Friday, April 18, 2008

Mailbag: Help me, my News Director is Lord Voldemort


Seriously, why are so many News Directors just plain mean? I swear I heard mine speaking in parseltongue. I really like the market I'm in, but this guy is just unbearable. He treats everyone equally... like dogs. Thoughts?


Dear Abused,

Lucky for you I like Harry Potter and got the snake reference. Very subtle. As for your problem, it is a common one, as a nasty manager has driven many a creative person out of the business.

In your case, since you like the market, you might check out the atmosphere at the competition and float a few feelers to see if there's any interest. Chat up the other station's photogs and reporters.

Otherwise, you'll either have to find another job or hope your ND goes somewhere else. Of course, if his predecessor was a jerk, chances are his successor will be as well.

As to why they're mean, my long standing theory is that many are jealous of people who have more talent. The really good News Directors surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are and have different qualities, then appreciate their contributions.


I'm graduating soon, and wanted your advice on how desperate I should be for a reporting job. I've interned at several stations and network bureaus, and experienced a wide-range of work environments in these places. One shop (circa mid-20s market) was a perennially third/fourth-place station with a revolving door of management that seemed to hire young reporters like they were going out of style. While, another station I worked for was number 1 in their market with happy people, seemingly little back-stabbing, great equipment and great management, and a renovated newsroom. If I get offered a job at a place with the environment like the former (from what I can find out from current employees there) should I settle on it just to get more experience for about a year, or am I just opening the door to trouble, misery, and possibly having to lick my wounds when I get out?



Why don't you come to your senses? (Sorry, couldn't resist the obscure Eagles reference.)

Seriously, I'm impressed a young person would use a term like "circa" and write such a concise letter. It is very good that you have gotten more than one look at the business during your internships. Obviously, you'd like to work in a mentoring environment, and one that doesn't send you home every day with enough cutlery in your back to host a dinner party. Stations with too many young people won't offer as much as one with a nice mix of veterans and rookies. And a revolving door is never a good sign. Since you wrote this note to an old person, that shows you're open to suggestion and would probably benefit from a station with experienced staffers.

Of course, this is all assuming you get more than one job offer or are willing to hold out for something good. Since you're a guy and 90 percent of all entry level applicants in news are women, you can pick and choose a little more. If you can go to a happy place where you can be a sponge, it will pay off in the long run.


I'm in my first job. My low salary isn't nearly enough to pay the bills when you add in my student loans. Just curious how you did it when you were a rookie.

-Tapped out

Dear Tapped,

I graduated long ago. Four years of college cost me $5200. That's not a misprint... fifty-two hundred dollars for tuition, room & board, and spending money. Education was cheap back then, so nobody had loans.

But I still struggled on my first salary. I had a second job during the summer as a public address announcer for the local minor league baseball team. My ND was nice enough to adjust my schedule. They paid me (don't laugh) ten bucks a game. But, I got free dinner (hot dog, fries, soda, GooGoo cluster candy bar) and all the between-inning prizes no one claimed. Those were generally coupons for free lunches at various places around town. I basically ate free all summer.

Just get creative. Cut corners, clip coupons, learn to cook. If it really gets bad, marry rich. (Kidding.)

By the way, I literally have not eaten a hot dog since 1984. The GooGoo clusters are another story, however.

Hi Grape,

I'm not really happy with my college resume tape. It needs a little editing and some standups re-shot. I have no access to equipment. Any ideas?


We've touched on this before, but since you missed it, just call the chief photographers at your local stations. Tell him you'd like to hire a shooter to help you. Every station has a few guys who shoot and edit on the side. Most shooters will help you for a reasonable price.

You've got questions, the Grape has answers. Or at least opinions. Send any questions to If you'd like a personal reply that won't be posted on the blog, just make a request in your correspondence.

Friday's story ideas

Haggling. People have done it for years with cars, now it is getting more popular with big ticket items like furniture and jewelry. As some businesses suffer, are they willing to wheel and deal?

Satellite radio merger. Will current radios become obsolete, and are people waiting for the merger before taking the plunge?

Studies show that old fashioned Vitamin D keeps your blood flow at an optimum level. Sunlight is a natural source of Vitamin D.

Why do some cities take the lead in recycling while their next door neighbors fail to offer any recycling to citizens? How much does it cost?

Gambling on the rise. When times are tough, the tough go to a casino. Check on the gambling establishments in your market.

Some food companies are taking high fructose corn syrup out of their products. In one case, Thomas' English muffins actually has a banner on the package that tells consumers they've removed this deadly ingredient. Will it become a trend, and do consumers care?

Gasoline credit card wars. It seems like every gas pump these days has an offer with some sort of gas rebate. Show consumers how they can take advantage of these.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

You'll never reach your potential without a photog (or, why working as a one man band won't help your career)

In my fourteen years as a reporter, I remember my single experience as a one man band very well. I was the only person in the newsroom during the dinner break when I heard a tremendous commotion across the street. I looked outside and a huge fire was consuming a downtown building. The fire department hadn’t even arrived. This was in the days before cell phones and beepers, so I decided to grab a camera and deck and ran across the street just as the firemen arrived. I framed up some great shots; a fireman running up a ladder and breaking a window, flames leaping into the evening sky. I heard great nat sound of part of the building collapsing. I was writing the story in my head as I shot the video, and that would come into play later. When it was over I ran back to the newsroom, hoping to impress my News Director with my hustle. I popped the tape in the playback deck, hit the play button and saw video of only one thing.

