Friday, April 4, 2008


If a News Director is flying me in for an interview, does that mean I'm on a short list?

Dear J.L.,
Absolutely. These days stations aren't spending bushels of money on plane tickets and generally don't fly in more than three top candidates. You've got a good shot. In some cases, you may be the top candidate.

Dear Grape,
In your opinion, what sort of stories are the most memorable on a resume tape? Assuming a News Director gets past my montage, I want mine to really stand out.
-Living in Edit Bay 4

Dear EB 4,
For me it has always been emotion. A story that just draws you in and won't let go. Something that touches the heart while telling a great story. Or something so totally bizarre or unusual you can't stop watching. On the other side of the coin, if a tape starts with a car wreck or a house fire, I fire the clue gun at the eject button in a nanosecond.

Hello Grapevine,
I have a younger sibling that wants to get into the business. Are there any particular schools you'd recommend?
-Big Brother

Big Brother,
Over the years the best tapes always seem to come from Arizona State, Missouri, and the University of Texas at Austin. The best sports tapes always come from Syracuse. But you can still go to any college and be successful. Very often internships and experience with things like the campus newspaper are just as good as a sheepskin from a school with a great reputation.

Dear Grapevine,
Would you be my agent?

Dear Desperate,
Sure, right after someone develops a phone system that automates responses to calls that begin with "Get me outta here."

Friday's story ideas

Eighteen states are suing the EPA for failing to limit emissions on vehicles.

Fourteen billion dollars to collect census data, and the government can't create a computer program that can count. Explain why we need to have a census in the first place. (Hint: it has a lot to do with politics.)

College online. With crazy gas prices, students are finding this method a great way to save money.

Several states are considering lowering the drinking age.

Electric or old fashioned push lawn mowers are growing in popularity. Yet another way to save on gasoline.

Car check. Visit with a mechanic to find out how to make sure your brakes aren't likely to go out, like Jerry Seinfeld's.

Tanning parlors. Incredibly, these places still exist and proponents are advertising the benefits of tanning beds. Talk about the dangers of skin cancer.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Planning for the future

In the late 70's the world was introduced to the VCR. Incredible. You could go out on Friday night and not miss an episode of "Dallas." At the time local news was a cash cow, anchors were high paid celebrities. At the time, who would ever think the golden goose would fly the coop.

Now you can shoot video on a telephone you can keep in your pocket, and send it around the world in an instant.

I'm sure you young people have been reading lots of depressing articles about the state of the business, what with networks laying off people and those of us on the back nine of our careers being replaced by those who are younger and cheaper. When I talk with friends of my generation, we consider ourselves lucky to have lived through "the good old days" of television news. When I talk to young people just getting into the business, I can often hear the worry in their voices, wondering if the industry they so passionately want to be a part of will exist in ten or twenty years.

Who knows? Cell phones that shoot video are miles ahead of the first Betamax, and in ten years they'll be considered dinosaurs, replaced by something we can't even comprehend. News may be delivered by virtual reality into viewer's living rooms. Or we may all have a Star Trek holodeck in our homes and be able to put ourselves in the location of a news event.

How do you prepare for all this? Well, as one of my first News Directors told me, "be versatile." Learn a little about a lot.

But beyond that, it is important to make sure your skills are marketable regardless of what direction the business takes.

Number one on your to-do list? Improve your writing skills. The Internet is a constantly hungry monster that devours copy at an alarming rate. The world will always need reporters, but we don't know what form that reporting will take. Regardless, the ability to write well and fast will be a marketable commodity.

Go back to school. Years ago I was offered a teaching job at a local University, only to find out the state in which it was located required a Masters Degree, something I didn't have. Despite years of experience, I could not be hired. My advice to you is to get the advanced degree. These days you can do it via the Internet. Doesn't matter if it takes you five years, just bear in mind there will always be people who want to be reporters, and there will always be a need for people to teach them. (Though personally, I don't think a Masters Degree makes anyone a better reporter.)

If you don't know how to edit, learn. Editing doesn't just apply to television news. If the industry crashes, people will still need producers, directors, writers and editors in other fields.

Build your nest egg. I know the concept of retirement is ridiculous to someone out of college, but even if you sock away one percent of your income into an IRA or 401k it will leave you with a cushion.

Stay out of the sun. High def is unforgiving, and since the trend is toward younger on camera people, you'll want to look young as long as possible. Sunbathing will only turn your face into a HDTV catchers mitt.

