“Read the glass” he would say with no small amount of snark. This was one of my favorite producer’s way of telling me that ad lib time was tight. He would say this through my interruptible foldback during the newscast when he wanted me to stick to the script. The IFB is that little earpiece all anchors have in place during newscasts for the producer to whisper instruction, information or smart ass remarks in real time. The glass he was referring to is the projected image of the script onto the glass of the teleprompter which sits directly over the camera lens. It is a tool relied upon by presidents and business titans….and news anchors. Reading the glass has been no small part of my job for 20 years. It looks easy enough to be mocked regularly by those who consider reading off a teleprompter to be the cushiest of broadcasting positions. After all, reporters brave the elements in the snow or near a fire right? They like to joke about the anchors in the warm/safe studio. I know I did it as a reporter. Even the synonyms for anchor sound dismissive: presenter, hair-do, hostess, robot. Some are better at it than others. It is a skill and if you’re good at it, you break through the glass with your communication style enough to make anyone watching feel as if you are speaking directly to them. Thats my philosophy on anchoring. Whatever story I’m reading, I read it to the person who cares about it most. However, this particular skill is relegated to the far end of the spectrum opposite journalistic chops, writing prowess and analytical thought.
Whoever is reading the prompter is the last gatekeeper on work that usually passes through several sets of eyeballs and 8 hours or many weeks of research, confirmations, attorney vetting and copyedits. As newsrooms pare down, there are fewer eyeballs to check stories so anchors have tread carefully. I always catch stuff on the glass that eludes me while copyediting on a computer. There’s something about the finality of those words read out loud that makes grammatical errors or awkward sentence structure jump out at you, giving your brain exactly 1/10th of a second to correct or rework the words before they vibrate your vocal chords. It is why I have developed the annoying habit of reading everything out loud at my desk while I copyedit. Fortunately, my co-anchors over the years have never minded. When your successful in catching one of those verbal landmines live on air, you feel a little burst of dopamine and when you’re not, a bit of shame imagining the viewer on the other end cringing and saying, “That anchor is an idiot”. The good news is that you are never alone as an anchor. The producer whispering in your ear has breaking information you need, production instructions like who to toss to next and encouraging you as you ad lib through for hours through political or disaster coverage. I’ve worked with dozens of producers over my 20+ years and the best ones are always calm and communicate with an economy of words that leads to perfect clarity.
This is such a small part of the job that it almost doesn’t warrant the several paragraphs I’ve spent explaining it except it applies to other areas of your life and deserves consideration for analogy. Reading the glass in front of us should be easy, clear and give perfect direction but it often does little more than prompt us in life. No matter how much effort, research and confirmation, there are some things than cannot be understood clearly until we are living them out loud. We all must make those edits on the fly as we move through even the most practiced parts of our existence.
As I write this, I’m doing research on the state of happiness and what makes people truly happy in life. There’ve been several significant studies on this topic. The classic study done in 1978 compared lottery winners to those in catastrophic accidents that left them paraplegic. When measuring happiness on a day to day level a year after their winnings/accident, the accident victims were happier. “…some psychologists have theorized that people have a happiness set point, a baseline level of well-being preprogrammed by our genetics and further shaped by our environment. This theory suggests that the emotional aftermath of wildly fantastic strokes of luck or devastatingly catastrophic calamities will essentially leave you just as happy as you ever were.” (Dahl, 2016) http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/01/classic-study-on-happiness-and-the-lottery.html
I’m currently watching several friends transition into new phases of life. Some are doing this by choice, others by necessity. For some the change threatens to steal happiness, the injury threatens to overwhelm their optimism and as a friend, you can offer kind words but you’ll never have perfect clarity. It is only when the situation is right in front of you that you can make those edits on the fly to make corrections and change course. The good news is that all of us have an internal producer. Deep inside us is a voice that has more information than our conscious mind. That voice guides us with information, instruction and the occasional smart ass remark. As you face a dark time, a difficult decision or a life altering change, its important to keep “reading the glass”, and stick to the basics, watching for landmines, until you get instruction from that internal producer. You already know what needs to be done.