Just Another Night at the Office

That untrammeled commitment, explain other overnighters, has been Moghari's greatest asset. "Not everyone likes him," says Marc Siegal, "but everyone knows how dedicated he is. He's the workhorse of spot news. He works day and night." In fact Moghari rarely works nights any more; he has hired help to assume that shift.

Part 3

While Moghari spends his days managing his production company and Siegal spends his days sleeping, William Schmidt - the owner of Miami TV News - spends his days in the Dadeland Medical Building, reading charts and writing diagnoses. In a profession full of former and future TV newsmen, Schmidt is a decided oddity, a full-time physician specializing in internal medicine and endocrinology.

A heavyset man with graying hair and strangely thick features, Schmidt, who describes himself as "like a little kid as far as electronics go," has been a video hobbyist since technology made equipment available to home consumers, and he parlayed his obsession into an involvement in local TV news. In 1984, along with a cameraman he hired away from Channel 6, he sought and obtained the contract to operate the Miami bureau of the International News Network, run by WPIX in New York. Soon after, he founded Miami TV News. "I realized that if the business was just going to be depending on the bureau, if they decided to drop us, we'd be out of luck with expensive equipment," he says. "It was then that I became aware of overnighters in other cities. For a little while, I wondered, `Why couldn't we do that?' and then I realized we could." Schmidt's foresight did not go unrewarded. The bureau arrangement did in fact end when INN folded in June of 1990, and Miami TV News's business now consists of committed shoots (filming health-care pieces and newsmagazine features with medical themes) and overnight news.

Both because of Schmidt's lack of formal camera training and because of the special conflicts that arose between his news and his medicine, Miami TV News's infancy often proceeded under strange circumstances. "In the beginning, I used to go out on shoots myself, and I had a hard time explaining to my patients why their doctor was [on TV] at a crime scene with a camera," he says. "Once I was coming back from filming a shooting in Homestead and there was a horrible fog on U.S. 1. I was creeping along and a guy passed me at a much greater rate of speed. In a little while I came to a bank of sirens and saw that he had driven under a semi. I had a decision: what am I, a doctor or a shooter? There was never any contest. I did everything I possibly could as a physician before I even touched the camera. I made sure fire-rescue was squared away. At the point where it was impossible to do anything more, I shot the story. It was bought."

As their companies have evolved, both Schmidt and Moghari have trimmed their own overnight commitments and hired staff videographers to man that shift. Moghari views the position as an entry-level apprenticeship, hand-picking his overnight cameramen from local university programs. "I train young photographers because I think there are a lot of talented kids here. You have to give them a chance," says Moghari. Eddie Cortes, his current overnighter, is 22 and attends Miami-Dade Community College, where he majors in broadcasting. "It's a great experience," says Cortes. "The first time I went out by myself, I was driving along and I saw a bunch of lights up ahead. There was a big accident, people lying on the ground. I was so nervous I was shaking, just whispering to myself, `Do the job, do the job.' As soon as I hit the record button, I wasn't scared any more."

Schmidt's videographers, Lynne Winner and Roger Prehoda, both in their late twenties, are television-news veterans recruited from a station in Erie, Pennsylvania. Prehoda works Sunday through Thursday night, Winner Friday and Saturday.

Schmidt issues his shooters bulletproof vests, and all of the overnighters concede that there is a certain amount of danger inherent in the business - because of high-crime neighborhoods and late hours; because the job requires pursuit of, rather than flight from, disaster; and because the people at the other end of the camera often don't take too kindly to the intrusions of media. "You just need to be cautious," says Winner, "to keep your cool and be aware of what's happening. There are some situations that I suppose it doesn't matter what you do." In December, after a shooting at Luther Campbell's Strawberry's nightclub, an angry bodyguard thrust Winner into one of those situations. "Two cops were holding a bodyguard and he was handcuffed," she says. "He was trying to hide his face, and you can't. One of his buddies, another bodyguard, all of a sudden came after me. It's on the film, him coming toward the camera. Quick feet help sometimes."

When situations get sticky, a little tact can act as salve. "Sometimes you just need to be quiet about it," explains Prehoda, who says that angry bystanders have threatened him with violence. "It's hard to be discreet at night, when you come up with the bright light, but you can get your shots without getting in people's way." Siegal believes that people should understand the presence of overnighters as a necessary, if sometimes intrusive, by-product of our society. "I've been attacked by the families of accident victims. People don't like to see you in their face when they're mourning, and I don't blame them," he says. "I might do the same if it was my friend or family. But if you're going to live in this society and expect the fire department to come when there's a fire and police when someone gets shot, then you also have to expect the press to be there."

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