When the majority of us worked on farms and ranches, the attire was easy: wear that which was conducive to working with dirt and livestock, which generally meant lots of denim and leather. Now, lots of Texans work in an office environment with air conditioning. Still, the outdoors is never far away and that means copious amounts of heat in the summer.
When I started working after graduate school, I dressed in a business suit, hosiery and heels, right along with all the accessories. I worked in hospital public relations, newspaper and broadcast news so I had to look the part of a professional. The only break from the suit I got was during the two years I worked for Texas A&M University at the Ocean Drilling Program.
Universities are a different environment and wearing blue jeans to work is generally acceptable, especially if you’re a research assistant handling core samples from the oceans’ floors and publishing scientific proceedings volumes.
But in news, the only people who have the luxury of casual attire were the photographers. Reporters have to look credible because they’re on camera and working with all levels of society. But there’s a problem.
Picture if you will, wearing a business suit and riding in a news station van or SUV in July with a photographer (also known as a videographer or photojournalist) all over your region. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s nasty. And you are wearing a suit. Your partner is in a T-shirt or polo shirt and jeans or shorts. He or she is marginally more comfortable and much more casual.
It’s possible that the vehicle you are riding in lost its A/C last summer and the station hasn’t had it due to budget constraints.
Your schedule is such that it is impossible to sit down for a decent meal, so both of you know all the menus of area fast food joints by heart, and the wrappers of past meals are probably all over the front and back seat because stopping to clean up and clean out takes valuable time away from getting your stories shot and edited for broadcast, right?
Photographers can be a cavalier lot and they like their condiment comforts when eating burgers and fries, so you are likely to have a dozen half-opened ketchup and mustard packets hidden all over, especially in the seats. In fact, the entire van is probably a clutter magnet, what with reporter notebooks, tape cases, tape labels, camera batteries, gaff tape, event flyers and all sorts of media detritus flung all about the interior.
Most days in July have temperatures of up to and beyond 100 degrees. So all this junk is thrown together and cooking while you and your partner are in and out of it covering stories.
Got a real good mental image going now? Good.
Here’s your story line-up that you have to go cover, shoot, edit and have ready to air by 6 p.m.: a suspect walk at the police station, a congressman speaking at a luncheon (at which you will not get to eat), tire factory employees picketing outside the plant and an oath of citizenship ceremony at the court house. You have six hours to accomplish this and you will probably rack up 45-65 miles on the odometer.
Half-way through your day, your assignments editor calls to let you know that the sheriff’s office has discovered a body in a vacant lot. Can you go cover that too while you’re out?
The day’s high temperature is forecast for 102 degrees according to your weather anchor.
Oh, and you and your photographer have to go back to the station and get the satellite truck for a live shot at 6 p.m. at the scene where that body was discovered.
You do not get to go home and shower. You’re lucky you got to stop to use the restroom. You might have time to brush your hair.
And it’s 104 degrees by lunch time.
And you sat in ketchup. And you’re too far from home to go change.
And it’s hot.
It’s really hot.
A side note about the assignments editor: he never has to leave the newsroom, so he has no concept of time, space, distance or external temperature. He really does believe that you can get all those stories in the six-hour time frame you have. He’s in that newsroom and should know that it sometimes takes at least one hour of production time per finished minute of video, and that’s just the writing and editing part. He has an office and it’s air conditioned, too.
This is a good time to remember that he is your life-line to stories and events in the area. If you want to continue covering the good stories, you should be nice to him. He’s not trying to be malicious; he just really doesn’t know. And there is a good chance he’s not from Texas, either. So distances might be a little confounding to him.
There’s a reason we media folks tend to be a little cranky. Now you know why.
I learned a long time ago in the news business in Texas, it is wise not to invest too much in your wardrobe, to make sure it is machine washable and doesn’t require ironing, to ditch the hosiery altogether and to carry a change of clothes with you just in case. Deodorant and fabric fresheners are must-haves too. I knew a reporter who kept rubber boots, sneakers and blue jeans in the news van so that she’d be appropriately dressed no matter what the story.
Long after I was out of the news business, I learned this was a good practice in any field that required me to dress up for work. Just spending more than five minutes outdoors in the summertime is enough of a catalyst for breaking out in a sweat.
I’ve seen corporate dress codes relax over the years. Much of it, I’m sure, is in response to the fact that—in Texas—it’s just ridiculous to expect employees to dress year-round as if the weather is that of New England in the autumn when in fact it is mid-summer in the virtual frying pan of the American Southwest. And employee productivity and physical comfort do correlate. Don’t believe it? Just try delivering the news and looking cool, calm and professional while pouring a bucket of sweat from your armpits.