Saturday, November 29, 2008

Job hunting reminder

OK, November sweeps are over, so now's the time to get your tapes in the mail. And, if you missed an earlier post, you have an extended job hunting season this year since February sweeps have been moved to March due to the digital switch fiasco that's headed your way.

No openings, no problem. Send tapes to places in which you'd like to work. There will be openings eventually. Going home for the holidays? If your home is in a good market, try to set up interviews and at least hand deliver some tapes.

Remember, you have absolutely nothing to lose by sending tapes to a station without an opening, and everything to gain.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving is time to smell the roses

My problem, and I suspect many of you have the same flaw, is that I think too much.

When you're young and starting out in the business, you think too much about the future. When you're on the back nine of your career, you think too much about the past. When you're young you run into all sorts of forks in various roads that can send your career soaring or straight into the dumper. When you're older you wonder what might have been had you chosen a different direction.

Almost all of my clients have five years experience or less, and some are still in college. The common denominator is the worry I hear in their voices when presented with a choice. And with the future of broadcasting so much in doubt, the level of anxiety has gone up since I was a rookie reporter. But while you're looking to the future, and it is very natural to do so, you're missing the present.

Looking back I've gotten to do some pretty neat stories and visit some places the average person never would. Walking on the floor of a national political convention, hanging out with Jay Leno is his garage, talking with baseball heroes in Cooperstown. During all those times, the undercurrent of the future was always flowing through my brain. Instead of just enjoying the moment I was always too busy wondering if this might be the story that got me to the next level. The memories are wonderful, but it is almost like I was an observer, that these things didn't really happen to me.

While most of the topics on this blog relate to job hunting, I hope you'll take the time to enjoy that fact that you really don't have to work for a living. Sure, you're not making a ton of money, but would you rather be a roofer, wait tables, work on an assembly line? Most of those people have no dreams, no shot at the brass ring. Most of them can't make a difference, make the world a better place.

When I graduated from college my dad offered me the keys to our delicatessen, but I didn't go to college to make two hundred sandwiches every day for the next forty years. That was hard work, with nothing creative about it. I wanted to take a blank page every day and fill it with something unique.

So if you're going to be thankful today, consider the fact that despite the fact that you might have a News Director who needs to be on the side of a milk carton, you have a pretty cool job. Take the time to enjoy each day. You can keep an eye on the future, but keep your feet firmly planted in the present.

You may make it to the top or you may not. But at least enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Get me outta here"

We've all been there. (Or, for those of you just starting your first job, you'll get there in no time.) Working at a job that simply sucks all the enjoyment out of what should be a fun career. Bad managers, run down buildings, cheap companies, backwater towns. Any or all can contribute to the feeling you have to get out as fast as you can anywhere you can.

And when you're in a bad situation, that is the worst thing you can do.

It's called "moving for the sake of moving." I've done it. Most in this business have. And guess what? Chances are, when you jump at the very first offer that comes along, you might just be going to a similar situation.

"Get me outta here" is the most common phrase I've heard from clients. I've said it to agents when I was a client.

Seriously, take a breath. Making a hasty decision to get out of a bad situation can set your career back.

Patience is a virtue that few in the news business posess. But when you're making a job change, you have to take a serious look at the opportunity. Wearing rose colored glasses to disguise what you don't want to see can land you right back where you started.

So evaluate every offer carefully. The first one might be great. Then again, it might not. Do your homework and check on the station, the company, management. If it honestly doesn't feel right, pass.

You might spend another few months in purgatory, but it might save you a trip to hell.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mailbag: When does a News Director watch tapes?


I've sent out a bunch of tapes in the past few months. I've heard back on a few but nothing on the majority.

Just curious as to how long it takes for a News Director to actually look at your tape.


Dear Impatient,

Well, you're not gonna like my answer.

Sometimes your tape never gets a look. But most of the time it will.

Looking at resume tapes falls into two categories. The first occurs when you have an opening to fill. In this case, many News Directors will let things pile up for a week and then watch a whole bunch of tapes at once. Others will watch them the day they arrive, with the notion that if there's someone really talented out there, you don't want to be a day late with an offer.

