Friday, September 19, 2008

Your own copy is easier to read


I'm a young producer in a 80's market who works on the late newscast. In my first job the anchors did their share of the writing but here the two hour dinner break is the norm for anchors. These two won't lift a finger to help; they simply expect me to hand them a script. They've both been here awhile and probably won't change, even though neither is very good.

Is this common, and how can I deal with it?

-Dining In

Dear Dining In,

It seems that about half the anchors like to write their own copy and the other half expect to just show up and read the prompter. I've seen this in many places, but I've also noticed that the most successful big market anchors do their share, if not all, of the writing.

I remember visiting a friend at a network about five years ago just before the national newscast. He was giving me the tour, and there, feverishly pounding the keyboard, was the network's main anchor.

If you're a young anchor here's a news flash... reading your own copy is easier and more natural than reading someone else's. That's because we often write just the way we talk. You know your own style and pacing. To me, having someone else write your copy doesn't make sense. If you have to read someone else's copy, be prepared to stumble once in awhile or run out of breath, because it isn't written in your style.

Even if you don't write all your copy, you should at least edit it so that it feels more natural to you. That's part of an anchor's "personality" which can help your career. It also helps your reputation. When I was looking for anchors, I'd always ask previous NDs if they wrote copy or were "anchors by proxy," a nice little term for those who think all they have to do is show up and read. Maybe that's why your anchors have been in an 80's market for so long.

As for the original question, there's not much you can do to change people who won't pitch in. That has to come from above... or within. But as a producer, just keep writing killer copy... and you won't be in an 80's market for long.

Friday's story ideas

Are gas shortages and high prices gone one week after Hurricane Ike?

Milk prices continue to creep up. Is powdered milk, a cheaper alternative, just as nutritious?

Waterfront property in hurricane zones. In light of incredible damage in recent years, what are property values doing and how have insurance rates been affected?

"Concierge Medicine" is a practice by which doctors cut down their patient roster by charging an upfront fee. The result is that you supposedly get faster and more personal service.

Northwest Airlines has started a "cash and miles" program by which you can get a ticket for some miles and some cash.

"Laddering CDs." This is an investment practice by which you spread out your money into CDs of different time lengths so that eventually you always get the highest rate and always have a CD ready to mature. Talk to a financial planner.

Weekend piece... the fall weather is here and that means it's garage sale season.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday's story ideas

How does the AIG crisis affect people who have homeowners and car insurance with this company?

What does the new gun bill working its way through Congress mean to the average person?

The Canadian province of Alberta is recruiting educated immigrants who have trouble staying in the US. Will immigrants take them up on the offer?

Congress passes bill to prevent discrimination of handicapped people in the workplace.

Poll shows a lot of people will be cutting back on their Christmas shopping this year. How are retailers preparing?

The stock market may be getting hammered but it's a great time to get a loan as rates are falling as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are you good enough? Fuhgeddaboudit!

It's funny how so many young reporters have no fear when it comes to covering a story, yet when it comes time to put together a resume tape, their confidence seems to drain out of them as if someone pulled a plug. The predominant question is, "Am I good enough for market X?"

Sadly, the answer often deters talented people from sending a tape.

We've talked about market size before and how quality isn't even close to what it used to be. On the other side of the coin, opportunities for young people to get into big markets has never been better, as people of my generation are getting out of the business (or being pushed out) in droves. Companies are going cheaper, and that often means younger. That means doors that used to be closed to people with limited experience are now cracked open. You still need talent, but your chances are better than they used to be.

In the past year I've had three clients under 25 crack big markets. Common denominator besides talent? They believed in themselves and actually put the tapes in the mail.

But I'm amazed at how often I hear clients doubt themselves.... and how they are shocked when someone in a decent market actually likes their tapes. For whatever reason there seems to be this common belief that markets 50 and larger exist is some sort of unreachable state, and that only the cream of the crop can break in after years of experience. Guess what? There are some pretty awful people working in the top fifty markets. And a lot of bad newscasts out there as well in those markets.

Wanna see what's out there and what the competition is? Check out any online service that posts resume tapes, or simply visit websites of stations in markets 50 and higher. I'm betting you'll be amazed. I'm also betting you'll head straight to the post office when you realize you are just as good, if not better than people already in the markets you're targeting.

It's like the Publisher's Clearing House slogan... You can't win if you don't enter. Take your shots, throw as many hooks in the water as you can, and do not be deterred. There are entry level people starting in top fifty markets.

Ten years ago I wouldn't have said this. But the game has changed. And if you wanna play, you need to know the rules.

There are none.

Send the tape and fuhgeddaboudit.

Wednesday's story ideas

Some states will start levying more fines on industries that pollute.

Offshore drilling. How much oil is available with the Democratic plan, and how much with the Republican plan?

Electric cars versus style. Chevy unveils the redesigned Volt, and it isn't as sporty as the original concept, much to the dismay of people on the waiting list. Is style more important than economy, even in an energy crisis?

