Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday's story ideas

When a giant mortgage company gets sold, what happens to your mortgage if it is held by that bank? Actually, not much, but most people don't know that.

Health care deductibles have gone up nearly 30 percent. Co-pays aren't far behind.

Poll show most people are opposed to mandatory minimum sentences and want cases reviewed on a case by case basis.

When your home has been foreclosed and you've been forced to move, the last think you're gonna think of is registering to vote at your new address. But it is estimated that one million people might be ineligible to vote as a result of all the foreclosures.

It's getting chilly in some parts of the country.... time for the annual fireplace and home heating safety piece.

Weekend piece: digital cinema deal being worked out in Hollywood. What does this mean to your local theaters?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Homework assignment part two: Be a better writer

OK, this may sound like it is just for reporters, but producers can get in on this as well.

I want you to use natural sound to "write" part of your story. You can write "into" or "out of" a piece of nat sound, but you have to tie your copy into the sound.


(writing out of a nat break)

Nat sound: people screaming on roller coaster

Copy: "...You'll be hearing a lot of that at the state fair this weekend."

(writing into a nat break)

Copy: "This is what's waking people up in the middle of the night...."

Nat sound: train roaring by, blowing whistle

For producers, instead of just writing vo's or vo-sots, try making nat sound part of your copy.

Remember, for those of you who have trouble writing copy, the more you use sound to "tell" your story, the less you have to write!

Thursday's story ideas

In light of John McCain suspending his campaign to deal with the economy bill, what are the members of Congress in your market doing... campaigning, or hammering things out in Washington?

We see so many banks in trouble... how much have they been paying their executives in your market?

Some northern states asking for more federal assistance to assist poor people with heating bills this winter.

Several states have banned the shipment of wine to private homes across state lines.

Congress passes mental health bill... what does this mean for patients and taxpayers?

California bans text messaging while driving.

Senate votes to continue tax breaks for solar products.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Politicians are avoiding the media... can you blame them?

Ugly guy walks into a bar. Sees a spectacularly beautiful woman across the room. Doesn't approach her because he knows he doesn't have a prayer of getting her phone number, even though he's a nice, decent guy.

Politician walks into a room full of biased journalists. Passes them all to talk to the people because politician knows he doesn't have a prayer of getting objective coverage.

What's the difference? There isn't one. When you know the outcome, why bother?

If you're wondering why so many politicians might be giving you the cold shoulder these days, it's because of the perception of media bias. And let's be honest, it's not even a perception anymore. It's very real. You may be the most objective reporter in the world with a big "J" on your head, but politicians might not trust you. They think we're all playing the gotcha game, waiting in the bushes to spring out with obscure questions.

So now we're going back to the days when Ronald Reagan decided he was better off talking to the people instead of the media. Had he been President during these days of the 24-hour spin cycle, he might have never left the Oval Office.

How do you fix this?

Well, I'd say it has to be fixed from the top down, but that's not gonna happen. So it's up to you, the local reporters who have to deal with politicians every day.

As sleazy as some politicians might be, you still have to earn their trust. You must strive to be fair, to keep your personal feelings out if the story. Once you do that with one or two politicians, you'll eventually get the reputation as a fair reporter. Politicians, in their own weird way, respect reporters who actually dig up stuff rather than just inject bias.

Be firm but fair. Put yourself in the politician's place: if you were running for office, how would you want to be treated?

Trust me, if you treat someone in public office fairly, word will get around, and these people will start calling you.

Instead of avoiding you.

Wednesday's story ideas

Something called "America's Legislators Back to School Program" is sending lawmakers to the classroom in order to get kids interested in government and show them how to get involved.

Some states consider tobacco tax hikes to compensate for budget deficits.

Immigration rates have dropped significantly in the past year. What's the story in your market?

Hotel breakfast wars are heating up. Instead of cold cereal and donuts, many chains are now offering a hot breakfast to lure customers.

Google has a new phone. Compare it to the iPhone and others.

Food cravings. Study shows women crave sweet stuff while men go for salty snacks.

People on Medicaid are finding a hard time finding dentists that accept the insurance.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mailbag: Why are there no sports jobs?


