Friday, June 6, 2008

Mailbag: The agent's point of view

Hey Grape,

Quick question. I've been working at my first job, in a 140's market for just over a year now. I do love everyone I work with and I love the station (weird, huh?!), but I know I don't want to stay here forever. I'm no lifer! Do you think having an agent is a big boost in finding jobs? Or do you think it's too early on for me to even consider that route? I read your blog all the time, and I know you'll say it's not necessary, I guess I just don't know where to start.



Dear Clueless,

Nice that you found a good place to work for your first gig. Don't worry, you'll get over it. (Kidding!)

While you answered your own question (you don't need an agent yet, in my opinion) let me elaborate on exactly why.

Most agents get a minimum of six percent commission, so we'll use that number for this example. Let's say you're making 20k in that first job and would hope to make 30 in your second. An agent's commission on you would be $1800. Nothing to write home about if you're an agent. But you also have to consider that agents have overhead; office expense, phone, dubbing equipment and a whopping postage bill to name a few things. So if you're an agent, you'd have to place an awful lot of people at 30k to even come close to making a decent living.

It is really not worth the time or expense for agents to take on clients who aren't going to make at least 50 thousand dollars.

There are agents who do take on young people like you. While some are reputable, I've run into a bunch who simply send News Directors boxes of tapes featuring every client they have in the hope one will get hired.

I've had experiences dealing with good and bad agents. On the good side, I like an agent who will (politely) call and say something like, "I know you're looking for a male co-anchor, and I've got someone in mind who might be a nice partner for your current female." NDs love agents like this... people who actually know their client's strengths and weaknesses and have an idea what you are looking to hire. This is the kind of agent you want.

On the bad side (in my opinion) is the hardball agent who won't budge on money and hasn't realized the business is flooded with talented people who have been laid off. I remember one anchor I really wanted to hire, but her agent was so totally obnoxious (even for this New Yorker) and unwilling to negotiate I finally moved on. And I made it a point never to deal with clients represented by that agent again.

When shopping for an agent, check references. You can easily find the names of people placed by agents by reading the trades. Just check the "moving on" section of, or the agent's website. Then just call them up and ask if they were happy with their experience.

Finally, when you do get an agent, don't drive the agent crazy with constant phone calls asking if anything is happening. Agents get really tired of "get me outta here" phone calls. Every minute of the agent's time you take up is a minute the agent can't beat the bushes working for you.

Friday's story ideas

D-Day anniversary. Talk to some World War Two vets to get their thoughts on the war in Iraq.

Unemployment has biggest hike in 20 years. What is the situation in your market, and what options do people have to find jobs? Show people how to use the Internet to find work.

Real estate commission. Since agents aren't selling much, are they willing to negotiate on their rates?

Scalping of sports tickets online has taken the practice to a new level. What is legal? Also, some states are seriously looking into the practice.

Congress looks at the practice of Doctors sending prescriptions via email. (Can't read their writing anyway... so it should cut down on mistakes.)

Prices of solar products are beginning to come down. What's affordable?

Eye-fi is a device for your digital camera that can be traced if you lose your camera or it is stolen. Kind of a lo-jack for the Kodak moment set.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Thursday's story ideas

Cops on bikes or motorcycles. Police departments are feeling the gas pinch too. Will we see a return of "Chips"?

Political blogs by politicians are becoming popular. Not only does this offer the citizen a unique look at government, it gives reporters a wonderful library of quotes that you might need for the future.

Hillary "suspends" her campaign. Talk to a delegate or two (of hers) and explain exactly what that means.

Ride share programs. These are popular in the Northeast... so are other cities looking into them to help the environment?

The United Nations issues a report on how to cut your electricity use, which includes getting rid of your electric toothbrush. What other powered appliances can be easily replaced? (Can opener, blow dryer, etc.)

Alternate airports. With airlines cutting so many flights, many at smaller airports, show consumers how they can deal with the situation (and maybe save a buck) by driving to an alternate airport.

Freon leaks... they can make your a/c inefficient and aren't that hard to spot. Talk to an expert.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wednesday's story ideas

Homeland security starts online registration for visitors from certain countries. Does that make Americans feel safe?

Are minivans the news SUVs? They have plenty of room and get much better mileage.

British study shows those antibacterial wipes can actually spread germs.

New regulations proposed regarding rail cargo.

This year border patrol agents may check the immigration status of evacuees during hurricanes.

Water filtration systems. Which ones work the best, and what is the cost. Are you better off with reverse osmosis or a simple filter on the tap?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Considering a morning shift?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not remotely a morning person. I'm not cheerful in the morning, not talkative, and truly am not in my body till about noon on a good day.

But as local stations expand their morning shows (many to the point of a ridiculous length) this is creating more opportunities on the vampire shift.

For those of you who are those cheery morning people, you need a keep a few things in mind before accepting one of these jobs. There's a big difference between getting up at seven in the morning and at two in the middle of the night.

I've turned down a few morning jobs in my day, but at one point I was stuck filling in for someone for about two months. It just about killed me. The worst problem, for me, wasn't getting up, it was getting to sleep. You lie there at seven or eight in the evening and tell yourself, "Okay, I need to fall asleep" and you just can't. You end up with a condition known as "sleep debt" in which you have to "catch up on your sleep" at a later date. In my case, I was so tired I would stumble horribly on air and my writing wasn't up to my usual standards.

