Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Good riddance to the decade

It occurred to me that sometime in the last ten years, a drastic change took place. And not just in broadcasting.

Careers became jobs. Work that was once fun had become a chore.

Blame it on 9/11, the Internet, the economy, or whatever. We all seem to be hamsters on a wheel. Everything depends on the bottom line. Company loyalty disappeared from both directions.

How did we get here? Well, it was a gradual process, and if you look back you can see the tide slowly turning.

The 50's: The age of innocence. Life was fun, music lyrics didn't hide any deep inner meaning.

The 60's: Innocence died with JFK. The decade was turbulent, and for the first time people really began to distrust the government.

The 70's: A heck of a lot of fun if you owned a white suit, knew how to dance and lived in the New York area. Otherwise, sitting in gas lines in 1973 and 1979 was a pain and showed us how much we depended on other countries. Inflation ran out of control, and a big recession hits the last part of the decade.

The 80's: A tremendously fun decade in which budgets had no end... well, until around 1989. Then someone turned off the money faucet and consultants became more powerful. Smart owners saw the writing on the wall and started dumping stations for huge profits.

The 90's: Cutbacks and drastic changes in the newsroom. Live shots for no good reason start to dominate a newscast. Producers with no experience were given more control than veteran field crews. Franchise reporters (feature, consumer, etc.) began to disappear.

The 00's: The Internet starts to kill the golden goose. Cell phones become electronic leashes. Live shots are out of control. Reality show "news" starts creeping into newscasts, along with YouTube video and security camera clips. Cutbacks and layoffs get really bad toward the end of the decade. Consultants start killing sports departments. And the one-man-band thing throws quality out the window.

So where do we go from here? Will January 1, 2010 be a fresh start?

It all starts with you. It has to start from the bottom up, not the top down. Because the top doesn't care.

Years ago we got a new ND who treated people like dirt. I was out on a story one day with a terrific photog who had just gotten chewed out for no good reason. I noticed he was going all out for this story.

"I'm surprised you even care after what happened this morning," I said.

"I've got too much pride to let some jerk affect my work," was the reply.

And that, in a nutshell, is the attitude that can save this business.

Most of you are overworked, underpaid, and not being treated well. You're wondering what the future holds, or if the business even has a future.

If it's going to have a future, it starts with you.

No matter what happens around you, you have to block out the negative and focus on your job.

Because when all is said and done, you're really working for yourself.

A trick when working the phones

The best example of working the phones is seen in the movie "All the President's Men" when Robert Redford is tracking down a lead.

Of course, menu systems didn't exist in the 70's.

These days it's a crapshoot as to whether or not you'll get a human being on the line when calling any sort of business. If it's a major business, you could end up in some infinite loop black hole anomaly vortex from which you will never emerge. (Can you tell I've been watching a lot of sci-fi during the holidays?)

Anyway, I decided to try an experiment. I called a few large companies that I knew had crazy menu systems. I waited for the first question.

And said nothing.

In fact, I waited through every question and said nothing.

Each time, after the automated voice said, "We still can't hear you," I was transferred to a real person.

On average it took about three automated questions for this to happen, but each time I got a real person on the line.

So if you're working the phones, and time is of the essence (or even if it's not), just dial the number and be quiet. The computer on the other end will obviously get sucked into it's own infinite loop black hole anomaly vortex and kick you out to the humans.

Beating technology is cool, isn't it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

George Michael

Those of you who have been around awhile may have recognized the name. George Michael passed away during the holidays, and the guy brought back memories.

Many of you know him for his weekend sports show "Sports Machine" but I remember him as the afternoon drive deejay on WABC in New York. Back in the day, 770 on the AM dial was the place for top 40 music, and Michael was one of the hyperactive guys doing talk ups to hot records.

I liked listening to him while driving home after work, and the guy would frequently kick off his Friday shift with Redbone's "Come and get your love." His way of launching date night.

When Michael moved from radio to TV, radio lost a classic voice but it was television's gain.

