Monday, December 31, 2007

Monday's story ideas

I know this isn't an original idea, but it is very important that your station do something about the dangers of drinking and driving. Don't just talk to a police officer, show the effects of driving under the influence as it affects real people.

And while you're at it, how are people who sell liquor doing when it comes to preventing sales to minors? Are the laws and practices in your market effective?

Last day to donate to charity for a tax break.

New study shows yoga can be very helpful in preventing heart disease.

Canadian research shows that online dating can be just as disappointing as traditional dating. (Amazing that anyone spent money on such research, but might make for an interesting feature.) Considering this is a big date night, might make for a fun live shot to find people who met online.

The heck with New Year's resolutions, what's in your "bucket list?" (Things to do before you kick the bucket.) I think this will become a catch phrase for baby boomers.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday's story ideas

Hybrid tax credits combined with high gas prices... are people buying cars this week to beat the deadline?

What will the assassination in Pakistan do to the economy here?

Weird environmental story... biodegradable coffins. Lotsa luck getting b-roll on this one.

How safe is our local zoo? And is the tiger incident hurting attendance?

The IRS says tax refunds may be late this year. What will this do for those "instant refund" companies?

Thursday, December 27, 2007


O wise and noble grape,

What's your take on personal websites for reporters looking for jobs? Does this make things easier for News Directors, and is there a downside?


Dear T.L.,

There are two schools of thought on this. One says that any way you can get your work out there is worth it. The other (mine) says that while marketing yourself via the Internet can be a good thing, you have to be very professional about how you do it.

Bear in mind that many NDs these days will google job applicants because, quite frankly, you can dig up some valuable stuff that might raise a red flag. I'll give you an example. A few years ago a reporter brought someone else's personal website to my attention. The site featured a female reporter in a rather suggestive pose wearing very little in the way of clothing. Of course this photo was right next to her resume. Whatever credibility this young woman may have had went right out the window. And once you post something on the net, forget about ever taking it off.

If you're going to create a website, keep it totally professional. One picture, your resume, and something an ND can click on to view your resume tape. That's it. No party photos, no list of "friends," no rambling about how hammered you got on New Year's Eve. Keep it simple and easy to use. And keep it modest. You don't want anything that screams "ego problem" on your site.

The other problem is getting an ND to actually click on your site. NDs get hundreds of emails each day, and the odds that they'll open one from a stranger and click on a link aren't very good. You know, fear of computer viruses and/or lack of time. It is actually a lot easier to post your work on Lots of NDs go there to look for talent.

Best of luck in your search.

Thursday's story ideas

Tree mulch. Many communities are doing a "green" Christmas by grinding up the holiday tree and offering the mulch to gardeners and landscapers.

Meanwhile, the guys who have to pick up all that stuff are having a busy week. A ride along with a garbage truck is a fun feature right after Christmas.

Census. Check out to see what's happening in your market. Looks like high taxes and cold weather continue to drive people south.

Some food kitchens are starting to offer free medical care. Check out the ones in your market.

Movie downloads. Are they putting your neighborhood rental stores out of business?

Immigrants return to their home countries. Between the crackdown on illegals and the slowing economy, many are leaving the US.

Bayer recalls diabetes test strips. Ask a doctor... how accurate are those things?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday's story ideas

The stock market's annual "Santa Claus" rally. Get a broker to explain it... and should it happen this year?

Holiday weight gain. More people join health clubs around January 1st than any other time of the year. (And if you're stuck working New Year's Day, put this idea in your back pocket.)

Chinese tactics to make us think we're buying American. OK, so I set out to buy some crawfish tails to add to pasta the other day, and I found a package of "Boudreau's crawfish" in the frozen food aisle. Imagine my surprise when I saw "product of China" on the label when I expected the mud bugs would be from Louisiana.

Boston's Big Dig is finally done after many years... which brings up the question of cost overruns for public projects. What are some projects that never seem to get finished in your market?

Last minute tax strategies. Sell loser stocks, charity donations, etc.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tuesday's story ideas

(Admit it, you thought I'd forget you, right?)

One of the best Christmas features I ever did took a bit of planning, and sorry I didn't mention this sooner. I borrowed a bullhorn, went to a nice neighborhood, and yelled, "This is Channel 10. Come out and show us your toys." The kids poured out of their homes and showed off their hauls. Of course, now you've got find find a bullhorn...

Unloading stuff you don't want on ebay. You'd be amazed at the great deals you can find from people desperate to get rid of unwanted gifts.

Flying on Christmas. It's a bargain, so the airport isn't as dead as you might think.

People who have to work. Visit a hospital, firehouse, police station... talk to people who keep the peace when everyone is off.

Christmas movies. Tons of people on family overload head for an escape at the local theater.

Homeless Christmas. Where do the people go after they've had the traditional photo op holiday dinner? Back out into the cold?

And finally, after watching "A Christmas Story," just wondering if there's anyone named "Bumpus" in your market.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday's story ideas

Christmas Eve bargains. Several years ago my wife scored a gorgeous artificial tree at 90 percent off on Christmas Eve. Incredible bargains abound as stores hope to squeeze every nickel out of the holiday.

Christmas Eve traditions. There are bound to be plenty out there. Opening one gift. Midnight mass. Our is "The Feast of the Seven Fishes" in which you have dinner with seven different kinds of fish. It's an Italian tradition. Find some more.

Holiday politics. The ads don't stop. Do people find this rather offensive during the holidays?

Holiday travel. Considering the bad weather over much of the country, what are your rights if you get stuck?

Political movies. Once again Hollywood finds out people want to be entertained at the theater as "Charlie Wilson's War" isn't exactly a blockbuster. Find out what people want to see this time of year.

And finally, a health story I always meant to do but never did. Stuffing a turkey vs. "dressing" in a pan. Being from the North, I stuff the family bird and always get comments that it is "unsanitary" or "unsafe to eat." What's the real deal?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Media Mail

Over the years I've told people that resume tapes can be sent media mail if the sender isn't pressed for time and wants to save money. It generally takes a few more days, but it gets there.

Except, apparently, in the month of December.

How do I know this? Because I Christmas shop on ebay.

On December 6th I bought a DVD and the seller sent it media mail the next day. It had a confirmation number, and made it all the way from Houston to Dallas by the 10th.

And hasn't moved an inch since.

I talked with a postal employee I know and was told that during the holiday season, media mail doesn't go anywhere until the priority mail and overnight stuff is out of the way. So while the letter carriers are carting fruitcakes through rain, sleet, snow and gloom of night, your resume tape is cooling its heels in some back room, waiting its turn.

So, for future reference, don't send your resume tapes out via media mail this time of year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday's story ideas

Kids with cell phones. About 80 percent of parents buy them for safety reasons, even though kids rarely do anything but send text messages. They're a popular gift item this year.

Newspaper endorsements. Interesting that two Boston newspapers fail to endorse Mitt Romney, but does anyone really care about endorsements anymore? And where is it written that newspapers endorse but TV stations don't?

New energy bill to phase out incandescent light bulbs. Edison turns over in grave.

Holiday tips. Years ago we tipped the mailman, the milkman (yes, I'm old), the paper boy, etc. Whom should you tip, and how much is acceptable?

