Friday, June 13, 2008

One market anchors

Years ago I was visiting a friend who worked in another market, and of course I watched his newscast. Then we went to dinner, and he asked me what I thought of the news team.

"No offense," I said, "But your anchor is just awful."

"He's a piece of the furniture," he said. "That guy is our star."

I'd never heard the furniture reference before, but I have many times since. It refers to someone who has been at one station so long that he or she has literally blended into the woodwork...

And become a viewer favorite.

It's like a favorite old pair of slippers. You love them but wouldn't throw them away even though Goodwill wouldn't take them. Or a crusty old Uncle you love even though he's embarrasing out in public.

You can find a piece of the furniture in most markets, and if you look up their bios chances are you'll find they've been there forever.

Which brings me to the point of all this... if you find a place you really like, why not become part of the decor yourself? Even if you're talented and could go elsewhere, longevity can be extremely attractive to a News Director... and very lucrative for you. Moving every two years doesn't do much to establish yourself with an audience, but sticking around does.

You'll get to a point (if you haven't already) when you realize the network anchor shot just isn't gonna happen. At that point, look at your current situation. Could you be happy and stay there forever? Could you be the favorite Uncle or pair of slippers for the local viewers?

There's nothing wrong with being a one market anchor. Plenty of them out there making lots of money while being very happy. Just something for you to consider when you stop chasing the brass ring.

***Coming this weekend... something special for photogs!

Friday's story ideas

Student loans are being affected during the credit crisis. What will kids do if they can't get a loan?

"Staycation" is the new term for staying home and being a tourist in your own town. (Also a euphemism for "I don't feel like paying a small fortune to drive the kids to Disney World this summer.") Show viewers some little known tourist attractions in their own backyard.

There are now a record number (more than seven million) of people in the criminal justice system. What are states doing to deal with the increasing cost?

Detoxification diets. What's safe, and what's risky? Talk to a doctor and a nutritionist.

The Supreme Court is considering a ruling as to whether child abuse investigations violate parents' rights to raise their children any way they see fit.

More teenagers are getting plastic surgery.

Those Wii systems are being used for medical rehabilitation.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mailbag: Does the new guy in town carry a hatchet?


We just got a new ND who called a staff meeting on his first day and assured us that all our jobs are safe. Should I believe this, or is this a standard tactic?

-On eggshells

Dear Eggshells,

Well, obviously if you're a new manager you don't want people worrying about their jobs, so this is a pretty standard line for those first day speeches. Whether the ND is telling the truth or not is another story.

I remember going thru this once when I was a reporter. The old guy loved my stuff, the new guy hated it. I moved on.

The best thing for you to do is get your resume tape updated (and out of the building) in case the new guy goes thru the newsroom with a chainsaw. You'll probably be able to get a good read on things shortly. You can also call up his previous station and ask whoever answers what kind of person your new boss is.

Having been on both sides of the fence, I can tell you that it is impossible to like all the people you've inherited. Just like a baseball team, a new manager wants to eventually put together his or her own lineup.

If you should become a target of the "make him miserable so he'll quit" tactic, you'll know where you stand.


How exactly does an "out clause" work?

-New Kid

Dear New Kid,

Glad you asked, since many young people have never even heard the term.

Let's say your first job is in market 80 and you've signed a two year contract with no outs. 18 months into the contract, a station from market 39 calls and offers you a job. You can't take it. But if you have a "top 40 out" you can leave (according to the terms of your contract) to take a job in any of the top 40 markets. Such cases may require you to give a month's notice, or only allow this in the last few months of a contract.

Always, always, always have a lawyer look at a contract before signing. Every contract is different. And remember, outs are rarely offered... you have to ask.

Grape Man,

I keep sending out reporting tapes and getting offered producers jobs with the promise to move into reporting. What does this sound like to you?


Dear Confused,

Sounds an awful lot like "the check is in the mail."

Thursday's story ideas

New iPhones. A big deal, or does no one care anymore?

Gasoline taxes. Show how they are used in your state.

Red light laws for motorcycle riders. Many red lights are "tripped" by the weight of cars, and motorcycles aren't heavy enough, so some states allow them to "proceed with caution" thru red lights which are never going to change.

Retail sales were up in May. Did people simply spend their rebate checks, rather than save the money?

Airlines changing itineraries. I've had one changed six times in a month. What are passengers' rights?

Spending on allergy medications is skyrocketing. Why are so many more people affected, and can you do anything about it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wednesday's story ideas

HUD homes.. what's the deal now that there's a mortgage crisis?

How do you know if tomatoes are safe to eat? Has there been a run on tomato plants so people can grow their own?

Too much rain or not enough... what's a farmer to do? Check with those in your area to see what the effects are.

25 percent of people infected with AIDS don't know it.

Registering to vote by mail. A lot of people think they have to go to the courthouse, but you can simply place a call, get a form and mail it in.

Local auto racing tracks... has the price of gas forced some out of this popular activity?

Car dealerships are running out of hybrids.

The weak dollar is bringing Canadians over the border to shop.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday's story ideas

Flood insurance. What's covered in the average homeowners policy, and where can you get coverage pertaining to floods?

