live in the studio. Doesn’t that ring a bell? We see it every time we watch the news: The news anchor(s) in the studio introduces a story, notes that there is another journalist that has been following said story, and the live feed goes to that reporter, who reads the story with or without an edited news segment attached. That is all followed by something to the effect of: “This is Jay Cashmere from WPTV NewsChannel 5 studio, back to you guys in the studio.” Hits. That’s how that works.
On hand, Jay has a script of this particular segment, and off-hand, he has access to all the scripts that encompass the news of the entire day, including all his scripts for his upcoming news show. He is adamant on knowing the content prior to standing in front of the camera, regardless of the constant aid of the teleprompter, so he has studied the script thoroughly and now looks it over one last time and gets in position before going live.
Veteran newscaster Michael Williams, one of the anchors currently reporting from the studio, introduces Jay’s story, and the live feed is redirected to Jay, at which point he takes over the newscast; albeit, momentarily. A large flat screen behind Jay shows the action that everyone sees on TV, while my colleague and I witness it from a few yards away. Jay does the hit and ends it with a teaser line, “More on this at the 5:30 PM news broadcast.”
Seeing this unfold to a tee according to the script provides perspective on how every second is accounted for in this business. Jay explains that if he takes more than a few seconds of the allotted time of the hit to cover the story, that will change the flow of the rundown, which means something else in the show will have to be “killed.” A scenario which is more common in a different kind of hit that Jay, along with the other WPTV anchors, engage in almost daily: Breaking news.
“Breaking news involves the gathering of as much information as possible in a second-to-second fashion, disseminating that information quickly, and then going live with it,” Jay explains. “Basically, you have to pick up the ball and run.”
Then, as if preordained for us to see this facet of Jay’s job, a story breaks. The WPTV team’s web producers act quickly to make sure the update is broken online, through social media, and through the WPTV app. Furthermore, they keep a watchful eye for progressive updates. Jay gets word of the latest update and acts accordingly.
Jay turns to me, “It looks like one of my stories is breaking. I’ll be back.”
His producer hands him a print out with more information from the assistant news director. It is an update on a story that he had been reporting on, so he only has a few minutes to read what just came across the wires before he goes live. This time, it’s not scripted, yet Jay knows enough about the story to build on the update. It is a perfect example of what puts newscasters to the test and how they overcome pressure, focusing solely on the task at hand in order to deliver breaking news in a professional manner. Jay demonstrates the confidence he has gained via years of experience: He positions himself in a side location of the newsroom in front of the camera, checks the microphone attached to the lapel of his suit twice, waits for the cameraman and producer to cue him, and proceeds to read the update with so much as a quick look at the script he had to absorb just a few minutes back. From “This just in…” to “More on this, as it develops.”
Following the breaking news read, Jay introduces us to Shannon Cake, an illustrious journalist and Jay’s co-anchor on the 5:30 PM news show, which is now right around the corner as far as time is concerned. Aside from being work colleagues, Jay and Shannon have a collegiate link in that they attended the University of Alabama, and this link stemmed a close friendship outside of work over the years.
“We can read each other’s minds,” Shannon points out. “If we’re on set and one of us is trying to say something but can’t find the words, the other one chimes in. Jay is always giving me great advice and we help each other out every step of the way.”
Next, it was time to go into the main studio for Jay and Shannon’s 30-minute live newscast. Upon entering the room, the first thing that stands out to me is a large “5” sign affixed to the main studio desk from which both anchors report the news. I’m reminded that this is a symbol that earned its way into the hearts of the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast communities throughout the past 62 years.
WPTV meteorologist James Wieland is in the studio filling in for Steve Weagle and is also part of the newscast, providing the weather report in intervals of Jay and Shannon’s broadcast. He gives periodic weather updates while standing in front of the famous green screen that is represented on TV by weather images and statistics through chroma keying. Whenever a segment follows a story, there is a break from the live studio feed and I hear Jay and Shannon interacting in a comfortable manner over a quick snack of apple wedges as if to reduce tension before they’re back on. No, they’re not faking laughs and witty conversation to contribute to the stigma built up in the minds of many after repeatedly watching scenes from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. I can’t say that this is not the case for all anchors around the globe, but I’ll attest that these two were just being themselves off camera.
As Jay and Shannon wrap up their newscast, I notice that the cameramen have scripts too. These scripts include a variety of shot angles that should be captured during the show: Close-up, over the shoulder, etc., revealing another layer of detail of a well-oiled machine that understands the demands of the viewer down to basic stimuli.
“And we’re clear,” proclaims the producer. The newscast concludes without bloopers or funny incidents to recount. Just a regular day on the job for Jay and his team. Michael is up next with the 6 PM news update.
News show completed, Jay finally gets a bit of downtime and gives us a tour throughout the chambers of the facility. We go into the make-up room, where anchors doll up before they go into work, mostly to curb the revealing effects of high-definition television. We go into the control rooms, where all of the switching and monitoring of all the news that goes through the channel takes place: The brain of the entire operation. Here, we watch the director of the newscast give cues to the producers interacting with the anchors and reporters; essentially what makes news production possible.
After the walkthrough, it was time to part ways with Jay, as he makes his way to the conference room, where he would meet with the staff of his news show to discuss the airing in great depth, to gather feedback from all its members, and to prepare for tomorrow’s show. Jay explains that this meeting is crucial to mitigate complacency and to grow the quality of the show with each newscast. A process he claims is mimicked by all morning, afternoon, and night news teams to further improve the way news is delivered to their audience, despite their established presence in the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast communities.
“You’re only as good as your last newscast,” he concludes. “The journalism industry is constantly changing, and that includes viewing habits. It is our responsibility to adapt to those changes immediately, which is why we are always learning and growing as a news station and as individuals.”
For more information, please visit www.wptv.com.