Christmas bonuses. Are they still around, and who is getting them?

Holiday therapy. Does depression run rampant this time of year, and are therapists around to listen?

What's up in your market regarding the use of the word "Christmas?" Are political entities using "holiday" as a substitute so they won't appear to show religious preference?

Schwarzenegger intends to sue the US government over environmental regulations. Will other states follow suit?

Alien vs. Predator movie gets Christmas Day release. Glad there's still some old fashioned sentimentality in Hollywood.

Thursday's story ideas

New study shows that teens who have formal sex education are more likely to delay having sex. (If you can do this package without a joke about Britney's sister, you get bonus points.)

Airline employee's point of view. We all know flying this time of year is stressful, but what are some things we can do to make the process smoother for the airline people? Some suggestions on flying with children might be nice.

TSA regs. They're asking for certain items to be in a quart size Ziploc bag. You can probably save a minute or two per passenger if everyone complies.

Expiring frequent flier miles. Even if you don't plan to fly, you can often extend them by shopping or dining out with airline partners.

Green tea may reduce your risk of prostate cancer.

The EPA blocks California's attempt to new emission rules. Several other states were about to follow suit.

College football coaching carousel. Coaches are moving constantly, and for huge salaries. Who's really paying for this, and how does this affect academics at schools in your market? What's the local coach's salary?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mailbag... What's the secret?

Dear Grapevine,

I can't figure this business out. There are people who are brainless idiots who rise to the top, and others who are talented and work hard and have to struggle. Is there some sort of common denominator for success in TV news?

-Resume Diva

Dear Diva,

Yes, of course there's a common denominator in the world of television news.

It is called "life is not fair."

You're right, there are people who couldn't spell IQ making seven figures and Mensa members clipping coupons. There are so many intangible factors to consider... appearance, voice, nepotism, you name it, that you can drive yourself crazy trying to beat the system. You'd have better luck playing slots in Vegas.

But while you cannot predict how the stars will align at any given point, you can improve your chances. Here are a few ways to "make your own luck."

-Be versatile. Know a little about a lot. If you're a reporter, learn to do weather and sports, even on an emergency basis. If you're a weathercaster, learn to put a package together. The more flexible you are, the more valuable you are to a News Director. If I have a choice between two people who are dead even talent-wise, I'm gonna hire the one who can wear more than one hat.

-Ditch the ego. Over the years the biggest egos I've ever seen worked in the smallest markets. Some of the nicest people work in the major markets and for the networks. The network correspondents I work with now are not only professional, but treat the members of the crew with respect, and as equals.

-Make your News Director's life easier. Come in with story ideas every day, volunteer to work holidays and weekends when you can. Don't be a newsroom gossip. News Directors move around as much as anyone else, and they often take their favorite people with them.

-Ask for advice. This was my biggest mistake when I was young and thought I knew everything. Be a sponge. Learn from people with different points of view. Ask experienced people for help.

-Be nice to photogs. I shouldn't even have to say this, but carry your share of the gear.

-Be nice to everyone. As much as people move and as small as this business is, everyone knows everyone in a six degrees of separation sort of way. One bad reference can kill a dream job. Make sure everyone with whom you work will say nice things about you.

Wednesday's story ideas

First, sorry there wasn't a post yesterday. I thought I'd hit the right button.... 

Anyway, on to the ideas...

Political issues. Is the term "family values" no longer effective during a political campaign. Some studies show many either don't care or view it as a ploy to get votes.

Milk allergies. Conventional thinking used to say that kids would outgrow them, but that might not be the case.

Flu season. How is it in your market?

The great Wii shortage. Have you checked out how much these things are selling for on ebay?

How to buy jewelry. Most people don't know this product has a huge markup, and the price is often negotiable....

And along those lines...pawn shops are an interesting source for jewelry. With stuff a lot nicer than you might think.

European credit card rebate. If you've shopped across the pond in the last ten years and used a credit card, you might be due a $25 rebate. Details here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Monday's story ideas

Congress moves to eliminate slot machines for overseas soldiers. The Department of Defense apparently used revenue from slots to pay for morale programs. Who knew the military was in the gambling biz? Should be an interesting talker.

Bad weather driving tips, for those of you getting pounded this week.

It's a week till Christmas.... how are retailers doing in your market? And how are the charities faring?

Holiday parties... are cops on the lookout for drunk drivers this week?

What is the most environmentally friendly way to heat your home? And the best firewood?

Feature: Mike up a department store Santa and see what kids really tell the big guy, and what he tells them. (You'll shoot your eye out, kid.)

Nice thing to do this week... ring the bell for an hour or two for the Salvation Army. More fun than you'd think, and a great way to give back.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday's story ideas

In light of the Mitchell baseball report, a more thorough explanation of HGH is necessary. People are now very familiar with steroids.... but how exactly does human growth hormone affect you?

New Jersey ends death penalty. What's the status of capital punishment in your market... and is change coming?

Senate approves energy bill to improve fuel efficiency, and boost production of ethanol.

Genetic testing for breast cancer. Is this new trend dependable, or are the old methods the best?

Year end tax strategies. Explain those last minute tactics to reduce your tax bill.

Green Christmas lights... are fluorescents affordable and available to light your tree & home?

The stage version of "A Christmas Story" is very popular. You might drop in on this holiday classic if it's playing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday's story ideas

Vetting a charity. In light of the Mike Ditka charity fiasco, show how you can find out which ones are legit... or how much of their dollar doesn't go to "operating expenses."

Republicans are about to float a bill in which employers can require new employees to speak English.

Airline passengers bill of rights. Explain what it is and what could happen if it becomes law.

Meanwhile, Delta is rolling out videos on proper etiquette for passengers. Free b-roll! (Hopefully it will instruct the screaming baby that always sits next to me how to keep quiet.)

Obese children who watch too much TV can develop high blood pressure. (The solution is pretty obvious.)

Baseball's steroid report will name names today.

Holiday market basket. Time to go shopping for turkey, ham, egg nog....

And finally, Wal-Mart pulls suggestive girls' underwear from store shelves. (I'm not making this up.) The panties read "Who needs credit cards..." on the front, and "When you have Santa" on the back.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When is an exclusive not an exclusive?

Well, if you're covering a story that no one else covers... because it has no news value. Technically, it is an exclusive, but really...

Too many stations are using the exclusive label on a casual basis. Years ago it was reserved for the biggest scoops of the year. Now it seems any story that no one else bothers to cover is suddenly, "A story you'll see ONLY on channel whatever."

Oh, please.

If you're a producer, and you do this on a regular basis, you're basically crying wolf to the viewer. An exclusive should make the viewer stop and pay close attention. That's not going to happen if you have one every day.

Wednesday's story ideas

Help for frequent fliers... the "registered traveler" program. Membership has its privileges, which means getting you thru security in record time.

Study shows obesity decreases a woman's chance of getting pregnant.

Whole house generators. In light of all the power outages lately, let's explore this relatively new product that is gaining in popularity.

Polls show people are now more concerned about the economy than the war.

Fed rate cut. What does this mean for personal investing, like CDs & money markets?