The other problem is food. You get up at two, and by three you're hungry. Then you might be done with your newscast at seven, and it's time for breakfast. Again. Then a nap? Or do you force yourself to stay up so you'll be tired enough to go to sleep? Whatever the choice, for some reason you are hungry all the time and the pounds pile on unless you're careful.

Social life? Fuhgeddaboudit. Some people with kids like this shift, but if you're young and single it will make you... old and single. "Hi, wanna go to dinner? Pick you up at four." About the only advantage here is that you can eat with the seniors and get the early bird specials.

Now I know some people do very well with the vampire shift, but for those who have never experienced it you need to think long and hard about what it will do to you. And studies have shown that over the years this kind of unnatural shift will play havoc with your health.

Over the years I'd worked with many people who started with a great attitude on the morning shift only to find they hated it and for the remainder of their contract would bug management about getting off mornings.

If you're seriously thinking about it, fill in for someone for awhile and see what really goes into it before making any decision.

Tuesday's story ideas

The government wants you to quit smoking... well, at least in some areas. Some states are sponsoring tobacco cessation programs.

Proof that obsessive parenting is getting out of hand: some states are introducing legislation to protect umpires and referees from abuse by parents. "Assault on a sports official" will soon become a crime.

Today is the last presidential primary day. Check with the superdelegates in your market to get the mood.

Supermarket markdowns. I've noticed there seem to be more things near their expiration date (meat in particular) in supermarkets that have markdown stickers slapped on them. In light of rising Spam sales (not making that up) are people simply giving up more traditional items?

Child marriages: what are the laws in your market, and what is the age of legal consent in your market?

Tax credits for energy saving home improvements. Run down the list of items that carry credits and show people how they can save now and get a break next April 15th.

FYI, for those of you who sent comments yesterday but didn't see them, well, the "post comment" feature wasn't simply rejected everything.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mailbag: Is my phone out of order?


I'm looking for my second job, and I haven't heard back from the vast majority of the tapes I've sent out. I know to expect this, but my question is, when is it appropriate to follow up on a tape? I know most news directors don't like to be bothered with phone calls and e-mails, but I feel like I'm not doing enough just sending a tape and then sitting back and waiting. Is it appropriate to e-mail a news director, or do I just play the waiting game?


Ready to move

Dear Ready,

We've touched on the phone call question numerous times, and the general rule is that you shouldn't do it. So let me make an analogy a young person can relate to.

Let's say you go to a party or a bar with lots of people around. The next day I ask you to describe in detail the people who weren't interesting to you. Could you do it?

By the same token, a News Director is unlikely to remember a tape that didn't make an impression after viewing hundreds, especially if that tape is like many that were ejected after ten seconds. If you didn't make the short list, a News Director is not going to remember you and won't be able to give you feedback anyway.

But I'll give you a little trick you can try that I used to use. Include a stamped, self addressed postcard with your tape, politely asking for feedback. You're bound to get some response. I did when I was a reporter. NDs that do this are generally nice people.

Bottom line, though, there is probably something wrong with your tape which may only require a simple fix. People are the worst judges of their own work. You need another pair of eyes, preferably belonging to someone with experience, to give you an honest critique.

The biggest problem I see with young people is that many of you do not know the difference between a lead story and a resume tape story. You may have covered the biggest story of the year, but if it has limited video and takes little reporting skills (spot news) that story is not going to make an impression. Courtroom stories are another example of stories that do not translate well to video. Resume tape stories must show enterprise skills, digging, great writing, editing, use of nat sound, a clever standup. And the story must be memorable for a ND to take notice.

When a new client sends me a tape, I have often noticed that the person had not been putting their best work at the beginning of the tape. I remember one young lady whose tape was backwards. The first story wasn't very good. The next was better. The next was very good, and the last was fantastic. I told her to ditch the first story and reverse the order. She got a job shortly thereafter.

Remember the ten second rule: you have to make an impression quickly in order for the ND to continue watching.

Click on "resume tape tips" on the right side of this page and scroll down to "What's wrong with my resume tape?"

Hang in there and good luck.


What's your take on a reporter having a personal page on the net?

-Internet fanatic

Dear Net Fan,

Blogs are one thing and are okay if you keep them professional and objective, but you must have the approval of the ND. But creating a page with photos and stuff that is way too personal is a bad idea, and, to be honest, labels you as immature.

I saw one a while back that featured some revealing photos of a female reporter. Not exactly someone I'd want to hire.


I've heard some people send gimmicky stuff with their tapes to make an impression. What do you think, and what sort of things have you gotten in the mail?

-Looking for an edge

Dear Looking,

We'll, I've gotten microwave popcorn several times. Someone sent me a giant poster with their picture on it. Models often send their portfolios. But these things had no effect on my opinion of the tape. I never hired anyone who sent something with their tape.

Though I always ate the popcorn.

Monday's story ideas

Tuning up your home air conditioning. Cars aren't the only thing using a ton of energy. Show consumers how they can improve the efficiency of their a/c. Even planting shade trees near the unit can help. Talk to an expert.

Speaking of keeping cool... and warm.... geothermal systems are hot with new construction. Show how they work and what you can save.

Amber alerts for senior citizens is being considered, as older people with Alzheimer's or dementia can occasionally wander off.

According to the plastic surgery industry, more guys are opting for liposuction. Be tasteful with your b-roll on this one.

Study shows that few Americans are "health literate." What exactly does that mean?

Dickering with hotels. With people cutting back on vacations, how can you get bargain rates and sleep cheap this summer?

Confusing cell phone bills. Consumers apparently don't understand charges they can incur by downloading ringtones from outside companies.