News while we sleep (4:57 a.m.)

Published 4:21 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The minutes tick away on the clock over Ainsley Bruister’s head as her fingertips quickly dance across the keyboard.

Bruister, an overnight television producer at ABC 33/40, types out code for a video clip of Senator Richard Shelby as the clock ticks toward 4 a.m. Then she checks timing of the script to make sure everything matches up.

“To me, news judgment is about knowing what most people care about, and we have to learn how to discern that,” Bruister said. “Anything fresh and new from overnight is crucial because people want to know what was going on while they were sleeping.”

Bruister and fellow producer Tamala Savage keep their eyes on the news from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. On this particular morning, a fire consumed a home in Birmingham, killing a 22-year-old woman just after midnight.

“News like this keeps us on our toes,” Savage said. “We covered a story in Grasselli Heights that we thought was just a fire. It turned out there was a number of bodies inside the house that had been shot. That was probably one of the most disturbing events we’ve had happen.”

Reporter Melissa Riopka covered the overnight fire. She said getting information can be tough.

“You have to be creative in the way you present a story if it’s from the day before,” Riopka said. “We always try to advance it with new information, but the people who are available at 8 a.m. aren’t often available at 2 a.m.”

At 4:15 a.m., anchor Pam Huff swings by Bruister’s desk to go over the morning’s top stories — fire fatality, search for a missing woman, congress discussing auto buyout, Bass Pro Shop opening.

“I try to be very intimate with the news so that I can relate a real story to our viewers,” Huff said. “Trying to get everything in — a mixture of local, national and international news, plus how to dress for the day — is tough.”

But they do it. As the clock ticks down to 4:45 a.m., 5 o’clock anchor Tracy Haynes enters the studio.

“It’s interesting what happens overnight,” Haynes said. “While we sleep, Asia and Europe are awake. Big changes can happen — a massive fire or huge changes in the overseas stock markets. It’s exciting to be on the front end of the news.”

Producers time out each segment meticulously to ensure nothing important gets left out of a newscast.

“All of our jobs are intertwined,” Savage said after buzzing in to tell meteorologist Jason Simpson he had two minutes for weather. “It’s a domino effect. If someone messes up down the line we all have to know what’s going on so we can keep the show on track. We have to be on the same page.” ABC 33/40 airs four morning news segments at 5, 5:30, 6 and 6:30. Their studio is off Valleydale Road in North Shelby.