Energy Star appliances. What qualifies, and how can you find out? (

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tuesday's story ideas

Study in Utah shows that people who fast one day each month are 40 percent less likely to have clogged arteries. But how safe is it to go a whole day without food?

Farm bill is in the Senate this week. What does it mean to your market, especially as it pertains to biofuel?

Are you hurting the environment by buying real Christmas trees? Or should everyone just go artificial?

Online poker. Why is it so popular with young people, and how can they get in real trouble?

Michael Vick repercussions. Will his stiff sentence make people think twice about participating in dog fighting?

Clean out the attic for last minute tax deductions. This time of year places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army receive lots of donations.... not just the cash kind.

Lead found in Christmas lights. How do you know if your decorations are safe?

Congrats...what a jump!

Just wanted to issue public congratulations to one of my clients, Caitlin McLaughlin. Caitlin has been working as a producer in Gainesville, Florida and will be heading north to join WDIV in Detroit.

For those of you scoring at home, that is a whopping jump of 151 markets!

Caitlin is a marvelous young writer and I know she'll do well... and being from Maine, she'll probably enjoy getting out of the sweltering Florida heat.

By the way, she's not even 25 yet, and already will be working in a major market. This should tell you that anything in this business is possible, so when people tell you that you must start in a certain size market, or where you should be in your second job, just ignore them. You have nothing at all to lose by sending a tape to any station. Caitlin certainly discovered that the sky's the limit if you have talent, and that age and experience can often be trumped if you have more than the other candidates.

Monday's story ideas

Fed rate cut. Will America get an early holiday gift from the powers that be? We should know this week.

Smokers who eat three servings of broccoli or cabbage per month are 73 percent less likely to get bladder cancer. This, if course, DOES NOT mean it is okay to keep smoking... but it does illustrate the power of the vegetable.

Celebrity endorsements of politicians. Do people really vote for someone because Oprah, George Clooney or Chuck Norris tells them to do so?

What are the hot toys for Christmas? (Besides the ones without lead.) And how hard is it to find them? Are people willing to pay a premium to fill a kid's Christmas wish?

Green shopping (via the Internet or catalogues) saves gas and the environment.

Gas fireplaces. Some are used with the flue closed, some with it opened. Some gas logs are banned in some states. Some say using them can be bad news if you suffer from asthma.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Dear Grapevine,

I've heard that absolutely nothing happens as far as the hiring process is concerned in December due to the holidays, vacations, etc. Should I wait till January to send tapes?


Dear K. J.,

Remember a week or two ago I told you guys things would start moving as soon as the November book was over?

Well, just this week one of my clients got a new job and another is flying out on an interview.

Though December is slow as far as job hunting goes, things do happen. You have nothing to lose by sending tapes now. This is a slow news month, so many times NDs have some spare time to look at those tapes that have been piling up.

Friday's story ideas

Flu shots at airports. Many major hubs are now offering this service to travelers. Hey, with all the time people have to kill in airports these days, I'm surprised other businesses haven't sprung up.

Mortgage assistance plan. Explain how it works, then find someone in your market that can take advantage.

House approves energy bill. What does it mean to your market?

Physical therapists are using those Wii games to help adults get back to normal. It apparently can strengthen the body and help a person's balance.

Annoying gifts for children. (I did this story every year and got great feedback from viewers.) You know those toys that make too much noise, are horribly repetitious or just plain impractical? You know those people on your list with kids that drive you crazy? Here's your chance to get even. (All time no-brainer: drum set.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thursday's story ideas

Prepaid funerals. Many people paid for these so long ago only to find out companies have changed hands and they're left with nothing. Or actually, their relatives are when they die. Are these a good idea and how can you protect yourself?

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is changing. (It provides food for millions of needy people.) They will now be able to get vouchers for fruits, veggies and whole grains.

Snow shoveling for adults. It may seem like good exercise, but it taxes your heart, even if you're a young adult.

Noisy toys can do long term damage to children's hearing. It seems some can reach the decibel level of a chainsaw. Parents everywhere are applauding this study.

Teenage birth rate rises for the first time in 15 years. What's the deal in your market, and what are adults doing about it?

The big holiday travel week is about two weeks out... are there still bargains to be had?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wednesday's story ideas

December & January are the deadliest months for heart attacks. (Thanks to Cleveland Annie for that idea.)

Snowbird taxes. Are states losing income tax dollars to people who claim residency in states like Florida that have no income tax... even though they only live there in the winter?

Toy kitchens for boys. Apparently the theory here is that they'll grow up to share the cooking duties.

We all know the banks are in a credit crisis, but how does someone who has gone thru foreclosure repair personal credit... and how long does it take?

A family group has listed the top ten violent games in this country. And they're probably on your kid's letter to Santa.

Spin cycle puts "being right vs.being first" on back burner

Every once in awhile something that happens in sports can teach you something about news. In this case, it is the murder of Redskins player Sean Taylor.

I was watching ESPN's "The Sports Reporters" on Sunday morning, as I usually do before going into my weekly NFL coma. Mitch Albom raised an excellent point. News people are simply too quick to speculate, and often do so without any hard facts.

This was the case in the Taylor incident. Was this a robbery gone bad? Was Taylor a victim of his upbringing, someone who couldn't leave the bad neighborhood behind? Was he a great guy who should have installed a security system in his home?

It seemed every TV host and columnist had an opinion, and hardly any of them knew the man personally.

Being right vs. being first? That argument is dead. Now all you need is an opinion. Facts are not necessary to take viewers into the spin cycle.

Albom went on to say that sometimes we need to let the story just play out, and used the Duke rape case as an example.

So think before you make any kind of assumption, then don't do it. Just present the facts you have, and let the viewers come up with their own theories. If you form an opinion, and it turns out to be very wrong, you're the one who ends up looking bad. Remember, we're supposed to be objective in this business. That seems to have gotten lost along the way.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Tuesday's story ideas

Grade school consultants. Yes, as obsessive parents go to great lengths to get their little darlings in just the right elementary school, they're actually hiring people to help them do it.

Firewood & room heater sales. It's December and heating oil prices are scary. Are people going back to heating their homes with fireplaces? Are they buying those small room heaters for their bedrooms so they don't have to heat the entire house at night?

In light of the thirteen year old who took her own life after getting a nasty message about her MySpace page, is it time parents took more control over what their kids are posting on the net?

Techno-shopping. A few hundred malls around the country offer a service that lets you type what you want on your cell phone, then get a text message telling you what store carries it.

Honey for children's coughs. New study shows taking a teaspoon of honey is more effective than over the counter remedies.

The movie "Golden Compass" opens this week.... keep an eye out in your market for protests

Dancing with America's next top reporter

The writer's strike, even if it ends today, has played havoc with all the schedules in Hollywood. Movie releases will be OK for awhile, but TV is in trouble. And even though December is not exactly a month filled with great stuff in prime time, one thing is going to become painfully obvious as the networks run out of fresh episodes.

Unless you love reality shows, there's not going to be anything worth watching in prime time.

This is an opportunity for stations around the country to make newscasts appointment television once again. You have your own thirty minute reality show every night (see title above), and it's time to get back to filling it with stories that make viewers take notice.

You might end up with some good stuff for your resume tape as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Monday's story ideas

School snacks. The feds are looking into a bill to ban stuff like soda and candy machines from schools.

