Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Last year at this time, I took a look back on the year that was. In keeping with the reflective nature of year's end, I will attempt to make sense kind of year 2007 has been to me.

2007 started like any other year, with yours truly making one of those New Year's resolutions. I promised myself that I would do anything in my power to avoid a night shift. After 26 years in the business, I figure I have done enough of those. So working OT and taking the the time in lieu, plus vacation time, I was successful. Damn that's the first one of those "resolutions" I have ever kept. Score one for the Murman.

But seriously, 2007 like most years had it's good, it's bad and it's ugly moments. In January, the Robert Pickton Trial began. It was an assignment that ran throughout the year just ending a few short weeks ago. My time there covering it encapsulated "the good, the bad" and most certainly "the ugly" side of human kind. But an experience that I am grateful for none the less.

The month of February brought my first ever winter Vacation. My son had convinced me to strap on a pair of skis for the first time in nearly 20 years. The boy and I spent an incredible week skiing in Whistler along with my brother who was visiting from New Jersey. Now I understand why people take "winter" vacations in cold places. Not to mention the quality time that was spent with my brother and my son.

March brought record flight time. This was due to the weather. Rain, rain and more rain equals LANDSLIDES. There were plenty. During one week of my flight duties, we spent the duration covering a number of significant slides that closed the Trans- Canada highway between Hope and Chilliwack BC. Further up the Fraser river more slides cut off the town of Lytton. It became one of the most visual stories that I covered this year from the air.

But 2007 also turned out to be a year of great loss. In April, the war in Afghanistan became very personal with the death of a young Canadian soldier named David Greenslade. I had never met young David, but I had grown up with his mother Laurie. He was her only child.

Loss continued into the summer and hit all of us at CTV British Columbia very hard with the news that Kenny Lim, a Graphic Artist at the station, had drowned while on vacation with his family in Ontario. The story of his death is one of selfless courage and love for his son. It exemplified the kind of human being Kenny was.

As the leaves fell, so too did a former colleague after a long and courageous battle with breast cancer, Heather Proudfoot-Barry. She was a political journalist of the highest standard. She had been a joy to work with. A day does not go by as I check my hit counters for this blog, when I do not find at least 10 searches for "Heather Proudfoot". It leads me to believe that she is often thought about by all those whom she touched in her brief time with us.

My Family too had been touched by loss in 2007. Just a few days ago, I got word of the passing of my aunt Phyllis. She had spent Christmas with her sons and left us on Boxing Day. But as I think of her and my late Uncle Bill, I always think of their infectious laughter and brilliant senses of humour, and that makes me smile.

The year also gave gifts of experience and gifts of connection. Connections to old friends that I had long lost contact with. Yes I succumbed to the power of Facebook and it yielded many old and dear friends. There is a comfort in that act of reconnection and I am grateful for it.

But now it is time to look forward. The on coming year. New hope, new promise, new experiences, new challanges and of course new connections. God willing, good heath.

And so with that I wish you all a happy and healthy 2008. Now go hug someone you love.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pickton Trial Part 6: Verdict Day

That Sunday morning began like so many mornings. The standard "walk in" shots of the cast of characters that we have become so familiar with.
Sue did her hit into Newsnet, the discussion between her and the host back in Toronto centered around the question of a potential record breaking deliberations. When the hit finished, I began to settle in for the long day ahead. I had brought lots of entertainment to pass the time between hits. Our next one wouldn't be until late in the afternoon.

I went up to our office, ( yes we have a bureau office just a stone's throw away up the long stone stairway of Begbie Square) to warm up and grab a diet Pepsi. I sat down for a second to shoot the shit with Gary T who was tech. producing today.when all at once he said to me as he checked his blackberry: "Verdict!"
"Bullshit" I responded. Hell I was just down stairs and Tapper had a reputation for being a bit of a joker.
As he turned toward me, and I caught the expression on his face, I realized the boy who cried wolf was not joking.
I leaped up out of my chair and ran down the long and treacherous stairway. It must of been quite a sight seeing a short fat guy sprinting down stairs taking them three and four at a time. I was at my camera in less than one minute.
God love Sue, she already was mic-ing herself up. Before I knew it we were breaking into programming and up on Newsnet.
This was it, the day that we had waited for nine days for. There would be a verdict. Word spreading like wild fire to families and lawyers holed up nearby. It would take near 40 minutes for the Court to reconvene. All the while Sue was on the air. Calmly reporting the excitement that was enveloping the area.


