Saturday, July 5, 2008

Make yourself taller

I've noticed on several resume tapes that many reporters, particularly those who are one man bands, do standups in which the camera is pointing down. You could be Shaquille O'Neal, but if the camera lens is above your head and pointing down, you'll look shorter. By the same token, if you're vertically challenged, placing the camera a bit below eye level will give you the appearance of being tall.

You might be surprised at the listed heights of famous people. Katie Couric is said to be just over five feet. John McCain is 5-7. But care is taken to always give people a taller "look."

If you're a one man band and wondering why you always look like you belong in munchkinland, just lower the tripod a bit.

Friday, July 4, 2008

How to make yourself layoff proof

It seems that every single day we read stories about stations or groups cutting jobs. It's no secret that the industry is hurting, gas prices have blown up news department budgets, and many stations are looking for younger, cheaper people. And we often read of longtime employees, local legends, being given the boot.

While you have little control over the whims of the bean counters at corporate, you can shape opinions in your own station. And the key is flexibility.

Let's say a News Director has to cut his sports department from three people to two, and has to let one reporter go as well. The ND has narrowed his decision down to two reporters. But one of those reporters is a sports nut, and has on occasion filled in as a sports anchor or reporter and done a good job. Guess who is going dodge the grim reaper?

The era of specialists is going into a down cycle. It may return, but who knows? If you're a news person who only knows how to do one thing, you're going to be a little more susceptible to a layoff than someone who can wear many hats.

If you're a reporter, it's a good idea to take an interest in other areas, like weather. When you've got a little free time, spend it in the weather department and learn how things work. (A good, very basic guide is the USA Today Weather Book.) If you're a sports person, you should really take an interest in news, as sports jobs are disappearing faster than anything else. Knock out a news package once in awhile. If you're an anchor who never turns a package, you'd better start. If you're a producer, learn to manage the website.

Being flexible may not save you from a pink slip, but it will give you a better chance of hanging in there. And when you're looking for that next job, that flexibility will make you a more attractive job applicant.

Friday's story ideas

With so many people staying home this holiday, will shopping malls be crowded? Movie theaters? Or will people just cook out and watch fireworks?

Meanwhile, with a beef recall in some stores, what are people cooking?

Veterans are generally out putting flags in various locations, most notably cemeteries.

Utah will switch to a four day work week for many state employees. Since this is a four day work week nationally, find out if people in your market would be receptive. You might find some local officials at parades.

Poll shows that Americans aren't terribly worried about terrorism these days. An airport might be a good place to do this story.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

This week's assignment: take your writing to another level

(Reposted by request)

Okay, I thought I'd share a few exercises that will help you stretch your creative abilities a little and make your writing a little more interesting.

Assignment one: Take five of our most recent package scripts. Then I want you to re-write them, but you are not allowed to use the words "is" "are" or "was."

Sounds easy until you try it.

Example: George Bush is a conservative President, and he is supported by the religious right.
Re-written: George Bush represents a conservative viewpoint, his views echoed by evangelicals.

By the time you're done with five scripts you'll start to see your copy in a different light. It will sound smarter and flow better. If you want to take this even deeper, refrain from using any form of the verb, "to be."

Assignment two: You've heard of writing into your sound bites? I want you to write out of a piece of nat sound. Same deal, take your last five packages. (If you don't use nat sound, you'd better start.)

Example: Nat sound of train roaring thru town. "Citizens of Anytown have been living along these tracks for years. But now regular train service in the middle of the night is keeping them up."

Re-written: Nat sound of train roaring thru town. "Imagine hearing THAT at three AM every morning. It's no wonder the residents of Anytown are cranky when it comes to the subject of the new middle of the night train schedule.

Sound is just as important as pictures and copy. Weaving it seamlessly into your script will help your packages move more smoothly, and add another element.

Good luck. There will be a test later.

