Friday, May 16, 2008

You had me at "Hello"

Dead air is a killer. On radio and television. (see: "The Sopranos")

But it's even worse during a telephone interview. So if you're about to go through one of the more popular (read "cheap") methods of hiring these days, you need your gift of gab to be on top of its game.

If you're looking for that first or even second job, you're probably going to run into some stations that conduct all interviews over the phone. Personally, I always thought this was pretty scary from both points of view. You can never really judge a person until you meet face to face, and, if you're the job applicant, taking a job without checking out the station or the town is a blind leap of faith.

So along with shining your shoes for a face-to-face interview, you need to polish up your phone skills.

(I should point out that in many cases where there is a great distance between the employer and prospective employee, a phone interview can be a preliminary to a face-to-face.)

So, you've sent your tape, the News Director likes it, and wants to chat about the job on the phone. If you're lucky, the ND will contact you in advance via email and set up a time. But you'll need to be on your toes in the event you simply get a cold call. And preparation for this kind of interview is just the same as if you were putting on your best outfit.

Here's your checklist:

-Voice and inflection. The News Director is going to have to "hear" your energy, so make sure you are excited about the job when you get the call. I once called a guy for a preliminary phone interview that went like this:

Me: "I just looked at your tape and thought I'd chat with you a little about our weekend anchor position and tell you about our station and the town."

Applicant: (sounding like Ben Stein from "Ferris Bueller") "Uh, okay."

Me: "So, have you ever been to our city?"

Applicant: "No. I don't care for that part of the country and I'd really like to move to Florida."

As Bruce Willis would say, "Way wrong answer!"

That applicant not only didn't get a plane ticket, the phone call only lasted a few minutes. I don't even remember the rest of the conversation because I just kept thinking, Why did this person even send a tape?

With that in mind, you must force your adrenaline into your voice. Sound excited about the possibilities. Let the News Director "hear" your smile. Next time you watch a newscast, just listen and don't watch. Note the reporters who sound interested and who tell a story by talking and not just reading. That's the kind of tone an ND needs to hear. And lighten up. Job hunting is serious, but the ND needs to know you're a friendly person.

-Have a list of questions. During every interview the News Director will ask, "Do you have any questions for me?" Having a few ready to go shows the ND you've done some thinking about the job. A good one for reporters is to ask about the quality of the photography staff. Another is to simply ask the ND, "Tell me about yourself." You should also ask about cost of living, quality of life, etc. It helps if you've gone to the station's website and checked out the product if possible. "I notice you do a lot of live shots." Another good question that shows you're serious is, "could you send me an apartment guide?"

But don't ask frivolous stuff. I was always amazed at the percentage of young job applicants who asked, "What's the single life like there?" (Geez, I don't know. Can't find a single nightclub that plays the Bee Gees.)

-Have a list of topics. The ND might not be a world-class conversationalist, so find out some things about the market to talk about. "You guys had a really big story there last week." When you hear a little dead air, jump in and fill in the gaps. Don't just wait for the next question.

-Be ready for a current events and/or writing test. The ND may fire a few questions just to see if you actually know what's going on in the world. I've had a few clients who, at the end of the conversation, were told that some wire copy was about to be emailed and they would have 30 minutes to re-write it and send it back.

-If you know when the call is coming, make sure your surroundings are quiet so that you can concentrate. I really don't want to talk with anyone with rap music (oxymoron) playing in the background.

-Hold off asking about money until the very end. It shows you are more interested in the job and the opportunities offered.

-Have something to drink nearby. You will probably be nervous and you mouth will go dry.

-Finally, and I can't believe I have to say this, don't pick up another call if your call waiting beeps. I once had a woman call me about a job, then put me on hold when she got another call. Guess who wasn't on the line when she came back?

So get your voice in shape, just like your resume tape. Because sometimes you can get your foot in the door without taking a step.

Friday's story ideas

Cell phones for soldiers. I ordered a book from Amazon and it arrived along with a mailer asking me to send in my old cell phone to be fixed and passed on to a soldier. Talk to local vets and find out what they're doing along these lines... and maybe find one back from the war to talk about how nice it is to call home.

This one is actually pretty funny. Beer drinkers are bypassing more expensive brews, while sales of the cheap swill are up.

Explain the commodities market. Many feel that oil prices are simply due to speculation.

Congress passes farm bill. What does it mean to those in your market? (It also includes an increase for food stamps.)

Many women are now getting MRIs instead of mammograms to detect breast cancer.

There are not enough VA therapists available to assist soldiers returning from war. Some are waiting two months for an appointment.

Gay marriage. What's the deal in your state in light of the California ruling?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Can you learn from a cheapskate?


How important is a station's owner? I am looking for my first job in tv news, and I think one station seems interested in me, which is exciting. However, I have heard less than stellar things about this station's parent company. What does an owning company do within a station that would trickle down to the reporters and other employees on that level?


