Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Grape's fearless 2009 predictions

As I gaze into my crystal ball I ask what lies ahead for the broadcast industry for the coming year. Clouds form, but begin to thin out, and give me a clear picture of what you can expect in 2009...

-The industry will finally "bottom out" and begin to recover. Layoffs will slow, the economy will recover (more about that in a moment) and purse strings will begin to loosen up. And more important, stations will start hiring again.

-The economy will recover beginning January 21st. All those media people who wanted a certain person in the White House and pounded the general public with gloom and doom economic stories... well, those people want to keep that certain person in the White House. Slowly, subtly, positive economic stories will find their way onto the networks. The good feeling will trickle down to the broadcast industry. (Ironic, though, how those negative economic stories came back to bite those in the industry in the form of layoffs.)

-More and more young people will break into large markets as middle-aged veterans get out of the business. There will never be greater opportunities for someone with limited experience... but you'll still need a ton of talent. In other words, don't be afraid to send a tape anywhere in 2009.

-February 17th will be a day you want to take off. When that digital switch hits, everything will hit the fan, and George Carlin's Flying Mongolian Cluster will become reality. Every senior citizen who can't tune in The Price is Right or Murder She Wrote reruns will call your station to complain. I pity the engineers who work that day.

-Some stations will finally realize one-man-bands are the wrong way to go and ditch the concept. Others will hold onto it like grim death, along with their lousy ratings. (But the bean counters will be happy.)

-A few major market stations will experiment with one-man-bands. The Mets will also try to go through another season without a legitimate second baseman. Both experiments will fail miserably.

-A network morning show producer will get hit by a revelation that half the people on the planet are men and don't care for daily stories about purses and shoes.

-More major market stations will try using a few freelance reporters. If you can live without benefits or have a spouse who provides them, here's your chance for a foot in the door.

-RTNDA will have an incredibly low turnout.

-(I hope I'm wrong about this one.) Some idiot local anchor will get a DUI. Anchor will then offer a mea culpa saying, "I made an error in judgment." (Note: painting your kitchen the wrong color is an error in judgment. Getting behind the wheel while drunk is just plain stupid.) Anchor will not be fired, as GM will announce, "Our anchor has received an outpouring of support from the community, and we're going to help our anchor get through this." (Note to GMs: three emails from barflies does not constitute an "outpouring of support.") Station will turn anchor's "recovery" into a sweeps series.

-Men wearing vests will be the hot new trend for guys.

-Women not dying their hair will be the hot new trend for gals.

-Stations will start putting interns on the air. (In some markets, that could be an improvement.)

-More sports guys will start joining the news department, as the shortage of male newscasters continues.

-Some stations will actually cut down on the number of newscasts, as a smaller staff and higher DVR use will dictate changes. Also, because in some markets, there's simply not enough news to fill all the slots with a smaller staff.

-Noon newscasts will begin to die a slow, grisly (well deserved) death.

-More consultants will be typing their own resumes.

-And until you can pry his laptop from his cold, dead fingers, the Grape will continue to offer advice and tick off News Directors by revealing secrets of management. (And now that I'm talking about myself in the third person, I guess I have to run for office.)

Finally, a serious note. Can we get through one New Year's Eve without some news person getting a DUI and seeing their mugshot on the Internet? Please, if you're going out drinking, put the phone number of a cab company in your cell phone and spend ten bucks to get home safely and not endanger other innocent people. Or be the designated driver. You can have a Happy New Year without being stupid.

That said, best to all of you in 2009. I look forward to hearing your success stories.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thank you, Houston, for proving my point

Some of the websites devoted to television news have been burning up the last day or so with comments about a reporter hired right out of college to work in Houston. This person is not one of my clients, I have never spoken to her, and unless she's one of the dozens of people who send anonymous questions to the Grapevine, I haven't corresponded.

But she proved that it pays to send a tape anywhere.

Many comments touched on the fact that dues were not paid and experience was not earned. While people traditionally work in smaller markets and move up the ladder, some people are just naturals at this business. I have no idea why the ND in Houston hired this woman. Maybe she fits what he or she was looking for. Maybe she had tremendous potential. Maybe she has "IT" in capital letters. Maybe she's just flat out smart. Some people are just really good right out of the gate. I've seen tapes from college with packages that are better than the ones I see from twenty year veterans. Some people just have a natural gift that defies all tradition. So why did she get the job?

Doesn't matter. She had the guts to apply for the job and got it.

Are the people complaining jealous, or just mad at themselves for not sending a tape to Houston?

I have a few clients who have so much talent I would bet the mortgage that they will end up in major markets or at a network. Yet I still have to twist arms to get them to go to the post office. (And you guys know who you are!)

If this Houston hire doesn't serve as a wake up call to all of you, it should.

And please, don't hate this poor woman. Would you, in the same position, tell the ND, "Oh, you shouldn't hire me. I need to go off and pay my dues."

Maybe she'll be a star, maybe she'll be out of the business in a few years. The point is, you all need to follow her lead and send tapes to any opening you see.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Video wallpaper

We're putting up wallpaper today. Wallpaper always looks spectacular when you first put it up, then as time goes by it fades into the background. In a year or two I won't even be able to tell you what it looks like, even though I'll see it every day.

Newscasts run the risk of being video wallpaper as well. When you look at the same thing day after day, you don't really "see" anymore. It fades into the background.

Doing the same stories every day creates video wallpaper for your newscast. If you are constantly chasing the scanner, running crime stories that affect no one, or talking to officials instead of people, you can send your viewers into a kind of hypnosis. Ever get to the end of a newscast (as a viewer, not a news person) and forget the stories you've just watched? That's video wallpaper.

Seen one car wreck, you've seen them all. Fires? Flames are flames. Same goes with crime. (Is there any video more boring than that associated with a bank robbery? A closed door with police tape. Riveting. Yet an anchor makes it sound like the end of the world.) Same with talking heads.

If you don't want to send your viewers into a hypnotic trance, you need to mix things up. Stop covering the things that always look the same, and dig up some real stories.

Oh yeah, this applies to resume tapes as well. If I see another resume tape that begins with a car wreck or a murder, well...

I forgot what I was going to say. Guess I went into a trance.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

No such thing as a meaningless story

This afternoon, my New York Giants play a meaningless football game. The outcome has no bearing on their position in the playoffs. Their goal is simple; don't let anyone get hurt.

TV is a little different. There's no such thing as a meaningless story.

This time of year the phrase, "No one is watching" is heard in every station. Ratings bear out that viewership is down during the holidays, and the scenario feeds on itself. Networks put garbage on the air, so why should anyone watch? Trust me, this year, more than ever, people are home watching television because they don't want to go out and spend money.

And when everyone else is phoning it in, it creates a perfect opportunity for you to knock out some great work. A great package can stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of stories that have no life.

Who's watching? You never know. You may be working in Podunk but might not know that a big market ND is from the same town and visiting his mother. So he turns on the TV to check out the local news and sees... you doing a great package.

A GM is driving cross country and stops in a hotel in your market, turns on the TV and sees... you.

I'm willing to bet the people who work in Las Vegas give 110 percent the week that RTNDA is in town. They're just hoping someone will spot them. Because lots of people are in town who could change their lives.

Someone is always watching. Make sure when someone who can change your life is watching, you're out there doing your best.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Time to gear up for the job hunt

If you're like me you're probably sitting around in a sugar coma watching the NFL all weekend.

But if you're looking for a job, you should be getting your stuff in the mail right now, or at least getting it ready for the post office.

Once the holidays are over next week, News Directors will have to deal with changes. Some people will make New Year's resolutions to get out of the business. Some may just quit or move to another station.

And there's that nice little bonus (thanks to television Armageddon, coming February 17th) of an extended job hunting season, since they've moved the February book to March. Two months instead of one. Talk about an after-Christmas bargain.

Note the poll on the right of this page? I expected a few people in the "yes" column but not such a high percentage. So bury the fear and get those tapes ready. Then actually put them in the mail.

Hockey great Wayne Gretsky once said, "You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take."

So take your shots in 2009.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Mailbag: Is PBS reporting good for my career?

Grape,

I recently saw an ad for a reporting job with a PBS station. Your opinion?

-Penny for your thoughts

Dear Penny,

Well, there's an old saying about public broadcasting. "Years of planning interrupted by an occasional program."

A few things about PBS. There are no ratings to worry about because you're a government employee. There are also very few viewers. Miss a deadline? Eh, whatever.

You're also a government employee who probably has more job security than anyone else right now.

If you like taking your time with your work, it might be for you. If you want the true energy of a real newsroom, fuhgeddaboudit.

And trying to move to a commercial station might be a lot harder down the road.

One final thought... if our new president truly goes "line by line" through the budget, how viable is PBS? Once it was needed, but do we really find it necessary anymore? Congress might decide to let PBS fend for itself.


Grapevine,

I just took a new job but literally cannot stand my co-anchor. I've got to survive for three years with this guy, and he acts like I don't deserve the job. (I have much less experience than he does, but I have enough.) He obviously wanted someone else for a partner. Any suggestions?

-New kid

Dear New Kid,

Well, it always helps to just prove yourself. Get off the anchor desk and go knock out a few world class packages. Help the producer as much as you can. Show him you belong.

If that fails, you need a sit down with the ND.


Dear Grape,

I note that you critique tapes for your business, and while I have the usual reporting tape, I am also an accomplished singer. Should I put a few clips of myself singing at the end of my resume tape?

-The Voice

Dear Voice,

Do I look like Paula Abdul to you?

Seriously, go head and slap it on the end. I guess it doesn't hurt for a station to be able to send an on-camera person out to sing the national anthem.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Have a great day, and remember...