News Director's Playbook: Always ask for the helicopter

I have a friend who's been a News Director for a long time. He's had this trick he's used for years when he has to submit his budget. He makes a list of all the stuff he really needs, then adds a few extravagant things. He knows he has no chance of getting some of these items, but he also knows the GM will never give him everything he asks for. Psychologically, the GM will feel better having cut some things from his wish list. So if he needs a few new cameras, a new editing system and a new news car, he might add a helicopter to the list. The GM always cuts the helicopter, and he usually ends up with what he really needs.

The same holds true for you when negotiating the details on a new contract.

When you get an offer, always ask to review the contract. This will give you time to let your lawyer look it over, and you the chance to come up with a counter offer. Remember, you have nothing to lose by making a counter offer. NDs expect it, and the worst thing that can happen is that you'll get a "no" on your requests. But if you play your cards right, you should at least end up with something. A News Director is always going to make the lowest possible offer, because part of his job is to work within his own budget. But there is often some wiggle room when it comes to salary and perks, and you owe it to yourself to ask.

A ND will generally make an offer and ask you for a decision by a certain day. When you call on that day, you should politely give the ND your counter offer. You can put it like this: "I know that things are tight these days, but I was hoping you could come up with a little more money." It is at this point that you can add whatever you like to your wish list: moving expenses, relocation expenses (a hotel for two weeks while you find a place to live), hair, makeup, clothes, and an out clause toward the end of your contract. One of your requests is likely to be the helicopter on the list. The ND will generally come back and hopefully give you some of the things you've requested.

One more tip on a multi-year contract. It is always easier for a ND to give you more money in the second year of a contract. Psychologically many managers will simply worry about next year when it rolls around. Another trick to get more money is offering to move your starting date back a bit. If you're offered 36k per year, and you start even two weeks later, the ND has saved $1500 in salary. And you can remind the ND of that fact.

The big red flag: Never, ever sign a contract under duress. If a ND says, "You have to sign right now or I'll offer the job to someone else," then leave skid marks. You always need time to have a lawyer review your contract.

The other big red flag: job description. These days people are hiring reporters and turning them into one man bands. If you see the term "reporter/photographer" on the contract, you're gonna be shooting your own video despite what you're told in your interview.

So take your time, be polite, and ask rather than demand. You won't get the helicopter, but you'll probably get something extra for your efforts.

Thursday's story ideas

Fourth of July preps. How do those who actually shoot off fireworks set these things up? Might also be nice to do a live shot with a family staying home instead of the usual live shot talking about traffic.

ATMs at banks are safer than those at other locations. Those in stores can be tampered with a lot easier.

The US will soon release a coin with readable braille on it. Which begs the question, how do the blind tell the difference between the denominations of paper money?

What's the best way to cook vegetables and retain as much of the nutritional value as possible?

Here's an interesting twist to high gas prices. Can companies no longer afford to outsource work abroad because of high shipping costs?

FEMA is getting good grades for its work in flood zones. What's improved since Katrina?

Police departments are setting up anonymous text message "tip lines" to encourage kids to report crimes via their cell phones.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesday's story ideas

Mold in flooded areas. For those of you enduring the high waters, what should homeowners do to make sure toxic mold doesn't infiltrate their homes? And what about basements?

Starbucks will close six hundred stores. Is this the end of the exotic coffee business?

There are more than one hundred proposed bills working their way through state legislatures regarding "driver distraction" which predominantly deals with cell phones.

What's actually affordable or on sale for Fourth of July celebrations and cookouts? And have cities cut back on fireworks displays?

People who visit animal fights in Virginia can now face charges. (Call this the Michael Vick law.) What's the deal on your state, and are changes coming?

AT&T to end agreement with Dish Network. What does this do to consumers who "bundle" these services together?

Missouri exacts law against "cyberbullying." What exactly is this tactic?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

News Director's playbook: The Pez Dispenser gambit

"Let me work out some details and call you Monday."

