Don’t Panic! A peek into the box bible

Photo by ryk_neethling on Flickr.

I’m not exactly known for my love of instruction manuals.

When given something new, my usual approach is to tinker until I figure out how it works … or break it.

I know, I know, in the long run you save yourself a lot of grief if you put down your wheel-inventing kit and read through the guide book. The appeal  increases if the book is only available to a limited few, and if its name calls for veneration.

Enter the radio room bible! (Or box bible, for short.)

The box bible is a roughly 30-page compilation of past and current interns’ collective wisdom. It is all business in places, and fun and cheeky in others — an irregularity that is no doubt reflective of all the different personalities that have inhabited this space, and especially those who have been keen enough to rework this document.

In a sentence, the box bible describes our job as monitoring “everything and anything that’s developing right now” and that may be “noteworthy for thestar.ca and the newspaper.”

Phew. So, what would the bible look like if arranged in, say … a fun word cloud?

The bigger the words, the more often they appear in the bible.

As you can see, we radio roomers must be especially mindful of editors, police and making calls at all times. The word “get” is also a huge one, whether we’re getting details, getting hold of an elusive source, or getting hell for not doing either.

As long as we’re in the spirit of summary, here are a few key passages that I would highlight if anyone ever gave me a pulpit and an audience. But I caution you, as the bible cautions me, “Don’t be offended by how blunt these guidelines are.”

Passages from the box bible

  • We all juggle school, work and maybe a social life…(emphasis mine)
  • Unless you know what you’re doing, do not touch or change scanner channels under penalty of death. Thanks.
  • On occasion, [Robert McGill Thomas Jr.] clashed with his editors who tried to rein in his sentences. “Of course I go too far,” he was quoted in his own obituary. “But unless you go too far, how are you ever going to find out how far you can go?”
  • [If you hear “transporting a body” over the police scanners] – Don’t panic. It means police are moving a prisoner.
  • For fire alarms: Fire alarms are measured by the size of the response sent to them.
    First alarm is a standard response for everything including smoke alarms.
    Second usually means there is a fire but it can range from very small to a decent size so keep your ears peeled for details.
    Third is a big fire — by now you should have talked this one over with photo and your editors.
    Fourthrun screaming from box with maps in hands for editors and photogs.
  • The desk has banned “lucky to be alive,” “Christmas came early” and “a mother’s worst nightmare” in any part of copy. “The rain could not dampen the spirits of…” is just as bad.

And last, but most certainly NOT least:

  • DON’T PANIC – Things get pretty hairy in the radio room when there’s breaking news. Keep calm. If you panic, things will only get worse.

A nice and optimistic end, isn’t it? We should have a book of Revelation.

This post was originally published in the Toronto Star’s intern blog

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