Q: Is your job title “helicopter news reporter?”
A: I’ve had this question with my boss many times and he said he has no clue. After some sleuthing on LinkedIn I discovered “photog” is used the most and “videographer” is frowned upon.
Q: Why is it frowned upon?
A: Lots of people think it’s cheesy and it makes you sound like you’re about to film a wedding.
Q: When you were growing up, could you imagine that you’d be doing this job?
A: Nope. The weird thing is, when I was a kid in elementary school and junior high, I had a recurring dream that I was in a helicopter that crashed in water and people were trying to rescue me.
Q: That doesn’t seem good. Do you remember your first day on the job?
A: I hate to tell people this… the very first thing I went up to film was a helicopter crash.
Q: Oh man. Were the people OK?
A: Both the pilot and the instructor were totally fine but the helicopter was lying on its side.
Q: Did you know how to work a camera before you took this job?
A: No, so I was really excited to learn! Doing aerial photography is totally different. The camera shakes a lot and the helicopter will be tilted to the left or the right…
Q: Had you been in a helicopter before?
A: No. It’s interesting because in an airplane the nose points up when it’s taking off, but in the helicopter, the butt portion goes up first so you’re looking down at the ground. It’s weird at first. My boyfriend refuses to go with me.
Q: Could he go with you if he wanted?
A: Maybe if I snuck him in with me.
Q: Do you have to physically carry a camera?
A: No, that would be super stressful. Basically I have a laptop on my lap—it’s like an Etch-a-Sketch—and I turn the dials to control the camera that’s on the nose of the helicopter. I have on a headset and I talk to the people in the newsroom. The newsroom will tell me to just talk about what I see.
Q: What kind of things have you filmed?
A: One time a family of geese shut down 80/94. They were waddling down the road and I-DOT was following them till they left the highway. Another time a coyote was running around on Lake Michigan when it was frozen.
Q: How long do you film something like that until you realize you’ve filmed enough?
A: The newsroom decides. Eventually the coyote went into a drainage hole.
A: He was fine. He basically just went in there to hide.
Q: I assume more often you’re filming crime-type things?
A: Yes. I’m looking at gunshot wounds, train accidents, fingers and arms sprayed about.
When I’m done for the day I decide I’m just going to watch cat videos.
Q: Is that what you have to do to de-stress?
A: Yes. I don’t ever want to be desensitized by what I’m seeing so I’ll focus on the lighting or how I’m going to frame a shot. Then afterwards, I’ll make a point of thinking about it because I don’t want it creeping up on me.
Q: Have you seen car chases?
A: No. I so wish we did! That’s only in L.A.
Q: What’s a normal day like?
A: My shift is 1:30 to 10:30-ish and I’m on call from the airport. I do disasters, fires, people getting hit by cars.
I pretty much just hang out at the hangar waiting for them to call me. Today we flew like four hours already.
Q: What happened today?
A: Let’s see… a school bus crashed into an apartment, there was a fire in a factory, and there was a shooting on Eisenhower, which is a major highway around here.
Q: So basically you’re not sure how much work you’ll do on any given day?
A: Right. There were two weeks where we didn’t fly at all. And then there are times when I basically live in the helicopter.
Q: What do you do with the downtime?
A: I always think of what my mother said—that only boring people are bored. I’ve learned how to make a lamp, how to build my own table…
Q: Have you ever gotten airsick?
A: Only once. It was a really high-wind day. We had gone to the restaurant next-door to watch the Blackhawks game and we had nachos. It was winter and my pilot is one of these guys who wear shorts year-round…
Q: Does he also have a ponytail?
A: No, that would be great though!
Anyway, he was blasting the heat. At the time I had a broken foot with a plastic bag over it to keep the snow out. We can’t use salt on the taxiway otherwise the planes will rust… just thought you might want to know that random fact.
Anyway I took off the bag and lifted it off my foot, and then I puked into the bag. But I forgot to turn the microphone off and everyone at the news desk heard me puking.
Q: Do you get recognized on the street? Do people know you as the helicopter reporter?
A: No. When I first started they didn’t have the camera installed inside the helicopter so I only spoke while over the incident. They have it installed now, but I think the station forgot about that because they never use it. So… no.
Q: You seem like you enjoy this job.
A: I absolutely love it. There’s a lot of freedom to it.
Q: Do you have a jacket that says CHOPPER 2?
A: I wish!