Nope, not a line after a good night kiss on Saturday night, but a standard come-on delivered by a News Director to a prospective employee. Tease writers have nothing on managers when it comes to dangling the carrot, as this high stakes game of poker can get you to go "all in" when you don't have many cards to play.

While some NDs will actually call when they say they'll call, many play this little game which has its roots in courtship. Remember the "Pez Dispenser" episode on Seinfeld when George wants to maintain the upper "hand" by acting indifferent toward his girlfriend? She's ready to dump George, but when she thinks he's going to dump her, she has to keep the relationship going. She vows to "make it work."

Same holds true in TV News. If you want someone to be interested in you, play it cool. Don't be desperate. While you don't always hold the bargaining power, you do have some. And you owe it to yourself and your future paycheck to keep as much as possible.

The scenario: You're called by a ND for a job opening, flown in, taken for a nice dinner, put up in a fancy hotel. Everything seems to be a good fit. You like the staff, the staff seems to like you. Even better, the boss likes you. He drops you at the airport and says, "You'll hear from me on Monday." You could fly home without a plane. Even the airline pretzels taste good.

The weekend is an agonizing exercise in clock watching, as you cannot wait for Monday. Then the big day arrives and... no call in the morning. Well, the ND is busy. You'll probably get a call in the afternoon and... no call. You don't dare move from the phone because the ND is going to call you after the 6pm newscast and... no call. Your desperation gets the better of you and you either place a call to the ND or send an email to touch base. And just like that...

Whatever cards you had have all been played. You have effectively swallowed the hook. You no longer have "hand" to any degree.

Because when you're desperate, you not only play your cards face up, you're costing yourself money. A ND who knows a job applicant desperately wants the job also knows said applicant will probably jump at any offer. A manager doesn't bid against himself.

Being a bit casual, however, might get the ND thinking that you might have other offers, or that the pot needs to be sweetened to get you to accept. He did, after all, spend a bunch flying you in...and if he thinks you're talented, chances are someone else does too.

Many times that Monday non-call is a test to see how much you really want the job and if you'll take whatever is offered. Regardless of how you feel, you have to be patient. Remember, the ND said he would call you. The ball is in his court, he knows how to find you. There is absolutely nothing to gain by touching base. (Though a hand written, snail-mail thank you note is always a good idea.)

Next time you're going on an interview, buy some Pez. It will remind you that you always have some bargaining power.

Tuesday's story ideas

A website offers you a chance to lock in gasoline prices by pre-paying. (I have no idea if this is legit, but it sure is interesting. For those of you who do a "does it work" feature, this might be something to consider.)

New design milk jugs to hit Costco and Sam's Clubs. Supposedly cheaper and better for the environment. Check 'em out.

Bottled water is still more expensive than gasoline. Are consumers finally realizing this is an easy way to cut spending?

Lottery scratch offs that have big prizes continue to be sold after the big prizes have been claimed. Hmmmmm....

Will that Samsung gadget kill the iPhone?

Delta will start charging customers a fee when they use frequent flier miles for a "free" ticket.

Seniors who bought RVs for retirement are kind of stuck right now... going nowhere, literally.

More "good" cholesterol may help you avoid losing your memory as you age. What foods have "good" cholesterol?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Is there a Derek Jeter in your newsroom?

During yesterday's Mets-Yankees game, the announcers brought up the fact that Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter had been voted the most overrated player in baseball. Now despite the fact that I'm a Mets fan and therefore hate the Yankees, I must admit that if I needed one player to get a big hit, it would be Jeter. He isn't called "Captain Clutch" for nothing.

So why did so many contend that he's overrated?

Well, let's see. He's a Hall-of-Fame baseball player, the world's toughest out in the postseason, he dives into the stands and comes up bloodied going after foul balls, he's good looking, rich and dates supermodels. What's not to hate?

You got it, chalk this poll up to jealousy.

How does this apply to newsrooms? Well, let's just say that news people, though conditioned to weigh the facts when doing a story, will often judge a book by its cover. I can't tell you how many calls I get from clients who, having spent just a few days in a new station, tell me, "Everyone hates me and I don't know why." Usually these people are attractive and talented. Again, what's not to hate?