Don Imus returns. We all read and saw numerous stories about how the incident earlier this year would change America. So did it?

Tipping. Are people cutting back on spending by leaving less for waiters & waitresses? Talk to the restaurant people in your market.

Weather story. Climatologists say the tropics are expanding, which could significantly change weather patterns.

Mitt Romney. He plans to give a speech about his faith. If you live in a market without a lot of Mormons, it might be interesting to do a piece explaining the faith. (JFK went thru the same thing in 1960)

It's getting cold in many parts of the country, so what happens to the homeless people? Many shelters simply don't have enough beds.

Yard chickens. If you've never had farm fresh eggs, you're missing something. There's a trend now in residential areas to keep a few chickens in your backyard, and that has some people upset.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friday's story ideas

Home health care alert. How well do you screen those people who take care of the senior citizens in your family? It's easy for a visiting health care worker to simply take personal information from your home, like social security numbers. And are the patients getting the care they're supposed to receive? (In the case of my mother, a worker once billed Medicare for two weeks worth of visits and showed up once.)

The Mayo Clinic says more than 50 million Americans are "pre-diabetic" which means they're at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So how do you know?

Does working the graveyard shift cause cancer? A London study shows that the vampire shift disrupts the biological clock and affects your immune system.

TSA alert. If you're about to go flying with wrapped gifts, the screeners might make you unwrap them. Better to buy your paper and bows when you arrive.

Bell ringer shortage. Did you know the Salvation Army has to pay bell ringers when they can't get enough volunteers?

Crowded college classrooms. We often hear of too many students in K-12 classrooms, but why do colleges have some classes with enrollment in the triple digits? (For what they charge for tuition you'd think you'd get a personal instructor.)

November sweeps are over, let the resume tape parade begin!

Many people simply assume nothing happens this time of year. With November sweeps out of the way, many of us turn our attention to relaxing a bit and enjoying the holidays.

But even though a lot of jobs don't get filled in December, they do in January. That makes this a good time to send your tapes.

Many news budgetary years begin on January first, so some NDs are getting ready to hire for the February book. It will help if they already have some good tapes on their desks when they begin their searches.

So send your tapes now. They won't get lost in the usual deluge brought by the post office. And even if there's not a current opening, you can make an impression that could translate to a job offer down the road.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thursday's story ideas

More mortgage help. Since they're so tough to get, how can you improve your credit score? Explore some simple things you can do to improve your chances.

Health story. New study reveals having high blood pressure can make you more susceptible to getting Alzheimer's.

Another health story. New study reveals CAT scans may raise the risk of getting cancer.

Get this... seniors are buying the Nintendo Wii for sitting on the couch. (As a middle-aged guy who could barely move after my last afternoon chasing fly balls in the outfield, I can relate.)

Best Buy is no longer selling analog television sets in preparation for the big change in '09. You might want to explain this to your viewers.

Cowboys-Packers tonite... available only if you have a satellite dish.

Travel insurance.... how does it work, and is it worth the money?

Sweeps are over! Get those resume tapes in the mail!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wednesday's story ideas

RJ Reynolds drops cigarette print ads in 2008. How will this affect those who would have been targeted, specifically young people?

No change for the Salvation Army kettles? They now take unused gift cards. If you have one collecting dust in your wallet, the Army is able to convert it to cash.

New medical study reveals that hand washing is the most effective way to fight off the flu.

The hurricane season ends in a few days. Time to look back at those predictions that were way off.

The release of the movie "Golden Compass" is kicking some religious boycotts into high gear.

How to check a charity. There are a lot of scam artists this time of year.

Feature. Are you "decorating challenged?" There are people out there who will turn your home into Martha Stewart's during the holiday season.

Harry Potter and the deathly 1:30 package

Entertainment Weekly magazine just named J.K. Rowling its "entertainer of the year." While it is pretty cool that they picked a writer, there's an underlying message that relates to the way you put your newscast together.

Short attention spans are a myth.

This summer the final Harry Potter novel ran about 800 pages. I finished the thing in two days. Couldn't put it down. And I know I was not alone. Even young people, often accused of having no patience at all, were riveted.

So, in this era of fast bandwidths and webisodes, something that took many hours to read captured the attention of the world.

Which brings us to package lengths.

Over the years they've gotten shorter. When I was on the street, anything under 1:10 was jokingly called a "packlet." Now, those packlets are the norm in many newscasts, as consultants assume viewers sit there with remotes flipping from newscast to newscast if they get bored for thirty seconds. Hence the move toward "high story count." What you end up with are shallow stories that need to be fleshed out and a collection of voiceovers that just fill time and don't concern the viewer.

If you watch the network news you know that solid, longer stories are a priority. They don't worry about having a whole bunch of twenty second voiceovers to keep the show moving. Knock out three or four or five solid stories, and you've got a great newscast.

Good stories often take time to tell. If you've got one, go to your producer or ND and ask for extra time. If you're a producer, be flexible. Do you really need another voiceover on a car wreck or some meaningless crime that affects no one?

Most great stories need time to breathe. Harry Potter can't be wrong.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tuesday's story ideas

We all know mortgages are harder to get right now... how about other kinds of loans, like those for cars?

And speaking of homes that won't sell... they're turning into rental properties as owners stop the bleeding. What's the best way to find a good tenant?

San Francisco bans plastic bags from grocery stores.. will this be a trend that comes to your market?

And speaking of cars, are gas guzzlers flooding the used car market? And who would want one right now?

Stock market. Are we heading into a bear market, and should investors sell their losers to get a capital gains loss before the year ends?

Writer's strike impact. The networks are running out of new episodes... will that mean more business for movie theaters?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Monday's story ideas

Lead testing. Your kid already has a chest full of favorite toys you've bought recently... but how do you know if they're lead free?

Holiday jobs. Stores always add extra help this time of year... is that the trend in your market in light of the economy?

Fruit stand bargains. These operations traditionally buy from local farmers, hence do not have the transportation costs that supermarket chains must pass on to customers. It also helps the environment to buy local.

Cyber Monday. The online shopping version of Black Friday. This is the day many online shopping sites post their big sales... and you don't have to roll out of bed at 4am to get a bargain.

Green Christmas. Spotlight some products that are environmentally friendly. Parents, how about some rechargeable batteries for all those toys?

NFL vs. Big Cable. The matchup of the Packers & Cowboys in a few days is broadcast in the NFL network, available predominantly on satellite. The league is trying to get people to switch from cable to the dish. What's happening in your market... and will sports bars be packed out during this game between two 10-1 teams?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday's story ideas

OK, today it is going to be "death by sidebar" since I know your managers are going to insist you do shopping stories.

-Internet shopping. Are convenience and high gas prices keeping shoppers home? And in the case of companies like Amazon, are free shipping and no sales tax an attraction?

-Hot toys. What's still hot in light of the lead paint scare?

-Santa's response. You're a department store Santa. A kid asks you for a toy on the lead paint list. Waddaya do?

-Alternative stores. Get away from the mall and check out those closeout/salvage shops. You can often find great bargains there.

-Christmas cards. Do people still send them, or is this one of the easy areas to cut back?