I knew that we would be having guests and had a mixer set up, but because of audio routing, I would need a break to bring up her mic and the guest mic together. At the rate and appetite for information, Toronto was not about to break away for me long enough to make it happen. So I decided to deep six the mixer and simply go with a hand held and she would have to conduct her conversations with guests "old school" single stick mic. It was a decision I was glad to have made. The less complicated the better as the situation was very very fluid.

Tamar, our chase producer, was busy hunting down guests and working two cell phones notifying our prearranged guests (experts in law and DNA sciences) to make their way to us. All the while Sue is cranking it out never missing a beat.
It looked like we were going to be on the air for a very long time. As I squinted into my viewfinder, I congratulated myself for having the foresight to have powered the camera with an AC pack as opposed to using a battery. That feeling quickly fleeting as speaking of batteries, I realized that the double A's in the wireless Sue had on might be a bit long in the tooth.
"Shit" I thought, how the hell am I going to change batteries on the fly, live??

I grabbed a pair of AA's and crawled on my hands and knees over to her. I asked Tamar to relay to the control room in Toronto to have the host ask a "long question". They did and it gave me just enough time to switch in fresh batteries.

The temperature was just above freezing outside at our broadcast location, and here it was maybe 10 minutes into our coverage and I am sweating like I'm in the freakin' desert. All the while Sue is doin' her thing. Giving the viewers a great performance and exquisite oratory. I was in the presence of greatness.

By now all media outlets were on the air and the anticipation of just what the verdict would hold was at a climax.
"The jury is just now entering the court" Sue proclaimed. It was indeed very close now. Blackberries all over the courtyard were no doubt buzzing with information coming from inside.
"Not Guilty!" she said as the information was being read off the screen.
Then she said" but wait, we are now getting information that the Not Guilty verdict is for 6 counts of first degree, Guilty on counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and yes 6 counts of second degree murder"
There it was, a conviction. But the drama was just beginning. While we were on the air the streets had been blocked off by police. I did notice a sudden increase in police presence on the square, but it had not registered as I had been dealing with my own situation. It was not long before the families and court watchers came out of the court past the small crowd of TV cameras and newspaper photographers.
Sue describing this for the viewers giving everyone a sense of actually being there. The families came out past the waiting media and over to the CTV local tent. there they had formed a circle and began a solemn ceremony, lighting candles, remembering their loved ones, the six victims. It was a very moving moment, one that when I look back and remember it, brings goose bumps to the back of my neck. The impromptu gathering was shot from another camera position. All the while Sue respectfully staying quiet only occasionally interjecting a poignant observation to our viewing audience.

Families gather for a candle light ceremony remembering their loved ones

Sue on the air with a family member, while in the background an emotional embrace

There were tears and there were hugs. The anguish written on many faces. Yet relief. These folks had indeed been through allot, yet took the time to come to us and share their thoughts and reactions to Sue. It is something that has always humbled me as a story teller, the willingness for people who are hurting, speaking to us under the glare of my lens and sharing with us raw feelings that are very personal and pure.

Sue handled each guest, be it a relative of one of the victims or an invited guest "expert" as if they were her own family. Often the conversation was emotional. But her gentle ways comforted those who spoke to us. Her interviewing mined those golden nuggets of information giving us glance into someones heart. It truly was a privilege to behold.

Sue speaking with the sisters of Georgina Papin one of Robert Pickton's victims.

The Newsnet animal is a hungry one however and the coverage was wall to wall. It was the biggest national story of the day and the Net's appetite was ravenous. Tamar was hustling and wrangling guests for Sue. When it was finally over for CTV Newsnet, Sue had been on the air for just over eight straight hours. Then after a quick sip of coffee she did a hit with CP24 and Court TV Canada.

Crown Prosecutor Mike Petrie speaks with Sue Sgambati during her eight hours on Newsnet. It was Mr. Petrie's first one on one after his pooled presser.

Sue enjoying that sip of Timmy's finest just before she did her CP24 and Court TV Canada commitments.

I have been in this business for almost 27 years and I have never seen such an incredible performance by a single broadcaster. Eight hours, never missing a beat, never stumbling a line or fact, never flustered. God damn that was amazing and I was proud to have witnessed it first hand.

Needless to say, we all had a wrap dinner that night, toasting our team. It was bitter sweet as now that the verdict was over, so too was my time with Sue.
The girls were being released from the story after 3 full weeks. Now they could return to friends and family back at World Headquarters. Sue got out on the first flight home to return to her family and to her duties as host and producer for Court TV Canada. Tamar left later the next day and after a couple of days off returned to her duties in the control room.