Families are canceling vacations. Might be interesting to talk to a psychologist on how to break the news to a generation that has never heard the word "no" from parents. Also might find good ways to teach kids to save and cut back.

Attack of the killer tomatoes. Salmonella outbreak has put a crimp into many food establishments.

Photo IDs when you don't drive anymore. Where can seniors get them since so many organizations and businesses require them now?

What ever happened to the gas tax holiday? Talk to your member of Congress.

I love this story... older war veterans are now counseling younger ones returning from the Middle East.

Has your tax rebate check not shown up? If you owed back taxes to the state, it might have been seized.

"Green collar" jobs. What opportunities are out there for those who want to earn a living by saving the environment?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Tasteful approaches for vulture stories

While I don't agree with airing vulture stories (grieving widows, victim's families, etc.) I understand a lot of you are forced to do these cheap excuses for broadcast journalism. (Geez, Grape, tell us how you really feel...)

In any event, I've noted of late a few anchors who deliver teases for these stories with a gleam in their eye. Nothing is more sleazy, more cheap, than watching an anchor look into the camera the way a cat looks at a mouse and say something like, "Tonight we get an exclusive interview with the wife of yesterday's murder victim... it's a story you'll see only on channel whatever."

Oh, please.

If you're going to write something that cheesy, at least deliver it with a straight face. Bad enough to use someone's grief for a promotion, but don't lower yourself with body language any more than you have to.

As for doing these stories, we all know they are extremely difficult. On the occasions I've been assigned to these (9/11 comes to mind immediately) it is best to have the photog wait in the car and politely knock on the door first. Vulture stories are not the place for ambush journalism.

Monday's story ideas

We mentioned this awhile ago, but some older gas pumps can't handle four dollar a gallon gasoline. Now that it's here, check to see how those stations are dealing with it.

Oil prices affect asphalt costs, which means cities might not be able to repair roads as they had planned.

Investors are taking advantage of trading laws to buy huge amounts oil contracts at a fraction of their cost. (Margin trading) Congress was looking into closing this loophole awhile ago... what's the latest? Check with your member of congress.

The display of a hangman's noose has become more prevalent of late, so some states are making this a crime.

Some parts of the country are experiencing a drought again. If you're in one of those areas, check with farmers to see how they're doing.

Canadian stores are "hiding" tobacco products, hoping the "out of sight, out of mind" tactic will keep young people from starting to smoke. If you're in a border market, hop across and check it out. Why isn't this done in the US? (Hint: tobacco lobby.)

Summer school. Are more teachers interested this year in order to make a few extra bucks?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gasoline stories: stating the obvious

If I see one more package that talks about the fact that Joe Smith spends eighty bucks to fill up his SUV, has a sound bite from a consumer who says he has no choice but to pay high prices, and essentially tells the public nothing it doesn't already know, I'm going to scream.

Those of you who have been on gas station patrol are probably getting sick of doing the same story. But you know what? If it's the same story, it's your own fault.

Incredibly, I have not seen one story, network or local, about the history of gas crises. Not one story about people who are profiting from this, and I'm not talking about the oil companies.

When a topic like this hits and won't go away, you have to look hard for the other sides (yes, plural) of the story.

For those of you too young to remember, we've already had two gas crises in this country, in 1973 and 1979. In '73 prices shot up to fifty cents a gallon, which back then seemed ridiculous. But the problem wasn't so much the price, as the shortage. Some parts of the country started rationing gasoline. I was living in a Connecticut suburb of New York City, and we were under the "odd-even" ration system. If your car's license plate ended in an even number, you could buy gas on even numbered days. Odd plates got in line on odd days. Everyone could buy gas on the 31st of any month. And there were lines like you wouldn't believe, and limits. You could wait an hour and only be allowed to buy three bucks worth of gas.

In '79 the price hit a dollar a gallon for the first time, and we were under the odd-even system again. And this brings me to the part of the story where the ill wind brings someone some good. I was sitting in line one morning when a young guy tapped on my window. I rolled it down and he said, "Donut? Coffee?" He'd figured out there was a constant captive audience of customers and probably made a fortune with his snack and coffee cart. Soon people started selling everything in gas lines. And the station we watched, WABC-TV, did sidebar stories about this. One even featured a woman who was giving disco lessons (hey, it was the seventies) while people were stuck in line. After the gas crises ended, the practice continued, as vendors moved to toll booths, once again realizing that customers would buy a donut or newspaper while waiting.

Who are the "donut vendors" of today? Who is using high gas prices as an opportunity? While gas isn't being rationed, many people are held captive in their own homes. Only this time people are looking for ways to conserve. So who is selling solar panels in your market? He's probably got a line of customers. How can you convert your diesel car to one that burns used restaurant vegetable oil? Someone in your area is probably doing conversions. As people begin to shudder at the cost of heating their homes this winter, who is selling efficient fireplace inserts?

The point is, stating the obvious isn't doing your viewers any good. Yes, gas is the top story right now but you won't find anything new at the pump. If you really want to make a mark, think outside the box and point out something that isn't obvious. Dig for the new angle. And if you want to add a little history to your package, call up the network feed desk and ask for video (actually, it will be film) of those 70's crises.

Do a story that actually helps a viewer, and you've got a loyal viewer.