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People with personal upheavals don’t want the media around.

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

WHO: John Drummings

CITY: Plantation

QUOTE: “People with personal upheavals don’t want the media around. I didn’t have the luxury of honoring that.”


John Drummings. PH Credit: Anita Mitchel
John Drummings. PH Credit: Anita Mitchel

“My yard looks really good now. It’s never ending out there, I always have stuff to do. We have honey mangoes, jackfruit, avocados and a French peanut tree that has fragrant flowers with edible seeds. It would be nice if things didn't ripen at the same time but we have learned to freeze for later and make a lot of guacamole. We give away most of the starfruit. I have gotten good at preparing meat in my new smoker out there and at this moment, every sprinkler works. Maintaining all of this is never over but I am used to that concept because until recently, I was a television news photographer.


During those 38 years, my yard work was done on weekends or after dinner. It is a joy to have more time to leisurely enjoy it like I do now. I never planned to stay at NBC6 for 38 years but life happens.


It started like this: I had been a still photographer for the Miami Herald Neighbors section when I learned that Channel 4 (before it became Channel 6 in 1989) was looking for a video guy. While learning to shoot video, I started off my new job there just doing sound. We had four photographers named John so we used initials to make communication easier. I was called JD and that became my name. Even my nieces always call me Uncle JD.


Back then, the TV camera was a separate piece of equipment from the sound recorder so it took three people to do a story; the sound guy, the photographer and the reporter. Now you can actually do the video, the interviews, the editing and the reporter standup on a smartphone. Of course It looks better when it is done professionally but the phone will do when it must.


Even though the job itself is repetitive in its precise time slots and organization, the content is never the same. Every day in news is different and that is what keeps the excitement alive. Every story is a new story to the viewers.


There were days that I would be out in the heat for hours waiting to get video of someone who was arrested. There were other days when car wrecks closed down I-95 leaving miles of commuters at a standstill, there were airport arrivals of presidents, interviews with someone who just got out of jail and soundbites with a fireman who just saved someone’s life. Most recently I was shooting Covid-19 patients who were leaving the hospital and drive-by parades for the nurses and doctors who worked there.


Remember the 2007 rainy XLI superbowl between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears? I saw Prince at the news conference before the super bowl and I was there out in the rain when he sang Purple Rain during the halftime show.


When Jesse Jackson was taking a tour of Cuba with Fidel Castro, I was there to get video of that. When we were getting ready to return to Miami, Fidel came on our plane and asked us questions about the weight of our equipment.


I was there after the 2000 presidential election debacle when for 36 days, the election results of Bush and Gore were separated by a razor thin margin. That added to the existing complications of the voting ballot design and election officials were hand counting ballots trying to discern the intent of voters. I was getting there getting video of that.


I created a personal policy: When I came home from work, my plan was to not think about the stories I was on during the day.


That plan didn't always work.


I covered the story about Howard Ault who confessed to killing and sexually assaulting an 11 year old girl and her 7 year old sister who he had befriended. I kept thinking about this twisted sex offender who lived only a 20 minute drive from my home. At the time I had two little girls of my own and that story was hard to get out of my head. I covered it when the girls were missing, I covered it when their bodies were found, I covered it when he was arrested and I covered his arrest and the court trial.

I never talked about this story or really other stories to people. I needed to not talk about it, not to bring it home. It helped me to go out in my yard, fertilize my trees and pick weeds until it got dark outside.


Being a TV news photographer was always a good job, even during hurricanes. I was never bored. It was always interesting. Most days included some laughs too. TV people are notoriously funny, especially during down time in the field when all the stations have people there waiting for things to happen. Those are ripe conditions for sitcom quality humor. Although we were competitive, we were also friends. People from other stations often complained about their jobs but I always thought that NBC6 was a good place to work.


. For a long time, I was the court guy every morning. I knew the lawyers, the defendants, the prosecutors, the judges, the court clerks. People would just come up to me and tell me about possible news stories. I went there every morning, read the dockets and checked last night's arrests and I never left there without finding at least one possible TV story for that day.


A good TV story is one that has video opportunities. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Valentine's Day 2018 remains a massive story with all the elements that make it so. You have innocent slaughtered people, families of those people, an idyllic local community where these things aren't supposed to happen, scene video, interviews with eyewitnesses, video of traumatized students at school, later on were students advocating for gun control, multiple memorials, flowers at school, outraged people, the elements of the court case against the suspect and to this day, the stories about this are still endless. Then there are the follow up stories for years to come.

During this story and many of the other ones, people were often rude when we tried to interview them, although I never took that personally. They just had a personal upheaval and didn't want the media around. I always understood that but I did not have the luxury of leaving them alone. I had a job to do, I had to get the video that others were waiting on.


Here is what I would tell people who think they might like to work in news. There are a lot of people out there vying for just a few available jobs. First, be prepared to work at a smaller station for low pay and work your way up. The good people are always plucked from bad schedules and tedious assignments. Journalism majors often have a glamorous idea of what working in TV is like. Some days it is just waiting and the day is very slow. Other days are so busy you can barely get lunch. Glamour comes around rarely so don’t go into it for that. The passion for news and people stories has to be what motivates you.


I never noticed any sort of racism, ageism or any kind of personal affront. It may have been there but I didn't pay much attention to that. I would choose this job again. Journalism has changed since I began. Often stories go on the air without details just to be first. The basics are still there but social media has made news reporting more immediate.


Now that I am retired, I love my free time but with my wealth of journalism experience and the piecemeal knowledge you get by knowing something about a lot of things I will want to work soon but it has to be part time: I am getting used to my yard looking really good.”



 

“I am Anita Mitchell and I collect people stories, much the same way people collect shoes or baseball cards or Lladro porcelain figurines. During my 26 years at WSVN7, I had the front-row seat to people stories and it was there I learned about the extraordinariness of the ordinary.

Since retiring from television news, I serve on the Board of Directors of Different Brains, a charitable foundation that supports neurodiverse adults. I also serve on the Board of Directors of the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame. We honor local residents who have set unique standards of excellence through sports.

Since 2004, I have swum competitively with our local Swim Fort Lauderdale Masters Swim Team (SFTL).

I don’t really know how the writing and the swimming and the neurodiverse and honoring local sports figures are connected but I know in my heart that they are.

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