Friday, July 18, 2008

Networking can make finding your next job a lot easier

My dad used to constantly tell me, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Of course, he was pretty much always right, except that one time he bought a race horse.

Connections in this business can sometimes be the difference between a decent career and a great career, between a good job and a major market or network. And while many broadcasters are born with built-in connections (nepotism), the average news person often has to make his or her own luck.

Networking is one way to do that.

There are two ways to network, and of course face to face is the best. Conferences such as RNTDA and others will offer you terrific opportunities to shake a lot of hands and make a great first impression. But even if you can't afford to attend a conference, you can still network while covering stories every day and by sending resume tapes. (I piqued your interest with that last part, huh?)

Let's start with the conference. I've been to a bunch of these and of course have seen lots of young people wandering around. But let me illustrate a mistake many make with a story about what happened to me back in the 1980's at my first RTNDA.

Back then I was a starving reporter (I know, redundant) and a friend of mine gave me a one day free pass.I registered like everyone else and got this badge with my name in big bold letters. People wander around these conferences not looking at anyone in the face, but looking at the badges. While there I ran into a very well known guy that I knew from a network. We'll call him Mr. Jones. Anyway, Jones asks if I'm staying for the whole conference and I said that I only had a one day pass and couldn't afford to stay. Then he took off his badge and handed it to me, telling me he was flying out shortly.

The next day I was back, only I was big network executive Mr. Jones. People who wouldn't give me the time of day the previous evening were now more than happy to come up and introduce themselves.

But you know, Mr. Jones wasn't always a network bigwig. He started small like everyone else. So if you go to a conference, don't just look for the badges of the big wheels. Meet as many people as you can, because many of those people who are in small or medium markets today will be big wheels in the future.

And don't just say a brief hello. It is perfectly acceptable to hand someone a DVD (tapes are too bulky for conferences) or a business card (the ones you never take out of your desk). Then collect as many cards as you can and follow up. Don't wait for a job opening, just send another tape a few months later with a nice note reminding the person of your meeting at the conference. Remember, NDs love these impromptu interviews because it can often save them the expense of bringing someone in for an interview.

Don't forget to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Too many young people show up casually dressed, and while these conferences are casual, you want to dress for an interview.

Now on to the part you're waiting for... networking with resume tapes. They key is twofold: first, you must make a connection with all the other news people you run into, especially your competitors. Then you have to get the jump on everyone else by sending tapes where there aren't any openings.

For example, you have the city hall beat and constantly do the same stories as two reporters from the competing stations. So instead of treating them as the enemy, treat them as friendly competitors. If one gets a job before you do, you now have a connection in that market. Wish the person well, then drop him a tape down the road and ask him to pass it on to the ND.

As for sending tapes when no openings are posted, this gets your work into the pipeline when the ND isn't deluged with boxes of tapes. Even if it is a market for which you're not ready, there's nothing wrong with sending a tape with a note that you'd like to work there someday and would appreciate feedback. You'd be surprised at the response you'd get... and now the ND knows your name and knows you're a person open to suggestion.

These are all more hooks in the water for your job search. Don't be like everyone else and just wait for openings.... take the initiative.

Friday's story ideas

Oil prices drop 15 bucks in three days. Any relief at the pump?

Double dipping on government jobs. Some people retire, start collecting pension, then get re-hired.

Missouri judge rules lethal injection is constitutional. What does this mean in your market?

FDA says tomatoes are safe again... but have tomato farmers already been hurt beyond repair?

Conflicting studies on coffee drinking make you wonder if it's good for you or not. Talk to some local experts.

Good weekend story. Travel & leisure magazine has compiled a list of all sorts of free things you can get on vacation.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mailbag: Help me, my boss thinks I'm a pinata

Dear Grape,

I love what I do but I hate my job. I'm sure you've heard this before. I can't think of doing anything else but news reporting; I've been around awhile, have won many awards, and am known in the market as a solid journalist.

My problem is our new News Director, who, for whatever reason, finds fault with every single story I do. All my ideas, which used to be well received in the morning meeting, are now shot down before I can get them completely out of my mouth. I go home every night feeling beat up.