Our Newsnet team -Tamar Vartanian , Murman, and Sue Sgambati - posing for one final group shot at the end of Verdict Day

For me the Pickton trial had one final chapter, and it would come in the form of the sentence. I was reassigned to local coverage and teamed up with both Lisa and Janet for the shows. It was a great way to finish what was a very tough assignment.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pickton Trial Part 5: The Concert

By the end of that first weekend of jury deliberations, energy levels were low. I recall just wanting to get home when the night was done and crashing to sleep. I knew full well that the 6 am wake up alarm would come soon enough.

And it did. I arrived on that Tuesday a bit agitated because of a household disagreement that privacy laws forbid me from revealing. Well they don't really, but if Mrs. Murman reads this blog, I would end up in a world of shit and quite frankly I'm not much in the mood for that at this point in time.

The day progressed very well until one of my friends from Global National showed up.

"Hey Murman guess what??" he asked (more like taunted)
"What?" I answered.
"I'm goin' to the Van Halen concert tomorrow night!" he replied
"Shit, you rat bastard, I couldn't get tickets and besides it looks like I'm stuck here anyway."
I had wanted to see these guys since 1981 when they made the swing through the Maritimes. I had tickets then, but the show was cancelled in Moncton as I recall due to a stage /venue issue.
I looked at him with envy and contempt for rubbing it in that he was going. Especially after the mood I was in from the aforementioned "domestic dispute".
"Murman, I gotta friend that has an extra ticket." he says.
"Get him on the phone!" I demanded.
He did and after a brief conversation, I had myself a ticket outta Begbie Square. My demeanor instantly improving.

The day of the concert, I was able to get someone to cover my late hit. It would feel nice to go somewhere other than the Courthouse in New Westminster even if it were only for a few hours.

The seats were good ones, Al's friend sold me the ticket for face value. It proved to be money well spent.

The show begins with Eddie's son Wolfgang on Bass, David, Alex and Eddie rockin' with "You Really Got Me Now" (photo Vancouver Sun)

The show began with the familiar riff of Eddie playing "You Really Got Me" and David Lee Roth prancing down a long curving ramp waving a giant red flag. It was on. After 26 years, I finally got to see Van Halen. For the next two hours it felt I was back in high school 1979. I pumped my arms with every beat. Enjoyed every song. I knew them all by heart.
Eddie had brought his "A" game and so too, did David. It was freakin' great. For that two hours there was no court, no deliberations, no wait and no worries about what the hell we were going to do when a verdict came down.

Eddie = Guitar Hero! brought his "A" game (photo Vancouver Sun)

Yes it was quite a show, good escapism and when the show was over, there had not been one single song that I had wished they had played. They played it all. Now if I could only hear. It took two days for the ringing to finally stop. The show gave me the energy to see this assignment to it's end.

It was one of the best shows I have ever seen ( Photo Vancouver Sun)
,,,,You really got me!

Oh ya, thanks Al !

Pickton Trial Part 4 :The Long Wait

After 10 days of closing arguments, judge's charges to the jury and countless live hits about the proceedings, a milestone was reached. The case went to the jury, meaning the deliberations would begin. For all of us covering the trial it meant that we were finally in the "home stretch" of this marathon trial.

This happened late in the afternoon of Friday November 30th. Naturally there was an air of excitement as we reported live into each of our respective shows. I recall after our live hits, giving a celebratory hug to Janet. She had been on this case a very, very long time and now finally it seemed an end was within sight.

The night the Jury went into Deliberations, CTV Camera Steve Murray, Reporter Janet Dirks and Yours Truly pose for a celebratory photo

The jury was sequestered and now the long wait would begin. Naturally predictions of how long and when the jury would return a verdict ran throughout Begbie Square. Poolies started to flock to their bookies and place their bets. Most of us thought a Tuesday or a Wednesday verdict would be ideal. Of course any one's guess was as good as any. But what this new phase meant, was now we would be required to be at a constant state of readiness as long as the jury was deliberating. Hence, the long wait.

During this "long wait" we were still required to file. How many times could one report that "deliberations continue" or how many different ways could it be stated that "no one really knows for sure" how long this could take, our on air talents would indeed be tested.

The jury came up with a workable deliberation schedule- 9:30 am break for lunch at 1:30 till 3 pm and then go until 8pm finishing for the day. It made for a long day of being at a "constant state of TV readiness".

As the days began to pass, the weather went from fall to winter in about 6 hours. The snow began to coat the courtyard during that first weekend of deliberations. The heater became everybody's best friend and since yours truly had the kick ass flame thrower, guess who was "Mr. Popular"

The snow flies as CTV NewsNet/ Court TV's Sue Sgambati prepares to tell the viewers "The Jury is still deliberating". That's CTV News Net chase producer Tamar Vartanian on the phone.