In order for the "pay it forward" concept to work, someone has to start it.

There are a lot of good people out of work today. Don't forget them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bells and whistles

The Christmas Eve dinner is the event of the year for old Italians. It's known as the "Feast of the Seven Fishes" and features seven different kinds of seafood. It is my favorite dinner, trumping Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You can go to a seafood buffet, but there are a lot of things that make the Christmas Eve feast unique. It's the bells and whistles. The decorated tree and Christmas music in the background. My hilarious aunts arguing over whether the fictional doctors on ER are better than the ones on Chicago Hope. The parade of desserts after dinner when you sit down to watch a Christmas movie. Everyone gets to open one present on Christmas Eve. It's those little bells and whistles that make this night more than just a seafood buffet.

I know at this point you're waiting for the television analogy, so here goes. Are there bells and whistles in your work? Is your package just a bunch of sound bites and voice track, or have you added the flavor provided by nat sound, music, graphics, clever writing, a solid anchor intro? Is your resume tape montage a bunch of similar standups, or have you varied your locations, styles, and types of stories?

I can buy you a Christmas gift and put it in a brown paper bag. Or I can find a nice box, glittery wrapping paper, a pretty bow and a cute tag. If you see both under the tree, which one do you pick?

Television, like life, is all about bells and whistles. Make everything you do interesting, but add some spice. Be different, be daring, try new things.

Think about it... we call a television story a "package" for good reason. Wrap it up in an attractive way that makes the viewer excited and want to open it first like the prettiest Christmas gift under the tree.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Something that many of you need to find in your Christmas stocking

I watch a lot of resume tapes. I see reporters chase down murderers coming out of court without fear. I see reporters knocking on the doors of victims without a conscience. I see spunky, take-no-prisoners reporters who act bulletproof during one hundred mile per hour winds.

And I talk to reporters who turn to jelly when it comes to job hunting. For whatever reason these journalists without fear act as though they've seen a mouse and have to jump on the table.

You know how many resume tapes I've watched over the years? Probably in the thousands. You know how many I remember that I didn't like?

None.

Here are some of the comments I hear when people are reluctant to send a tape:

-Will the ND think badly of me if I start my tape with this kind of story?

-Will the ND think I'm not experienced enough if I don't have enough live shots?

-Will the ND think I'm stupid for applying for this job?

Here's a newsflash. There are no "resume tape police" who are going to hunt you down if you send a bad tape, a tape that shows rookie mistakes, a tape that shows a lack of experience, or a tape that has editing mistakes.... or a tape the ND, for whatever reason, didn't like. I'm guessing that a lot of you think a News Director sits there with a clipboard and watches each tape carefully, then jots down notes on every one that gets ejected like this:

"Oooooh... Joe Reporter didn't have a walking standup in his montage. Let me write down his name so I'll never, ever hire him."

That sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn't it? The point is, NDs whip through tapes pretty fast. The ones they like get put aside. The ones they don't are forgotten. Forever. If your tape got ejected and you sent another tape three months later, the ND won't even remember that you sent one before... and more importantly... won't care. The only thing that matters is your work at the present time. Not what you looked like six months ago, not that you were a raw rookie two years ago, not that you changed your hairstyle since your last tape.

News Directors only remember the people they like, even if they like them just a little.

So, you have NOTHING TO LOSE by sending a tape to any job opening, do you?

Look at the good things that can happen if you send a tape.

-You can get the job.

-You can make the short list and get the next opening.

-The ND moves to another job and has you in mind for an opening at his or her new station.

-The ND might not hire you, but passes your tape on to another ND who might.

-The ND sees talent that needs to be developed and tells you to keep in touch. You might get a job in the future.

-You stop playing the "what if" game, as in "what if I had sent a tape?" (This always happens when you read that a person in your market got the job that you thought you weren't qualified for.)

So I'm hoping to put a big dose of job hunting confidence in your Christmas stocking. Send the tapes. Everywhere. You have absolutely nothing to lose but two bucks in postage. Nothing bad will happen.

Only good can happen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why you didn't get the job

I have a big whiteboard in my office, with the names of clients, their locations, and where they want to go. Some are extremely talented; some are raw, but growing by leaps and bounds.

This year some got jobs, some are still looking. Is there a common denominator? Nope.

I know that many of you are frustrated as we come to the close of the year. Your goal may have been to get out of dodge by 2009 and you might still be there. We have just gone through a truly bizarre year, filled with layoffs, cutbacks, and every cost cutting measure you can think of. But things run in cycles, and it will turn around.

Still, none of that may have had an effect on jobs for which you applied that were filled. You may have been the most talented, you may have had a kick-butt tape, but you still didn't get the job.

While we can file many of these under "life is not fair" there may be other reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your work, or you.

-You're not what the ND is looking for. The ad may read "equal opportunity employer" but in many cases the station has a target demographic in mind. They may want a female anchor to pair with their male anchor who has blonde hair, so if you're a blonde woman you're out of luck. They may want a bi-lingual male and you're a woman who only speaks English. They may want a female meteorologist and you're a guy. They may want old and you're young, or young and you're old. You can be the wrong age, sex, ethnic background, you name it. In other words, sometimes you're not in consideration before you send the tape. And you'll never know, because any ND who reveals something like this will get himself sued.

-You live too far away. Okay, so I'm an ND and I've got two equally talented reporters. One lives down the street and the other lives three thousand miles away. I pay no moving expenses with the local reporter, so that's the one I choose.

-You're not as versatile. You were the best reporter but someone else can fill in on weather or sports.

-Someone else will work cheaper than you will.

-You made a phone call when the ad specifically read, "No phone calls." I know a few NDs who will not consider anyone who cannot follow simple directions.

-The timing of your contract didn't work, and someone else's was perfect.

-The ND doesn't think you'd make a good fit in the newsroom. Maybe the whole place is Ivy League and you're blue collar, or the other way around.

-This one will make you mad. You're too talented, and therefore you'll leave in a year or two. Maybe the local reporter with no big market ambition will stay forever.

-You're single and easier to relocate than someone who is married with kids. Or you're single and therefore more likely to move on than someone who is married with kids.

Are you getting the point? It's like someone breaking up and saying, "It's not you, it's me." Many times there is absolutely nothing wrong with you or your tape. The stars simply didn't align. So don't beat yourself up trying to re-think every single rejection, because in many cases you weren't really rejected... you were never in consideration. There is a big difference.

That's why I continue to tell you to send tapes everywhere. It is truly a numbers game. The more hooks in the water, the better chance you have.

The "Do Not Call" list

Rule number one of job hunting: Send the tape and fuhgeddaboudit.

Yes, as news people we're told to always follow up and be aggressive. But in the case of job hunting, it is best to send it and forget it. News Directors get dozens of interruptions each day, and they don't include the phrase "No phone calls" in jobs listings without a reason.

The only time to call a ND is if you are instructed to. Otherwise, no calls, no nagging emails, candygrams, etc. I know that waiting can be painful, but a call isn't going to speed up the process.

And if that's not enough to make you stop, consider this. If you are in consideration for a job, every time you call your price will go down. You'll be seen as desperate, and then a ND will know you can be gotten on the cheap.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah!

Best to all my Jewish friends today!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Are you miscast?

In the annals of Hollywood, it is generally accepted that the most miscast movie in history is Guys and Dolls. That's the one in which some producer hired Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando for the film, then gave Sinatra the talking part and Brando the singing part.

Last night we sat down to watch Mamma Mia. (Cut me some slack here... all New York men love musicals.) Anyway, as the movie starts I'm looking at the DVD box and note that it stars Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. So I'm naturally assuming that they must have talking parts in the movie.

Nope. Now Streep is a wonderful actress and Brosnan's James Bond beats the heck out of the new guy, but when these two sang a duet...

Mamma Mia.

If my cat Bella had sharpened her claws on a blackboard it would have sounded better.

I'm sure both Streep and Brosnan took the roles because they were a nice change of pace and a lot of fun. And that brings me to my point.

Have you tried everything in this business? Since a lot of you are re-thinking a career in broadcasting, perhaps you're being a bit too narrow minded in your planning.

Over the years I've done just about everything, from morning show weather (worst shift in TV) to play-by-play (best gig ever.) But for about ten years I did nothing but features, and then when consultants decided that no one wanted to watch features anymore, I was stuck. I had, effectively, pigeon-holed myself.

These days versatility is very marketable. People who can do more than one thing are valuable to a News Director. You may like what you do, but there might be something out there you like even better... and you might even be better at it.

Let's say your reporting career is going nowhere after five years but you're known as the best writer in the newsroom. Perhaps you need to try producing. Or the weekend weatherman quits and the ND can't find a suitable replacement. Throw your hat in the ring and give it a shot. Or maybe you've always wondered if you'd be a decent anchor but there are never any openings; ask the ND if you can do the morning cut-ins.

The point is, lots of people will have to be flexible in the coming years. You may have wanted to just be a street reporter all your life, but you owe it to yourself to explore all aspects of the business. And trust me, this will give you a lot more options if one of those pink slips ever lands on your desk.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mailbag: Second Thoughts

Grape,

My station laid off a few people earlier this month. They decided to cancel the morning show, which I produced. I can't help but feel slighted after putting in over a year working the "graveyard shift" and being a trooper through some tough times. I literally lived there during Hurricane Gustav, which hit our market pretty hard. This lay-off has me taking a hard look at myself and my future in journalism. What do you recommend for someone who feels they've been knocked down a peg?

