Saturday, July 12, 2008

Send your tapes NOW for jobs in the fall

You may not see a lot of job listings right now, and plenty of NDs are on vacation in July and August, but trust me, they are keeping an eye on the near future. If you have an opening this time of year, you generally want to fill it in September or October in time for the November book.

So why don't people get hired so much in the dead of summer?

You guessed it, money. Viewership is way down this time of year, so NDs save a few months salary and hire someone closer to the book. It also gives them a few more dollars to play with salary-wise. Call it creative accounting.

Anyway, now is the time to send your tapes. Don't wait till you see ads, don't wait till Labor Day. Send 'em now. You'll beat the rush and things are more relaxed in the summer, so a ND might take a closer look at your tape. If it makes an impression, it will be put aside for those fall openings.

Get the list of markets, highlight the ones that interest you, cross out the really bad companies or the stations with lunatic NDs you know about, and hit the post office.

Then, of course, follow the fuhgeddaboudit rule. No follow up calls. Send it and put it out of your mind.

You might be pleasantly surprised in a few months when you're the one getting a call.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Schoolyard Bullies: now playing at a conveniently located newsroom near you

If you've ever watched any of those nature shows, you've learned that animals can smell fear.

The same is true of people in the television news business.

I get a lot of calls from people who are miserable in their jobs for a variety of reasons, but there always seems to be one common denominator. They are getting "bullied" while at work. And it's not just managers who employ this tactic, but co-workers as well. And just because bullying has "matured" from a schoolyard fight to a cutting remark doesn't make it any less scary.

There are two scenarios that are fairly common. The management bully uses old fashioned fear and intimidation to keep you walking on eggshells (another phrase I hear quite often) as you spend most of your time trying not to make a mistake. You could do 99 things right on an average day, but the management bully will focus on the one thing you might have done differently and call you on it. The result? Your creative muse goes into vapor lock, and you are paralyzed, unable to do your job. You can't think out of the box, can't take chances, do things a different way. You're afraid to even make suggestions at the morning meeting because you know they'll be shot down. You're afraid you'll lose your job, even though you hate it.

The management bully has won, and has your muse safely tucked away in a vault. You won't see it again till you find another job.

The co-worker bully attacks in a different way, going straight for your confidence. Words are this bully's weapons. Usually you'll hear cutting remarks regarding your work or your appearance, and these comments are very subtle. You might get, "Oh, you dyed your hair. I used to dye mine but people told me it made me look cheap." Or, "I was surprised you didn't even think to interview so-and-so in your story last night." Generally you can chalk this up to jealousy, whether it is another reporter whose talents don't measure up to yours or an off-camera person who desperately wants to be an on-air person.

Doesn't matter. What does matter is your reaction. If you show that fear, if the bully can sense it, you have doomed yourself to more bullying. Let a manager know you're afraid of losing your job, and you'll be at the whipping post every day. Let a co-worker know that he or she is "getting to you" and the snide comments will continue.

Taking abuse and letting people know it affects you only gives them more power. You don't have to say anything, don't have to be confrontational. It's all in the body language and in the look in your eyes. Stand up straight, be strong, and smile.

Bullies can't stand smiles.

Friday's story ideas

When they going gets tough, the tough sell stuff. Pawn shops are busier as people look for a few extra bucks.

The Department of Homeland Security can search your laptop at the US border. They're looking for terrorist info.

Another border story... people are buying huge loads of gasoline in Mexico for two bucks and hauling it into the US, doubling their money.

People are staying in the frigid Midwest rather than moving south because they simply can't get mortgages.

Thirty percent of Americans do not have fluoride in their drinking water.

Apple's new iPhone goes on sale today. In this economy, does anyone care as much as they did last time?

What effect if any does buying gas that is ten percent ethanol have on a standard car?

Get this... prisons are training dogs to sniff out cell phones because prisoners can run illegal businesses from their cells.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

No such thing as a dead microphone

Jesse Jackson learned this the hard way, as have numerous politicians and celebrities. Almost every on-camera news person (yours truly included) has said something he or she shouldn't have when he or she assumed the microphone was turned off. Surprise!

And you know what happens when you assume. (If you're famous enough, you end up on a tabloid with a really catchy headline.)

These days you not only have to contend with microphones that might be open, but if you're out in public you have to keep in mind that just about everyone has a video camera in the form of a cell phone. We live in a society that loves to take people down, one that worships success and roots for failure. And nothing is juicier in this internet age than video or sound of someone famous doing or saying something not meant for air.

If you're on the air, you're being watched. Not just at work, but at the supermarket, handing out balloons at the state fair, eating at a restaurant. While you're on the clock a limited number of hours, you're being observed 24/7. Keep that in mind at all times lest you end up as one of those famous videos on the internet.

Nothing is off the record anymore.

Thursday's story ideas

What are the road regulations for golf carts? I'm seeing more and more of these being used to run errands... are they street legal in your market?

Easiest way to cut expenses for many is to quit smoking. Are non-smoking products and/ or "quit smoking" classes popular where you live?

It's hurricane season, and FEMA has announced it will no longer give out ice in the event of a disaster. What will state and local officials do?

Back to school lunches. Many parents will find out those cheap school lunches won't be a bargain this fall as soaring food prices will force schools to pass on the cost.

Immigration officials are going to be more vigilant when checking employers who might hire illegal immigrants.

Will tax holidays disappear? Those nice little breaks states give people during hurricane and back-to-school season might just vanish as states scramble to make ends meet. Florida has cancelled its August holiday... what's happening in your state?

Outbreak of measles. Are parents not getting their kids vaccinated, and if not, why not?