I'll be graduating next year and my first love is sports. I did an internship this summer and it seems as though everyone at the station told me to focus on news reporting instead, that there were no sports jobs and that there is a shortage of male news reporters. What, in your opinion, is the future of sports on local TV?

-Highlight Reel

Dear Highlight Reel,

Well, I hate to tell you this, but I agree with the people who gave you advice during your internship. While there are sports jobs and always will be, there has always been a glut of people who want them. When you factor in the fact that half the network jobs are either taken up by ex-jocks or sons of famous announcers (Joe Buck, Chip Caray) that makes things even harder.

Then you're fighting the consultant wars. About ten years ago consultants said that true sports fans get their sports from ESPN (I am and I don't) and that local sports should be totally local... and be presented so that it appealed to women. (If any consultant can tell me how to get my wife to watch sports, I'm all ears.) Then it became acceptable for a woman to deliver a sportscast, and that was long overdue. But then stations started canceling sportscasts, as consultants told them people were tuning out after weather.

But here's a real telltale sign. In the past year I have had two of my friends who were the primary sportscasters in major markets switch to news. They see the handwriting on the wall.

Can you make it in sports? Sure, but it will be tougher than making it in news. There is a shortage of male reporters and that will probably continue.

Hey Grapevine,

Just curious, but what happens to old resume tapes since they don't get returned?

-Green Reporter

Dear Green

Years ago stories were shot on 3/4 inch tapes, and those were used for resume tapes as well. Some stations returned them, but many used them as tape stock. I had one friend who told me that whenever his station was running low on field tapes, the ND would run an ad to replenish the stock. Nice, huh? And VNRs on 3/4 tapes never hit the air... they were grabbed and used as resume tapes by reporters. (You see, my generation was green long before it was in vogue.)

But fear not, the landfills are not overflowing with resume tapes. They are often used by the sales department, which has to bring copies of commercials to clients. Sometimes they are just put into a box and the staff can take what they wish, and use them at home to record stuff.

If anyone knows how to recycle DVDs, I'd sure like to know, cause these things are piling up in my office.

Grape Man,

What does the term "closet live shot" mean?


Dear Newby,

A closet live shot is one shot at night in which the surrounding area is so dark you can't see anything but the reporter. The old saying is that "you could have been in a closet and the viewers wouldn't know" applies to this phrase.

You can see one almost every night in most markets.

Tuesday's story ideas

How are campaigns dealing with early voting? Will someone drive you to the polls six weeks out?

A national nursing shortage is blamed in part due to too much "forced overtime." (There's a term you'll never hear in a newsroom.)

The wait for a satellite dish... apparently so many dishes have gotten whacked during hurricanes that the dish business is backlogged in certain parts of the country.

Parents who home school children are banding together to form their own bill of rights. What are the rules in your market?

Study shows overweight children may have a tendency to suffer from chronic headaches.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Homework assignment: Be a better writer

I'm often asked if great writers are born with talent, or simply worked hard to hone the craft. Well, you might say it's a little bit of both. There are hundreds of stories about great writers whose manuscripts were rejected dozens of times before they were published.

News writing is a different animal, of course. Words are at a premium when you have a story that runs ninety seconds, or a voice over that runs fifteen. Every word counts.

So today's exercise may sound like a simple one, but it is one that helped me years ago when I was breaking into the business.

Take a bunch of scripts and re-write them. However, you cannot use the words "is" "are" or "was" in your copy.

Consultants are always telling people to use action verbs, so here's your chance. You might be surprised at how difficult this is, especially if you're a producer writing an entire show. But it will force you to stretch your imagination and vocabulary so that you end up with copy that is more interesting and hopefully exciting.

We'll have more exercises in the weeks to come. For now, try this one and drop me a line to let me know how things turned out for you.

Monday's story ideas

Spotlight the Treasury Department bailout plan. What does this mean to the average Joe with a money market fund, or someone who wants a mortgage?

Study says obesity may diminish a man's fertility.

What has the economy done to tipping?

Will there be any new voting technology used in this year's election in your market? If so, explain it.

Ticket demand is falling for some airlines. Does this mean bargains are ahead, or even fewer flights?

There are complaints that the government's student financial aid system is too complicated. Take the viewers through the process and find a student going through it.