The families of the victims, who by now were very familiar to us all began this "long wait" with good spirits, but as the days wore on, so to did the emotions of the group. There were times that one or more of them would come on over and get what ever they were feeling off their chest. It was almost as if I had a sign just outside the tent that said: Psychology- 5 cents. It was harmless, but over time it wore a person down. I did my best to be friendly after all they were going through some of the worst times in their lives, I suppose listening wasn't going to kill me. But their chain smoking might,,,,

One of the families, the Frey's, who daughter was among the murder counts that the jury was working on, really touched us all at the CTV broadcast tent. Each morning as Lynn would arrive, she would walk past the phalanx of cameras to our tent. In her hand she had a bag filled with pastries and muffins.
"I brought you some goodies" she would say " You guys have to be here too, and I appreciate it"
"That was very kind of you Mrs Frey, but you don't have too,," I would say
"I want too" she replied.
"Thank-you" was all I could manage to answer.

Janet speaks to Lynn Frey (in the red coat)

But as the long wait continued, the spirits of each of us began to tire. Stories, not related to the trial, lead the nightly news. Our instincts were calling us away from the Square. We all needed a change in scenery. We all wanted our lives back. Visiting journalists missed home and the comfort of their own beds. Local journalists although sleeping in their own blankets, lived and breathed this story. It's toll on household conversations, family activities and mental health cannot be overlooked.

Yet with this endless wait, there were the high points. The laughs and war stories of our colleagues. But you know it's been a long wait when those war stories begin to repeat.
We just all prayed for a verdict, the sooner the better.

One of the most remarkable days began with rain, heavy rain. So much so that one of the media tents collapsed overnight. As the day continued the dark clouds continued to gather. The mood in the square was tense at best. But that afternoon just before a break, the sun began to shine from the west. It was low in the sky and with the heavy showers of just moments ago, a rainbow appeared over the courthouse. Then a second rainbow. Brilliant and uplifting to all. Families saw this as a sign of good news to come. The rainbow didn't elaborate on the time line of this "good news to come". So the long wait would continue.

A symbol of hope appears over the New West Court House

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pickton Trial Part 3: The Blessing

My days at the trial usually began with a stop at the gas station. Filling up gas cylinders for the heater. When I would arrive at Begbie Square, a lone security guard would greet me and he would help me unzip the tent.

The first order of business would be to get the heater fired up and take the chill out of the tent. Then I would begin to wire up the camera and position the lights. Each and every morning brought an early hit into CP24 and then a hit into CTV NewsNet. Later as the day wore on, more hits, some ENG work (shooting the "ins" and "outs") and finishing the day with local live hits into the 5 and the 6, ending with a NewsNet live. It was a routine that lasted nearly 3 full weeks. The days went from 7 am till nearly 9 each night. This kind of an assignment could grind you down in a hurry if it were not for the gift that the TV Gods had given me.

That gift came in the form of three very talented journalists. Two , Lisa Rossington and Janet Dirks, I have the privilege of working with everyday at CTV in Vancouver. The other, from the home office in Toronto. Our first meeting was on that first Monday of closing arguments (nearly 4 weeks ago now).

CTV British Columbia reporter Lisa Rossington. She had been on this case since the original raid on the Pickton Farm.

CTV's Janet Dirks, she too has covered this case since the beginning. A kinder person you will not find anywhere.

She arrived that morning finding the CTV tent and asked: "Are you Dave??"
"No", I said "He's up in the office, I'm Murray the Camera Guy, can I help you?"

She introduced herself: "Hi , I'm Sue Sgambati, I believe I have a live hit with you in a few minutes."

Court TV Canada's Sue Sgambati, an instant hit here at the CTV Broadcast Center in
New Westminster, British Columbia

Her assignment was to fill the live requirements for Court TV Canada, CP24 and CTV NewsNet until the end of the trial. A tall order indeed, but one we would both relish.
As the days wore on, our conversations revealed that we had much in common. I discovered that she was very much an "old school" journalist. All about the story, a storyteller. Not like some in our business, about themselves. She was very much a team player, something again highly prized in this business, not to mention this assignment. She had a marvelous sense of humour, something that would help us through some of the mentally fatiguing times that would lie ahead. There was not a day that passed without the two of us sharing in a mind cleansing belly laugh. And through laughter and conversation, we bonded.