When I attended my first RTNDA convention I looked at the list of seminars and saw that Michael was giving one on sports. As expected, the room was packed, and Michael was as energetic in person as on the air. He did a hilarious talk about interviewing jocks who weren't exactly Rhodes Scholars, and what to do if you get a sound bite without a verb in it. He had everyone in the room howling.

Michael was an original, and broadcasting won't be the same without him.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The beancounter's Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the station,
The beancounter was cutting,
Not taking vacation.

The staff in the newsroom was pretty darned lean,
With five people doing the work of fifteen.
The producer looked at her rundown with fear,
And hoped that real stories soon would be here.

When suddenly a reporter rose up in his glory,
And said, "I've got a real enterprise story!"
The beancounter frowned, saying, "Don't bother,
Unless Octomom's run off with Balloon Boy's father."

The producer jumped up, said, "Hey, it's real news!
Your budget cuts are giving us all the blues."
The beancounter said, "No, we'll just have to pass,
It's three miles away, we'll surely waste gas."

"Just look at YouTube, and check out the feeds,
That'll fill your show, and meet all your needs."
"Just add some more weather if you're still short on time,
The weatherman's here, he won't cost a dime."

The producer's temper went off like a flash,
"No one will watch this, it's nothing but trash!"
The reporter grabbed his camera and headed for the door,
"I'm finding a story that won't be a bore!"

The beancounter said, "Stop! I've got an idea!
It's one that you'll like, the viewers will cheer!"
"For I am a beancounter, your true Christmas elf,
Just set up your camera, and interview yourself!"

Alas, there was nothing the poor staff could do,
The beancounter ruled, that sadly was true.
And when the holiday newscast did roll,
All the viewers received was a big lump of coal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ask Santa to bring you a new hat for Christmas

Back in the 80's, another reporter told me, "You wear more hats than Bella Abzug." Abzug, for those under 40, was a New York Congresswoman who always wore different hats; it became her trademark.

In my case he meant that I had done just about every job in the newsroom.

Over the years I've been a reporter, anchor, weather anchor, sports anchor, producer (ugh), and for one week in hell, assignment editor. I also loved to edit, and cut most of my own packages. My first News Director had told me it was important to be versatile, so I tried to learn a little about every job in the newsroom.

These days versatility is a must, because if you can do only one thing, you're not as marketable.

This past year two of my friends who have spent their entire careers doing sports switched to news. They saw the handwriting on the wall (sports being phased out, shortage of male anchors) and even though they were working in major markets, they used their versatility to make the transition. But the key is that they are both smart guys who have always kept up on current events; had they been two people who only read the sports page, it wouldn't have worked.

And now there are even more hats out there in the newsroom boutique. You have to write fast and write well in order to write for the web. You have to know a little about other jobs in the newsroom, because one day your ND may ask you if you're interested in doing weather. And if you have the luxury of photogs who edit for you, you'd better be looking over their shoulders and learn how to cut a package; the day may come when you'll have to do everything yourself.

In the next decade, versatility is the new black. If you can do several things well, you may just trump someone who is more talented but can only do one thing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mailbag: Holiday blues

Grape,

I hate my job, I hate my boss and I've had no nibbles at all while job hunting. My co-workers all stab me in the back. Please cheer me up for Christmas.


It could be worse. You could be Tiger Woods.


Grape,

Our station didn't have a Christmas party this year. To me this is beyond cheap. Is this happening everywhere?


Well, yeah. It's an easy way for beancounters to slash ten or twenty grand off the bottom line, but in reality its about the worst thing they could do for morale. However, I'm sure every corporate office had a party.

If that's the case, throw your own.


Grape,

I'm in my first job. My parents keep asking if I've gotten my Christmas bonus yet. When might I receive one?


When someone develops a time machine and you can transport yourself back to 1982.


Grape,

You're always helping us. Just wondering... what do you want for Christmas?


Just pay it forward, guys.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Negotiation is like poker, but don't be surprised if they call your bluff

This time of year we baseball fans are hoping our team will pick up someone good. I've been reading about two players in particular, Johhny Damon and Jason Bay.

Damon is (or was) the Yankees left fielder, whose swing is perfectly tailored for the stadium's short right field porch. Despite the fact that he can barely reach second base from the outfield, he was an important part of the championship team.

