Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hey, the grape is in Forbes!

Our book is getting some good press. Check it out.

Clock management

"Backtiming" is an editing term by which you can make your video end at a specific point.

It is also a good way to manage your day and make sure you never miss a deadline.

Young people always have problems with deadlines, usually because they don't manage time correctly during the average news day. The culprits these days are different than they were twenty years ago. (Computer games, the Internet.) But if you use some simple backtiming principles, you can avoid some common problems.

Here's what I've often seen from reporters who can't hit deadlines:

9:30: reporter has received assignment

9:35-10:15: reporter surfs Internet

10:15: reporter sets up story

2:00: story in can, reporter back in station

2:00-3:15: more Internet surfing, phone calls, socializing

3:15 reporter starts putting story together

4:30 reporter complains all the edit booths are taken

5:30 reporter begins to panic, and slams story together

5:58 package in can being raced to control room

Can you see all the wasted time? Stay off the Internet and stay off the phone until your package is done.

By "backtiming" your day, you'll never have a problem. Let's say you have a package running at 6pm.

You want it in the can by five. That's your goal. Because all sorts of things can go wrong, slow you down, and make you race the clock.

So let's go backwards when planning your day.

5pm: package in can

3:30: start editing

2:00: start writing

9:30 start setting up your package

Obviously it is not a perfect world. Some packages take forever to set up, some take a lot of time to shoot and edit. But if you always set your deadlines an hour early and eliminate the time you spend fooling around, you'll hit your deadlines.

In fourteen years as a reporter I never missed one. You can do the same.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mailbag: Interviews, liberals, and Play-Doh


So I've gotten past the whole sending my tape thing and waiting for a call, but now I have an interviewed scheduled. That's great right?? Well--except it's a week away and I've already begun to panic. Any tips on how to make a good impression, and separate myself from the other applicants who have also interviewed?

-The Long and Winding Road

Dear Panicked,

First, get a paper bag and breathe into it. Kidding. But seriously, relax. You'll go on lots of job interviews in your lifetime, so get used to it. Being yourself and acting casual is the best thing you can do.

Now, some preps. First, you must be somewhat familiar with the market you're going to. Start reading the local papers online, and watch stories from the stations in the market if you can. (You might have a chance to comment on a story you've watched.) Learn some history about the state and city. Know who the major politicians are.

General current events can trip up a lot of job applicants, as you might get a test. Start reading everything you can get your hands on. For instance, who is Henry Paulson? If you have to look it up, you're not reading enough.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Conservative and professional.

Here's the part that trips up a lot of people. Many News Directors will drop you in the newsroom for a few hours. Don't sit around. Move from person to person and chat up everyone. The ND will later ask some people if they think you'll fit in.

Finally, don't forget the thank you notes after your interview. Hand written and snail mailed.


My ND is making me do a five part series for November. This is ridiculous, right?


Dear Confused,

Well, the multi-part series used to be the staple of sweeps, but these days few people watch the news every single night. For me, two parts is about my limit. If something is going to be appointment television for me over several nights, it had better star Jack Bauer and lots of things need to blow up.

Seriously, single sweeps pieces seem to be more effective these days. Though, as the saying goes, you're in sweeps every day. Most people don't change their viewing habits in the short term.

Dear Grape,

I often hear the term "liberal news media" yet I know some people who are pretty conservative in my station. Since you've been around awhile, what's your take?

-Miss Independent

Dear Independent,

I think the country would be surprised to find out political views are right down the middle. Since most of the national news comes from liberal areas like New York and LA, people naturally assume all reporters are liberal. I wouldn't make that assumption at all. I know just as many far right reporters as far left ones.

Regardless, too many media people are making their views public. Journalism 101... be objective and keep your mouth shut on politics and religion.


My News Director is a big meanie. I don't have a question for you, I just needed to write that down and hit the "send" button.

-Ticked off

Dear Ticked off,

Wow, times have changed when it comes to relieving stress. I used to have a can of Play-Doh in my desk so I could throw the stuff against the wall.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Political interviews: Who can shout the loudest?

My mother is very hard of hearing, so she watches TV with the closed captioning turned on. The other day she happened to be watching a cable news network that featured an interview segment with politicians from both sides. Of course, both interview subjects had open mikes, so it turned into a shout-fest. As the moderator struggled to keep some semblance of order (and failed miserably), whoever was transcribing the program just couldn't keep up. After awhile it began to look like those text messaging abbreviations you young people use.

Smith: Demcrts wana tx evrthing

Jones: Repbcans luv rch ppl

Get the picture? After awhile mom got disgusted and changed the channel.

While many of you don't act as moderators for interviews like these, you might at some point. And when you do, you must do so with a strong hand, because given an open mike, a politician will shout down anyone who disagrees.

(Memo to political candidates: Voters are more impressed with people who are polite and don't interrupt.)

