‘While You Were Sleeping’: Life as a freelance TV news photographer is an all-night affair

Ken Branca works as overnight ‘stringer,' shooting video for KSAT, other station

SAN ANTONIO – Six years ago, Ken Branca was up to his ears in music, recording and producing platinum-selling and Grammy-nominated records.

But a chance meeting with a man in church—his current boss—steered him in a whole new direction.

Nowadays, it’s mostly the sound of police scanners that gets him going.

He works as a freelance videographer, also known as a news “stringer,” for a local company called 21-Pro Video.

On the overnight shift, he helps KSAT 12 and other local news stations fill a gap in staffing, shooting video of news stories for them.

“I've seen some horrific things and I've seen some things that most people never see,” Branca said recently, reflecting on his news journey so far.

During a single shift, he may go from covering a grisly car crash, to a devastating house fire, to a murder.

It’s his job to stay on top of whatever is going on in the city during the overnight hours.

Branca typically hits the streets most weeknights around 10 p.m., sitting in his souped-up Ford GT.

“Sometimes I'm by myself. Sometimes I have people with me. I have some friends who are really into police scanners who stay on the phone with me,” he said.

He listens diligently to about half a dozen police scanners at a time, waiting for news to break.

When it does, he makes a break for it, navigating the highways and streets in his fancy ride to his destination.

“And then it's positioning. Where can I park? Where can I find a safe place to put my car?,” Branca said.

Not only does he record video, Branca also has to collect information about the incidents from officials and witnesses.

He then shares it with his clients, along with the accompanying video, electronically.

The whole process usually keeps him running until about 4 a.m.

He says it can be draining, and at the end of the shift, he has to tune out.

“The radios are so demanding all night that once you turn those off and you hear silence, it's calming,” he said.

It’s often the calm after the news storm for Branca, but he says he enjoys every minute of it.

About the Author:

Katrina Webber joined KSAT 12 in December 2009. She reports for Good Morning San Antonio. Katrina was born and raised in Queens, NY, but after living in Gulf Coast states for the past decade, she feels right at home in Texas. It's not unusual to find her singing karaoke or leading a song with her church choir when she's not on-air.