He's also 35 years old.

So his agent demands a three year contract for huge money. Finally, the Yanks sign someone else, and now Damon must be wondering where he'll end up. And no one is going to pay him the money he's demanding.

Same with Jason Bay of the Red Sox. A perfect situation for a right handed dead pull hitter, and his agent turns down a huge offer. The Red Sox sign someone else, and now Bay is a man who won't get to play with a great team in a great city.

Two things you can learn from this:

-If you have an agent, you'd better be absolutely sure the agent knows your true wishes. If you don't want your agent to play hardball, tell him.

-Management usually holds all the cards in a negotiation. If you won't sign, there are countless talented people out there who will.

I've been on both sides of negotiation. Sometimes, as a reporter or anchor, you can sense that you've gone as far as you can go. If you're gonna bluff, be prepared to have said bluff called. You could end up out in the street.

As a manager I once wanted to hire a really good anchor who was a very nice person. But the agent was so difficult to deal with I moved on. There were plenty of talented anchors out there.

Remember, in any negotiation, keep things civil. Don't ask for the moon, and ask politely for anything you're requesting. In this economy, you can't push too hard.

And always consider the consequences if you do.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Some stories are just a perfect storm

I was sitting in a New York airport last Saturday waiting for my plane to board. Like most people in the terminal, I was reading. A giant flat screen above was blaring CNN, but few were playing attention.

Then the anchor said the magic words of the day. "Tiger Woods."

Every head snapped to attention. People walking by the gate stopped to watch. When the story ended, the heads went back down, the people who were walking by continued on their journey.

Right now we've got a raging health care debate, two wars overseas, an economic crisis... and yet a philandering golfer captures our attention.

Sports stars cheating on their wives is nothing new. (Neither are politicians for that matter.) If A-Rod had cheated on his wife we would have just shrugged.

But this was different. When someone this squeaky clean does something so out of character, the fall from grace can seem like one from Mount Everest.

L'affaire Woods probably gave newspapers a nice infusion of capital and sent TV ratings up for a few weeks. (All across America, News Directors are saying, "He couldn't have run over the hydrant during sweeps?")

Why was this story so compelling during a time when we have so many important stories going on? Because it was such a surprise, and so different from the everyday stuff we see. (And, let's face it, America loves good celebrity dirt.)

If you want to find a watercooler story, you must surprise the viewer. Dig up something that will make heads look up and people stop in their tracks. It doesn't have to be anything sensational like the Tiger Woods stuff, but just something that stands out. It has to be different than what we're broadcasting every day.

Surprise the viewer and you'll surprise a News Director when looking for a job.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mailbag: Agents and the "get out of jail free" card

Grape,

Are agents -- even the ones a little more reputable than others -- a waste of money? Would a big market ND really toss aside my tape in favor of someone else who was represented by an agent... even if my talent level was the same or better?



Well, I hate to answer the question this way, but it depends on the agent. Some are wonderful people who will truly take an interest in your career and try to get you a good fit rather than just collect a commission. Some simply send your tape out with every single client they've got and hope you get hired.

As for NDs dealing with agents, that also depends. I've had two NDs who flat out refused to talk with agents. Personally I didn't mind doing it, but I will say that some were so totally obnoxious that I passed on their clients because I didn't want to deal with them. I remember two agents who were so polite that it was a pleasure to deal with them.

Are there some NDs who won't look at tapes unless they're from an agent? Yeah, but most are smart enough to look at every tape that comes through the door. You never know how your next star will arrive. If you're equally talented with someone represented by an agent, that doesn't make a bit of difference. The ND is going to hire the person who is the best fit.


Dear Grape,

To get out of a contract early, is it best to come to the ND with a sob story (not necessarily false) and ask if I can get out soon? Or should I come to the ND already with a job opportunity in hand that would better my life, and explain things that way?


Well, it helps to have a good relationship with the ND. If you two have been on bad terms, fuhgeddaboudit. NDs can be the most vindictive species on the planet.