-Concerned

Dear Concerned,

Well, you're not alone, but I'm sure that doesn't make you feel any better or secure. But hey, you could be a realtor or a car salesman.

Seriously, lots of people out there are re-thinking the future of the business, and as I've said before, people of my generation (those who can't do anything with a cell phone except make calls) are getting out of the business.

First, you young people need to understand there is no loyalty anymore in this business or any other. Your immediate boss may be loyal, but he or she is always at the mercy of the parent company and bean counters. You must always watch out for yourself, always have an "escape tape" at home that's ready to send out.

That said, there is a future in this business for the very talented, but the money is not going to be what it once was. More important, you also have to ask yourself about your dream. Do you want to work in television because it is a "glamour job" or do you truly burn to be part of the journalistic process? While sitting in the producer's chair, do you get a "rush" when your newscast starts and leave with a natural high when it ends? And finally, what are the alternatives... can another career fulfill you in that way? I know plenty of people who have gone into PR and been bored out of their minds writing one press release per month.

One thing in your favor; producers (good ones, anyway) are still in great demand. If you can write well, put a great show together, and work well with a team you'll find a job.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why "no comment" can be a great sound bite

You'd think that after years of dealing with television cameras that politicians would "get it" when it comes to dodging questions.

Nope. They actually think that "no comment" sends the reporter away with nothing. In reality, many sound bites without substance can speak volumes.

Here's something they didn't teach you in college... some sound bites don't need any words. They sure don't need any facts. And they don't need any answers to your question.

Case in point: Did you catch Obama's exchange with a reporter when talking about the Illinois Governor? Obama said, "I don't want you to waste your question," to the reporter. What he really said was, "I don't want to answer your question," and he didn't, but his tone, his body language, and the fact that he dodged the question was the "sound bite" that played everywhere. Good reporters smell blood in the water when they see things like this. Many times a non-answer is better than a real answer, as it was in this case. And every politician, Republican and Democrat, does this. It maybe the one non-partisan agreement in Congress.

I look back at the time I was assigned to ask a gubernatorial candidate about an extramarital affair (which turned out to be true) knowing full well I wouldn't get an answer. And I didn't get one. But his physical reaction (the death stare, twitchy lip that Elvis would envy) told viewers all they needed to know.

Got a tough question you know won't be answered? Ask it anyway. Chances are you'll get a "sound bite" that could be the money shot in your package.

The hot trend for 2009: Consumer Reporters

Yesterday I went to the store and bought the following items:
-Gallon of milk
-Can of Progresso soup
-Colgate Toothpaste
-Two bottles of Ajax dish soap
The total for this shopping extravaganza was $1.36.

You read that right: one dollar and thirty-six cents.

How did I do it? Clever use of coupons. I've been doing that since I was a kid.

Then it hit me. What has been sorely missing from local newscasts are franchise reporters. Specifically, consumer reporters.

The woman behind me in the checkout line had her jaw drop when she saw what my total was. But I wasn't using any government secret to save money. In reality, most consumers aren't terribly well educated in the art of saving money on basic stuff. While clipping coupons is pretty basic, there are all sorts of ways to cut costs, from re-financing a mortgage to using credit card reward programs.

If you're a general assignment reporter, you might start reading the money sections of newspapers along with consumer magazines. You see, viewers vote with their pocketbooks on election day, and they often do the same when it comes to local news. Show a viewer how to save a buck, and you've probably got a loyal viewer.

I truly believe we'll see a rise in consumer reports in 2009, and that means stations will need reporters who are well versed in the field. If you aren't, start reading. Interest rates are about to hit the lowest levels in history and that will have all sorts of effects on everyday life.

It's great to be a solid GA reporter, but throwing a clever consumer piece in the middle of your resume tape might give you an edge next year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas gifts for TV people

You know how some people are just impossible to buy for? Especially those people who really don't deserve a gift?

Well, fear not, the Grape has compiled a list of last minute gift ideas for TV people. If you were unlucky enough to draw the name of someone you despise in the Secret Santa game, here are some suggestions arranged by job title:

News Director: What ND wouldn't love to have a consultant at his or her beck and call 24 hours a day? That's why the "Bob the Consultant" action figure is the perfect gift. Just pull the string in the back and hear such tired cliches as, "You need a higher story count" or, "Do at least five live shots in every newscast even if there's nothing going on" and the all-time classic, "You need to do some research." Batteries not included, must deposit one thousand dollars into base of doll every ten days with no way of ever getting it back. Smoke blowing feature optional.

Lazy Anchor: Tired of your anchor taking two hour dinner breaks? Well, you need the "Dinner Break" watch. During the day it looks and operates like any other timepiece, but between the hours of 6:30pm and 8:30pm it runs at double speed. Imagine the surprise when your anchor returns to the station at 7:30 thinking it is really 8:30!

Logistics Challenged Producer: If you're a photog, you'd probably just buy a producer a map so he or she could know exactly how long it takes to get from point A to point B. Now with the "Time-Shifter GPS" a producer can be tricked into giving you the time you need. Simply plug in any destination, and the GPS will add 20 miles, thereby giving you plenty of time to get to your story. It also factors in 15 extra minutes to counteract any order to "drop whatever you're doing" so you have time to actually break down and pack your gear.

Consultant: No more templates telling stations how to run a newscast. Simply present your consultant with the new "Television Magic 8-Ball" which is just like the one you had as a kid, only it's filled with appropriate advice. The consultant can simply ask the 8-ball a question, shake it, turn it over, and wait for results like "more graphics" "less graphics" "more live shots" or "fewer live shots."

Photog: Tired of hearing how stressful it is to eat in the car? Now you can present your favorite photog with the "Steering Wheel TV Tray" which clamps onto the steering wheel and has plenty of room for an eight piece place setting. Charger plates optional. He'll feel right at home!

Bean Counter: Now you can drive these people nuts with the crystal canister of "500 colorful beans." But the dirty little secret here is that there are only 499 beans in the jar. Guaranteed to provide hours of fun as they count the beans again and again while thinking they've gone nuts!

Assignment Editor: Do you have one of those AEs who wouldn't know a good story if it hit him in the face? You need "Scanner Block." Just activate the device within 100 feet of the assignment editor and it will knock out the scanner, forcing him to assign real stories!

Reporter: Are you a photog who has to deal with a prima donna reporter? Now you can make their lives miserable too. The "Tripod Enhancer" is an easily concealed device that fits just under the tripod head, yet adds an extra 20 pounds of weight. Imagine the joy you'll experience watching your favorite reporter lug the equivalent of an anvil up a steep hill!

Well, that's it for this catalog. Of course, if you're still stuck for an idea, you can always buy the Grape's book. Links are on the right side of this page. Hint, hint...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The 2009 crystal ball

While the Grape will make his own fearless predictions on New Year's Eve, you are invited to send your prognostications as well. What's in store for the industry? Will the business turn around, go in a different direction? Will stories about the economy magically turn positive after inauguration day? Will stations finally realize one-man-bands don't work, or will the bean counters win out? Will your News Director find a soul in his Christmas stocking, or simply continue to channel Lord Voldemort?

Fire off your 2009 predictions to tvnewsgrapevine@gmail.com.

Then, at the end of 2009, we'll look back and find out if we are true mystic seers.

Challenge for the upcoming week

Perception is reality.

Is the economy as bad as all the reports? Who knows? But when you bombard the public every day with "sky is falling" stories, people are bound to shut their pocketbooks.

So are we being "fair" to the economy by only broadcasting stories of doom? The old saying about the ill wind blowing someone some good is always true.

So this week, find a positive economic story in your market. Many businesses out there are doing a booming business. People are fixing their cars instead of buying new ones. Homeowners are buying energy saving devices to cut utility costs. Thrift stores and consignment shops are packed with bargain hunters.

Being objective means telling both sides of the story... and that applies to the economy as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mailbag: Chill out

Grape,

I'm in my first job and I'm really scared reading about all these layoffs. Say something encouraging so I know I didn't waste four years of college on a career that's dead.

-Second Guesser

Dear Second Guesser,

Well, there will always be local news. And someone has to gather it.

What's happening now is basically a "shake out" which has happened to many industries. The older, higher paid veterans are being phased out for a new generation of younger, cheaper people.

Bottom line, if you're talented and smart, you'll find work. As to what forms television news will take in the future, I have no idea. But you'd better have good writing skills, regardless.

Right now I think you're seeing stations eliminate a lot of "dead wood" as far as air talent is concerned... those older one-market anchors who have survived on longevity rather than talent, who are simply cashing big paychecks and doing little work. (You know, those people who died in 1998 but no one told them.) If you had a job fair, most of these people wouldn't get hired because they have little in the way of talent. However, the older anchors who are talented are valuable to a station, and will be kept around. They just might have to take a pay cut.

Unless bound by seniority rules, no News Director in his or her right mind is going to lay off the most talented people. But every news department has people that wouldn't be missed. Look around your newsroom and you'll see them.

The days of pageant queen newscasters and "piece of the furniture" anchors are coming to a close. I honestly think the business will go back to quality, not quantity. Fewer newscasts, but better newscasts. (Most stations have too many hours of news and not enough news to fill them.)

Hang in there. I know it is hard when surrounded by a crumbling building, but this business will survive and turn itself around. It may even flourish in ways that we cannot comprehend right now.

Meantime, work hard to polish your craft, be a team player, be old school.

Talent always survives.


Grape,

All this news of layoffs and I still see ads for job openings. Someone's hiring, right?

-Confused

Dear Confused,

Someone is always hiring. Someone is always looking for their next star.

Layoffs are one thing, but there are always openings as people move up the ladder, retire, get out of the business, whatever. Keep sending your tapes.

