Monday, January 6, 2020


Okay, I'm back. Kinda sorta.

I've updated my Street Smarts book for the new decade, which also includes the original text. Since so much has changed in the business and ethics seemed to go out the window at the network level, I thought it was time.

Anyway, available on Amazon today and everywhere else shortly. Any questions fire away.

Meanwhile, I'll drop in from time to time.

Broadcast Journalism Street Smarts: 20/20 Vision for 2020 and Beyond

Monday, August 26, 2013

There's no crying in news; or, why rookies need to grow a backbone and become a Vulcan

(In this scene the News Director has just chastised his rookie reporter for nothing in particular since he loves keeping the upper hand. As expected, the tears begin to flow, pleasing the ND to no end.)

ND: Are you... crying?"
Reporter: (Trying in vain to hold back tears) No. No.
ND: Are those.... tears?
Reporter: No.
ND: There's no crying in news! Did Walter Cronkite cry? No! Did Edward R. Murrow cry? Nooooo! Because there's no crying in news!

Unfortunately, these days there seems to be a lot of crying in news. This year I've had more phone calls from reporters in tears than ever before. For whatever reason, managers seem to take perverse pleasure in ripping their new employees, when they should be doing just the opposite. While a News Director doesn't need to treat rookies like the bubblewrapped kids we often see in this country, he doesn't need to make the new kid walk on eggshells.

Let's face it, some NDs really get off on the power trip, and that's why many of them are stuck in small markets or working for lousy companies. But we've covered that ground before.

So it's time to channel your inner Vulcan. You must become Mister Spock, and check your emotions at the door.

You must grow a backbone. I'm not telling you to be insubordinate, but until you show managers that they can't get under your skin, they'll keep hammering you. You must keep in mind that it is simply management manipulation to make you feel less confident about your abilities, and therefore, less confident when it comes to job hunting.

But this isn't about them, it's about you.

Learn to sort constructive criticism from the comments that are simply mean spirited. Always consider the source of the comment. Just because someone carries a title of ND or Executive Producer doesn't make that person an authority on anything. There are hordes of crash test dummies working in positions of power.

Grow the backbone. Be the Vulcan and don't show your emotions. Raise your shields. As soon as you brush off nasty comments, they'll stop. The best defense is to be cheerful right after you've gotten hammered. Go back to the newsroom, tell a joke, laugh. Let them know they're not pushing your buttons.

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The secret interview test

(Okay, I saw the bat signal last night that told me you guys need help and knew I hadn't posted in awhile, so here goes.)

Most job interviews are pretty standard, and they fall into simple categories. There's the courtesy interview, in which you get maybe a half hour of the News Director's time. Then there's the serious interview, which might include a plane ticket, a hotel room, lunch, dinner, and several hours at the station.

It usually includes something very subtle designed to find out how you'd fit in.

Look, if you're going to spend the better part of the day at a station, you're not going to be sitting in the ND's office all the time. He's got other things to do. So after your interview, a meeting with the GM, a tour, lunch, and maybe a current events or writing test, you'll be subjected to a very important part of the interview process.

You'll be dropped in the newsroom for a few hours.

Generally the ND will say he's got things to do, so would you mind hanging out for awhile. He'll go off to do whatever after dropping you at an empty desk, and all of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of a bunch of strangers. You have no idea if they know who you are or why you're there. (Trust me, they know.)

How you react to this "test" can make or break a job offer.

I've seen job applicants react in two ways. Some sit at the desk and read, surf the net on the computer, and kill time until the ND comes back.

What the ND hopes you'll do is wander around the newsroom and talk to everyone you can.

Because after you're gone, he's gonna ask members of the staff what they thought of you. Was she friendly? Did she fit in? Does she seem smart, driven? Does she really want to be a journalist or simply "be on TV?"

In this situation, you must keep in mind that you're still on your interview, even though it's informal. Anything you do during that time you're dropped in the newsroom will more than likely get back to the ND and be factored into his decision. So it behooves you to be as friendly and interesting as possible.

While your tape got your foot in the door, it's important that you fit in with the rest of the staff. The ND would rather have someone with a little less talent that fits rather than someone with more talent who doesn't.

A successful news team is like a family. Make sure you act like you want to be a part of it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Jedi Mind Tricks: Due to cutbacks, the old "good cop, bad cop" tactic is now performed by one person

Stop me if you've heard this before on a date:

"You're really attractive, have a great personality, and I've enjoyed spending time with you. I'm sure you'll make someone a wonderful husband/wife."


Yes, that's the old "good cop, bad cop" dating version. You build the person up before dumping them to soften the blow, sort of like offering a condemned prisoner anything for a last meal before throwing the switch on the electric chair and frying said prisoner.

Back in the day the newsroom version of this was a skill set employed by the News Director and either his Assistant or the Executive Producer. Whoever was playing the good cop would build you up, usually just before a contract negotiation, and then the other would drop the hammer. Or, the bad cop character would lay the groundwork for a lousy offer by repeatedly focusing on your shortcomings, so when the good cop came by with an offer you were glad to sign.

Alas, lots of stations have done away with some of these positions, so the ND gets to play a dual role, and we're not talkin' Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday.

Depending on the News Director, you can get one of two scripts. The ND can lead off with the good cop, but the end result will be an offer you're not too pleased with. Or he can start with the bad cop, which results in a lousy offer that you'll be thrilled to accept.

Scenario Number One: "You've done some really great work here the past few years, and you're a valuable member of the team. I know I can always count on you to go the extra mile, you're a positive influence on the newsroom and I'd really like you to stay. We've got some long term plans for you if you can make a commitment."