Finally, more evidence that society continues to take a swan dive into the dumper. The post office, which for years has used volunteers to answer letters to Santa, now requires a photo ID and a signed waiver if you want to be one of Saint Nick's helpers.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Friday's challenge

Well, you don't have to be clairvoyant on the day after Thanksgiving if you're in the news business. The following will occur on almost every newscast in America.

-Cold open will include video of store doors opening and shoppers making a mad dash inside.

-Reporter will open package with same video.

-Reporter voiceover will begin with, "And they're off..."

-Package will include sound bite of shopper explaining why he/she got up so early

So here's a simple challenge. Come up with something different. A lead story on something other than shopping would be nice. If you have to do the shopping story, a different point of view might help.

Just don't give the viewers the same thing they get every year.

Hey, it's sweeps. Get creative.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wednesday's story ideas

Stem cell discovery. Scientists say they can turn skin cells into stem cells. There are all sorts of angles you can take on this one.

San Francisco to issue illegal aliens ID cards. This should become a hot button issue, so check the climate in your market.

Did you know a traditional gasoline powered car can be converted to a hybrid? Arnold Schwarzenegger is having his converted, as are people who own classic cars that used to run on leaded gasoline. If you've got enough money, you can drive a muscle car and save the environment.

Thanksgiving road trips... is the high price of gas keeping people at home this holiday season?

Consumer groups calling on the government for stricter codes regarding toys. (Told you this story wasn't going away.)

Some stores are starting their after Thanksgiving sales ON Thanksgiving. Will people really blow off turkey and football for a good bargain?

Interesting political tidbit in light of Mitt Romney's candidacy. Guess which denomination is most likely to convert to the Mormon faith? Southern Baptists.

Got a good story idea? Share it with the rest of the class.

Tuesday's story ideas

Packing for Thanksgiving travel. We've all seen passengers who think a Barcalounger will fit in an overhead compartment. We've had to wait as the parents with strollers the size of Toyotas clog up the aisle. Talk to a TSA official to find out what you can do to speed things along at the airport.

Get the lead out. California AG sues toy companies. Will this spread to other states? And what does this mean for little Johnny's Christmas stocking?

Health story. Smoking can cause men's hair to fall out quicker. (Never saw a bald Marlboro man, did you?) Yet another reason to quit.

Nurse practitioners. In many Doctor's offices, they are taking care of the basic stuff, like strep throat, flu, etc. They are also found in many doc-in-a-box operations. In many cases, patients don't ever see the MD. Do patients like the efficiency, or would they rather sit in a waiting room for an hour to see the doctor?

Seat belts on school buses. Is this feasible, a good idea, and who's going to pay for it? The government is looking for feedback.

OK, just saw an ad on TV for Kohl's after Thanksgiving day sale. Doors open at 4am. Yes, you read that right. Four in the morning. Isn't this getting a bit much?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Monday's story ideas

Veterans medical coverage. We continue to hear horror stories of vets who are obviously disabled but cannot get the benefits they deserve from the VA. It is truly the war at home for these brave souls. Spotlight a vet in your market.

Auto sales at lowest point since 1992. Is it high gas prices? High car prices? Cars not getting enough mileage?

Health story. Obese women have a higher risk of having the babies die shortly after childbirth.

Diesel gas prices. Diesel used to be cheaper... why does it cost more than regular gasoline. (And that's why food prices aren't getting any lower either.)

Supermarkets are selling reusable canvas bags. (At least the one I shop at is doing so, for a buck.) Are grocery shoppers taking advantage of this to go green at the grocery store?

Check local charities. When the economy is down, people cut back on donations. Are any charities hurting when it comes to helping people for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving preps. We all know shoppers go nuts on Friday... might be interesting to see how stores are preparing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday's story ideas

Steroids. (Frankly, I'm shocked that Barry Bonds would lie about this stuff.) Anyway, how easy/hard is it to get steroids in your market? Or via the Internet? And what's the penalty?

Deadly colds. New virus this season can actually kill you.

Why are people still writing checks? Today in the grocery store I feel like I'm in a Visa commercial as I'm stuck behind a woman writing a check for two bucks. (Then she can't find her ID.) Anyway, explore the consumer advantages of a credit/debit card. In my case, I enjoy hoarding frequent flier miles, hotel points, or rebates on gasoline.

Gas legislation. Democrats are trying to push for tougher mileage regulations. What are the members of Congress in your market saying?

Nursing home legislation. Congress seeking tougher regs for the local Shady Rest.

Midwest story. Middle American governors band together with an agreement to reduce pollution.

Air space "express lane" to aid holiday travel. How does this actually work, and will it really make a difference if bad weather hits?

And along those lines.... share some strategies for those who get bumped off flights. What are their rights, and how much can you really get in compensation from an airline?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thursday's story ideas

It's Great American Smokeout Day. Don't smoke 'em if you got 'em. Find creative ways people are trying to quit.

Airport security. Lots of bad things were smuggled past screeners by those testing the system. How extensive is the training for TSA employees in your market?

Shortened sentences for crack cocaine related offenses. This would be retroactive if passed and could set twenty thousand people free. What's the reaction in your market?

Virginia Tech is testing a new emergency system. What are the schools in your market doing?

Market basket. Price of a Thanksgiving dinner this year is up. Go shopping for a bird and all the trimmings.

Fight colds & flu without a trip to the drug stores. Can enough fruits, veggies, chicken soup and green tea have the same effect as an over the counter drug?

The vanishing stock broker. Has online trading made these guys obsolete?

Poker craze. What makes young people so addicted to online poker, and why are people watching it so much on TV?

And finally... not a story but a reminder to watch your headlines and supers. One such headline today read, "US shares intelligence with Turkey." The mental images can be quite amusing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wednesday's story ideas

Green story. Go unplugged. Even things that aren't in use, like cell phone chargers and some appliances draw power. Cut your energy bill and do your part to save the planet.

Extended warranties. In this season of appliances and electronics, are these things worth it? (Would companies want to sell them so badly if they were?)

Knockoff Christmas tree lights. Some companies are producing cheap and sometimes dangerous lights and simply copying the underwriters laboratory logo. UL is a non-profit organization that certifies products are safe. So how do you know what's safe?

Travel story. With airlines flights & hotel rooms so expensive, do you have frequent filer miles or points ready to expire? Miles are notoriously hard to redeem, so ask a travel agent for some tricks. And if you can't use them, did you know you can get things like magazine subscriptions for miles?

Criminals love foreclosures. Abandoned homes attract copper thieves, drug dealers, and other ne'er do wells.

Year end tax strategies. Charitable donations, buying energy saving products with tax breaks, etc.

Health story. FDA decision on Avandia is near. What does this mean to people with diabetes?

Another health story, but one with little video. STD's reach record high. You'll have to get creative with this one.

Local sports... going, going, gone?

One of the more disturbing trends of late is the cutting down or even elimination of sports segments in local newscasts. Some consultants seem to feel that the average viewer doesn't care about sports, and those who do will automatically turn to ESPN.

They couldn't be more wrong on both counts.

