With the loud engine roar and blades rapidly revolving, a helicopter lands at a school assembly full of awestruck first graders. A man in a captain suit cuts the engine and hops out of the cockpit to wave to the crowd. The school erupts in excitement.
Amongst the crowd there is a young first grader who would take this moment and hold on to the memory forever. That first grader was Bruce Haffner.
Bruce Haffner joined KTVK 3TV in 1984 and is currently a pilot/reporter who covers stories from a helicopter for the Good Morning Arizona and Good Evening Arizona TV shows. He took me up in the air for my first ever helicopter ride as we circled the greater Phoenix area looking for stories to cover.
Bruce’s journey to become the pilot in the cockpit came after he discovered his true passion. As an Arizona State broadcast journalism student he was assigned a project to cover an interesting, wacky story of his choice. He and his friends decided to do a story on the sport of Frisbee.
Attending a Frisbee tournament on the ASU campus, Bruce and his friends found a fifty-five year old man with long, stringy gray hair who had a love for the sport. His name was Willie.
One of the students haphazardly handed Bruce a camera and asked him to start filming. As Bruce looked through the lens at Willie tossing a frisbee, he looked into his future. He had discovered his passion at first sight. He knew right then that he had to become a photographer.
Upon graduation Bruce started to film rock videos with friends and pitch to TV shows for air time. Over the next two years he accumulated photography skills, but certainly not wealth.
“I probably made about $400 in those two years,” Bruce told me as we flew in the direction of the reported traffic accident at 101- South and Thomas Road. “That’s when I got sick of having no money and took a real job at Fox 10.”
At the Fox 10 news station in Phoenix Bruce got his first experience as a paid photographer. He learned the ins and outs of the news industry before joining the KTVK 3TV film crew. It was there that he started to rekindle the helicopter memory he had as a first grader.
Bruce was originally laughed at when he requested that he wanted to learn how to fly the News Chopper and report. First, he had no experience flying. Second, he had no experience reporting. Management put the idea on the backburner, but two people came in to mentor Bruce in a special way.
The helicopter pilot and reporter for News3, who had transformed himself into somewhat of a local celebrity, came to Bruce and told him that he heard he wanted to fly. He offered Bruce the opportunity to join him in the air as the photographer who would hang out the open door and grab the shots for live stories. Bruce jumped at the chance, and began to learn how to fly and photograph from one of the best in the industry.
Bruce’s other mentor was his wife Lisa Haffner, who currently runs her own show with “Your Life A to Z.” She taught him how to report, saying that the only thing you could actually report on was “what you see, and what you know.” Bruce would take this advice with him as he was suddenly asked to assume the role of pilot/reporter.
Since being asked to take over the cockpit, Bruce has combined his passions for photography, flying, reporting, and people in a unique way. He has a lifestyle he is happy with, and his work is something that he is passionate about.
What could be better than flying around town as the sun sets and sun rises, flying around to each reported accident or following a high speed chase?
What I took away:
There were a couple things that I took away from my early morning helicopter with Bruce. Out of the story you just read, I learned about the importance of mentors. I saw that all of Bruce’s prior experiences helped him be not only a helicopter pilot/news reporter, but that his photography background helps him position his helicopter so his current photographer and helicopter protégé Jim can get the money shots.
What I did not mention in Bruce’s story was his passion for people. He makes sure that all of his stories connect with people in some way. When he reports to a traffic accident, he makes sure to not only get the shot of the accident, but also a shot of the traffic jam so people can avoid it. When we were in the air Bruce made sure to incorporate the photos of his recent vacation to Mexico so viewers who had never been there could be a part of the experience. I think this is important for me to remember as we proceed with booking interviews and reporting on their stories, and for you. If your work is not connecting with people, then maybe its time to take a step back and get back to the basics.