Perhaps it needs to be addressed in the control room, where two open mikes should not be allowed at the same time.

In any event, reporters and anchors have lost control. Time to take it back. You're the moderator, you're asking the questions.

And it's pretty hard to understand anything when two people are talking at the same time.

But even in a one-on-one interview, you have to maintain control. When a politician hijacks an interview, you lose credibility with viewers. If a politician isn't answering a question, ask it again. Don't let them run off on tangents as they so often do.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Great Resume Tape Format Debate

Back in the early 1980's people had two choices for VCR's. You could get a Sony Betamax, which offered spectacular quality. Or you could get a VHS machine, which was efficient but didn’t offer the clarity of the Betamax. One would think the VCR that provided the better picture would survive. But Sony forgot one little detail in those early days; its tapes didn't run two hours, the average length of movies.

The point is that sometimes quality doesn't win out. Sometimes convenience trumps it. Non linear editing is wonderful, but if I were really pressed for time I could edit a package tape-to-tape in the time it takes you to dump your video to a hard drive.

And that brings us to what seems to be an endless debate about which format is correct for resume tapes these days. Right now you have three options. VHS, DVD or posting your work online.

It used to be a lot simpler, when you could just pop a ¾" tape into its plastic box, wrap some strapping tape around it (no padded mailer required) and mail the thing for 86 cents. And, you’d get your tapes returned more often than not. Then technology entered into the equation, and, as technology often does, screwed up the process.

These days you can generally find an argument online about formats. I'm always amazed at the heated discussions with the techies on one side and the old schoolers on the other.

But the answer to this question is extremely simple.

Give the News Director what he or she wants. And in many cases, what is requested is a matter of convenience.

Put yourself in the News Director's place. Imagine you have 200 resume tapes to view.

Let's give one person an old fashioned VCR and another a DVD player (or a computer.) One person gets 100 tapes, the other 100 DVDs.

Ready, set, go! Guess who is done first?

Trust me, when you have a mountain of tapes to view, nothing beats VHS for pure speed. In the time someone else is waiting for the DVD tray to open, loading the thing, waiting for the laser contraption to read it and navigate the menu, I've already watched enough of four tapes to either hit the eject button or put the tape aside into my “good” pile.

I realize some of you have little choice. Many people make their resume tapes at their stations, and there may not be a suitable connection to make VHS or DVD copies. Then, of course, you have to avoid those managers with the resume tape sniffing dogs who are always on the lookout for people looking for another job.

Many people create their tapes on a home computer and simply dump the product out onto the recording device of choice. And some hire services to make dubs. But before you spend tons of time and money, let’s look at each format.

-VHS: You can never go wrong sending this format, as most News Directors have a machine in their offices. It’s fast, and tapes are cheap. The downside is that the quality is not always the best. But then again, NDs are looking at content. The other nice thing is that on the rare occasion someone sends a tape back, you can see where the ND stopped watching. This could give you a clue as to why you didn’t get the job.

-DVD: Much better quality, but can really slow down the hiring process. I’ve also noted that many DVDs simply won’t play in one machine or computer while they’ll do fine in another. I remember many occasions during which I had to take DVD resume tapes home to watch them because the computer in my office wouldn’t play them. In case you didn’t know, most NDs have the worst computers in the newsroom because they’d rather spend money on stuff that makes the on air product better.

-Posting Online: It doesn’t hurt to do this, you can update it often, and it is a very cost effective way to get your work “out there.” Many smaller market News Directors who have trouble attracting applicants will often visit online talent banks.

But don’t fall into the trap of sending links to your work and expecting an ND to look at it. News Directors get an incredible amount of email each day, and the odds that one will open a message from an unknown name and then look at a video aren’t very good. Many don’t open unknown emails due to the fear of getting a virus. Still, it can’t hurt to put as many hooks in the water as possible.

I’ve heard many complaints from young people along these lines. “I’ve sent emails to one hundred News Directors with the link to my work and I’ve gotten no response.” Many times those emails are deleted, along with Viagra ads and those for dating services. It is fine if the ND knows it is coming, but don’t expect a tremendous amount of response right now. In the near future, though, you might see an ad that simply asks you to send links of your work to a certain address. But for now, if you want to make sure your work will be seen, stick something in the mail.

One more thing to consider. In many stations a News Director might have to make up a short list of finalists and bring that list to a department head meeting. If everyone wants to see the latest anchor candidates, the ND needs a stack of tapes to play on the TV in the conference room. And if the ND has to deal with formats other than what is requested, it can create a problem.

Bottom line, follow the directions in the ad. Give the ND what is requested and don’t make a manager jump through hoops. You may be a technological wizard but the person doing the hiring may not. To say you don’t want to work for a company because it might use 20th century hiring practices is to miss an opportunity.

And just remember it is the content of your tape that gets you hired.