And when you see a station that interests you laying off people, send a tape their way. Trust me, they'll be hiring soon. Some people who didn't get a pink slip might see the handwriting on the wall and bolt, creating openings. It might be on a freelance basis, but they'll be hiring.


Grapeman,

I'm anchoring on Christmas Day. Is it okay to wish viewers a Merry Christmas, or will the PC police descend on me?

-J.K.

Dear J.K.,

Not sure. It may be a Festivus violation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to cut the budget without cutting people

Many News Directors are faced with some very tough decisions these days, and they have nothing to do with news.

We read of layoffs every day. Last night I found that some very good people at one of my old stations had gotten pink slipped. It made me wonder... do stations cut the obvious before cutting people?

So here are some suggestions for News Directors who find themselves with a mandate to cut the budget. If this even saves one person's job, it's worth it.

-Consultants. The number one biggest waste of money in the industry. Need advice? Send your newscast to other ND friends and get feedback. Need research? Write the questions yourself and get a bunch of interns to make the calls.

-Travel. That trip to RTNDA? Outta here. Sending your sports guy to the bowl game, World Series or Super Bowl? Fuhgeddaboudit. Local news becomes local again. If you can pick something up off the feed, do it. If you don't have good relationships with other stations in the state, set them up now so that you can share resources.

-Overtime. It is high time for someone in Congress to write legislation regarding comp time. Many people would rather have comp time than overtime, yet there is always that undercurrent that it is "illegal" in some way. If neither side complains, who cares? It is one of those victimless crimes. The system worked well years ago and can work again.

-Perks. If it is not a trade out, it goes. No more free lunches for anyone. On the other side of the coin, if you have to keep salaries down, get your sales people to trade out for more perks.

-Custom tag and satellite expenses. Paying the network a few hundred bucks for a custom tag is a real waste. It's another one of those things that doesn't fool anyone. Viewers in Podunk know that their local station doesn't have a reporter in Washington, DC. And satellite time isn't cheap. Use it wisely, and only for stories with real merit.

-Single anchors. If one of your co-anchors leaves, don't fill the position. That salary can be used to save the jobs of probably two or three other people. I'm not telling you to fire anyone, but if the opportunity presents itself, go the old fashioned single anchor route.

-Friday night football. This extravaganza has blown out more overtime budgets than I can count. The people who care are at the games... and guess what... they aren't home by the time the newscast airs anyway.

-Salary cuts. In every station there are a few people who are overpaid and under-talented. Or overpaid and lazy. Ask them politely to take a modest pay cut. If they realize they can't go anywhere else, they'll agree. Ninety percent of something is better than one hundred percent of nothing.

Meanwhile, call a staff meeting and be honest with your people. Tell them they can save a job or two if they all pitch in to cut corners. Don't abuse the telephone. Don't call information when you can look up a number on the internet. (I can't tell you how many times I've seen that one, and it calls a couple of bucks a pop.) Turn off lights in the edit booths at the end of the day. Save gas where you can, because rest assured the price will go up again. Take better care of the equipment so it will last longer. Don't print out anything you don't absolutely need. (Although you can print this out and slide it under your ND's door. But I'd rather you just send him the link.) Shake the toner in the printer when you get a "low toner" reading; you'll get another week out of the thing. Refill your own inkjet cartridges... one dollar versus twenty.

Many NDs feel it has always been a matter of "us versus them" when it comes to management and employees. Many employees waste company money because it isn't theirs. Time for everyone to be a team again. Get on the same page and save money.

You might just save a job.

And it might be yours.

The Jay Leno ripple effect

NBC's decision to put Jay Leno on during prime time five nights a week could turn out to be a stroke of genius or one that backfires. While there has been much written about what this does to prime time and how the other networks will react, little has been said about what this does to local news.

If you work the late shift for an NBC affiliate, your job just got a lot harder. Especially if you're a producer.

(Well, one thing will be easier... I can write part of your late news promo right now: "These stories and more, right after Jay Leno." That one will work every night.)

Your late news will now follow the same thing every single weeknight. Makes it harder to cross promote with prime time topics. For instance, if the drama that ran before your late news did an episode about adoption, you could run a local story about the same topic. Can't do that with a talk show.

How will you make the transition from Leno's style of comedy directly to death and destruction? 10pm hasn't traditionally been a home for comedy/variety shows. I think the last successful one on a weeknight was hosted by Dean Martin about 20 years ago.

Will Leno siphon the comedy audience from Conan O'Brien, who takes over the Tonight Show? If that happens, this affects your morning show, as studies have shown that the station people turn off at night is the one they watch when they get up. And if they're not watching Conan....

It might be interesting to see if NBC stations change their approach and the style of news presented at 10pm. Might this actually mean the return of the feature story... something that would be naturally promotable during Leno?

We'll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, I've given consultants something to do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Interview with a photographer

Grape: We're continuing our up close and personal conversations with assorted members of the broadcasting fraternity. Today we sit down for lunch with veteran Chief Photographer Dave Lenscap. Dave, thanks for stopping by.

Dave: Hey, nice to eat lunch outside of the car for a change.

Grape: You've spent twenty-five years in the business. How are things going these days?

Dave: Well, as you're aware, there are a lot of changes going on. The reporters are getting younger and less experienced, and in most cases, they think they know everything when they get out of college.

Grape: How do you deal with that?

Dave: One blue video standup and they get with the program real quick.

Grape: I knew you guys had a vindictive streak.

Dave: Hey, it saves a lot of headaches down the road. Though I once had a reporter who simply ordered me around like I was her slave. You should have seen her standups.

Grape: Blue video?

Dave: Nah, she was too smart for that. Just a little creative lighting. She resembled Nicole Kidman but by the time I got through with her she looked like the cryptkeeper.

(At this point the waitress arrives)

Waitress: Are you gentlemen ready to order?

Dave: Uh, what kind of soup do you have?

Grape: I'm buying, Dave.

Dave: Shrimp cocktail, lobster thermidor, creme brulee for dessert.

(The waitress takes my order and leaves)

Grape: Let's play a little game, Dave. If you could build the perfect reporter, what qualities would that person have?

Dave: Oh, that's easy. Someone who wants to be part of a team. Low maintenance. Offers to drive the car once in awhile. Carries the tripod. At the end of the interview asks me if I might have a question for the person we're interviewing. Wants to talk about the story on the way back to the station. Actually looks at my video before editing, then asks for my advice while editing. Brings a box of donuts to the photogs lounge once in awhile. Says "thank you" when I've shot something good.

Grape: Pet peeves?

Dave: You got about an hour? Seriously, one trait I notice with all young reporters is that they need twenty minutes of tape to get one sound bite. I'll hear something good and they'll go on and on and on forever, afraid that they'll miss something.

Grape: Do you have any unbreakable rules?

Dave: Touch my car radio and you'll pull back a bloody stump.

Grape: Okay, I'm going to say some things and you say the first thing that comes into your mind.

Dave: Fire away.

Grape: Consultants.

Dave: $%**)!!

Grape: I can't print that on the blog.

Dave: You asked me for the first thing that came into my mind. You didn't say it had to be clean. If you wanna hold hands and sing Kumbaya, you got the wrong guy.

Grape: Producers.

Dave: Stop ordering me around and get out in the field once in awhile so you know what we actually do. Get a map and drive around the market once in awhile so you'll know logistics. I can't shoot a vo in ten minutes if I'm thirty minutes away. Unless you've got a transporter and can beam me there.

Grape: Live shots.

Dave: Doesn't fool the viewer. 99 percent of them are a waste of time. And it is rare that something is actually going on.

Grape: One man bands.

Dave: Well, blue is my favorite color. May as well have video to match.

Grape: Storm coverage.

Dave: I'm not dying for this station. But it is only a matter of time before someone gets whacked by a two-by-four during hurricane coverage. And it will be a cowboy reporter who doesn't know the difference between bravery and stupidity.

Grape: If your station should actually ask you to become a one man band, would you do it?

Dave: Well, like most photogs I've been asked hundreds of times to pick up vosots by myself, so I've sorta been doing it anyway. Not sure how I'd feel about voice tracking a package.

Grape: Would you do a standup?

Dave: If I can find my necktie.

Grape: Christmas is coming. What's on your wish list?

Dave: My News Director's picture on the side of a milk carton.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Privacy

Check out the results of the poll on the right of this page. While this is an admittedly small sample and unscientific, the results kind of blew me away.

We talked about protecting your privacy after that poor Arkansas anchor met her untimely death, but I'm convinced it is now more important that ever.

Before the Internet and station websites existed, people would occasionally send a weird letter or make a strange phone call. But now, you guys are really making it way too easy for those who might seek to do you harm.

There's simply too much information out there that is available to anyone.

Anytime I get a new client, the first thing I do is google them. I want to make sure there isn't anything out there that might hurt their chances at getting a job. I've noted that almost all young people have a personal page, which features everything from pictures to inner thoughts. You might as well just draw the bad guys a map.

Delete it all. Now.

The creeps out there can be real detectives when they target someone to stalk. They can find out the places you like to hang out, likes and dislikes, and the big one, your marital status. Maybe it's time for all the single women out there to include a fake husband (who is a former NFL linebacker) on all station bios.

Having a personal page does nothing for your career, and nothing for your personal life. If you want to stay in contact with friends, you can call or email. They can do the same. If a News Director needs to find you, he won't do it through a personal page.

Delete it all. Now.

As for your station bio, keep it very simple. Where you went to school, where you worked, not much else.