Dear K,

Well, things don't really "trickle down" when it comes to mandates from the home office. News Directors and GMs might be part of a conference call and hear, "Effective immediately, no more overtime!" And, bada bing, just like that, the change goes into effect.

As for cheap companies, there are plenty out there and some of the more generous ones are cutting back as well. (Some day I'll do a post about some of the more bizarre money saving techniques I've seen.) And while you don't want to end up working for companies that throw nickels around like manhole covers, that doesn't mean you should pass up an opportunity with one for a first job.

Why? Well, because managers also have to start somewhere. Some of the best NDs have started in some pretty bad shops. And while you might be getting your first job, you might find yourself working for a rookie manager who might be a terrific mentor. Who might bring you along when he or she gets a better job. And you really can't be too picky for the first gig.

On the other side of the coin, you can go to work for a number one station owned by a great company and end up working for a News Director who channels Lord Voldemort and pulls the wings off flies in his spare time.

Bottom line, judge a first job opportunity by what you can learn. But when you're ready to move on, be more selective.

Thursday's story ideas

Policy changes for rape victims. Often women are afraid to come forward, so in some cities they are allowed to do so, and the evidence from an exam is then placed in a sealed envelope in case they later decide to press charges.

Police would like to see IDs required for the purchase of pre-paid cell phones, as criminals are very fond of them since they don't leave an electronic trail that can be traced to anyone.

New Jersey enacts paid family leave bill, which would allow people to take leave to care for sick family members. What's the deal in your market?

Green bed and breakfasts. Many are offering environmentally friendly weekends.

Speaking of hotels, more and more are asking people to hang up towels if you don't want them washed every day. Talk to hotel managers to see if guests are actually pitching in.

Ligthtening the load while flying. Airlines are really enforcing weight restrictions on baggage, so do some shopping and find the lightest suitcases.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Remember the future

When you're right out of school and in your twenties, retirement can seem a million miles away. It did for me, and I didn't put a penny into an IRA until I was 34. Then companies started matching 401k contributions, and we all thought, "Hey, free money" which is exactly what it is.

Even if you're twenty two, buried with student loans and eating mac and cheese most nights, you owe it to yourself to save something, anything for the future. Dollars socked away when you're forty years till retirement will multiply many times over by the time you need them. And if you're not taking advantage of any company match, you're throwing away free money.

Even if you put away one percent, four decades will do magical things to your nest egg. You'll thank me when you're wearing black socks and Bermuda shorts in Boca Raton.

OK, back to making resume tapes.

Wednesday's story ideas

Book your airline tickets for summer travel now, as carriers are expected to slap more fuel surcharges on their tickets.

"Large particle" pollution. What is it, and why does it send seniors to the hospital?

Banning the use of hand held cell phones could save thousands of lives each year. If this is not the law in your market, ask your legislators why it isn't.

As congress tries to regulate the cigarette industry, menthol is apparently untouchable even though it is an ingredient many see as a key to addiction. Talk to your congressional reps.

Speaking of coffin nails, many drugstore chains will no longer sell them.

Events that attract RV's such as NASCAR aren't seeing the gas guzzlers very much these days. (And is there anything less green in this country than auto racing?)

Government red tape for those in wheelchairs. One girl in NYC has been stuck at home for a month while her chair waits repair approval. What takes so long for people who desperately need fast results?

Real life archaeologists. With Indiana Jones around the corner, show viewers what it is really like to hunt for ancient artifacts.

Old fashioned clotheslines are "in" again as people look to cut back on power usage and go green. Since clothes dryers use a lot of juice, sales of lines and clothespins are up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The summer resume tape Olympics

In a few short days the May book will end. While this means a summer filled with garbage for the average viewer, it also marks the beginning of the annual job hunting frenzy.

Which means you should be getting your stuff ready now. But there's a little more to do than just cruise the job leads.

Of late I've had a few people get jobs that weren't posted in the usual places. Yes, I want you to visit every day for listings, but don't stop there. There are other places to find openings if you do a little homework.

You also have to bear in mind that everyone else is looking for a job, and when those people find one, that creates an opening.

So, here's a little checklist to help you stay ahead of the pack:

-When visiting tvjobs, scroll down and look on the right side of the page to the headings "News Directors named" and "On the Move." A new ND generally wants to make changes, so send tapes to them whether they currently have openings or not. Trust me, they will shortly. As for the people on the move, that's some lead time for you to know where an opening has just occurred that might not be posted.

-Make a list of markets in which you'd like to work. Send tapes to the stations in those markets, openings or not.

-After you've made your market list, check each station's website. Very often job openings are listed there first. Sometimes, that's the only listing.

-If you're at the stage where you want to freelance, contact the station to see if they employ that system.

A few things to do before you actually mail your tapes... check out the newscast online if you can. Many markets have one or more lousy operations, and the product generally reflects it.

Check the staff list of the stations you've targeted to see if you know anyone.

Let your friends know where you're sending tapes, to see if they have any connections.

Consider a road trip if you're a recent graduate.