Sue preparing to do another live hit for CTV Newsnet

Yes it indeed was a blessing to have been given such a pro to work with. When asked by a producer in Toronto for a 3 minute "breathless" to tape. She would glance at her notepad, give a 3-2-1 and rattle off 3 minutes to the second, on the first take!
Sue fit right in with the team. I found myself wanting to call her bosses in Toronto and asking if we could keep her. Of course we could not, but you can't blame a guy for trying.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pickton Trial Part 2: The Campfire

One of the lessons learned from our first experience last winter from Begbie Square was it was freakin' cold no matter what the weather. We had rented a construction heater to heat the tents last winter. They were so successful that we purchased one.

It was money well spent. One thing about waiting long periods of time outside a courthouse, is, it's better to stay warm and dry. Nothing makes a shoot any more miserable than a cold/ wet reporter and operator.

The device is fueled by propane gas. Stopping at the gas station every morning filling a cylinder for the heater became a daily ritual. Our flame throwing heat generating marvel became the envy of all of our competitors. They too invested in heat technology, but settled for smaller "Camping" heaters. Still colleagues from the other shelters always found their way into mine enjoy the Sahara-like temps at the CTV Broadcast Center. Just part of that little extra service we like to provide at CTV Broadcast Services--Heat.

Chester, a Global Cameraman, warms his hands during the long evenings waiting for a Verdict

The burner became a center piece especially during the evening hours as we awaited a verdict. Folks would gather, sometimes bringing along a chair, but often just standing around, shooting the shit and telling war stories around the campfire. Often we would just bemoan the fact it was day number whatever and wishing this story would just come to an end so we could all get our lives back.

The lads have brought their chairs, huddled around the Campfire, but what are they watching???

Hockey Night in Canada on a 7 inch monitor!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pickton Trial Part 1: The Commitment

Back in January of this year a trial began with opening remarks from lawyers for the Crown outlining the case against Robert Pickton. He was charged with the murders of 26 women. This case against him would involve 6 of those 26 in what would become a history making trial of Canada's worst serial murders.

Needless to say this trial would attract a lot of media attention.

To accommodate the needs of the TV medium, a tent city, Camp Pickton, was assembled on the courtyard. Each media tent had been serviced with electrics and wired for live broadcasts. This would become my home for the first weeks of the trial. But as the proceedings wore into the summer months and interest for the daily minutia of expert testimony wained, it was decided to pack up the camp for the summer. The Camp would only reappear for the final stages of the trial.

Those final stages began four long weeks ago.

Dave, my Tech Supervisor had asked me to commit to finishing the trial for our organization. Most of my colleagues avoided the courtyard of New Westminster, like the plague. Our station had two reporters, Lisa Rossington and Janet Dirks, who had followed this story since Police first raided Pickton's farm some 6 years ago, had made the commitment. I felt that I should step up and finish this trial. By doing so, I knew it would likely cost me flight weeks, but it was something I felt was important to experience. The decision was actually quite an easy one to make.

Camp Pickton, Begbie Square New Westminster BC.

My role was to arrange, manage and shoot from our broadcast positions on the courtyard called Begbie Square. CTV would have two tent positions, side by side. One for National and News Net requirements, the other for Local CTV positions. I have always enjoyed the challenge of setting up shop at a location that is not exactly TV friendly. The kick for me is making it functional and making it work. Dave assigned me to the National tent or I liked to refer to it: The CTV Broadcast Center. I would also shoot ENG when required.

A look inside the "CTV Broadcast Center"

It had all the makings for an epic TV adventure. It would have it's moments, good and bad. To paraphrase a line for one of my favorite movies- "All I wanted was a mission, and for my sins they gave me one, and when it was over, I damn sure didn't want another."

But I had made the Commitment, and it was one I would be tested to keep.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Return of Murman

My absence from this blog is over. To you my loyal reader, I thank you for your patience. Two months is a long time and in that time much has happened. The world of WWM has centered around one story. A murder trial in the city of New Westminster, British Columbia. It has been quite a journey. One I hope to share with you in a number of parts as I re-commit to pounding the keyboard, recounting my news gathering experiences and presenting them onto this blog.

Some of you might remember a post from earlier this year about a trial of one Robert Pickton. The trial began last January and just yesterday, a verdict was reached. The next couple of posts will look back on the past several weeks. The posts will not center around the goings on inside the court or the proceedings. If you are looking for that, you can find it written on other blogs/websites/newspapers- No, I will give you my spin on just how I managed to cope though the weather, the waiting and the chaos that this assignment provided. Just bare with me for just one more night as sleep seems to be the thing that I need the most.