Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat

Pop Quiz: Decide whether these management techniques are tricks or treats.

1. You are a morning anchor working for a cheap company. The producer has just given notice and will be leaving in two weeks. The News Director says he will hire someone as soon as possible but asks you to produce your own show, "Just for a few weeks."

Answer: Trick. Your chances of seeing another producer are the same as newsrooms going back to developing film.

2. You are the 5pm anchor. You are called in and told you are being moved to the morning show, because it is "more prestigious" and has better ratings... and will be a better showcase for your talents.

Answer: Trick. You're being demoted. The morning shift is a killer, and often a place they dump anchors when trying to get them to leave.

3. You are a reporter and your ND asks if you'd be interested in filling in for the weather staff from time to time.

Answer: Treat. Anything that makes you more versatile is a good thing. Learn to do as much as you can.

4. Your station hires a new News Director who calls a staff meeting on his first day and says, "None of you should worry about your jobs. Nothing will change."

Answer: Major trick. You just got a Charlie Brown rock in your Halloween bag. Start sending tapes.

5. You are about to sign a new contract and notice that the out clause you negotiated is not in the fine print. When you ask the ND about it, you're told, "Don't worry, that will be between you and me."

Answer: Trick. Unless it is in writing, NDs suffer from selective memory.

6. You're a reporter coming up to the end of your contract when the ND calls you in and offers you an anchor job... but you'll have to stay another three years.

Answer: This could be a trick or a treat, depending on the station and where you want to go in your career. Consider the options carefully.

7. You're offered a job with a different station and the ND makes an offer, saying, "This is as high as I can go."

Answer: Probably a trick. The first offer is generally a low one, as the NDs job is to get you as cheap as possible. Always ask politely for a little more money. The worst they can say is no.

8. The ND looks for volunteers to anchor during the holidays.

Answer: Treat. Once again, grab every opportunity you can. Who cares if no one's watching?

9. You're offered a job and told, "Occasionally, you might have to be a one man band, but that probably won't happen."

Answer: Trick. Lies this big are generally told in Congress.

10. The assignment editor called in sick and no one can find the daily file.

Answer: Treat. Finding your own stories is always better.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The clock

Everyone does it. You get out of college and you say, "I'm going to retire at 30." Or you're going to be a millionaire at 30.

Or, in the case of people in television news, you're going to be at a network or a major market by 30.

30 seems to be the magic number. Ironic that in newspaper terms, "30" means "the end."

Then maybe you get to thirty and the goal gets slid to 35. Then 40. (Then you end up writing a blog so young people don't make the same silly mistakes that you did.)

Okay, here's the point. The "clock" that is in your head needs to be turned off, because everyone has a different timeline. There are people who hit the show right out of the gate, and there are late bloomers. And its not when you get there, but if you can stay.

I get calls all the time from people who are stuck in small or medium markets who say things like, "I'm going nowhere and I'm already 24." Geez, I've got suits older than that. Besides, I looked so young I didn't get my first TV job till I was 28. So age means nothing. Numbers mean nothing.

Here's how you should judge your career:

-First and foremost, does what you're doing make you happy? (The actual job of journalism, not the jerk you might work for.)
-Is your goal still reachable when you eliminate the time factor?
-Is there something else you'd rather be doing? Before you leave the business, think long and hard about what a job in the outside world entails.
-Are you doing better than you were one year ago?

Let's leave the money factor out of this for the moment, especially if you're a young single person.

When should you re-evaluate your goals and decide if they're still attainable? Hard to say as the future of this business is so cloudy. But if you give up on your dream too early, trust me, you'll kick yourself for the rest of your life with the "what if?" question.

I'll never forget going back to the station after doing a fun feature when the photog said, "And we get paid for this!"

Turn off the clock. Have fun.

Other people have to really work for a living.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You must "be the cat"

Wanna drive your cat nuts? Close one door, any door, in your home. You could live in a ten thousand square foot mansion with every door open, but close one and a cat will spend its day trying to figure out how to get to the other side. And eventually it will succeed.

The point is, your career is filled with doors that appear closed. You have to find a way to open them. You must be the cat.

You'll run into two kinds of closed doors as a reporter. The first is the journalism door. Sometimes you'll be stuck on a story; maybe you have a "no comment" when you need a soundbite. Maybe you just can't find the person you need to interview. At times like these, many reporters just throw up their hands and phone in the rest of the story. But just because you run into a closed door, doesn't mean you can't find the open one. Keep looking. Be the cat and you might end up with a better story than you originally considered.

The other closed door is the one you assume has a great big lock; the one that concerns your career. You feel like Harry Potter in that scene where he had to find one key out of hundreds to open the door. It seems like the doors to big markets and networks are closed, than News Directors are inaccessible when they get to a certain level. You think that no one would ever consider you... and make up excuses not to mail a tape. Too young, not enough experience. Not good enough.

In this case the closed door can be unlocked with two dollars worth of postage.

Sorry I had to go through such a long cat metaphor to get you to send the tape. But too many of you don't believe you have a chance, that you're not good enough.

Be the cat, and you might just find those closed doors open pretty easily.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Being a public figure has serious risks

I didn't know Anne Pressly, the young anchor from Arkansas who was beaten to death. My sincere condolences to her loved ones. I cannot imagine what she went through, or what her family and friends are enduring right now.

And until police find her killer, we won't know what happened.

But here's something I do know. I have a few female clients who have stalkers and I have heard the fear in their voices. While this is nothing new, I'm hearing this a lot more than I used to. Maybe the Internet has made people more accessible, maybe too many young people put too much personal information on blogs and things like MySpace pages. Maybe the world is getting more dangerous.

Miss Pressly's tragic death should be a wake-up call to anyone who has an on-camera job. When you're in the public eye, you're dealing with everyone. While the majority of viewers who meet you in public will be wonderful to deal with, not all will have the best intentions.

When you're single and on television, you're never quite sure if the person you're dating is interested in you or the person on camera. I always found it a bit odd... on the first date, the other person seems to know you, while you have nothing to go on but a first impression. I'm sure this is a lot scarier for women than men, though men have their stalkers as well.

While you can't go through life hiding under a rock, be careful and look for red flags. Don't respond to weird messages from strangers over the Internet. Give all unusual mail to your supervisor. Report strange phone calls to the phone company and/or police. Take a self defense class. Install a security system in your home if you don't have one. I've even known a few women who've worn fake engagement rings on camera so men will leave them alone. I once recorded an answering machine message for a female co-worker who wanted people to think she had a live-in boyfriend. And here's the final no-brainer: get an unlisted number.

And station managers need to take the lead on this as well. Lots of stations are located in dark, dangerous areas. Time to beef up security, lighting, etc.

Maybe Miss Pressly's killer will turn out to be a stalker, maybe not. In the meantime, protect your privacy. It's the most valuable asset you have.

Meanwhile, rest in peace, Anne.