(At this point you're pumped, smiling, sitting up straight, and waiting for the offer that will change your lifestyle. You're already picking out the color for your new car. Now stand by for the "but" part of this script.)

"But.... as you know the economy is not great and we've had to tighten our belt. (ND shifts in chair as he realizes he's sitting on the keys to his Mercedes.) I really wish I could offer you a lot more since you are soooooo valuable to the newsroom. Anyway, I hope you'll consider this offer as it's the absolute best we can do." (ND has fingers crossed behind his back, and the words "go to confession" are written on his desk calendar for Saturday.)

At this point the ND hands you a contract which is as convoluted as the health care bill. You quickly scan it for numbers and see that the proposed increase in pay will allow you to buy the ramen noodles with the little shrimp instead of the plain ones.

Scenario Number Two: "Well, I know this job has been a struggle for you and I appreciate the effort. I was hoping you would have made more progress at this point, and every time you seem to be taking your work to the next level you do something that makes me wonder if your head's in the game. It's basically two steps forward, two steps back with you."

At this point you're beginning to break out in a cold sweat. Uh-oh, I'd better get more resume tapes out. When is my last day here? How long can I pay my rent before I have to pack up and move into Mom's basement? And just when you've heard enough from the bad cop to make you think you're outta here, the good cop gallops in on a white horse and hands you a contract. Surprise!

"But, I still believe in your potential and would like to see you fulfill that potential. So we've decided to offer you an extension. Of course, I'll expect you to work harder to avoid all those little things that have been setting you back."

You exhale your tension as you flip through the contract, searching for those numbers. There they are! A three year deal with no outs! And a salary increase that will allow you to buy an extra soda each week from the break room vending machine! Sweet! And a few minutes ago you thought you were out the door. Whew, what a relief! Gimme a pen, where do I sign?

You must be aware that in any contract negotiation, mind games will be played. Also keep in mind that the first offer is almost always the lowest one because part of a News Director's job is staying under budget. There's almost always room for polite negotiation, and I must emphasize the word polite. Play hardball and take a firm tone, and the bad cop could escort you out the door.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Too. Much. Information. Or, why you people obsessed with social media need a serious filter.

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to free speech. It says nothing about protecting you from the consequences of your words.

And for a generation raised on the assumption that actions do not have consequences, it often seems surprising when words come back to bite you. Yes, you can lose your job for saying the wrong things. You can wreck a career for posting things on the Internet. (See: Weiner, Anthony.) And you can make yourself unhireable if you go public with thoughts about your employer, politics, religion, sex, or the general public.

People of my generation really don't "get" why young people feel compelled to share their most personal details or strong opinions. It frankly boggles my mind as to why social networking aficionados think that posting their innermost feelings for the world to see is something that's no big deal. Well, here's a news flash: despite what your parents told you, you're not the center of the universe, and most people don't care about the intimate details of your personal life.

Unless you cross the line.

What ever happened to privacy? Dignity, anyone? Class?

Those of you who work on air need a filter. Big time.

Back in the day we guarded our privacy fiercely. The women were particularly careful, often wearing fake engagement rings or having guys record their answering machine messages. I not only had an unlisted phone number, but one under a phony name I made up. If a viewer called wanting personal information, the most you'd share is where you got your hair cut.

Now, of course, it's in vogue to share everything. Your sex life, your brutally honest thoughts (and who cares if you offend anyone), photos that are borderline suggestive. Yep, you are entitled to post whatever you want on the Internet thanks to the First Amendment. Knock yourself out.

An employer also has the right to kick you out the door if it finds your expressions are damaging to its reputation and business. Or not hire you at all.

When I was in management I, like almost all managers, checked a reference you didn't put on your resume. I googled applicants. I checked their social networking sites and blogs. On more than one occasion I found something that made me cross an applicant off the short list. I found applicants who had posted suggestive photos, wild opinionated rants, tales of doing drugs, and fond memories of getting hammered. Sorry, kid, you're outta here. You're a newsroom accident waiting to happen.

And you never even knew you were in contention. But you took yourself out of the running. You may have had the best resume tape I'd seen, but I knew there would be trouble down the road.

Just about every employer does this. It is well publicized that the NFL looks into the personal lives of college players before the draft. Numerous articles have been written about managers doing their own background checks of stuff you've posted on the Internet. Some have claimed that this is an invasion of privacy. Well, guess what? You gave up your privacy when you posted on the Internet.

Put yourself in a manager's shoes. (I know... for some of you this is like saying, "I wonder what Lord Voldemort is up to this afternoon?") You're trying to attract viewers. Do you want an employee who publicly announces in writing he hates his boss, thinks the company is cheap, complains about the equipment, slams his co-workers, makes unflattering comments about the newscast, or casts viewers in an unflattering light? Or someone who has a personal life that the public would consider a turn-off? You wouldn't hire someone like that.

It's time to seriously filter what you post online. I've talked about cleaning up your Internet footprint before. You can rip your boss, company, viewers, or quality of the newscast all you want to your friends or co-workers. You can talk about your strong views on politics or religion, as that is your right. But when you do it in writing on the Net, you're asking for trouble.

And the Internet is forever.

You can't hit "undo" if you put something stupid on the Internet. You can literally kill your own career with your words.

It's fine to share some parts of your life. If you want to tell the public about your favorite sports teams or what music you listen to, fine. Keep things simple without revealing too much about yourself. But the really personal stuff and opinions need to be kept to yourself.

Forget the First Amendment. You guys need Miranda. Because anything you say on the Internet can and will be used against you.

You also have the right to remain silent. That may be as valuable as the First Amendment when it comes to the Internet.