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The Public Eye Chat With...Brian Kennedy

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It's Thursday, and that means it's time for the Public Eye Chat. This week's subject is CBS News Coordinating Producer Brian Kennedy. You can read excerpts, and listen to the full interview, below.

to listen to the interview.
Brian Montopoli: You coordinated the coverage of the bridge tragedy last week in the Twin Cities. What does that entail? What does a coordinating producer do, especially on a big story like that?

Brian Kennedy: Well, in order to take a studio into the field, there's just a lot of moving parts. Everything from power issues to communications. Telephone. Internet. Also satellite feeds. And everything needs to be backed up. And everything has to be done in a matter of hours. So from the time that the decision was made that Katie would be going to the story until we were on the air, it's pretty much a nonstop set of events that need to be coordinated.

Brian Montopoli: Can you give me an example of something you dealt with last week that was a difficult issue?

Brian Kennedy: Well, first of all, the easy thing was that before I arrived, the producers who arrived late on that evening had secured a spot. They were up all night, literally knocking on doors, finding location. That's usually the toughest part. Once you find a location, the tougher part was getting the right equipment in. Obviously, getting on a commercial plane, you can only put so much on. And a charter plane can't hold very much equipment. So we didn't travel with our normal amount of gear, which includes teleprompters, and various communications gears – headset, cameras, lights, that sort of thing.

So we were lucky enough to find a local rental house where we secured a generator which powered almost everything we did. This is a big generator, sort of rides on the back of a semi- truck. Not very portable. And finding a place to park that kind of thing, and making sure you're parked in a place where the satellite is not blocked by a building, and making sure you can see the location in the background where Katie was standing – which is actually the bridge – and making sure the sun is not glaring into the lens at the time we are on the air, which is 5:30. All those little things sort of come up throughout the day, and we just kind of pick them off one at a time and hope by the end of the day we've taken care of everything.

Brian Montopoli: I know this was taken care of before you got there, but tell me about the location. Basically, it was just some guy's apartment, right?

Brian Kennedy: Yeah, well, Charlie Brooks and Mark Hooper, producers out of Chicago and Dallas, respectively, as they explained it to me, it was just some luck. Someone who knew someone who knew someone, and they ended up contacting these students. It's an apartment building about 10 or 11 stories tall. And these students – mostly students there – were more than kind and more than generous with their time, being up all night, and with their place. They literally moved everything into closets, into the hallway, so we could go in. We took the doors off their balcony, we took speakers off the walls, I mean, you wouldn't have recognized their apartment.

I think it was a little frustrating for them to see, but they were just so great about it. It's not always that nice. Sometimes you have to convince people that we're not going to trash their place and we're not going to be bad guests. Also, we're quite willing to pay for the uprooting. We put them in a hotel over the nights we were there, and we made sure that we didn't upset their lives too much.

Brian Montopoli: Do you have a set budget, or any sort of budgetary guidelines, when you're dealing with something like this? Because you're dealing with somewhat uncharted territory, but presumably there are bottom line thoughts out there.

Brian Kennedy: Well, money is definitely a factor. I think there's kind of a general boilerplate amount of money that it costs to do a show on the road. When you're doing it without any advance planning, sometimes certain things are going to cost a little bit more, and certain things are going to cost a little bit less. When we plan things, we have time to order in communications – regular phone lines and also high-speed Internet connections. Those are just impossible to get in on a one-day basis most of the time. So those costs don't exist. But on the other hand, barging in on somebody's apartment may have a location fee where we say, "hey, can we pay you a rental fee to use your balcony for a day or two days, and we'll put you up in a hotel." So yes, budget is always a factor. But at the end of it there's not much you can do about the costs. And if they're going to go far above what the normal expectation is, then you kind of have to make some decisions and talk to the bosses and see what they think.

Brian Montopoli: I understand one of your duties is settling up the off-air reporters who are going to be following the candidates – and for anyone listening, those are the people who are on the road with the candidates every day, feeding information to the network, but not necessarily going on the air. What does that entail? What do you give them? How do you figure that out?

Brian Kennedy: Well, we're in uncharted territory in a sense. These off-airs – we call them "kids on the bus" at CBS – they are not on the traditional broadcast, but they're going to be on the Web. They're going to have a great presence on cell phones, on PDAs, on the Internet, as text, video, sound. They'll be on the radio. And I'm sure some of them will show up in the broadcast. So we need to give them the ability to be one man bands extraordinaire.

They have cameras, small DV cameras, they have computers, they have various means of connecting to the Internet, and they have various ways to get their material either from their phone, or PDA, or camera into their computer. And they can cut a story and send it in over the Internet. Or they can stream it live if there's a story that warrants them showing a picture back to either the broadcast or Web site or mobile unit. So they're going to have a lot of duties that would sort of be considered the new journalist.

It's not so new, but the technology changes so quickly that every four years you get a chance to try to roll out the best, and try to teach the best. And the number of toys and information and things they need to do just goes way up. So they're going to have their hands full. We think we've made it simple enough to use, and we think the technology is quite solid, so it's just a matter of using it in the right situations. And you'll see it on CBSNews.com, you'll see it on the radio, as Charles Osgood would say, and you'll see it on the broadcast.

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