My feet.

I had “reverse rolled.” When I thought I was rolling, I wasn’t. When I thought I wasn’t, I actually was. The camera was on my hip, pointing down. While I was trying to be a reporter and photographer at the same time, I couldn’t fully pay attention to either task.

But then again, what would you expect? I was not, and still am not, a photographer.

While everyone can operate a camera, not everyone is a photographer. There is a very big difference.

Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here (apologies to Dennis Miller), but this one man band trend is a bad idea. There are some who will argue, “This is the future of television,” to which I say, “This is the future of ordinary television.” Sure, there are a few companies trying this out in big markets, but let’s be honest. This all has to do with bean counters that have no concept of quality television trying to save a buck. (At this point the pencil pushers usually put out a corporate memo asking people to "embrace" the VJ concept. You know, give it a big hug even though you don't want to, like some overripe relative at Christmas. When you hear the "E" word from corporate, run like hell.)

So, thanks to people who throw nickels around like manhole covers, we have news that no longer comes from a team, but from a collection of reporters who are sadly deprived of the advantages of working with photographers. Are there people who are good at being a one man band? Sure. Are there reporters who are talented shooters? Of course. But most often reporters and photogs work better as a team.

As some stations switch from two person crews to one man bands, the industry is ending up with veterans who are being squeezed out. In most cases, it is a lot easier for photographers to become reporters than vice versa. Most photogs I’ve known tend to be very smart and usually ask questions on a story anyway. Most reporters really don’t pay much attention to the camera and gear.

But, let’s get to the reason for this article, and it is not about news philosophy. Lately clients who get more than one job offer at the same time are asking me a recurring question. Is it better to be a one man band in a bigger market or opt for a reporting job at a station that has photographers in a smaller market?

As in all instances in which you have two job offers, you have to consider all the factors. (Money, location, size of Maalox bottle on News Director's desk.) But if you’re a young reporter just starting out, the answer should be a no-brainer.

Take the job at the station with the photogs.

Let’s make this a hypothetical situation. Sarah is a 23-year-old reporter working in a 100’s market. She has one year of experience. She receives two job offers at the same time. The first is at a station in a 40’s market in which she would be working as a one man band. The second is at a 60’s market at a station that has a world-class photography staff.

Let’s take the other factors (money, benefits, etc.) out of the equation, because we want Sarah to focus on two things and only two things; what is best for her career long term, and which station will give her the best opportunity to have a better resume tape. (I know for those of you with college loans eating ramen noodles every night a few thousand bucks seems like a lot, but not if you're in this biz for the long haul.)

Now let's take a ride in our time machine and flash forward to the end of Sarah's contract two years in the future. She's now 25, with three years experience. At this point in a career she should be ready to make the jump to a decent market.

If Sarah took the one man band job, she probably has an acceptable tape, though it lacks the creativity and flair provided by a photog. She doesn't have any creative standups since the camera has never been able to move with her. No walking standups, no pans, no tilts, no zooms, nada, bupkes, zilch. Nothing but static shots. She's probably gotten ticked off putting her resume tape together because some of the standups she wanted to use weren't entirely in focus. Her face was never lit properly, and half the time she looks like she's auditioning for the road company of Phantom of the Opera. Sarah is really attractive but her tape makes her look like the bad lighting girl from Seinfeld. The result? Sarah may get a decent job, but her chances at making a great first impression were hurt because her video didn't put her work in the best light.

Now let's move on to our second scenario. Sarah spent two years working in a smaller market and never shot a single frame of video. She got the benefit of working with creative photographers who presented her in the best light. She has a resume tape filled with creative standups, and her packages feature great video and editing. Many of her stories have incorporated ideas provided by photogs while she was doing her story. She's reaped the benefits of working with a better staff, because, let's be honest, News Directors who don't employ a one man band system attract the best people. Sarah is now ready to make the jump to a very good market, and when she gets there she'll be a well-seasoned reporter. She understands the value of teamwork in the field.

There are other intangibles at work. As a one man band you are often isolated, and, I'm told, this can be a lonely existence. You miss the camaraderie. As part of a crew you have a partner and very often a friend for the day. You'll trade ideas that will make your story better. Remember, a photog wants his work to look great, so chances are he'll try his best to make you look great. Quality is a high priority with most shooters.

And trust me, photogs don't seem to have the backstabbing chromosome that so many other news people do. They will become your close friends. I flip through my Rolodex after years in the business and it seems as though half the names belong to photogs.

Finally, just remember that major market News Directors have tons of applicants, and they are looking for quality. You want your resume tape to make you look your best.

The best way to do that is to have it shot by a professional.