Don't call! Send your tapes, fuhgeddaboudit, and continue to look for openings.

You've basically got till October to find another gig. Most stations don't take the July book seriously, so that gives you a good bit of time.

Let the games begin!

Tuesday's story ideas

Planned obsolescence. Is your iPhone now obsolete? The word is that Apple has "run out" of the things and will soon introduce an "upgrade." At what point will consumers stop falling for the latest innovation?

Wal-Mart's profits are zooming, and we have to assume other discount stores are doing very well in this economy. Are people who never shopped for bargains before now doing so?

Scammers are calling people claiming to be with the IRS and asking for bank info in order to deposit their rebate checks.

Voter ID changes. Some states are considering making proof of citizenship the valid form of ID in order to vote.

Tornado shelters. They're like old 1950's bomb shelters, and I would assume they're selling well in light of all the tornadoes lately.

Safety deposit boxes aren't always safe from government officials, as their contents can be seized. Some lawsuits are in progress to protect citizens personal belongings.

Here's one viewers will love... many gas pumps can't be programmed to sell gasoline for more than four dollars per gallon.

Here's one for you reporters working in the state of New York. Find a politician who hasn't cheated on his wife, doesn't drink and drive, hasn't fathered a love child, doesn't have a paid "life coach" on staff... oh, sorry, I just couldn't resist.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mailbag: Comp days, the world's best victimless crime

Hey Grape,

What is the real deal with comp days? At the last station I worked, the ND gave them out like Halloween candy. My new boss says they're illegal. Is he kidding?

-Comp Day Lover

Dear Comp,

Well, it depends on where you live and the laws of that state, your point of view, whether your boss is willing to look the other way, and a number of factors. Will the "Comp Day Police" come after you if you get a comp day?

Legally, you're supposed to be paid for all your overtime, but if you'd rather have a day off instead of cash I never really saw how the comp day system hurt anyone. It helps an ND keep the budget down, and gives you more vacation time.

I've worked at many stations that used comp days. I personally loved stockpiling days off.

Dear Grape -

6 months into my 2 year one-man-band contract I told myself I would be outta here the day my contract expired, but with no job prospects in sight... I signed on for another year. I have a good tape with lots of live shots and interactive stand ups and am considered one of the strongest one-man-bands in the shop (and we're ALL OMB's.) But with only one man band reporting experience on my resume, am I considered weaker in comparison to others with equal amount of experience, but are working with photog's on a daily basis?

-OMB Hater

Dear OMB Hater,

OMB experience is certainly not going to hurt you. Managers will know you're not a prima donna and are used to hard work, and they will understand why you don't have any things like walking standups on your resume tape while other reporters do. They'll also understand you don't wanna do the one man band thing anymore. (You need to make it clear in your cover letter that you shoot your own video and want to work for a station that uses photogs.)

Remember, you get hired by your ability to put a story together, writing skills, and on-camera presence. NDs make allowances for those who have to work alone.

Dear Grapevine,

Do many companies pay moving expenses? I'm looking for my first job and just wondering.

-The Rookie

Dear Rook,

For entry level jobs, it is rare that a station will pay moving expenses these days. Though some may throw you a few hundred bucks to rent a U-Haul, or for your gas expense incurred in moving.

For other jobs, it just depends on how badly they want you and how badly you want to negotiate for it. Anchors generally get moving expenses, reporters not so much.

Bottom line though, always ask. The worst they can say is no.


Just curious. What J-School did you attend?


Dear Jake,

I didn't. Majored in English. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Call for topics

You guys have been great listeners and I always appreciate the nice comments via email.

Now I'd like you to tell me what topics you'd like me to cover.

Just send your ideas to And if I don't have the information you need, I'll get it for you.

Monday's story ideas

Stockpiling staples as an investment. With the stock market a little dicey and banks paying next to nothing, you can "invest" in things you're going to use in the future. For instance, if you see toothpaste on sale, buy a ton of it. It's not gonna go bad, the price is only going to increase, and you are in effect getting a solid return on your investment. Make a list of other non-perishable staples for consumers.

Selling stuff on the Internet. Ebay is the most popular, but there are other places like Craigslist that might not be as big but are free. Show your viewers the best and/or cheapest way to unload merchandise.

People trying to trade SUVs are finding care dealers offering very little when it comes to trade-ins. What's the best way to sell a car yourself?

Flu vaccine manufacturers are making record numbers of doses for this winter, but will people want them because last year's vaccine was useless?

Postage goes up today. Producers might make a graphic showing the increases for things other than first class mail. And can we expect another quick increase down the road due to transportation costs?

As the school year comes to an end, more systems are seriously considering a four day week next year to cut costs.

The state of Texas may take legal action against to collect sales taxes, since the bookseller has a distribution point in the state. What's the actual rule in your state regarding sales taxes on the net? And will more states see this as a source of revenue?

Recycling cell phones. This could become more popular as the devices apparently contain elements like gold and copper.