Am I stuck in hell, or will this get better?


Dear Miserable,

You're right, I've not only heard this before, I've been in your shoes... as have most people in this business at one time or another.

For whatever reason, it is obvious that you do not figure in your new ND's future plans. The ND wants you to quit, get another job, just get out of the newsroom.

You have two choices.

One, sit down and have an honest talk with the ND and see if you can find out the source of the problem, or if the problem can even be resolved.

Two, find another job.

But be careful if you choose the latter. If you're under contract, you might incur a penalty for leaving early. (Imagine that... paying money to leave a job you hate.) If you decide to go that route you must ask to be released from your contract. If the ND really wants out outta there it might not be a problem.

Hang in there and good luck.


Our sales people have a habit of visiting our assignment editor, then lo and behold, some bogus story will appear on the board a few minutes later that is obviously a plug for a client. We're all sick of covering these... should we complain to the ND?

-Ethical guy

Dear Ethical,

While your heart is in the right place your wallet is not. Many stations operate this way. The sales department pays the bills, and the ND obviously is on board with this, so leave it alone.

Choose your battles wisely in this business. Even though you're 100 percent right, you're not going to win this one. Just concentrate on the real stories you have to cover.

Hey Grape,

Our assignment editor always looks grumpy. Is that an occupational hazard?


Dear J.L.

No. Start bringing real story ideas to the morning meeting and you might find a fun person under the gruff exterior.

Thursday's story ideas

Pick your poison... a pack of cigarettes and a gallon of gas are both more than four bucks. Which is easier to cut back?

Does cruise control save gas, or does it depend on if you're driving on flat terrain or hilly terrain?

This is both creepy and sad... thieves are stealing recyclable metal ornaments from cemeteries.

Menthol is found to be the first addictive element in attracting young smokers.

Green tea additives in daily vitamins... does this really boost your metabolism?

Study shows new mothers suffer from fatigue because of something simple... they tend to skip meals.

With planes so crowded, what are the odds of actually being able to redeem frequent flier miles?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to tell if a News Director is lying

Yeah, I know, that's just a hanging curve ball over the fat part of the plate. You can come back with the obvious, "His lips are moving," and hit it over the center field fence, but seriously, how do you know when you're hearing the truth or just what you need to hear?

Ah, grasshopper, such is the real world of television news in which we ask the viewers to trust us while we often can't trust one another. Sometimes I think every reporter should go through some CIA interrogation course so you could figure out if someone was telling the truth. Or just be able to slip some truth serum into the ND's coffee. Because it's hard to know whether your boss is being honest with you or just pacifying you... or, the worst case scenario, just trying to make you quit.

I was actually pretty bad at this as a reporter, which is why I can pass on all the smoke-and-mirrors tricks that I fell for. Sadly, when you get out of college and out into the real world, your rose colored glasses are almost the reverse version of X-ray vision; you can't see much of anything that lies below the surface. You are trusting, you think people actually have your best interests at heart, and you've had no experience with office politics. Then you're told something that turns out to be an outright lie. Welcome to the party, pal.

But, back to the original question as I know you're not reading this for a psychology lesson. And let me preface all this by saying many NDs are decent, honest people. Anyway, here are some of the more common phrases and what they actually mean.

The job opening scenario: An anchor leaves your current station, and everyone wants the job. You march into the ND's office and throw your hat in the ring. If you hear something like, "I was going to ask if you were interested," and you have a reasonably detailed conversation, that's a decent indication you'll be considered. If you get something like, "You're too valuable on the street" or "Everyone who applies will be considered," or if the conversation is very short, you've basically got no shot.

The contract negotiating scenario: Here's where doing your homework can really help you, if you can find out what company policy really is. Let's say you ask for an out clause and you hear a very quick, "This company doesn't give outs," you might just move on to your next question. But if you know for a fact that someone has an out (even with another station within the company group) you know that it is negotiable. Then you also know the ND is one who is not being straight with you.

