Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'Being bulletin editor was like being on a roller coaster'. Mark Verbaan details the insanity when e.tv started its TV news division in new book.

"The chest pains were becoming more frequent and I would have to leave my desk to go and lie flat on my back in the rear of the building until they passed".

So writes Mark Verbaan - very revealingly - in his new book, The Memoirs of Ben Trovato.

In his new book, he details with interesting insight the understaffed, overworked and exhausting start of the South African broadcaster e.tv's eNews division and its first foray into doing daily television news.

e.tv started its first TV news bulletin service on 17 January 1999, with San Reddy (pictured) and Jane Dutton as the news anchors, who did the news bulletin from e.tv's studios in Cape Town.

Mark Verbaan was bulletin editor at the time and writes in The Memoirs of Ben Trovato, out now, also about how eNews was set up under exhaustive conditions and "how there wasn't even a proper newsroom".

e.tv and eNews staff were hired and brought in, had no permanent accomodation and e.tv paid for hotel accomodation.

"Builders were still tearing the guts out of the place when we went on air for the first time. There was also no equipment when I arrived. Neither was their enough staff".

"Six months in I couldn't take it anymore," writes Mark Verbaan. "I was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to get the bulletin on air. The responsibility, let alone the pressure, was savage."

"Badly written stories were rewritten by me. Snappy intros were written by me. I wrote the foreign stories. I decided what was in, what was out. The pressure doubled when the 7pm bulletin went from 30 minutes to an hour".

"I need help," I said, clutching my heart. The chest pains were becoming more frequent and I would have to leave my desk to go and lie flat on my back in the rear of the building until they passed."

"Being bulletin editor was like being on a roller coaster, only a lot more extreme," writes Mark Verbaan.

He details in The Memoirs of Ben Trovato, published by Macmillan, how "reporters begged me for more time for their stories. The edit suited jammed up. People were in tears. Scenes of indescribable panic unfolded around me. I had to keep my finger on half a dozen things simultaneously".

"Tapes would be thrown from the edit suite to someone who dropped them over the balcony to be caught by someone else and rushed into the galley."

"The only way this can carry on," I told anyone who would listen, "is if another one of me is appointed"...

Mark Verbaan goes on to share eye-popping details of his time working at e.tv and the start of e.tv's television news which makes The Memoirs of Ben Trovato fun to read for anyone who's ever worked in television or TV news:

"my entire head reeked of sex and alcohol",

"A couple of senior staff members were outraged..."

"If you mention television to an attractive young woman in Cape Town, you're almost certainly guaranteed her undivided attention".

TV with Thinus asked e.tv whether the South African TV broadcaster has any comment or statement regarding the things said about e.tv and its eNews beginnings in the new book.

e.tv says that it's a memoir piece about the difficult times of a start-up newsroom and that e.tv doesn't have any comment.