Chickens in residential neighborhoods. Lots of people keep a few for eggs, but is it legal?

Free movies and TV via the Internet. How can you get the stuff on Hulu and IMDB to play on your big screen?

From the "I'm not making this up" department.... study shows that heated car seats can affect a man's fertility. (Careful with your b-roll on this one.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Join the biased journalists club!

(I spotted this on late night cable, so I transcribed it for you guys...)

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-Playing the "gotcha" game

-Twisting the meaning of a sound bite by taking it out of context

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-Lobbing more softballs than a beer league pitcher

-Shouting down your interview subject

-Asking the "no win" question

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Tuesday's story ideas

Ever wonder what happens to the fines paid by people caught price gouging? Turns out some states turn the cash over to relief efforts for that natural disaster.

Study shows that estrogen creams do not reduce wrinkles.

Warning systems for trains... isn't there anything is this computer age that can help avoid crashes?

Some states have restored voting rights for ex-cons.

Baggage fees going up, as United will now charge fifty bucks to check a second bag.

Feature: Pizza is getting ridiculously expensive. How easy is it to make your own? Hint: you can find pizza dough in those Pillsbury rolls in any supermarket.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mailbag: Am I burned out at 24?


I can't believe I'm even thinking this about the career that I thought would be my life's work. But after two years my News Director has literally killed the joy of being a reporter. I'm actually having doubts about my career choice.

I love what I do, I just hate who I'm doing it for. I have to drag myself to work every day because I know I'll get yelled at no matter how good my story is. The ND will find something to find fault with my story; I could do 99 things out of 100 right in my story but he'll focus on the one thing I could have done differently. I've actually started looking at grad school or PR opportunities.

Is this common, or am I already burned out?


Dear Dejected,

I knew an assignment editor who used to say, "This would be a great business if if weren't for the people in it." Truer words were never spoken.

I've been in your position, as has just about everyone who has been in the business for any length of time. A bad manager can suck the joy out of your career like a vampire. And what makes it worse is that very often the people running newsrooms have never been on the street and don't have a creative bone in their bodies, so they have no concept of how we are wired.

You are not burned out, you are simply emotionally beat up. I know this simply by looking at the newest member of our family, a stray cat.

A few months ago my wife was on the way home and called to tell me she'd rescued an abandoned cat that was near death. She wasn't kidding; this was the sorriest cat I'd ever seen, so skinny you could feel the bones in her tail. Her ears were ripped and covered with blood, her green eyes deep pools of hurt. Armed with oven mitts we took her to the vet, gave her lots of food and nursed her back to health. My wife named her "Bella" which is Italian for "beautiful."

Those first few days Bella didn't trust us, but she knew we were the givers of food. The only opportunity to pet her was while she was eating. After each bite she would look up and around, as if some other animal was going to steal her food. Kind of like a reporter in a newsroom on the lookout for a mean News Director wondering, "Okay, what did I do wrong today?"

What you're experiencing happens to a lot of people, and you'll have to be "rescued" by a good News Director. Even then it will take you awhile to trust because you've been beat up, just like Bella the cat.

Bella now purrs and comes to the door when she's called. The green eyes have cleared and are happy. She's learned how to be a pet again, and spends her day relaxing on the deck.

You'll learn how to be a happy reporter again, just hang in there till you're rescued. Besides, 24 is much too young to give up on a dream... and you can't let someone who doesn't understand dreams to kill yours.


I have a buyout clause in my contract and a job offer coming. Is my station really going to make me pay? My ND is a nice guy and I can't see him playing hardball.

-Short Timer

Dear Short Timer,

A few years ago I knew a few people who had been let out of their contracts a few months early, but lately I'm hearing that stations are being real sticklers with contract issues. Your ND may be nice but he doesn't own the station. Get ready to write the check.


Our ND is so paranoid about people making resume tapes that he has disabled every piece of equipment that can be used to dub stories. It is impossible to make a tape at work. What's a reporter to do?


Dear Stuck,

Ah, those paranoid managers with "resume tape sniffing dogs" are always entertaining. For some reason they think that throwing a few obstacles in the way will stop people from finding a new job. Ha. It only makes people look harder and leave faster.

You have several options, one of which includes asking a photog for help. Meanwhile, start taping or DVRing (is that a word?) your stories at home. Then invest in some computer editing software if your computer isn't already equipped. Dump the stuff onto the computer and start editing.

Then wear a really big smile when you hand in your resignation.

Monday's story ideas

Gas prices will be the hot topic with Texas refineries shut down for a time. Talk about price gouging, rationing, and the relationship to oil prices.

All the evacuations have been a boon to the hotel business along the gulf coast.

New changes within the FBI may give agents more leeway while conducting investigations.

Some claim that Botox injections can help people with migraines.

The FDA continues to review chemicals used to make plastic baby bottles. Is old fashioned glass now in vogue?

The "trickle down" effect of presidential polls. With McCain going up lately, how is this affecting other races in your market?

The dangers of text messaging while driving or doing anything that requires your complete attention.