There are two things to consider regarding sports these days. Personally, I shudder to think how much of my life I've spent watching the Mets and the football Giants over the years. And how much I've spent on satellite TV and the NFL Sunday Ticket. But to simply assume I'll turn on ESPN every day to get my sports fix is a very wrong assumption. There are a few shows I'll watch on that channel, but to be honest, Sportscenter skews pretty young. If you're, uh, middle aged like me, the Sportscenter schtick can get a little annoying at times. A funny comment once in awhile is fine, but one on every single play of every single highlight just gets tired. It's for that same reason I cannot listen to Jim Rome. It's just a generational thing, I'm sure, but the point is there are still plenty of sports fans out there who will watch local sports.

The other thing to consider is our child-obsessed society. Growing up I spent every day of every summer playing baseball, and I don't believe my parents ever saw me play. As a kid, I didn't want them there anyway. But these days, parents have to attend every single game to watch their children. Don't you think those parents want to see their kids on TV as part of a local sportscast?

The perfect local sportscast provides a blend of both. Give me the highlights of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, and give families a look at their kids on the soccer field. The one thing consultants fail to address is the fact that unless you live in a major market, you can't watch local sports on ESPN.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tuesday's story ideas

China policy. Forget the toy problem, have you tried to buy anything made in this country? Or something not made in China? Find out if there's a manufacturer in your market that isn't outsourcing.

College smoke-out. Sixty campuses in the US have gone smoke free. (So much for the pipe smoking professor.) Is there one in your market? And if not, are your local colleges considering it?

Global warming diet. It promotes fruits and veggies and less red meat, since apparantly it takes a lot of enegry to process meat. And there's the energy to produce cattle feed. And of course, there's the methane from cows, but let's leave that bit of nat sound out of our packages.

Holiday gift cards. These wonderul presents are perfect for people who hate to shop, but they sometimes come with expiration dates. And a survey showed that more than a quarter of them are never used. (Pretty good profit for the stores.)

Hybrid cars are flying off the lots, but hybrid trucks are not. Are they not macho enough? Why aren't these catching on?

It takes 100 million trees to produce one year's worth of all the junk mail in this country. How can you prevent your mailbox from overflowing with this stuff? (Hint... the words "opt out" are key to this story.)

Text messaging. Incredibly hot with kids who don't speak anymore, but has resulted in "TMI" or "text messaging injuries" which includes carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. (I'm not making this up.) An entire generation of teenagers that can't hold a pen is on the horizon.

Virginia feature story. One in ten vanity plates are in your state. Must be all those members of Congress who don't live in DC.

Monday's story ideas

Veterans Day. Along with the traditional Vet's Day piece, send out a photog to do a nat sound show closer, or a musical tribute to end your newscast.

And while on the subject of veterans, you might explore the Vet's spending bill now working its way through congress. What will this mean to the average vet? Supposedly it would speed up their benefits process and take better care of those soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Which new hybrids get the best mileage? And which standard cars get better mileage than hybrids? And how well do hybruds hold their value?

Kiss off. Someone actually did a study that found some red lipsticks contain lead. Estee Lauder is now going green, using organic products in its cosmetics.

Home heating. How energy efficient are the latest Energy Stars? Is it worth it to replace your old system in light of what will surely be a very expensive winter? Do the math for your viewers.

Tax relief bill for middle class just passed. Explain it.

Congress wants a 61 cent increase in taxes on a pack of cigarettes. How much would it take for a smoker to quit?

-Share your story ideas! We'll post the good ones.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The weekend planner

If you're a reporter in search of a story on Saturday or Sunday, you know the feeling. The file is either empty or filled with craft shows and yam festivals. Any thoughts of hard news are pretty much out the window since a lot of the people you need to interview aren't available. And hoping for a story to fall in your lap is pretty lame.

Waiting until you roll into the station on Saturday morning will only get you an endless parade of standups eating funnel cakes. The key to turning good weekend stories is to plan ahead. Sometimes putting even a small part of a story in the can can turn a simple vo/sot into something more newsworthy.

Here's an example. Let's say there's going to be a Saturday festival on the beach which has just been reclaimed due to efforts of environmentalists and funding by some local government officials. You already have a pretty good idea what you'll find on Saturday; kids on rides, people eating junk food and playing carnival games. But with a little forethought, you can turn this into a hard news package. Before your friendly legislator heads to the golf course on Friday afternoon, grab a sound bite. Talk to a realtor about the fact that beachfront property is now more valuable. Pull some file tape of those tree huggers cleaning up the beach a few months ago. All of a sudden you walk into the newsroom on Saturday morning and you just need a little b-roll from the festival to set up your story. While the other reporters are asking chocolate covered kids why they love festivals, you've actually got a first block story.

Few reporters realize that Sunday's late newscast is one of the most watched of the week. It's a great opportunity to show that the news department hasn't taken the weekend off like everyone else. So, in the case of Sundays, look in Monday's file and find out what's coming up. Is someone going to file a protest about the new sewage plant in the morning? Talk to the people before they do it, and show the reasons why they're all fired up. Get the other side of the story from the city official in the can before the weekend. And call up the environmental expert during business hours and get a few facts... you might have a nice graphic for your piece.

Weekend reporting really should be a breeze, but if you don't look ahead you're making things difficult on yourself.. and much less interesting for your viewers.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Must read for producers & assignment editors

Our home backs up to the woods, and there are no other homes as far as the eye can see. Which means we get to see lots of interesting wildlife. Every once in awhile, I see a few vultures circling overhead...

And that brings us to funeral coverage.

My friend Rick Portier, a wonderful photog with whom I had the pleasure of working with several years ago, has his own blog with a recent rant about the "value" (if there is any) of the most intrusive story a field crew can do. If you've never been in the horrible position of having to "cover" a funeral, you owe it to yourself to get a shooter's point of view. And if you're a producer or assignment editor, it might make you think twice about finding another real story that actually affects people.

There are tasteful ways to do tributes, but I'll do my own monologue on this subject at a later date. For now, Rick has the floor. Check out his blog at

Yeah, I know, the name isn't the most genteel. But this is often a dirty business.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Friday's story ideas

Holiday shopping online. Will high gas prices keep more people at home to do their shopping this year?

And speaking of high gas prices... why not "telecommute" to your job? More and more people are working at home via their computers. Find someone in your market who rolls out of bed and has a ten foot commute to the laptop.

Does diet soda make you gain weight? Some studies indicate that your liver gets so tied up trying to metabolize the chemicals in diet soda that it doesn't have time to deal with the real calories...which then get stored as fat.

Internet taxable items. Ever notice that some stuff you buy on the net is taxable while other things aren't? What's the law in your market?

The Great American Smokeout is coming... but studies show that people aren't quitting any more than they did four years ago. Meanwhile, companies begin marketing "feminine" cigarettes to women.

Shopping for a mortgage. Can't be easy these days. Explore what that mysterious credit score means. Talk to a mortgage broker and find out how to improve your chances.

Reminder: Veterans Day is almost here.... have you lined up your heroes yet?

And just a thought... will department store Santas get lists of deadly toys so they don't promise them to little children?

Thursday's story ideas

It's cold, and heating your home won't be cheap this year. Find ways for people to save money on heating bills. There are the obvious ones... better windows, insulation. Electric blankets. And some you might not think about. For instance, we turn off the heat in the guest room when there are no guests. A few years ago we lived in upstate NY and my wife made these things called "window quilts" which basically put a blanket seal on the windows. Really kept the heat in.

