One of my favorite TV shows of all time is the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. For those who haven't seen it, Band of Brothers tells the story of Easy Company, a group of soldiers within the US Army's 101st Airborne Division who land in Normandy in 1944 and fight their way into the heart of Hitler's Europe. Interspersed with incredible acting and memorable story lines are interviews from the actual members of the company. They speak vividly about the great courage they witnessed, the fear they felt, and the loss they endured. As the grandson of decorated World War II veterans who I unfortunately didn't get to know very well, I always found the stories of Easy Company to be emotionally resonant and powerfully inspiring.
One of the episodes of the series deals chiefly with leadership, or more specifically, how poor leadership can affect the morale of a squad. At this point in the war, Easy has made its way to Bastogne, a small sleepy town in southern Belgium. The men are short on food, ammunition, and warm winter clothing. As they are setting up their defenses, the viewer becomes acquainted with the new leader of the group, Lieutenant Norman Dike.
Lt. Dike has no real understanding of his men or how to lead them. When things are quiet, he starts conversations with them and then trails off and walks away. He solves problems by calling his superiors at the regiment level, rather than dealing with them on his own. He has a kind of distant, head-in-the-clouds demeanor that he often expresses with his frequent yawns while he sits alone in a foxhole, earning him the nickname "Foxhole Norman."
As the 101st Airborne becomes encircled by German forces in what would later be known as the Battle of the Bulge, Lt. Dike is tasked with leading Easy on a mission to capture a town called Foy and break the German perimeter. Dike is told by Captain Winters, his superior, to continue moving forward during the attack lest he allow his men to get caught up in German artillery and mortar fire.
The assault begins normally as Winters watches Dike and Easy charge into the open field outside Foy. As soon as Dike loses sight of one of his platoons, however, he foolishly halts the advance and orders his men to hunker down. This results in many unnecessary deaths for the company as the field erupts in explosions. Eventually, lower-ranking officers gather around Dike's position in a whirlwind of confusion, begging him for new orders. One soldier is holding a radio screeching with the shouts of Captain Winters. In a vain attempt to placate his troops, Dike tells one of his platoons to perform a desperate flanking maneuver around the town, leaving them alone and exposed. Reluctantly, they agree. Seeing the well-planned operation crumble under the weight of Dike's incompetent command, Captain Winters relieves him of duty and replaces him with Lt. Ronald Speirs. When Speirs runs to Dike's position to inform him of the change in leadership, he finds Dike in a state of frozen panic. He's lost control.
To be honest, I spend a fair amount of time as a producer feeling a little bit like Lt. Dike. The production of each show is a major challenge, and keeping track of all the different elements that go into the show often leaves me feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed. This was especially true for this week's newscast. The ostensible plethora of visual details that needed to be added to the show, along with the added stress of the last few weeks of my Master's program, exhausted me mentally and psychologically. When the production team held its regular post-show meeting, I chose not to go. I felt that I didn't have anything to contribute, and I was too embarrassed by my apparent lack of fortitude. I was Lt. Dike, and it was time for someone else to take over.
Failure becomes important, and often necessary, when we can learn valuable lessons from it. Although I am certainly not the best TV news producer out there, my time at Annenberg TV News has taught me an important lesson. It was best summarized by a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." I've learned that TV production is not my strong suit, but that's OK. There are some things that I'm good at, and I'll keep working to pursue them and do my best. As my dad likes to say, your best is all you can do.
Fortunately, our newsroom is packed with so many other talented producers and reporters that make our broadcasts informative and engaging. This week, we had a creative and unique segment about the popular traffic app Waze and the headaches it's causing for Los Angeles residents who happen to live on the routes it directs users to. We had a great live shot with our reporter Dongyao Nie, who took us to one of the routes. We also had a live demonstration with our anchor Claudia Buccio, who showed us how the app detects traffic in real-time and re-directs drivers. The segment was both relevant to our audience and informative about a civic issue of importance. I didn't have much of a role to play in its development or execution but its success can be attributed to the talented people in our media center. I think they would agree that it really stood out among the segments we aired this week.
Some may wonder why I chose to be a producer in the first place. Without having known the rigors of the position, I wanted to try it out. I've always believed in challenging yourself and expanding your horizons. That's one of the joys of journalism. It goes back to the Cicero quote from my last entry: "to philosophize is to learn how to die." We must allow the unfounded assumptions and beliefs to die within us so that we can emerge more driven, more self-aware, and more focused. You won't see it on our broadcasts, but it's the best part of every show.