I remember being a young reporter and making instant judgments about people when I arrived at a station. The stereotypes have always been there: the Ken-Doll is a crash dummy and doesn't deserve the anchor job, the reporter from the rich family is lazy, the pageant queen is high maintenance, the blonde is a ditz, and the child of the famous anchor won't pay dues. Every station has plenty of people to shut out before you even get to know them.

While I've run into my share of people who had no business being in the business, I can think of a few people I worked with who exploded those myths. One, a pageant veteran, turned out to be an terrific reporter who was first in line to work stories that got her hands dirty. Another, a child of a household name, outworked everyone in the newsroom and turned out to be one of my best people. The "covers" on these books may have been glitzy, but the pages inside were pure substance.

We've talked about jealousy on this forum before. While it may be natural to be jealous of those who may have hit genetic lotto, as a journalist you owe it to yourself to sort out the facts before you come to a conclusion. You also need to keep in mind the fact that these people are part of your news team. It's funny... so many stations spend a fortune on consulting, graphics and sets when the most important facet of any news team is something you can't buy. Chemistry. And you don't get it by treating certain people in your newsroom like pariahs. Keep it up and someday you'll be saying, "I wish I'd been nicer to her" when that anchor you hated hits the network. You might have had a connection.

Find the Derek Jeter in your station and chances are you'll find someone who needs a friend. You might also find there's more beneath the surface.

Monday's story ideas

Helicopter safety. Especially for those of you who work at stations with choppers.

Fourth of July is a few days away. Is the travel industry any better than it was on Memorial Day weekend?

Alternate casino airports. Cities with casinos often have better rates than other airports.

The high price of buying food at convenience stores. Those quick snacks usually cost about twice what they do if you'd bought them in a grocery store.

The "recession diet" might be the hot new trend. What's healthy and still reasonably priced?

Web conferences. With companies cutting back travel or eliminating it altogether, companies that set up "webinars" are doing well.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Take a photog to lunch" week

This is year two of this project... so we're re-printing this from last year.

(UNDATED) A television news "holiday" is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, much to the delight of hungry photographers everywhere.

"Take a photog to lunch week" has taken on a life of its own since its inception in the late 1980's. Originally conceived by a reporter who wanted to bribe a photog to edit her resume tape, the week is now highlighted on calendars in photog lounges all over the country.

"It doesn't cost a lot, but it means so much to a photog," said John Shooter, President of the National Society for the Prevention of Blue Video, better known as NSPBV. "A little appreciation goes a long way with this group. Any reporter smart enough to buy lunch for a photog will come back to the station with some world class stuff. And if you spring for dinner after hours, you'll think you were shooting with Steven Spielberg."

The organization has also issued a list of suggested restaurants for the event, none of which have drive-thru windows.

Reporter Jim Goodhair bought lunch for a few photogs last year, and was amazed at the results. "By the end of the week my work had taken a huge leap. You should have seen these guys; they set up umbrella lighting on every story, reflectors, fog machines, you name it. One rode the mast on the live truck to give me some aerial b-roll. At the end of the week I had a new resume tape and jumped from market 210 directly to the network. All for the price of a few Chinese buffets."

Most photogs admit this event highlights the "it's the thought that counts" concept. "I nearly impaled myself with the legs of my tripod when my reporter picked up the check," recalls photog Ray Cathode. "If I'd known in advance I would have ordered dessert. But seriously, I really go the extra mile for that reporter to this day."

News Directors, Assignment Editors and Producers have always frowned on the event, however. "This really plays havoc with our schedule," said News Director I. M. Beancounter. "For goodness sake, they actually take thirty minute lunches all week. I don't see why a reporter can't buy them something they can wolf down in the car."

While the event runs from June 16th-23rd, photogs acknowledge that reporters don't have to participate just once a year.