Thursday's story ideas

New airline bump rules can get you up to $800. Show travelers how they can get bumped if they want to collect a hefty voucher.

High cholesterol in your 40's raises the risk of getting Alzheimer's.

What are the cheapest and easier foods to grow that will save you the most at the grocery store?

While we're on the subject of groceries, let's talk markdowns. When is "expired" food really still safe to eat?

Teeth whiteners. Which ones are safe, and which ones weaken your teeth?

"Miles per dollar." That's the trendy new phrase you'll hear this summer, and when you figure out exactly how far you can go on a buck, you might really start consolidating your trips.

Save the earth by "opting out" of junk mail, credit card offers, etc. Show consumers how they can save trees with a few simple calls or emails.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This program is closed captioned by the spelling impaired

Okay, so I'm watching TV with mom the other day, and the closed captioning is always turned on since she's very hard of hearing. I couldn't help but laugh at the numerous misspellings during a local newscast. Some result in really creative double entendres, others can turn a great story into something stupid.

Yes, I know that I often spell phonetically on this blog with words like "thru" and "nite" but seriously, please hit spellcheck before sending your script to the prompter.

When closed captioning first came to our station in the early 90's, we invited members of the deaf community to our station about a month after we started. One woman came up to me and, thru an interpreter, said, "Can't you news people spell?"

Anyway, take a minute. Lots of people will appreciate it, and you'll appear smarter.

Okay, I'm thru for tonite.

Wednesday's story ideas

New study shows single parent households cost taxpayers more than 100 billion dollars for things like health care, welfare, etc. Which has some groups calling for the government to spend money on programs which will educate people on marriage and parenting before they take the big leap.

Ways to save money on prescriptions. Ordering online, ordering three months worth of prescriptions, and buying generics.

Real estate agents say that low prices and lower mortgage rates are getting people buying again. Check out the situation in your market.

A chemical used to make certain kinds of plastic bottles may contribute to prostate and breast cancer.

McCain proposes getting rid of the federal tax on gasoline this summer. Will people be more willing to take a road trip?

And while we're on the subject of McCain's ideas, let's talk about "discretionary spending" which exists in just about every local government. What's the deal in yours?

Companies are bypassing pricey hotels and holding meetings at state parks that have meeting facilities.

Apparently those new twister fluorescent light bulbs are recyclable. Check with your local energy provider to find out how.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Negotiating in a mine field

Many years ago I worked with an anchor who truly overestimated his value to the station. It was time for the annual review and he had just asked the ND for a huge raise, one that would nearly double his salary. Even though it was the cash cow 1980's, the ND said no and offered a reasonable pay hike. The anchor then told everyone in the newsroom he was going over the ND's head to the GM. We all warned him not to do so, but he did it anyway.

The conversation reportedly went like this.

Anchor: "I have to make this amount of money next year."
GM: "Then get a second job."


These days even established on-air people have to realize the economics of the business. Making demands and holding out can leave you without a job. There is always someone younger and cheaper circling like a vulture, waiting to swoop in and take your place.

So, you ask, "Well then, oh wise Grape, what's a person to do?"

The answer is to think out of the box. There are other things besides money that can make your life more comfortable.

If you station and company are having tough times economically, and most are, get creative. You can ask for more vacation time. You can suggest that you get a bonus based on ratings. Or maybe ask for those perks you aren't currently getting, like cell phones, country club memberships, health club memberships, or just about anything else you can think of that the station makes available to some employees. Stations can work out trade deals with just about any business. Maybe they can work one out for you.

But now is not the time to play high stakes poker and go "all in." You might find the station calling your bluff and find yourself on the unemployment line.

Tuesday's story ideas

Congress considering extension for unemployment rates. What will this mean in your market?

Wal-Mart announces plans to videotape gun sales to help law enforcement agencies.

Premium gas (once known as "Hi-Test") required on many new cars. Consumers need to be aware that what they're buying may require gas that costs an extra quarter per gallon.

Fewer teenagers are getting pregnant but more women in their twenties are having out-of-wedlock babies.

Food stamp recipients having a hard time buying groceries due to increased cost. What do they do to make up the difference?

Certain blood pressure medicines are diuretics and flush calcium out of your system, which can result in bone density loss.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Monday's story ideas

Taxes due tomorrow. Go over last minute deductions, ways to e-file, how to protect yourself from identity thieves.

"Record store day" is coming on the 19th. Good old fashioned stores that sell music will give out free stuff in an effort to acquaint the download generation with another way to buy tunes.

Trans fats shown to have a connection with breast cancer. Show viewers how to shop, and what fast foods contain these.

Will parents finally restrict their kids computer usage in light of the Florida attack video? And is there a way for them to block the uploading of videos?

Grocery stores are selling canvas bags, hoping customers will re-use them instead of taking paper and plastic.

Pre-washed produce. Often the process doesn't get the germs from the inside leaves on things like lettuce. What's the best way to make sure your food is as germ free as possible?

Nursing homes are writing arbitration clauses into their contracts in order to cut down on lawsuits over the quality of care.

Some states are writing new regulations regarding the use of stun guns.

Term limits on legislators is being discussed in some states.