USAir drops movies from some flights because the movie systems weigh 500 pounds. They'll save ten million in fuel. Show consumers how much they have to lighten the load in their cars to save a dollar. (Easy start... take the golf clubs out of the trunk.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wednesday's story ideas

Some members of Congress want to tap the strategic oil reserve to lower gas prices. What do the reps and senators in your market think?

Get this... seven percent of all dead doctors are still active in the Medicare system. So some unscrupulous contractors are filing claims from the deceased that are being paid by Medicare.

Survey says that keeping a food diary helps people lose weight, as people will stop eating when they see how much they've consumed during the day.

CDC launches healthy nation campaign, stressing that people should be more pro active in preventing disease rather than waiting to treat it.

Environmentally, what's the best way to recycle your electronics?

FDA orders stronger label warnings on certain medications.

Gas stations with full service islands. Is there anyone left who doesn't pump gas? (Other than those of you in New Jersey.)

***Coming this afternoon.... a guest column from a broadcast attorney

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday's story ideas

"Rolling resistance" is a term that applies to tires, and if you buy a set with a "low rolling resistance" you can increase your gas mileage. Explain what this is and what to look for when shopping.

Cholesterol drugs for kids. Can these really prevent future heart disease, and how does a doctor know to prescribe these for such young patients?

What exactly is "e-verify" and how are employers using it?

Here's a nice old fashioned all-American story. Check out and find out what's going on in your market.

Home insulation. We often think of this in the winter, but it can help cut cooling bills. How do you know if you've got enough? Or if your insulation is old?

I'm not making this up... thieves are stealing from recycle bins that people put on the curb. Aluminum cans are an easy target.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mailbag: What exactly is "equal time?"


The other night our station ran a package on Obama and just a vo/sot on McCain. I asked the producer about this and she said that she had also run a vo/sot on George Bush, so she figured it was basically even. What's your take?

-Politically Correct

Dear PC,

Ah, the old issues of equal time and fairness have reared their ugly heads once again. Trying to influence elections through news coverage is as old as journalism itself, and, rules or no rules, many organizations are pretty transparent about it.

Let's look at the scenario you raised. If you look at it as Democratic coverage versus Republican coverage, you'd think you were OK. But this is an election and George Bush is no longer a candidate. Now, did the vo/sot regarding the Prez have something to do with the McCain campaign? Or was Dubya simply acting as the President doing something not election related? If the Bush vo/sot was something about a meeting with some foreign President, then no, your station did not provide fair coverage to McCain.

Fairness has so many gray areas you could make up a giant color palette and none of it would be black or white. It often lies in the eyes of the beholder, or, in the case of TV news, the eyes of the producer, ND, reporter, photog, or editor. I may provide equal time to McCain and Obama, but if I use a warm and fuzzy sound bite for one and make the other look bad, am I being fair?

That's the question every journalist must ask when putting a story together. Is this a fair and balanced representation? It's not about giving 20 seconds to a Republican and only 19 to a Democrat and trying to cut the sound bites to match; you could be dead even time-wise, but edit things in a context that makes one candidate look good and the other bad. Even newspapers can influence things in a subtle way by publishing flattering or unflattering photos of candidates.

You have to rely on your conscience and put your personal feelings aside. You may like one candidate and feel the other is an absolute scumbag, but your feelings must remain out of the story. Look at your piece objectively, tell me you've been fair to both sides and left your opinions out of it; then you can air it. Tell the viewers what you know, not what you think, and let the viewers decide on their own.

A little bit of history on the power of television. The 1960 debate between Kennedy and Nixon showed how pictures can shape the perception of voters. During that debate, Nixon was sweating all over the place while JFK looked cool and comfortable. Viewers who watched the debate said Kennedy won. Those who listened on radio said Nixon came out on top.


My ND and I have a good relationship. The other day he told me an anchor spot on the morning show was coming up and asked if I was interested. While I'd love to move into anchoring, the thought of getting up in the middle of the night gives me hives. If I say no, will my ND never offer me any anchoring again?

-Night Person

Dear Night Person,

The news business is filled with more owls than a Harry Potter book, and as a creature of the night myself I feel your pain. I once was in the exact same position and asked the ND, "Will you hold it against me if I say no?" He said he wouldn't and didn't when I turned it down.

I filled in on the morning show for several weeks when we were shorthanded and I must tell you I never felt physically worse in my life. Your whole life revolves around getting to sleep. I have a few clients stuck on morning shifts who are desperate for a schedule change.

Just be honest with your ND. If you're talented, other opportunities should come.

Hey Grape,

I work in a toxic newsroom and come home every night all wound up. What's the best way to unwind?

-Bundle of Nerves

Dear Bundle,

I used to watch movies where the good guys win and lots of stuff gets blown up. Which is the reason I wore out my VHS copy of Die Hard and eventually bought the DVD.

Just imagine your boss is Hans when watching the movie. Yippee Ki Yay.

Monday's story ideas

Golf carts are becoming more popular for very short trips... since you can re-charge them.

Congress is considering lowering the national speed limit to 55 as it did in the 1970's.

Some schools are taking steps to make sure kids stay on campus this year, and therefore avoid eating fast food for lunch.

Attic fans are becoming popular as homeowners search for ways to save energy.

Saving money by having tech school students do work for you. Car repairs, carpentry, haircuts, you name it... students need customers on which to "practice."

Overeating on weekends can pack on an extra ten pounds per year.

Turning down the fridge to save energy might be adding to the bacteria in your food. What's a safe temperature? And why should consumers use a fridge thermometer?

And for those sportscasters who love the A-Rod/Madonna story... why not explain kaballah?