Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday's story ideas

Memorial Day vet stories. Get 'em lined up now, don't wait till Monday.

Holiday weekend travel. Or lack thereof. Personally, the only place we're going is to see Indiana Jones.

Beat the airline surcharge by shipping your stuff ahead of time. No kidding, people are doing this.

College freebies. Kids are moving out of dorms and apartments, and those with blank checks tend to leave really good stuff on the street. I once lived near an expensive school and you could have furnished a house very nicely with the stuff the students threw out.

Political robo calls. Some states are taking steps to ban them since they apparently don't fall under the do not call regulations.

Summer jobs. With so many people out of work, will there be anything left for college students?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Welcome to the end of sweeps, here's your pink slip

When it comes to timing, television station owners and managers aren't exactly subtle about things. But they are predictable. You can almost set your clock by the layoffs, firings, and forced "resignations" that occur one nanosecond after sweeps end. Judging from the industry news today, nothing has changed.

The only thing better about the May sweeps is that they don't end before Christmas. It's always lovely to see people get canned right after the November book numbers come in as people are sipping egg nog at the Christmas party.

And that brings me to something I should have touched on days ago... the legendary "escape tape."

These days it is not uncommon for stations to basically ask people to leave immediately. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. You may never see it coming, so it is best to be prepared. Because if it happens, do you think the station will let you rummage through your desk for a few days and put a final resume tape together? If you believe that, you probably think bluebirds from a Disney cartoon will come by to do your laundry.

So you need the escape tape. You need to keep copies of everything good. You need a goodie reel that is updated frequently.

And you need to keep all of this at your home, not in your desk.

There are countless stories of people who've been fired and not allowed anywhere near those precious tapes they needed to continue their careers. So, if you haven't already, make your goodie reel and bring it home. Next time you knock out a great story or anchor a great newscast, copy it and bring it home.

Maybe you'll never need an escape tape, but if the pink-slip-out-of-the-blue ever comes, you'll be ready.

Thursday's story ideas

Memorial Day weekend plans... are people canceling their traditional drives due to gas prices?

Summer vacation bargains. In light of gas prices, I've been getting deluged with offers from places that are normally booked solid. What is this doing to the travel industry for summer?

Paying for checked baggage. American will hit you for $15 per bag, and other airlines might follow.

Small market airports are losing service, as airlines are simply cutting routes.

Telemarketing scams are on the rise again, despite the do not call list. Find out what's going on in your market.

Scientists say it is hard to recruit women for medical studies. (Apparently men have no problems being guinea pigs.)

Some theater chains will soon be charging full price for every ticket, including those for children.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mailbag: Numbers often don't add up


What would the major differences be in a person's life working at a top rated station, versus a perennial number two, versus the bottom of the pack? Obviously the top rated stations have more money and probably better equipment, but are there other differences as well?


Very good question. Over the years I've worked at many number one stations, one that was always number one or two, and one that was perennially stuck in the basement. And you're probably thinking everything was rosy at the first place shops while everything else wasn't as nice.

Well, there's one little factor you're missing when it comes to numbers. None of them mean a thing until you consider the ownership of the station.

There are great companies out there that buy the best equipment and pay the best salaries even for their affiliates that aren't number one. There are other number one stations that seem to be run by Mister Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life."

Looking back at the places I've worked, it is amazing that ownership is the only common denominator by which to judge the quality of life. And nothing illustrates that more than working at a station that goes through a sale. In one case I went from the best company I'd every worked for to the worst. Same staff, same product. Different owner.

And I had more fun working at that last place station which had a great ND than at a number one with a manager who made everybody miserable.

Judge every station by how it treats its employees, not the ratings.

Wednesday's story ideas

Rainy day funds. States may have to use these to balance budgets. Does your state have one and how much is in the account?

The TSA is conducting a test that will allow pilots to bypass traditional screening. Would this make it easier for a terrorist to pose as a pilot?

Check with animal shelters to see how they're doing. The summer sees lots of animals dropped off, and the price of pet food has gone up.

Telecommuting. Will businesses let employees work from home, and would employees take a pay cut to do so?

Thanks to all the wars around the world, hunters are finding the cost of ammo is going up considerably.

Congress is negotiating with cell phone companies to reduce those ridiculous cancellation fees. This particularly becomes a problem when you move to another state and find your phone can't get a signal.

Brain tumors. What are the warning signs? (You have plenty of b-roll with Ted Kennedy.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sitting on a story

Used to be that anything that wasn't "off the record" was fair game for reporters. These days, the rules seemed to have changed, but they have nothing to do with things being on or off the record.

These days stations are often tailoring their news according to their political beliefs. Stories that are the lead on one station aren't even mentioned on another. Surely there aren't that many exclusives going around. But it is clear that in many cases if a story doesn't "fit" the station's "agenda" then the story doesn't exist. Once, before I was calling the shots, I saw a story killed that could have affected a Presidential campaign.

Someone asked me recently if I'd ever sat on a story. I thought of two occasions, neither involving politics.

I once covered a luncheon that featured a speech by a man I'll call a national hero. You'd know the name if you heard it. Anyway, when the guy delivered his speech he was so totally hammered he didn't make any sense and slurred his words badly. The hosts politely escorted him away. We didn't see any point in ruining the guy's reputation, so we didn't include any sound bites in our story.

On another occasion I was interviewing a famous actor who would later be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The guy made no sense either, and we saw no reason to tarnish his image.

In those two cases, "sitting" on a story didn't affect the general public. Politics is a different animal. The public deserves to know what you know. It is not your job to decide what the voters should know and what they shouldn't.

And just to let you know the public will make up its own mind anyway, here's one from the archives. One day we went to pick up a vo/sot with a guy who was announcing his candidacy for the school board. When I asked him what he would do if elected, he said, "I have no idea. I've never been to a meeting." We ran the piece, of course.

He was elected in a landslide.

Tuesday's story ideas

Should wealthy schools remain tax exempt? Cities are looking for new sources of revenue.

With people switching to smaller cars, which compacts are the safest?

Supreme Court rules tax can be collected on out of state municipal bonds. Not a sexy story, but will affect the pocketbooks of many investors.

Contractors are busy remodeling as people are fixing up what they have rather than buying new. Is this end end of the disposable society?

Google introduces a new service that will put your health records online. Will anyone want to do this?

Sales of motorcycles are up. Well, they can get 100 miles to the gallon....

Feature: Blind golfers. (Yeah, I didn't believe it either.) There's actually a tournament coming up in New York, and I'm sure viewers would be amazed to see how blind people play golf. Find a blind golfer in your market. Here's a link to what could be an incredible story.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday's story ideas

Airlines cut back on extra fuel. This has pilots concerned, as they could run out of gas if they run into delays or closed airports.

National Parks... will these be this year's hot vacation spots as gas prices soar along with admission costs to theme parks?

Foreclosure bargains. Interest rates are down, people can't sell houses. If you've got money to burn, how do you find incredible bargains?

Study shows it might be better to drink grape and apple juice than to actually eat the grapes and apples if you're trying to prevent hardening of the arteries.

Home video games are becoming so good that arcades are not very popular anymore.

In light of Ted Kennedy's seizure, what steps should you take if you see someone experiencing the same thing?

Cell phone usage in pregnant women tied to hyperactivity in their children.