Make it hard for the people who might want to do you harm to find out more about you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mailbag: How to dodge a layoff

Grape,

I fear layoffs are coming at my station. Anything I can do to dodge the bullet?

-Afraid, very afraid

Dear Afraid,

Well, sure. We've talked about making yourself "fireproof" in the past.

Now if you're in a situation where your station shuts down, you're pretty much done. But if a ND gets a directive from above to "cut five people" or "trim $100k in salaries" then there's some hope.

Because decisions have to be made.

In every station at which I've worked, there were some people I could live without. Some people I hoped and prayed would find another gig because they were such headaches. (In some cases News Directors want someone to leave so badly they'll help find them a job.) On the other hand, there are those key people you simply have to have. Those people who are the first ones you'd call if you got another News Director job.

Who are they? The versatile ones, the ones that don't complain, the ones you can depend on to show up when the big story breaks without even being called. They're team players, low maintenance. They don't create drama in the newsroom and don't get involved in gossip.

Did you notice I didn't say anything about talent?

Sometimes you'd rather have a solid, no-frills reporter who is a joy to work with instead of someone with tremendous talent that the photogs avoid like the plague.

Things in this business are in the process of a shakeout. When they settle down, the last people standing are the ones that make News Director's life easier.

You wanna keep your job? Shut up, knock out some good work, and be old school.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Interview with a (news) vampire

Grape: We're here today with Virginia Ham, who works the overnight shift for an affiliate in a medium sized market. Virginia, good morning. Virginia?

Virginia: Huh? (rubbing her eyes) Sorry. Dozed off for a moment.

Grape: So, tell us about yourself. How long have you been working the overnight reporting shift?

Virginia: Oh, ten or twelve years. Wait, wait, it just seems that way. Seventeen months.

Grape: Sounds like you're counting the days.

Virginia: My contract is up in 152 days.

Grape: Doesn't sound like you want to renew.

Virginia: I want my life back.

Grape: So tell me about your typical day on the overnight shift.

Virginia: Well, I get here at eleven thirty when the evening people are going home. Then I sit by the scanner waiting for something to happen.

Grape: Can't you do something other than scanner stories?

Virginia: Well, they told me that when they hired me, but who the heck is available for an interview in the middle of the night? The only non-scanner story I've done is Black Friday. I'll tell you, the opening at K-Mart was a real thrill.

Grape: You just got off your shift. What did you do?

Virginia: Car wreck at one a-m. Then a live shot at the top of the show at six telling people there had been a car wreck five hours ago and it was all cleaned up and wouldn't affect their commute.

(At this point our breakfast arrives and Virginia tears into her pancakes.)

Grape: Hungry?

Virginia: You kidding? You're always hungry on this shift. You snack during the night, then you eat breakfast, go home, take a nap, wake up, eat lunch, take another nap, eat dinner, go back to sleep. Gained ten pounds on this shift.

Grape: I've heard some people say that being off in the daytime gives you lots of time to get things done.

Virginia: Yeah, if you want to go to the dry cleaners every day. I mean seriously, how much time during the week do you need to run errands?

Grape: So how's your life away from the station?

Virginia: Ha. I nice man took me to dinner Friday night and I was so tired I did a header into a bowl of lobster bisque.

Grape: Please don't do that now. I don't think you'd look good covered in syrup.

Virginia: I'm good. Sugar high.

Grape: So the social life...

Virginia: Social life? What social life? I'm always tired, parties start when I'm going to bed and my dates think I'm bored with them because I fall asleep during dinner. Then on the weekend I want to sleep late but I wake up at four in the morning anyway. By the time Sunday rolls around I can't fall asleep and then I'm exhausted on my first workday of the week.

Grape: So, bottom line, your advice to any reporter offered an overnight job is...

Virginia: Unless it is in a great station or a way to get your foot in the door at a network, leave skid marks when you are offered this job. No stories for your resume tape, no social life, and at this rate I'm going to put someone's eye out when the button on these jeans finally gives up the ghost.

Grape: Thank you for your honestly, Virginia.

Virginia. No problem. You gonna eat your bacon?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mailbag: Does this business have a future?

Grape,

With the economy as tumultuous as it is, and layoffs being announced in newsrooms across the country, I’m worried. I have a year left in college and have been dedicated to a broadcast journalism career since I was 14, but after reading forums online, it seems that the majority of posters say that up-and-coming TV reporters are simply walking into a big mistake. With several years experience of one-man-banding, will I have any shot of landing a job in December 2009, or will every newsroom be skeleton-staffed with interns and part-timers like the pessimists online make it seem.

- Concerned Guy

Dear Concerned,

I get asked this question a lot, and when I'm doing freelance stuff for the network the topic comes up since we're all veterans. Invariably someone says, "I'd hate to be a young person getting into the business right now."

While I have no idea what the future will hold, I do have a few theories about the business. So here, in no particular order, are some thoughts on what's about to happen in broadcasting:

-People of my generation are getting out of the business. If I was still a reporter and a ND told me I'd have to be a one man band, I'd quit on the spot. Not because I don't want to carry gear, but because I enjoy working with photogs, I'm not a photographer, and you can't put a decent story together without one. As the middle-aged people leave the business, this will create more opportunities for young people in bigger markets. I've had three clients under the age of 25 get jobs in markets 29, 18 and 11. But, you'll have to be very talented.

-Layoffs are happening because stations are realizing that we need to go back to the 1980's. OK, I hate to say this, but this business has become producer heavy. If your newsroom has more producers than people on the street, you've got a real problem. Bottom line, you can't put on a local newscast if you don't have people out there gathering news.

My first station had no producers. The anchors produced their own shows. The reporters and photogs cut all the video: packages, teases, vo/sots. The directors timed the shows. The system worked fine. There are simply too many layers in production. What is amazing is that back then we didn't have computers... now things are much simpler and yet we need more people to do the same job. Producers that remain will have to do more than one show; having a one show producer is a luxury no one can afford, and honestly, it doesn't take all day to produce 22 minutes. The reporters do the packages, the anchors write most stories, and there are five teases. What the heck is so hard?(I know I'll get mail on that comment.)

-Young people work cheap. (Wow, Grape, what a revelation!) So, if you're an ND and you need to cut some money out of the budget, you can let a veteran reporter's contract expire and hire a talented kid for half the price. Again, more opportunities for young people.

-Perception is reality. If you don't think the economy decided this election, you've been living under a rock. And since the mainstream media wanted a certain person in the White House, stories about the economy had a negative tint. They will get a more positive slant next year. That will loosen up the purse strings a little. Don't look for stations to go on a hiring binge, but I'll bet those freezes disappear.

-Hiring freezes don't mean you can't replace people. If your main weatherperson quit, you'd have to hire another one. You just can't hire anyone for new positions.

-There will always be local news. Yes, ratings are down from years ago, primarily due to two factors: a scanner-driven news product that intelligent people don't want, and 200 other choices on cable or satellite. But people still want to know what's going on in their neighborhood. And people are going back to rooftop antennas. I've had a few people tell me they simply can't spend money on cable or satellite anymore, and are just going with the local channels.

As for the pessimists online, you have to consider the lifestyle we had in the news business 20 years ago. Need a plane? Charter one. Need to spend five days on a story? No problem. Hey, the network wants someone to go to Hollywood to interview its stars... who wants to go? When you compare that to the penny pinching and the consultant driven need for meaningless live shots, you've got a business that used to be a lot of fun and isn't anymore. At least, it isn't for those of us who lived through the good old days.

What should young people do? Ride the wave as far as you can. Stations will weed out the "dead wood", those people who are just average and the support staff that isn't really necessary. But if you have talent and a lot of it, there will be a place for you. The great salaries of yesteryear won't come back, but you can have a comfortable lifestyle.

Meanwhile, have a backup plan. Once you're established in our career, work on a Masters Degree so you can teach someday. Maybe work on a Law degree. Make good contacts with the corporate people you cover... you may need a PR job someday. Get involved with the community so that if a pink slip lands on our desk you'll have people to call who can help you.

As for those of you with a dream, trust me, you will kick yourself the rest of your life if you don't at least try for the brass ring. But if you haven't caught it in ten years, or aren't well on your way to doing so, or aren't totally happy with what you're doing, find something else to do.

And remember... all those layoffs, all those freezes, the bad ecomomy... these are things that apply to dozens of people. But you are just one person who might have a unique gift. If you are very talented, someone will find the money and a place for you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hey Nancy Pelosi, how 'bout a bailout?

Dear Nancy,

While I know that the correct way to address you would be "Madam Speaker" I figured, hey, we're both paisans here. Anyway, I've noted that since all those bailout requests seem to cross your desk at some point, I thought I'd run an idea up the Capitol flagpole and see who salutes.

You know what industry really needs a bailout? Broadcasting. While rich CEOs are flying private jets to ask you for a few bucks, news people are laboring in the trenches for salaries that often fall below the poverty level. Over the years cable and satellite have killed the golden goose, and now our slice of the advertising pie is a crumb.

You want proof? Starting salaries for reporters today are the same as they were twenty years ago. But the cost of living isn't the same. If someone wrote a book entitled "One Hundred Ways to Cook Ramen Noodles" half the reporters in America would buy it.

See, you're probably thinking we all make salaries like those network people who cover you in DC. Not even close. We're shooting standups off the high beams of SUVs because we don't have enough portable lights. We're selling our live trucks and buying really long camera cables. We can't even deduct meals as business expenses because vending machines don't give receipts.

And, oh yeah, that little digital switchover you guys mandated that will create the biggest ball of confusion in the history of this country wasn't exactly cheap.