The second category is that time period when there isn't a current opening. Your tape will no doubt be part of a much smaller group, if there's even a group at all. In this case a News Director will take a look when there's some free time.

So you're probably thinking, "Why should I send a tape when there aren't any openings if it is just going to sit there for weeks?" Well, two reasons: eventually, every station has an opening; and just about every ND I know has a box or a shelf for "good tapes" that are put aside for the future. So if you send a tape today and there's not an opening but the ND likes you, you'll be first in line when that opening does occur. (I once got a call two years after sending a tape.)

Sadly, I once worked with a ND who had to hire someone and would look at tapes until he found someone to fit the bill. The problem was, that ND then stopped looking, leaving a whole bunch of tapes unwatched. But that's a rarity. Just the chance that there might be a future star out there is usually enough to make a ND watch tapes.

By the way, sending your tape via overnight mail or with bags of popcorn doesn't make things move any faster. Though the popcorn disappears immediately.


How many nat sound breaks should you put in a package?

-Editing Challenged

Dear Editor,

Nat sound breaks are wonderful elements to put in your piece. I've seen plenty of packages (and edited many myself) that have a dozen breaks. But they have to be appropriate to the piece and you have to tailor your writing around them.

At a bare minimum you should open your piece with nat sound and throw at least one break in the middle of the package.


Does every story need a standup? And does every story need sound bites?

-Thinking out of the box

Dear Thinker,

Good question. In most cases, it is a good idea to put a standup in your piece, especially if you are not doing a live shot. It "puts you at the scene" of the story. The one time you shouldn't do a standup is when covering a funeral. Tacky, tacky.

As for sound bites, you can use "nat sound bites" in lieu of the traditional bite. If, for instance, you are covering a heated pubic hearing and some guy in the crowd starts yelling something interesting, that is a "nat sound bite." You don't see packages like this too often, but it is a nice when you do.

And, getting back to covering a funeral, this is a perfect example of using a nat sound bite. Someone delivering a eulogy falls into this category. This is also the one time when you never, ever stick a microphone in someone's face. Nothing is more rude or tasteless that walking around after a funeral gathering sound bites.


I'm about to go on my first interview and I'm worried. I have a tattoo that goes around my ankle and don't want the News Director to think badly of me. What should I do?

-Ink Girl

Dear Ink,

There is a marvelous new invention you'll find in most clothing stores called "pants."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The great Thanksgiving challenge

Bad enough that I have to suffer through the Detroit Lions every Thanksgiving Day, but then I have to sit through the annual Local-Politicians-Wear-Aprons-And-Serve-The-Homeless package on every single station in America.

I've worked Thanksgiving. I've done the story. Many times. You know what? I'm not sure it made a difference.

So, for those of you needing something for this last week of sweeps, here's my challenge.

-Today or tomorrow, find a homeless person or family whose life can be "turned around." I'm not talking about a lifelong wino, but someone down on their luck. A veteran who lost his job. A single mom living on the street with her kids because her husband took off. Contact the local shelters. They will know someone who is just one lucky break away from turning their life around. In this economy there ought to be plenty of people who fit the bill.

-Profile this person in your late Sunday newscast or on Monday. At the end of your package, do a tag that asks the community for help. Now, before Thanksgiving. This person or family will need a job, a place to live, clothes, maybe furniture, and a pantry full of food. It can be a job sweeping floors, busing tables, washing dishes. The place to live can be a room over a garage. Find the friendly employer, the landlord with an empty room he can't rent out.

-Follow the progess through the week. Show the person getting a a new job, a place to live, clothes and toys for the kids, eating a decent meal in a new home.

-On Thanksgiving the shelter package can be just a voiceover (and everyone, please, leave the politicians out of your stories. They're only there until the cameras leave.) Then do your regular package on this formerly homeless person or family who really has something to be thankful for.

You might think that isn't much time to do all that, but trust me, viewers can be in a really giving mood this time of year.

So there's your challenge. Save a life instead of just doing the same old story every year.

Let me know how it turns out if you accept the challenge.