The contract negotiating scenario, part two: You get an offer, and instead of just jumping at it you take a few days to think about it and come back with a request for a little more money and/or some perks, moving expenses, etc. If you hear, "Let me run the numbers" or "I'll have to talk to the General Manager" that's a decent sign, since the last thing you want to hear is a flat out "no" at this point. You may still get a "no" but you'll know the ND at least tried. If you get a "No, that's the best I can do," that might be an honest answer or you might now be in a game of poker. Of course, it always helps if you've got another offer on the table... then you really get honest answers.

The will-I-ever-get-promoted-here scenario: While this would seem to be the toughest one to figure, you have to consider the ND's past performance. If you hear "We do see you in our future plans" or "You weren't the right person this time but could be next time" and have been passed over more than once, you shouldn't be surprised to see the ND's nose grow. If this is the first time you've been passed over, it could go either way next time. If the ND has a history of going outside for anchor hires, time to move on.

The ND fear and intimidation scenario: No matter what you do, the ND has nothing good to say about your work. But is the ND actually watching your stories or just making blanket statements to get under your skin? If an ND says something like, "Your story was garbage" then ask something specific about it. If the ND actually watched the story, an answer should be easy. If the ND can't come up with anything specific, or doesn't have anything but, "You're just not doing a good job" then you might be the target of a "make him miserable so he'll quit" campaign. So find another job.

The selective memory scenario: This may be the most common offense. You take a job after being told you'll get moved to a Monday thru Friday shift in a few months, or that you'll be first in line to fill in on the anchor desk. Then when the time comes the ND can't remember any of this. This is the reason I tell everyone to get everything in writing. The best way to do this (for items not normally in a contract) is to trade emails with the ND before you accept the job. Then you've got a paper trail and can "remind" the ND of the promise.

As for body language, if someone won't look you in the eye, that generally means the person isn't being entirely truthful.

And, as the old saying goes, a leopard can't change his spots. If the ND has a reputation of being truthful with people, chances are that won't change. If the ND has lied to people you know, you'll probably get the same.

Wednesday's story ideas

Older laid-off workers are looking for work anywhere... and many are ending up at fast food joints. Which means a lot of young people are having trouble finding jobs.

Credit scores... what do you need these days to qualify for a mortgage?

Meanwhile, private mortgages are becoming more popular... especially with sellers who can't sell their houses.

Hotel "corporate rates".... as travel is down, hotels need more business than ever from business people. Are they able to charge their regular rates anymore?

Kids are exercising less as they enter their teen years, which is leading to more obesity among high schoolers. What makes teenagers so lazy?

Congress overrides veto on Medicare bill. What are the effects?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday's story ideas

Cheating on SAT or ACT exams would seem to carry severe penalties, but schools are only told the results are invalid if the student is caught due to confidentiality issues. Then the student can simply re-take the test. So where's the risk?

Consumer story: Since mosquitoes are out in force, what is DEET in insect repellent? And are there any effective and "green" repellents?

Ban to be lifted on offshore oil drilling... if you're in a coastal market, what will the effects be, and how do the locals feel?

Diabetes increases your risk of getting tuberculosis.

Airport shuttles services. With flying down and gas prices up, are these surviving? And are hotels cutting back on free shuttles from the airport?

Government agencies installing GPS units in cars to monitor gasoline use and driving habits.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday's story ideas

High gas prices have created a boom in online classes, as students find an easy way to eliminate the commute to campus.

Speaking of schools, some are starting to use electronic versions of textbooks, which are traditionally very expensive. Anyone in your market doing this?

What exactly happens when a bank goes under? Explain how FDIC works, and if your money is safe in every bank.

Air travelers now have to consider the size of their suitcases, as some airlines hit you with whopping penalties if you bag is too big... and it doesn't matter if it meets the weight limit.

Starbucks, which has been hit hard by the economy, will try giving away free coffee in some markets.

Good effects of $4 gasoline: some companies can no longer afford to outsource due to high shipping cost, and are now forced to (what a concept) produce products in this country, thereby creating jobs.

What are the best days of the week to get grocery markdowns?