Tainted Chinese toys. (Told you this story wasn't going away.) Apparently some are contaminated with a date rape drug. Those old fashioned games of Monopoly are starting to look awfully good for Christmas.

Directions at the gas pump. Next month pumps equipped with Google screens will be able to provide directions to lost drivers who are too proud to ask. Wives everywhere are cheering.

Ways to save gasoline. Fill up in the AM. (Gas contracts and expands with cold and heat, so theoretically you get more when you buy it cold.) Inflate your tires. Get one of those rebate credit cards. (I have one that gives 5 percent back on gas purchases, so I'm saving 15 cents a gallon.)

Calcium alternative to milk. Since moo juice is so pricey these days, some are turning to veggies for calcium. Turns out stuff like spinach has more calcium than milk. Who knew?

New study shows women don't quit smoking because they are afraid of getting fat.

Your school got an "F" but your child gets straight A's. Parents are worried that kids coming from low rated schools will have a tough time getting into college. Admissions people say they consider a school's reputation, but ultimately look at the kid's performance. Check with the local institutions of higher learning in your market.

Hey, belated thanks to Chris for helping me set up this blog. For those of us more comfortable with typewriters & carbon paper, computers are still scary. (In other words, need help... ask someone younger.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Phone etiquette and infinite loop menus

I call various newsrooms quite often, and I am always amazed (in this supposed era of high technology) how long it takes before I can talk to a human being. I've noticed many stations have gone the automated route. "You've reached Channel Whatever. If you have your party's extension, dial it now. For sales, dial 1. For programming, dial 2. For this week's NFL games, dial 3. For our mailing address, dial 4. If you have a breaking news tip and haven't hung up in frustration, call the newsroom at this number..."

Or you dial the newsroom and it rings...and rings...and rings. Especially in the evening. Sometimes no one answers.

I find it amazing that stations which desperately want exclusives make it so hard for viewers to contribute them. That one caller who gives up out of frustration might have the story of the year.

Then, there's the often lifeless monotone you hear when someone does pick up the phone and says, "newsroom" as if speaking from death row. Sometimes I wonder if I've reached the staff cyborg who no longer wants to be human.

If you're an ND, check out your current system and simplify it. If you work in the newsroom, you need to jump whenever the phone rings and answer as though you actually care. "Action packed news, this is John, may I help you?" Let the viewers know you're interested, and you'll be the first one they'll call when they have something good.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wednesday's story ideas

Tax credis for hybrids. With oil near $100 per barrel, people are thinking more about hybrids. Credits vary according to the make & model. Which car gets you the most back from the IRS? (Meanwhile, anyone out there driving a hybrid news car?)

You Tube Election? More and more candidates are advertising online and raising money that way. Might be interesting to look back at this week's election and see which successful candidates used the Internet effectively. Supposedly John McCain gets three dollars back for every dollar he spends on the net.

Online airfare war. Priceline cuts its booking fee... will others follow suit? This has gotta hurt travel agents even more.

Health story. With the time change and people getting less sunlight, you get less Vitamin D naturally. Should people take supplements?

Save the earth; eat more chocolate. Apparently someone figured out that the byproducts of chocolate production can be turned into a bio fuel. Fill'er up with Hershey's, please.

Just an observation... haven't seen a kid on a bicycle in quite awhile. Have parents become such chauffeurs that kids don't ride bikes anymore? Will high gas prices make parents encourage their little darlings to provide their own transportation?

Writer's strike. So what will people do without TV? (Oh my, will kids actually go outside and play? Will people pick up a book and read?) What industries stand to gain?

Sports story (for later on in sweeps.) The NFL network is carried primarily by satellite companies, and two big games loom on the horizon. Dallas-Green Bay on November 29th, and Giants-Patriots on the final week of the season. Be interesting if the Pats had a perfect season and hardly anyone could see it. There's a move to get people to cancel their cable and switch to satellite.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tuesday's story ideas

Exploding comet visible to the naked eye. Just something neat to tell your viewers. Send a photog out at night to shoot it. Talk to local astronomer.

Flight delays. Even though the on-time rate improved in the most recent report, it's still nothing to write home about. Do a consumer piece on how to avoid delays. (Take the first flight, book only non-stops when you can, use regional airports instead of major hubs when you can.)

Health piece. Lung cancer gene identified.

Tech story. Google to release its own phone. Will it rival the I-Phone, and how might it be different?

Bush threatens farm bill veto. How will this affect agriculture in your market?

Hiding the hearing loss stigma. New hearing aids are starting to look remarkably like those wireless cell phone earpieces. Will this make younger people who might not want a hearing aid change their minds? And while you're at it, why are so many young people experiencing hearing loss?

Classes for divorcing parents. With so many children having to deal with shared custody, some communities are offering counseling on raising kids as normally as possible.

Don't flush unused meds. Due to environmental concerns, some communities are implementing programs that allow citizens to turn in their leftover prescription drugs.

Got a story idea? Share it with the rest of the class.


Dear Grapevine,

Is it true that no one gets hired during sweeps? I've got my tape ready to go but don't want it sitting on a News Director's desk for a month. Should I wait?


Dear Promptergirl,

People do occasionally find jobs during sweeps, but the hiring process generally gets put on hold. In the case of November, you can often add December into the mix as people get caught up in the holidays. However, NDs will sometimes start looking in December to hire in January. Start of a new year, new budget, and they're getting ready for February sweeps.

I'd wait till the end of this book before sending out tapes, unless you see an actual job opening.

Dear Sir,

I'll keep this short and sweet. How do I find a good agent?


Dear J.D.,

I'll keep this short and simple. Talk to their clients. You can ask an agent for references, or check those "moving on" notices on, which usually list representation.

A good agent is accessible, excited about your talent, and one with a good track record.

And by the way, getting an agent is no guarantee of getting a job. Agents get your foot in the door, but your tape still has to make the short list.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Monday's story ideas

Well, it's green week on NBC, so if you work for an affiliate you might as well localize it. Do something at your station to save energy. (Hardwire all the mikes. Do all the standups in sunlight. Turn off the lights in the editing booths. Find a story you can do without using a news car. Ditch the curling iron. Don't do meaningless live shots for your late newscast where nothing is going on.) Challenge your viewers to do something as well.

Election preps. If you're in a market that has elections this year, check out the candidates' last minute tactics. Are phone banks out of vogue since the arrival of the "do not call" list? Are candidates still going door to door?

Time change walkers. Get this... people who walk after dinner are three times more likely to be killed by a car during standard time. Because it's... uh... dark. So wear bright colors or something reflective.

Holiday airline travel. Booked your flight for Turkey Day yet? Check out the rates. Yikes. My usual $250 flight to NYC is close to $500 this year. Check with a travel agent to help find what few bargains might be out there.

Internet cigarette bill. A congressman will introduce a bill today to ban tax-free Internet cigarette sales. A study showed that some terrorist organizations have used this tactic to raise money.

With all the phobia about killer germs these days, are schools changing their cleaning regimen? How are school nurses keeping up? FYI, children are being taught not to sneeze into their hands, but their elbows.