C'mon, Nance, what's a few billion for the industry that (and I hate to play our marker) let's face it, put your guy in the White House? In the language of our old neighborhood, here's how it's gonna work: you bail us out, and watch the amazing amount of positive economic stories that start airing on January 21st. Perception being reality, the stock market will rise, gas prices will drop to a buck, consumers will start spending, and life will be fun again.

Then you can go back to really important issues, like making cable and satellite channels a la carte so local stations can make a little more money and the thousand shopping channels a little less.

Please consider our request. I didn't charter a private jet or even fly commercial to plead our case. I'm just saving money and being green with this nice little email.

If you agree to this, I'll work for a salary of one dollar next year. (Wait... come to think of it, most of us in this industry already do!)

And if you're in the neighborhood, please stop by for lasagna and tiramisu.

Sincerely,

The Grape

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dress codes: What's "cool" is not necessarily what you should wear

Grape,

I see a lot of men on local news being very non-traditional these days. Goatees, no neckties, jackets with tee-shirts. What's your take on this, and would being "non-traditional" affect your chances for a job?

-Trendy guy

Dear Trendy,

Well, call me old school but conservative and traditional still rule. I often wonder what some on-air people are thinking when I see some of the "outfits" that pass for newscaster wardrobes these days. It is one thing to wear jeans when you're doing a story on a farm; but if you're in a studio there's no excuse for an unprofessional look.

For whatever reason it seems that all the fashion mistakes are made by those with a Y chromosome. Women don't seem to fall prey to dressing down.

Anyway, you asked for my opinion, so here goes:

Goatees: Honestly, they make most men look sinister. They may be in style now (they won't be in a few years, trust me) but they just look weird on people delivering the news. And by the way, if there's any gray in your facial hair (hence the term "graybeard") you ought to shave it off. You will improve your chances if you look conservative.

T-shirts instead of collared shirts: This is really a pet peeve of mine, and it seems that all sorts of sportscasters are going this route. When Don Johnson wore t-shirts and a suit on Miami Vice it worked, but that was 1986 and this is broadcast news. Get a shirt with a collar and wear a tie. If my dad were around he'd say, "So, you're going to work in a five hundred dollar suit and a five dollar undershirt?"

No neckties: I don't care how hot it is or how casual you want to appear, if you are doing a serious story you need a shirt with a tie. I don't mind the lack of a jacket in the dead of August, but a man without a tie just seems to leave a little credibility on the table.

Monochrome outfits: I've seen a few outfits that consisted of black jacket, black shirt, black tie. Unless you're trying out for a vampire in the next Twilight movie, you need more than one color.

Goodfellas extra outfits: Black jacket, black shirt, white tie. Great if you're applying for a job with the neighborhood underboss.

As for the women, you all dress so nice. (Now please, stop dying your hair.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Job hunting reminder

OK, November sweeps are over, so now's the time to get your tapes in the mail. And, if you missed an earlier post, you have an extended job hunting season this year since February sweeps have been moved to March due to the digital switch fiasco that's headed your way.

No openings, no problem. Send tapes to places in which you'd like to work. There will be openings eventually. Going home for the holidays? If your home is in a good market, try to set up interviews and at least hand deliver some tapes.

Remember, you have absolutely nothing to lose by sending tapes to a station without an opening, and everything to gain.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving is time to smell the roses

My problem, and I suspect many of you have the same flaw, is that I think too much.

When you're young and starting out in the business, you think too much about the future. When you're on the back nine of your career, you think too much about the past. When you're young you run into all sorts of forks in various roads that can send your career soaring or straight into the dumper. When you're older you wonder what might have been had you chosen a different direction.

Almost all of my clients have five years experience or less, and some are still in college. The common denominator is the worry I hear in their voices when presented with a choice. And with the future of broadcasting so much in doubt, the level of anxiety has gone up since I was a rookie reporter. But while you're looking to the future, and it is very natural to do so, you're missing the present.

Looking back I've gotten to do some pretty neat stories and visit some places the average person never would. Walking on the floor of a national political convention, hanging out with Jay Leno is his garage, talking with baseball heroes in Cooperstown. During all those times, the undercurrent of the future was always flowing through my brain. Instead of just enjoying the moment I was always too busy wondering if this might be the story that got me to the next level. The memories are wonderful, but it is almost like I was an observer, that these things didn't really happen to me.

While most of the topics on this blog relate to job hunting, I hope you'll take the time to enjoy that fact that you really don't have to work for a living. Sure, you're not making a ton of money, but would you rather be a roofer, wait tables, work on an assembly line? Most of those people have no dreams, no shot at the brass ring. Most of them can't make a difference, make the world a better place.

When I graduated from college my dad offered me the keys to our delicatessen, but I didn't go to college to make two hundred sandwiches every day for the next forty years. That was hard work, with nothing creative about it. I wanted to take a blank page every day and fill it with something unique.

So if you're going to be thankful today, consider the fact that despite the fact that you might have a News Director who needs to be on the side of a milk carton, you have a pretty cool job. Take the time to enjoy each day. You can keep an eye on the future, but keep your feet firmly planted in the present.

You may make it to the top or you may not. But at least enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Get me outta here"

We've all been there. (Or, for those of you just starting your first job, you'll get there in no time.) Working at a job that simply sucks all the enjoyment out of what should be a fun career. Bad managers, run down buildings, cheap companies, backwater towns. Any or all can contribute to the feeling you have to get out as fast as you can anywhere you can.

And when you're in a bad situation, that is the worst thing you can do.

It's called "moving for the sake of moving." I've done it. Most in this business have. And guess what? Chances are, when you jump at the very first offer that comes along, you might just be going to a similar situation.

"Get me outta here" is the most common phrase I've heard from clients. I've said it to agents when I was a client.

Seriously, take a breath. Making a hasty decision to get out of a bad situation can set your career back.

Patience is a virtue that few in the news business posess. But when you're making a job change, you have to take a serious look at the opportunity. Wearing rose colored glasses to disguise what you don't want to see can land you right back where you started.

So evaluate every offer carefully. The first one might be great. Then again, it might not. Do your homework and check on the station, the company, management. If it honestly doesn't feel right, pass.

You might spend another few months in purgatory, but it might save you a trip to hell.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mailbag: When does a News Director watch tapes?

Grape,

I've sent out a bunch of tapes in the past few months. I've heard back on a few but nothing on the majority.

Just curious as to how long it takes for a News Director to actually look at your tape.

-Impatient


Dear Impatient,

Well, you're not gonna like my answer.

Sometimes your tape never gets a look. But most of the time it will.

Looking at resume tapes falls into two categories. The first occurs when you have an opening to fill. In this case, many News Directors will let things pile up for a week and then watch a whole bunch of tapes at once. Others will watch them the day they arrive, with the notion that if there's someone really talented out there, you don't want to be a day late with an offer.

The second category is that time period when there isn't a current opening. Your tape will no doubt be part of a much smaller group, if there's even a group at all. In this case a News Director will take a look when there's some free time.

So you're probably thinking, "Why should I send a tape when there aren't any openings if it is just going to sit there for weeks?" Well, two reasons: eventually, every station has an opening; and just about every ND I know has a box or a shelf for "good tapes" that are put aside for the future. So if you send a tape today and there's not an opening but the ND likes you, you'll be first in line when that opening does occur. (I once got a call two years after sending a tape.)

Sadly, I once worked with a ND who had to hire someone and would look at tapes until he found someone to fit the bill. The problem was, that ND then stopped looking, leaving a whole bunch of tapes unwatched. But that's a rarity. Just the chance that there might be a future star out there is usually enough to make a ND watch tapes.

By the way, sending your tape via overnight mail or with bags of popcorn doesn't make things move any faster. Though the popcorn disappears immediately.


Grapevine,

How many nat sound breaks should you put in a package?

-Editing Challenged


Dear Editor,

Nat sound breaks are wonderful elements to put in your piece. I've seen plenty of packages (and edited many myself) that have a dozen breaks. But they have to be appropriate to the piece and you have to tailor your writing around them.

At a bare minimum you should open your piece with nat sound and throw at least one break in the middle of the package.



Grapeman,

Does every story need a standup? And does every story need sound bites?

-Thinking out of the box


Dear Thinker,

Good question. In most cases, it is a good idea to put a standup in your piece, especially if you are not doing a live shot. It "puts you at the scene" of the story. The one time you shouldn't do a standup is when covering a funeral. Tacky, tacky.

As for sound bites, you can use "nat sound bites" in lieu of the traditional bite. If, for instance, you are covering a heated pubic hearing and some guy in the crowd starts yelling something interesting, that is a "nat sound bite." You don't see packages like this too often, but it is a nice when you do.

And, getting back to covering a funeral, this is a perfect example of using a nat sound bite. Someone delivering a eulogy falls into this category. This is also the one time when you never, ever stick a microphone in someone's face. Nothing is more rude or tasteless that walking around after a funeral gathering sound bites.


Grape,

I'm about to go on my first interview and I'm worried. I have a tattoo that goes around my ankle and don't want the News Director to think badly of me. What should I do?

-Ink Girl

Dear Ink,

There is a marvelous new invention you'll find in most clothing stores called "pants."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The great Thanksgiving challenge

Bad enough that I have to suffer through the Detroit Lions every Thanksgiving Day, but then I have to sit through the annual Local-Politicians-Wear-Aprons-And-Serve-The-Homeless package on every single station in America.

I've worked Thanksgiving. I've done the story. Many times. You know what? I'm not sure it made a difference.

So, for those of you needing something for this last week of sweeps, here's my challenge.

