Liveshot: Author recalls writing non-fiction before the internet and digital media

July 08, 2020 Tom Season 1 Episode 1
Liveshot: Author recalls writing non-fiction before the internet and digital media
Show Notes Transcript

Tom Kranz, former TV news producer and author, wrote his first-person account of the 1985 MOVE confrontation in Philadelphia at a time before digital media, online resources or even decent desktop computers. 

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I wrote LIVE SHOT in the mid and late 80s at a time when there was no internet, no digital media. And I was working a full time job and I had just had my first child. And there was a lot going on in life. So writing a book that was based in fact, and that really required a fairly robust research component in terms of getting names right, in terms of getting air checks right, in terms of really, you know, getting the chronology correct, and getting quotes and a storyline correct. It was a challenge. It really was.

And so I spent a lot of time at the Free Library of Philadelphia which was the repository of the written transcripts of the MOVE Commission hearings. The move commission held lengthy public hearings after the incident later in 1985. And, you know, unlike today where you can go online and find pretty much anything you need, that didn't exist in 1985, and 1986, in 1987. So I ended up going to the library, looking up these hearings, which were in huge volumes. And you had to know what date you were looking for and what testimony you were looking for. Otherwise, you know, you'd be saddled with, you know, binders and binders of paper. So I made it my business to find out those dates, and I found the testimony I was interested in, which was mostly testimony of the neighbors at the early part of the hearing, who talked about what it was like being a neighbor of move, and I would grab that those pages and make photocopies of them and take them home. And I made multiple trips to the library and did that multiple times until I had my stack of photocopy pages of MOVE Commission hearings, and then waded through them and picked the quotes and kind of weaved together that part of the story.

And then interviewing my colleagues at Channel 10 was also a fairly lengthy process. Because I was at the scene, I had plenty of first hand knowledge and I remembered, you know, almost word for word many of the things that were said to me on scene and things that I had overheard on scene. But I went back and I did interview a number of those people just to kind of get their recollections again. That included Harvey Pete Kane. I spent a lot of time with our news director Jay Newman. I talked again with Karen Fox and at some length because I wasn't with her that day. She was inside the newsroom, y ou know, basically with a phone glued to her ear and kind of listening. And as the good journalist she was she spent a lot of time listening to what was going on and then kind of assimilating that information, going back to her source, sources to kind of parse that information into real info that we could use on TV. So, she she provided a lot of insight into into that. But committing that all to paper took a lot of time. And doing so I did on a on a my first computer, which was, as I said, it was a computer that didn't have internet access. It was a standalone IBM compatible computer that had two floppy drives didn't even have a hard drive. It had two floppy drives. It had an old word processing program called Multi Mate and everything was stored on floppy disks and I had an Okidata dot matrix printer and that's what I wrote on.

I realized pretty quickly that what would really hold this story together was what actually happened on live TV. Because to tell the story about how Channel 10 covered MOVE, you really needed to weave in, you know, actual quotes of what was reported because the reporting is what, you know, was the glue that held the story together. So, I had to actually go back to what was said on the air. How did you do that in 1986 and 1985? I had to find air checks, because the air product was not saved in any digital format because there was no digital format at the time. Airchecks were done on three quarter inch video tape cassettes.

So when you read the book, you'll see that everything that was actually said live on the air is written in all caps, all caps, I know sorry. It's a little annoying, but I thought it was important to really distinguish right up front what the live air product was versus what my, you know, my written prose is. And all that live commentary was done this way: I would take a three quarter inch cassette, go to a viewing machine in the back of the newsroom. And it was not just any viewing machine, but one of the viewing machines that were specifically set up for non-union people to view. You could only view on certain machines if you were not an IBEW member. And I would hit play, listen to a couple sentences, hit pause and then write those down, rehit play, listen to a couple sentences, hit pause and write those sentences down. I would also describe what was happening on the screen at that time. And I would also write down the timecode which showed the actual time of day of what was being said. I had thought for a while about just bringing my little audio cassette recorder in and recording the audio that way but I knew that without seeing what was going on on the screen and seeing what the timecode was just writing down, sorry, just hearing the audio alone wouldn't be enough. So, it was important for me to see the product, to hear it and to be able to see the timecode. So that was the way I got the quotes from the air was basically this time consuming process of listening, pausing, writing, listening, pausing writing. So it was a it was a fairly lengthy process.

It took about a total of three years to completely research and write the book. I found a an agent, a local agent who was looking for a first-time project and she was great. She had a lot of enthusiasm for it. She had the book for a year. She couldn't sell it because by the time 1989 rolled around, which was when she was hustling it there were already two or three other MOVE books out there. One was written by a member of the grand jury and one was I think, Burning Down The House, was the first kind of authoritative MOVE book out there. And it was written by a Pen n professor. And I think basically, you know, Philadelphia had become weary of the story the rest of the country didn't care about MOVE. And the reaction she got from the publisher she approached was, you know, it's a compelling story if you live in Philadelphia, but the rest of the world really doesn't care.

So I took my manuscript, I stuck it in a box, and it sat in my attic for 20 years. And then I dusted it off somewhere around the 30th anniversary. And that's when I re-edited it and took another look at it, and I decided to self- publish it. So that kind of brings us up to date. I think it's, there's elements of that story and how journalistically how it was done and how the news was gathered and reported, that I think is relevant today. The technology is kind of, you know, it's interesting how we did it in those days, without smartphones, without the Internet without digital technology. But at the end of the day, the tools are the tools. It's things like sources and basic good journalistic practices that one the day back in 1985.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai