Saturday, March 22, 2008

Current events test

OK, someone wrote in asking to see a typical current events / general knowledge test. I pulled out an old one and updated it a bit. Here's what I'd give to a job applicant:

1. Name the Vice President of the United States.

2. Why did Eliot Spitzer resign?

3. Name the NFL team involved in "Spygate."

4. Who anchored the CBS Evening News before Katie Couric?

5. What is the exact number of United States Senators?

6. What political office did George W. Bush hold before he was President?

7. Who did Jay Leno replace on the Tonight Show?

8. Where will this year's Democratic National Convention be held?

9. Who is the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve?

10. What do you call a car that runs on both gasoline and electricity?

11. What does "FEMA" stand for?

12. Which country came under fire for producing toys made with lead paint?

13. Name the US Senators of the state in which you currently live.

14. Name the man thought to be primarily responsible for the 9/11 attacks who is still at large.

15. Global warming is thought to be caused by what kind of gases?

16. What movie won the most recent Academy Award for Best Picture?

17. Who is Brad Pitt's wife?

18. What is the name of Barack Obama's controversial minister?

19. Who was the first American in space?

20. What year was the Declaration of Independence signed?

Answers: Ha! I'm not giving them to you! As my father would say, if you don't know something, look it up!

So how'd you do? This test is not that hard, but just a way to find out if you're well rounded and have a basic knowledge of history and what's going on right now.

15-20 correct: Great. You know history and read the entire newspaper.

10-15 correct: Not bad. You need to read more.

5-10 correct: Put down the mirror and pick up a newspaper.

0-5 correct: You've skated through life on your appearance and will probably go far.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mailbag, Easter edition

Dear Grapevine,

Simple question. Can anyone in management be trusted?

-Paranoid in Peoria

Dear Paranoid,

Simple answer. Usually not. (And by the way, you're not paranoid if they really are out to get you.)


I have an interview coming up next week. Any preparation tips besides dressing professionally and being on time?

-Market jumper


Well, I used to give people current events tests and writing tests. For current events I'd usually have twenty questions ranking from national politics to pop culture. For the writing test I'd pull three horribly written stories off the wire (not hard to find) and ask the applicant to re-write them. One would always be a feature so I could see if the person could be clever.

It always helps to know stuff about the market regarding politics. Read the local paper online before you go, and make sure you've read everything you can find the morning of the interview. Check out the station's newscast online if you can.

Don't forget to put a hand written thank you note in the mail the day after your interview. No emails, no phone calls.

By the way, I once gave a current events test to a young woman who actually said, "I want to anchor. Why do I need to know current events?" Incredibly, she later got hired at a bigger market. (And yes, she was drop dead gorgeous.)


How many tapes should I send out for my first job? And should I wait to see openings or just send them?

-News Rookie


Well, make a list of the places you'd like to work, then send out tapes whether they have openings or not. Entry level shops always have plenty of openings throughout the year.

There's no rule about how many tapes you should send. But if you've sent more than fifty and haven't gotten a nibble, it is time to look at re-doing your tape.


Why do stations pay consultants to tell us stuff we already know? These people come in like they own the place and I've never learned a thing from them. Why do we have a News Director if we need to pay a consultant? We could hire more photogs for what we pay these people.



It is all part of the blameless society. If the ratings take a dive, a News Director can always blame the consultant for giving bad advice. It is the ultimate CYA.

And for what it's worth, you can never have enough photogs.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The vultures are circling

I guess this is a trend, though it is nothing new. But it seems that lately all local newscasts promote are "interviews" with people who are victims, usually those who have lost family members to violent crimes or accidents. Tears flow, voices crack and people break down as we watch terribly intrusive reporters throw salt on wounds. Yes, we have to know what the family of a car wreck victim is thinking before the body is cold. And anchors tease these stories in an overly dramatic way.

This is news?

Every story seems to use the phrase "seeking closure" (and my, aren't you helping someone achieve that by sticking a camera in someone's face at a funeral.) Some packages actually feature the reporter asking the world's stupidest question, "How do you feel?" (Oh, just great. We just buried a family member and thought we'd go out to the movies now. Wanna tag along?)

Has common courtesy simply disappeared? Do News Directors actually think these stories have any news value? And please explain to me how stories like this affect the viewer.

It is one thing to do a tribute to someone who has tragically passed on. I've seen some wonderfully moving pieces on fallen firefighters, cops or soldiers that were done tastefully without being intrusive. Pieces that focused on how people lived, rather than how they died. Pieces primarily shot before the funeral so as not to be intrusive into someone's very personal grief. But to simply bang on the door of someone who has suffered a great loss and get that person to cry on camera really crosses the line.

You're not helping people achieve the elusive "closure" by putting them on television. I have a good friend who lost a family member years ago to violent crime, and he's never gotten over it. Closure doesn't really exist when something precious is taken from you. The emptiness never goes away.

Put yourself in the position of the person who has been the victim. If you lost a loved one, would you want a reporter banging on your door? And would you want to tell the world about it?

It's not news. Stop covering it.

Thursday's story ideas

Study shows that "old blood" used for surgery isn't as effective as "new blood."

Intel to roll out $300 laptops.

Schools crack down on cell phones as kids use text messaging to cheat.

What are high diesel prices for school buses doing to your school's budget?

Garage sales are getting more popular with good weather coming as people seek to find extra bucks just about anywhere. (Good Saturday story.)

Gasoline credit cards. Most offer a five percent rebate, which didn't seem like much a few years ago but now gives you a discount of more than 15 cents per gallon.

Consumer story: saving your old dishwasher. People often replace what they think is a dying dishwasher when the real fix is a simple one. Running hot water in the sink before you start the thing. Dishwashers use so little water these days that you're washing half the cycle with cold water if you don't do this. (Thanks to the KitchenAid repairman for this story.)

News ticker: Days without a NY Governor scandal: 0 (And with that in mind, what are the rules in your state regarding the use of campaign funds?)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday's story ideas

Church & state. Regarding Obama's speech, how many churches touch on politics during services? For you weekend warriors who need a Sunday story, set this up now.

Holy Week services start tomorrow. Check on local Easter traditions.

FAA cracks down on airline maintenance. What exactly are they doing, and will this slow things down ever more at your airport?

One in eight baby boomers will get Alzheimer's. Is there any hope for a cure and is stem cell research the best hope?

Vegetarian diets seem to help people with arthritis.

Distracted driving laws. People on the phone, texting, watching DVD players while driving... what is your state doing about it?

Fed cuts rate again. What are the general rules regarding refinancing your mortgage?

News ticker: Days without a New York Governor sex scandal: 0

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Political softball

I once heard a reporter say, "How can anyone be in the news business and be a Republican?"

Hello, McFly! It's a free country. People are entitled to their opinions. Unfortunately, many times those opinions are painfully obvious to the viewer. The "liberal news media" gets that tag because our national news primarily originates in three liberal leaning cities: New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. There are cable networks that skew the other way. In many cases, the network you watch or the newspaper you read is not because of information, but affirmation.

If you're a reporter, you spend a lot of time talking with politicians. Over the years I met some who I grew to like personally. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats. Some were just nice to reporters, never ducked a question, and seemed to be generally interested in helping the public. Others wouldn't have brought a tear if they were hit by a bus.

It is only natural to treat nice people better than those who aren't. But in any matter of political coverage, you have to do your best to put your personal feelings aside. Lately I've been watching some of the biggest softballs lobbed at politicians during the presidential campaign, and that's not our job. I swear that if a certain candidate came to an abrupt halt, a certain network reporter would break his nose.

Giving a candidate a hanging curve ball over the plate doesn't do the public any good. It is our job to get the facts, present them and let the viewers decide. Lobbing softballs isn't right, and it is often obvious the the average viewer.

Hard news like politics demands hardball questions. Fire away.

Tuesday's story ideas

Cracks found in support pillar of Philadelphia interstate. Check with the local highway inspectors in your market to see how things are checked, if at all.

The economy may be in trouble but casinos are still packed. Do people gamble more when money is tight?

Generic drugs... are they just as good as the brand names? (That question from my mother.)

Kid free vacations. Kids are taking over cruise ships and Vegas. Is there anyplace left for adults to go on vacation without munchkins running around?

Shade trees. People are planting more fast growing trees (like the Empress) around their homes to create more shade and save on air conditioning.

Unplugging things that are not in use. You can save five percent on your power bill. Things like cell phone chargers are the worst offenders.

National parks. Will Americans turn to cheap alternatives for vacations this summer?

Has the governor in your state had an affair? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Monday, March 17, 2008


Dear Grapevine,
First of all let me say that I love your blog. It's very informative and you're helping a lot of us out with your advice. Now my question is that I have had the "bright idea" lately to upload my demo reel to Youtube then send my resume, cover letter, and a link to my demo reel to news directors instead of mailing DVDs and papers that will go in some heaping pile in their office where interns stare and start to wonder if the $1.50/hour they make is worth it. My thinking is that no one filters the ND's email but they do filter the snail mail. Am I more likely to get a "does not follow directions" response or a "I like how you're keeping up with the times and using technology to your advantage" response? Is sending it by email in an effort to convenience them worth the risk of having the former response? Also by sending it via email, am I more or less likely to be ignored altogether? It may be "depending on the individual" but NDs seem to be a different breed of boss. Plus from what you and several other people have said about News Directors, it doesn't matter if you send it to their house, have their mother hand deliver it to them, or get it in front of their face by putting your demo reel as an ad at the station... they'll call if they like you and if they don't you're more likely to get a "sorry, wrong phone number" call from the President of the US.
-Scared and Confused (not really, just curious)

Dear S & C,
Well, we've dealt with this issue before, but in case you missed it...

Most NDs don't open emails from names they do not recognize due to the threat of viruses, and also because they simply don't have the time. I averaged about 300 emails per day in my last job. Tapes or DVDs are still the way to go because when a ND gets close to a hire he'll have to show the GM and it is more convenient to take a stack of finalists than a bunch of email links.

However, many smaller market NDs do look at those sites like tvjobs that will post your work online.

Otherwise, follow the directions in the ad, send it and fuhgeddaboudit.

As for sending it to an NDs house, here's a true story. When I was a reporter my dad found out my Uncle Lou was building a swimming pool for a network executive. So he gave my Uncle one of those tapes you send home to your family and Lou puts it on the guy's desk. The network guy calls me, tells me he likes my work, and then says, "How in the world did you tape end up on my desk at home?" In other words, use every connection you have.

Dear Grapevine,
As a college student and aspiring broadcaster, I really appreciate all the insight that you've packed into your blog. It's hard to find advice like that anywhere else. I've read on your blog about how important physical appearance is in the business, and I can understand why, but unfortunately, I have the "bald gene". All along, I've tried to tell myself that it won't affect my ability to land a job, but the more I think about it, the more it's a big deal. While I can't see myself working in any other industry, I do wonder if seeking a career in an off-camera role is simply more realistic, even if it does kill my dream. On the other hand, I might always look back on my decision and ask, "what if?" A few minutes ago, I read a post dealing with the resume tape and what a prospective ND might be looking for right away. Does having a receding hairline, for example, minimize my shot right off the bat? Do you have any thoughts on the matter, or any advice that I should realistically follow? I know it may be an odd sort of question but I'd love to hear you what you think.

-Follicle challenged

Dear Follicle,

Yes it is true this is a very superficial business, but men can get away with average looks a lot easier than women. (Sorry, gals, I don't make the rules.) You don't often see an anchor with thinning or no hair, but there are plenty of successful reporters that fit that description.

For some reason, these rules do not apply to weather and sports. And remember, guys are in very short supply right now. About 90 percent of tapes for entry level reporting jobs come from women.

Since you're young you should consult your doctor about a remedy. I've used one for 12 years and my hair stopped falling out the minute I started. The bald spot on top of my head even filled in.

Of course, now it is turning gray. You can't win.

Monday's story ideas

Gift cards in chapter 11. There's a question as to whether or not gift cards are valid if the company that issues them files bankruptcy. The best advice? Use them as soon as you get them.

Fed cuts rate over the weekend.

Immigration enforcement in the workplace. Would you believe 240 laws were passed in 2007 by various states concerning immigration? Check to see what the deal is in your state.

Prison populations. Some states are raising incentives for good behavior and using community programs to prepare prisoners for re-entry back into society.

Pediatric allergies can often interfere with children's sleep. What can parents do?

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Dear Grapevine,

If a News Director actually asks you to call, is there a good time and day to do so? I have one I've been trying to reach for awhile and I get nothing but voice mail.


Dear Jason,

Actually, that's a very good question. You already know it is taboo to call during crunch time... late afternoon. And trying to get a ND first thing in the morning is useless because he or she is in the morning meeting. Some good times are between 10:15-11:45 in the morning (the meeting is over and the ND hasn't gone to lunch) and between 1:15-1:45 in the afternoon (beck from lunch and before the afternoon meeting.

As for days of the week, avoid Mondays like the plague. Most NDs have piles of messages and fires to put out from the weekend. Friday is actually a good day... everyone is in a good mood.

And it goes without saying that you shouldn't call during sweeps unless directed to do so.

Hey Grapevine,

I hate to sound stupid if I ask someone at the station, but what does IFB stand for?


Dear K.L.,

Interruptible feedback. It also stands for audio that never works when you need it most.


Is it worth the expense to put my picture on my resume or on a tape label?


Dear Kelli,

Save your money. The only thing that gets you the job is what's on the tape, not what's attached to it.


The other day we were on a shoot and the competitor's photog had a dead battery and no working spare. I lent him one of ours. I'm worried I'll get in trouble. Was I right to help out?


Dear L.P.,

Sure, happens all the time. You'll be grateful when a piece of your gear dies and that photog comes to the rescue.