-Today or tomorrow, find a homeless person or family whose life can be "turned around." I'm not talking about a lifelong wino, but someone down on their luck. A veteran who lost his job. A single mom living on the street with her kids because her husband took off. Contact the local shelters. They will know someone who is just one lucky break away from turning their life around. In this economy there ought to be plenty of people who fit the bill.

-Profile this person in your late Sunday newscast or on Monday. At the end of your package, do a tag that asks the community for help. Now, before Thanksgiving. This person or family will need a job, a place to live, clothes, maybe furniture, and a pantry full of food. It can be a job sweeping floors, busing tables, washing dishes. The place to live can be a room over a garage. Find the friendly employer, the landlord with an empty room he can't rent out.

-Follow the progess through the week. Show the person getting a a new job, a place to live, clothes and toys for the kids, eating a decent meal in a new home.

-On Thanksgiving the shelter package can be just a voiceover (and everyone, please, leave the politicians out of your stories. They're only there until the cameras leave.) Then do your regular package on this formerly homeless person or family who really has something to be thankful for.

You might think that isn't much time to do all that, but trust me, viewers can be in a really giving mood this time of year.

So there's your challenge. Save a life instead of just doing the same old story every year.

Let me know how it turns out if you accept the challenge.

Friday, November 21, 2008

JFK, 45 years later

Hard to believe it has been that long since JFK's assassination, but even now the images and events of those days are burned into my brain, as vivid as though they happened yesterday. Back then people trusted their government for the most part, and the media... trust that is now gone in both cases.

JFK inspired people in a way that hasn't happened since. Looking back, you can see he was a flawed human being with character issues, but when you're a nine year old kid you need heroes. Mine were JFK and Alan Shepard. Kennedy told us anything was possible and Shepard proved it was.

We talked about Kennedy in class a lot, especially during the Cuban missile crisis. Being so close to Manhattan we knew we could all be vaporized in an instant. There was a team spirit back then, a patriotism I never saw again until 9/11... and even that faded quickly. Kids were inspired to reach for the top.

I remember the school nurse coming into our fourth grade class, whispering into the teacher's ear, and then quickly leaving. The teacher announced, "President Kennedy has been shot. You are all to go home." After a few numbing moments, the kids in the class turned into a bunch of reporters. Was he dead? Where was he shot? "I don't know. Just go home," the teacher said.

We ran home and parked ourselves in front of the television set for basically four days. The one time we left was to go to church (packed beyond belief) and on the walk home people were on their lawns yelling, "Oswald's been shot!"

The images and events are frozen in time. Cronkite wiping away a tear, John Jr.'s salute, the natural sound of the drums as the coffin rolled through DC (with nary a word from a commentator... back then they knew enough to shut up and let the pictures and sound carry the story). We trusted television back then, we believed what we saw.

Then, everything began to unravel. Lyndon Johnson escalated Vietnam and Americans began to seriously doubt the government. When the Warren Commission ruled that Oswald had acted alone and a network agreed, it was the first crack in the credibility of television journalism. No one believed Oswald had shot JFK with a mail order rifle. (When I visited Dealey Plaza years later, it only confirmed my beliefs.) We didn't believe the Warren Commission, and since the network agreed with them, we didn't believe the network. (The one dissenter on the Commission was a congressman named Hale Boggs, who mysteriously died in a plane crash later. Hmmmm.)

But before I get off on an Oliver Stone tangent, let's get back to the original point. Trust. The media has lost it, and truly jumped the shark during the 2008 election. Now we're like the cheating husband asking the wife to take us back and trust us. The wife is objectivity, while opinion is our mistress.

How do we get back that trust? Well, it won't happen overnight. We have to become objective again, do stories that really affect people instead of just chase the scanner, provide people with information that can make their lives better. Be part of the community, provide help as only television people can.

Deliver the news without an opinion or an agenda.

Many have written that America lost its innocence the day JFK was shot, and that is a perfect way to describe the time period. It has sadly never come back. Living in "Leave it to Beaver" land might seem corny looking back, but we were happy and believed in a future. I'm not sure anyone believes in anything anymore.

But we have to start turning it around. We saw a little of it during 9/11 but news slipped back into its old tricks, running sleazy stories during sweeps and being as sensational as possible.

Time to turn back the clock.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just when you think your life can't get any worse...

I was about to write something along the lines of a pep talk for those of you working in horrible situations, and then I read this.

If this doesn't put things in perspective for you, nothing will.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2008/11/20/2008-11-20_woman_blames_brooklyn_er_for_failing_to_.html

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mailbag: Brunette is the new blonde

Grape,

I'm graduating next year. I'm a brunette with dark eyes, and people are telling me I need to go blonde before putting my resume tape together. I think I would look ridiculous.

Will a different hair color improve my chances?

-Natural Gal

Dear Natural,

Well, this is probably going to get me a few emails.

First, lets look at the statistics. Someone did a study a few years ago and determined that while only ten percent of American women are natural blondes, seventy percent of female newscasters sport the fair-haired look. Do the math.

Now a few personal experiences. Once, I was looking to hire a few reporters and was whipping through resume tapes. One of our female managers (a blonde) was looking over my shoulder one day as a parade of women with light hair filled the screen. At one point she actually said, "Not another blonde."

Another time a young lady with stunning red hair came in for an interview and actually asked me if her hair color would keep her from getting a job. (Full disclosure: the Grape is married to a redhead, so the answer was no.) She kept the natural red and is very successful today.

I've worked with many women who colored their hair. It worked on some, but on many it just looked weird. ("Such pretty blonde hair," an old weatherman used to say. "I wonder why she dyed her roots brown?") I've watched one woman over the years, a talented brunette with beautiful dark eyes, go lighter and lighter and lighter until she is now approaching Anna Nicole territory, and she just looks garish. It's gotten to the point that the hair is so distracting you don't notice her talent. She also hasn't gone anywhere.

And usually the dark eyebrows, dark eyes, and dark roots are a dead giveaway. And high def is unforgiving.

That said, there are still a lot of blondes on the air. Maybe we need a study to see if most of them were hired by male News Directors.

But here's a real unscientific study. In 2007, every single one of my brunette clients got jobs, and quickly. Not all the blondes did, and those who did seemed to take awhile.

Your appearance is a key factor in your career. Not fair, but this is a superficial business. But in my personal opinion, coloring your hair isn't going to improve your chances.

And, there's no such thing as a brunette joke.

Now please excuse me while I dump some Grecian Formula on my gray.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What politicians don't want you to know about honeymoon periods

A lot of new people will be taking office in the next few months, from the President on down. And there's always talk of a "honeymoon period" that the media gives these rookies... a few months to get their feet wet and make mistakes.

Uh, wrong.

Politicians know this, and will often use this time to sneak things past the media, then plead ignorance if they get caught. Problem is, they often go unnoticed by reporters who are willing to wait a while before holding politicians feet to the fire.

I remember one local race in which there was one huge issue. One candidate was for it, the other vehemently against. The guy who was against it won, and the minute he took office he changed his tune. Many media people gave him a pass since he was the "new guy" when in reality he should have gotten hammered.

When covering rookie politicians, you have to hit the ground running from day one. Treat their first day as if they've been in office forever. There is no honeymoon period when you're a reporter being a watchdog for the public. Keep a close eye on the new people. They don't think you're watching, but trust me, you'll get some really good stories if you do.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Our book made the NY Times

Check it out...

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/nyregion/10legends.html

Friday, November 14, 2008

The power of the "thank you" note

I have one drawer in my desk that is filled with happy stuff. Pictures of friends, media badges from various stories, funny articles...

And thank you notes.

Nothing brightens a bad day than re-reading an old message from someone who appreciated something I did long ago. May have been advice, an opportunity I provided; doesn't matter. What matters is that someone took the time to actually take out a pen, write something in longhand, put it in an envelope, stick a stamp on it and mail it.

And while most managers probably don't save stuff like this (the Grape, though a dyed in the wool New Yorker, has a sentimental streak), the effort sticks in their minds like glue.

Emails are easy, take a few seconds, and guess what? If you're sending them to a News Director you have about a 50-50 chance of them actually being read. No one sends snail mail thank you notes anymore, so this is your chance to stand out from the crowd.

Has a News Director sent you nice feedback on your tape even though you didn't get hired? Send a note. Have you been on an interview? Notes should go to everyone with whom you spent significant time. Did you rub elbows with a crew from a network or big market on a recent story... and did those people help you or give advice? They should get thank you notes.

It's old fashioned, sure, but it just screams class. It tells me a young person is polite and was brought up right. (And manners are in short supply in this business.)

And it makes me remember their name. Down the road that could pay big dividends for you.

So next time someone is nice, take a minute and go the snail mail route. You don't have to write anything long winded; it's the thought that counts.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Good book & a hot bath... or a bad date?

A few years ago I worked with a terrific young lady who was unattached. She rarely dated, didn't want to be fixed up, and once told me, "I'd rather sit home with a bottle of wine, a good book and a hot bath than have a bad date on Saturday night." In other words, better to wait for the right guy to come along than spend an evening with one just for the sake of going out.

Yes, time for another dating metaphor. Bottom line, grabbing the first job offered just to get outta Dodge might be a bad move.

Of course these days, multiple job offers aren't exactly the norm. And if you're looking for that first job, you don't really have much in the way of bargaining power. Still, you have to be selective when making any move. The right move can do wonders for your career, while the wrong one can really set you back.

I once was so desperate to get away from a certain News Director that I took a job that was totally wrong for me. The station wasn't committed to quality, and I didn't do my homework before making the move.

So when you get a job offer, take time to breathe, step back, and take a look. Remove the rose colored glasses and get an honest assessment of what you'll be going into.