Start a Rolodex if you don't have one. Start networking now, with people both in and out of the business. It's a small world.

Learn about politics. Lots of former news people work for politicians, and despite the claims of hookers it truly is the world's oldest profession. And it gets bigger every year.

Those are just a few ideas. The point is to be prepared for what may come so that you'll always have marketable skills.

Thursday's story ideas

New study shows that drinking more water doesn't necessarily lead to better health.

States want to delay new Medicaid regulations. What would the new rules mean to the people in your market?

Shopping for scholarships. With the cost of college skyrocketing, how can parents look for help? And what about those people who make a living helping them do it?

Speaking of which, why is tuition going so high? They sure aren't passing those increases on to professors. Follow the money.

Homeland Security delays tamper proof driver's licenses till 2014. Exactly what takes so long in the computer age?

Seinfeld flips his car and walks out. Which cars are the safest in rollovers, and what about convertibles?

Paying down your mortgage. The stock market is rocky, banks aren't paying interest, so why not "make" six or seven percent by paying a little extra on your mortgage each month?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wednesday's story ideas

Expiration dates. Plenty of close-out stores sell food past their dates... so what's really safe to eat. Considering that things like water and bread crumbs have expiration dates, what's the real story?

Fluorescent bulbs. Once you turn 'em on, should you leave 'em on? Or does turning them off and on use more energy?

Autism insurance. Apparently most carriers don't cover this, so what's a parent to do?

National pastime, or game for the rich? Baseball tickets have skyrocketed... how does the average Joe afford to go to a ballgame, if he goes at all anymore?

Driving slower. During a gas crisis years ago, the feds lowered the speed limit to 55 mph. Driving ten mph slower can save a ton of gasoline. Will the government do it again, and will drivers back off the gas pedal?

New study shows that pregnant women who wear seat belts are not harming the unborn child, and the belt will protect the baby in a crash.

Government waives regulations for Mexican border fence.

Copper construction alternatives. Are contractors now using other materials due to the rash of copper thefts?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tuesday's story ideas

Independent truckers one day strike. They're not driving today to protest high diesel costs. Imagine paying more than a thousand dollars for a fill up.

Big cities having trouble graduating students. 17 of the 50 biggest markets can't even graduate fifty percent of high school kids. The national average is 70 percent by the way. Why are smaller towns doing better?

The American Heart Association says you should use "hands only" CPR if you see someone in need, even if you haven't been trained in the life saving technique.

Traveling light to save gas. Airlines are replacing glasses with plastic, getting lighter beverage carts and seats. You can do you part by packing light, cleaning the junk out of your car, etc.

EPA has new lead paint rule for contractors who renovate older homes.

April Fools Day. Over the years I've done plenty of bogus packages to pull a fast one on the viewers. Rabbits that lay Easter eggs, pasta bearing trees. Come up with something that almost seems plausible and you'll have a fun feature.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday's story ideas

Vytorin... that drug advertised with the weird loking people dressed up to look like various foods... apparently doesn't help when it comes to heart disease.

Aloha Airlines folds after 60 years. What's ahead for the airline industry and how secure are the smaller carriers serving your market?

Soldiers who are missing in action. Every station has done a piece on those who are killed, but what about families in limbo? How is the community helping those left behind as they wait?

Coupon clipping is hot again as grocery prices go thru the roof. Find a "coupon queen" and show consumers how much they can save.

Bad gas caps. Lots of people drive around with loose, old or no gas caps on their cars, and gas can evaporate very quickly.

How are gas prices affecting local police departments. Will we see a return to the old fashioned walking beat cop, or cops on bikes?

Tuition is a tax break. It is one of the most forgotten tax deductions.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

This week's assignment... go shopping

OK, don't laugh at this exercise, but if you're a young reporter it really will make your packages better.

Take a pen and paper and go to the mall. Walk around for an hour. Don't buy anything. Instead of looking, I want you to listen.

Write down every piece of nat sound you hear. Cash registers, bad Muzak versions of the Rolling Stones, screaming kids, clanking silverware in the food court. Don't leave until you have a list of 100 different sounds. That may seem like a lot, but you'll be amazed at how quickly you fill the list.

I've done this with a lot of people and it really makes you more aware of natural sound, so that you can keep a sharp ear out for it on your stories. Then make sure you implement it when editing your stories.