(Thanks to Georgia Gal for that idea.)

Got some good story ideas? Share 'em.

You can learn a lot from A-Rod

If you're a sports fan, you no doubt know the story of Alex Rodriguez, who decided to "opt out" of a contract with the Yankees. Obviously, he and his agent felt they could do better than the 81 million left on his deal.

The problem was the way they conducted business. Regardless of whether they get more money, A-Rod has taken a major hit in the image department. The average fan wonders, "How much is enough?" It brings to mind the line in the movie Wall Street, when Charlie Sheen asks Michael Douglas, "How many yachts can you water ski behind?"

How does greed relate to television? Well, sometimes overestimating your worth can cost you. And sometimes an agent can push a little too hard.

It recalls a story I heard awhile ago from an anchor who had been in a market for many years. The anchor's agent was negotiating a new contract, and apparently asked for so much money and so many perks that the News Director rescinded what, looking back, was a very good offer. The anchor ended up having to move to another market, and made less money.

The lesson here is two-fold. First, no one is irreplaceable. Second, if you have an agent, make sure you are both on the same page.

When I was an ND, I dealt with very nice agents and those who wanted to play hardball. At one point a hardball agent was asking for so much, and with an attitude that his client was the only person in the universe who could do the job. Finally, I got tired of dealing with someone who wasn't even open to negotiation and hired someone else.

As for your own personal value, well, it is always subjective. But if you're going to play high stakes poker, you'd better be ready in case the station calls your bluff.

I once worked with an anchor who thought she was worth a small fortune and decided to go over the head of the ND and demand a large raise from the GM. The ND had told her (honestly) that such a raise wasn't in the budget, but she marched down the hall to the GM's office and said, "I need to make twenty thousand dollars more next year."

The GM, replying with one of the better lines I've ever heard from management, said, "Then get a second job."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday's story ideas

Funeral protests... this story isn't going away. Keep an eye out for First Amendment stories. When does the right to free speech cross the line?

Speaking of which, Don Imus signed a contract yesterday and returns in December to NY radio (maybe TV.)

How to "get out" of a foreclosure... the legal process of a foreclosure can be long and painful... sometimes you can make a deal with your lender to sell your home for less than you actually owe, because it will save the lender time & money in the long run.

Changing leaves. If you haven't shot 'em yet, Friday's a good day for a photo essay with some music. (Though not much you can do with falling pine needles if you live in the South.)

Flu shots....why is getting one STILL a hard sell with influenza being the sixth leading cause of death among American adults?

Time change this weekend. We're gaining an hour, but will that mess up our internal clocks. And what about our moods taking a tumble with less light in the fall and winter months. Are we candidates for SAD or "seasonal affective disorders?"

Last two story ideas from "Cleveland Annie"... thanks.

FYI, eventually we would like this to be a clearinghouse of story ideas. So feel free to send yours and share.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thursday's story ideas

Lethal injection too inhumane? When I first heard this story, my first reaction was, "So they'd rather go back to the electric chair?" This is a water cooler story.

Fed rate cut yesterday. How does this affect your market?

Foreclosures jump.... if you've got the cash, how do you find a bargain in this buyer's market?

Truckers drug tests. The government says it is too easy to cheat.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Holy ballot box, Batman, it's election day!

It happens every year at many stations. Elections sneak up on unprepared anchors and turn liberal Democrats into card-carrying Republicans. At least that's what the viewers hear.

Yeah, it's an off-year election, but there are races here and there.

And if you're an anchor, nothing exposes a weakness like Election Night. You're flying without a net, numbers are being thrown at you fast and furious... and if you don't know a thing about politics you end up with a stumbling monologue of mispronounced names, wrong political parties and a deep longing for Mapquest on the set.

If you're anchoring an Election Night broadcast next week, start preparing now. Learn the players, know which candidates are the incumbents, be familiar with the districts, and actually do some research. Make some flash cards with interesting tidbits about each candidate.

Prep now and your election night will be a breeze.

You're in sweeps every day

Happy first days of sweeps. Ok, everybody panic.

That's right, viewers at home who generally watch one station will suddenly slap themselves in the forehead after seeing a promo called "Stairway to Death" and yell, "Wow! You can die on an escalator! We'd better watch the other station!"

In reality, sweeps were over and won or lost months ago.

Viewers are slow to change their viewing habits. They grow comfortable with a newscast because it delivers what they want every day, not just during three twenty-eight-day periods each year.

Yes, everybody does special series or single stories designed to lure the viewer during these crucial months, but these days viewers are wise to those old tricks. They may tune in for a story or two, but chances are they'll go back to their comfort zone. And with everyone doing the same thing, most sweeps stunts cancel themselves out.

You wanna move that comfort zone and win February sweeps? Don't give your viewers garbage in December and January when everyone else does. Break some big stories and be the only game in town. That's how you get people to sample your product.

And here's a wild concept... promote them with the same effort you do during sweeps.

Every war is won or lost before it is fought.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wednesday's story ideas

Fed rate cut... will they or won't they. It's decision day. Find out what it means, especially to home sales in your market.

Hollywood writers set to go on strike... and all because you young people like to watch shows on your computer and cell phone. Someone's making extra money here and it isn't the noble writer. Could see a ton of reality shows if the strike goes on a while.

Mystery shopping. It's becoming more popular as consumers get free stuff and a few bucks while companies get the info they need.

The "superbug"... what is MRSA and can it affect anyone?

And of course it's Halloween. Though in the last few years some girls who have come to our door look as though they should be accompanied by a public defender. Someone has written a book titled Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank. (I'm not making this up.) Might be interesting for the night crews to find a few girls dressed as Paris or Britney... and find out what parents think of this trend.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tuesday's story ideas

Halloween moved? Turns out Wednesday nite is a church nite in the Bible Belt and some towns have moved Trick-or-Treat up or back a day.

Gas prices. Oil is more than $90 per barrel but gas prices haven't moved much. Can someone explain this?

Holiday toys. OK, I know it's early but the Christmas decorations are in the stores already. So what's a parent to do when most of the toys are made in China? Are people worried those building blocks might have lead based paint?

New children's health bill. I've looked at it, and to me it looks like an income tax form. Find someone to explain it in English. And it appears the benefits vary by state. How much would it mean to a family in your market?

Looking ahead... Veterans Day is just around the corner. Line up your vets and get them in the can now, so you don't have to go scrambling at the last minute.

Monday's story ideas

-How to sell a house when you can’t sell a house. Many people are turning to the auction process. Explain how it works, and what you might expect.

-High energy costs for winter. Many people are cutting their usage by installing “on demand” water heaters. Put together a consumer piece on this green product that is becoming very popular.

-Time change. The government has pushed the time change back to November this year, which has some school kids going to the bus stop in the dark. Sounds a bit dangerous. What do parents & legislators think of this?

-Halloween feature. Just about everyone has bought a pumpkin by now, so what’s left? What happens to the ugly, homeless pumpkins nobody wants?

Looking ahead: sweeps start in a few days, so keep an eye out for stories that might play well with network shows. For instance, if your parent network is airing a movie about adoption, you might do a localized piece on the same topic for the late newscast. Check your networks sweeps rundown.