-Check the product. You can usually do this online. Is the newscast a good one, or is the quality not up to your standards?

-Check the photography. Do the packages have great video and editing? Or are earthquakes (no tripod) prevalent in every story?

-Will your job be as a one man band? This is crucial, and you need to get your job description in writing.

-Research the ND. Screamer? Nice guy? One who will give you honest feedback? And you should also find out the ND's history. On the way up or down?

There are the other things that always factor in, like money and benefits, but the important factors are those that will affect your career.

And if the opportunity doesn't feel right, get a good book. Otherwise you literally could end up in hot water, and it won't be from the bath.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Live shots made simple

Long, long ago (about 1989) in a galaxy far, far away a lot of the fun and quality went out of television newsrooms when a meeting like this took place somewhere at a consulting firm:

Consultant #1: "We need to put more excitement into newscasts. How about more live shots?"

Consultant #2: "Suppose there's nothing going on that's live?"

Consultant #1: "Who cares? We'll go live for the sake of live! We'll do it in all caps with exclamation points! We're not live anymore, we're LIVE!!!"

Consultant #2: "But won't the reporter look stupid being live where nothing is going on?"

Consultant #1: "You're missing the point. The audience gets excited when you're LIVE! We can be LIVE! two or three times each newscast! Doesn't matter if there's anything going on. The reporter will be LIVE! so it will seem like a big story!"

And that's why so many of you do so many meaningless live shots. ("We're live at the scene of a car wreck that happened so long ago the insurance claim has already been paid.") That's one reason you don't have enough time to put together quality packages. Chances are that's not going to change, so we might as well deal with it. Problem is, so many people have never actually been schooled in the care and feeding of live shots. If you're one of those people who have been thrown into the deep end of the pool, you're probably wading through these uncharted waters by just winging it. And live TV is no place to do that.

Live shots are hard to teach. Some 20-year veterans can't knock out a decent live shot, while occasionally you see a rookie who is a natural. But you can make live shots more manageable and less stressful if you simplify them.

Problems generally fall into two categories; nerves and memory lapse. If you've been brought along with a teleprompter a live shot is akin to working without a net. So many things can go wrong it is scary. But don't drive yourself nuts worrying about technical problems. Reporters need to focus on getting comfortable. If you can master that part, that's half the battle. But the biggest problem young people face is trying to do and/or memorize too much. The result is a stumbling, read-off-the-pad live shot that looks awkward and doesn't deliver much information. (Tricks on how to get rid of the notebook in your live shots are coming up.) So start with baby steps, and then work your way up as you get comfortable.

There are two rules to make your live shots simpler when you are just starting out. The first is to put the bulk of information in your package and the intro for your anchor. The second is "short live intro."

So let's start with our hypothetical live shot and our two reporters, Jim Goodhair and Susie Smart. Both are young reporters. Jim wants as much face time as possible in his live shot, so his live intro is very long and his package is short. Susie wants to hit her roll cue perfectly so her live intro is short and to the point. She has also put some key information in the anchor intro. (In case you hadn't figured this out, Jim is a Ken-Doll with the IQ of a tabletop. Susie sat in the first row of her class.)

ANCHOR: "The long awaited meeting at city hall is over. Jim Goodhair is standing by live with the details…Jim?" JIM GOODHAIR: "Well, the proposed tax hike made for a packed house at city hall and a close four-to-three vote in favor of the bill. When all was said and done, there was plenty of bad news to go around. There will be a five-point-seven percent increase on property taxes, a new garbage fee of fifteen dollars per household, and an increase of the driver's license fee of five dollars per year. Most of those new fees will be implemented during the next fiscal year that begins on October first."

Did you get all those numbers? Because unless you're a CPA standing by with a calculator you'll have to buy the morning paper. And don't you want to know if your councilperson voted yes or no as soon as possible?

OK, let's give Susie a crack at this. Remember, think short and simple and don't be afraid to delegate some information to the anchor intro.

ANCHOR: "The cost of living just went up in the city… as four council members voted to pass the long debated budget. Susie Smart is standing by live…Susie?" SUSIE SMART: "Well, if you own a home, drive a car and throw out the trash, it's going to cost you more to do it. The new budget will cost your family about two hundred dollars each year…now meet the people who passed it."

We're only about fifteen seconds into the newscast and already we know the budget passed by a close vote, how much the taxpayer is going to get hit, and what's going to cost more. Susie used three key words on her notes: home, car, and trash. She only needed to memorize two sentences to hit her roll cue and she's into the package identifying the evil council members who raised taxes. Jim, on the other hand, loaded his intro with numbers that needed a graphic (Susie, being the smarty that she is, put that in her package) and had to read them off the pad to make sure he got them right. You can save more information for your live outro because you don't have to worry about a roll cue. If you're going to stumble and lose your place, better at the end than the beginning. Psychologically, you'll be less nervous if you've nailed your two-sentence intro. You can now take a breath during your package and relax.

By the way, if you can't remember roll cues, here's a trick. Many reporters just say, "Take a look." Just make sure the producer and director know this is your style.

TRICKS TO GET RID OF THE NOTEPAD:

Maybe it is just me, but when I see a reporter doing a live shot with a pad, that tells me the person really doesn't know the story all that well. For the most part your live shot will look better if you are talking instead of reading. Boil the points you want to make down into key words, and then hide the notes. (For those of you who did this in high school, it should be a breeze.)

So here are some tricks to let you cheat with what is basically a low budget teleprompter.

-Write key words on the inside of your fingers. You can use your hands to gesture while stealing looks at your notes.

-Write your key words on a piece of cardboard, and then clip it to the tripod or bottom of the camera lens. (But don't clip them to the lens if the camera is going to move or if it is windy.) If the camera is going to be moving, put your notes on the ground.

-Make objects your notes. For example, if you are doing a live shot after a hurricane, you know you're going to talk about a damaged hotel, a closed bridge, and military presence. So you are going to point to those three things in a walk-and-talk instead of trying to memorize them. And it is always nice to actually show something besides yourself during a live shot. Get the camera to move around if there is something interesting. Remember, show and tell. You can use chalk to mark your spots on the ground if it will help.

THINGS THAT MAKE GOOD LIVE SHOTS GO BAD…

-The Big-Ego anchor. Occasionally you'll run into an anchor who likes to throw curveballs to reporters on live shots in the form of really obscure questions. I once heard an anchor say "it keeps you guys on your toes." In reality, some anchors do this to make themselves look smarter on camera. Bottom line, it makes the reporter look unprepared, and the station look foolish. Work it out with the anchor and news director.

-Questions that have been previously set up. Is there anything more transparent than having an anchor ask those seemingly obscure questions and the reporter remarkably coming up with an answer? ANCHOR: "So, Jim, I guess the new nuclear power plant will mean lots of jobs. By the way, what is the atomic weight of uranium?" REPORTER: "Well, John, it happens to be 238.0289." You're really not fooling anyone. The only time for a question should be if you are honestly live with breaking news.

-Live shots & alcohol mix about as well as Bailey's Irish Crème and tonic water. If you get stuck with a live shot in a bar, you might as well tack a "please harass me" sign on your back. If you're a woman, take along a CSI team to dust you for prints. Doing live shots surrounded by sloppy drunks, guys cheating on their wives, and people who have called in sick is just a recipe for disaster. Make your live intro and outro as short as possible if you are assigned one of these.

-The Mix/Minus problem. Occasionally someone at the station forgets to throw a certain switch. All of a sudden your own words are coming back into your earpiece on a two second delay. This can be really confusing. If this happens, pull the earpiece out of your ear. Someone at the station will hopefully notice and fix the problem.

Hopefully this will clear up some live shot problems and make life a little easier for you. As you get more experienced you'll get more comfortable with the process, and eventually you'll be able to do live shots on autopilot.

But as for how to make a ten-hour old car wreck interesting, I have no clue.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The confidence machine

Wouldn't it be great if there was a device television reporters could use to turn their confidence on to its highest level when it came to job hunting?

Well, there is. It's called a microphone. Stick one in the hand of the most shy journalist you've ever met, and chances are that person will morph into a take-no-prisoners reporter with absolutely no fear. The microphone and camera and live truck give you license to act outside your personality, to become someone you're probably not. They are your shields, protecting your true self. You're almost bulletproof, protected by the First Amendment.

And that's why so many of you lack confidence when applying for jobs. No microphone. No live truck. Pit bulls in the field, wallflowers with resumes tapes. It's almost as though the resume tape sucks the confidence out of you like a vampire. Give a man a microphone and he's Brad Pitt in a singles bar. Take it away and he's a tongue tied kid at the high school dance.

It's amazing to look at resume tapes of reporters who can truly kick the competition in the field, then hear them over the phone as their self-doubt won't let them put a tape in the mail.

So, wise Grape, how do you get the confidence in the field and translate that to your job hunt?

For that, you need to watch the movie "Hoosiers" with Gene Hackman.

(At this point you're thinking the Grape is heading off the deep end, but bear with me.)

In case you haven't seen this movie, it's about a small town basketball team heading to the state championship. Toward the end of the movie the kids walk into the biggest arena they've ever seen and their jaws drop. Hackman takes out a tape measure and shows them the rim is still ten feet off the ground and a foul shot is still fifteen feet.

And by the same token, a package on the network is the same as a package in market 210. Video, nat sound, sound bites, standup, good writing and editing. There's no magic formula that makes a network or major market package any different than the one you do today.

Opportunities for young people have never been better, as my generation is leaving local news in droves. Take your shots now. And if you have to hold a microphone while going to the post office, well, so be it.