In these situations it pays to be truthful. I once hired a reporter who told me she didn't have a contract. When she turned in her notice, her ND called me and told me she was under contract. I called her back and she admitted she had lied. End of job offer.

If you have another offer you have to do two things: you must tell the ND that wants to hire you your contract status, and you must tell your current ND about your offer. In once case I wanted to hire someone who had two months left on her contract. I called her ND, who turned out to be a nice guy and he split the difference, letting her out a month early. Has she sneaked around, that wouldn't have happened.

Here's something else you can do when looking to get out early. Sweeten the pot. By that I mean make it easy for the ND to replace you. Give a very long notice (one month or more) offer to work a few holidays, weekends, etc.


Grape,

I've decided its time for me to leave my station and move on to better (hopefully) things. Many have suggested using an agent, so I've sent tapes to a few. I saw your post on what questions to ask ND's when interviewing for a new job. Any advice on what to ask an agent?


Ah, back to agents again. Some fair questions are to ask about the number of clients (too many and you'll get lost in the shuffle), some names of previous clients (if the agent won't give them to you, then move on), and if the fee is negotiable. You'll also want this in writing: is the fee the same if you find a job on your own? Let's say you happen to meet a ND who offers you a job and the agent has had nothing to do with it... do you still owe the agent a full commission? And is the commission for the full length of your contract or just the first year?

You'll also want to be very careful with agent contracts. Can you easily get out of the contract? Sometimes you get stuck with an agent who is doing nothing for you.

Check the agent's website and call up a few clients who might be listed. Are they happy with the service? Or has the agent done nothing at all?


Grape,

How has this year compared with last as far as your clients finding jobs?


The first part of this year wasn't good. The last half was. Amazingly I had four people find jobs during November sweeps. Hopefully that's an indication that the worst is over and the business bottomed out this year.


Grape,

For my Christmas wish I want the Grape to start twittering.


Would you settle for a snuggie?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Best and worst of the decade: Top 10 positive things in broadcasting

While there wasn't much good to say about the business in the last ten years, a few things have managed to creep through the dark clouds and provide a ray of hope. Now, if the empty suits and beancounters can stay out of the way, maybe some real journalists can save the business.

Here goes:

1. Skype

A favorite with beancounters, this system of doing live shots will probably be the death knell of microwave and satellite trucks. And in the process, hopefully save a bunch of jobs. Let's say a ND needs a new truck. He can spend six figures, or buy a bunch of laptops. With the savings he can hopefully hire (or not fire) a bunch of newspeople. As the technology gets better, more and more stations will go in this direction.


2. The DVR

Never has taping a local newscast been so easy. The DVR is becoming more commonplace in households, and makes time shifting a breeze. It's easier to watch stuff via the DVR than on the Internet. The downside is that you can also breeze through the commercials incredibly fast. Look for more "product placement" and ads that actually appear during newscasts (sponsored crawls, weather maps, etc.)


3. More opportunities for young people in big markets

Experience is wonderful, but let's face it, it doesn't take ten years to learn how to knock out a terrific package. Some young people are naturals and whip smart. Nice to see those who are truly special make it up the ladder a lot quicker than my generation.


4. Downsizing of newscasts

By this I mean cutting newscasts that really had no business taking up air time. When a small market has a newscast at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it just dilutes the product. Fortunately some stations have realized this and stopped thinning out their stories.


5. Consultants are fading away

The easiest way for a News Director to cut the budget is by eliminating the consulting services. While some consultants are very good, and a few even taught me a lot, by and large they simply tell you what you already know and cost a lot of money that can be better spent on newsroom personnel. They're melting like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz.


6. Young people are becoming more sarcastic at an early age

It used to take years for people new to the business to get jaded and disillusioned. Now, bada bing, six months and you realize you're a hamster on a corporate wheel. Kids can see the puppet strings in a short time. Welcome to the party, pal.


7. A few stations ditch the one man band

It absolutely makes my day when I hear about a station smart enough to realize this is a bad idea.


8. Networks are more careful when calling elections

After that fiasco in 2000, the battle to be first rather than right got reversed on election nights.


9. Some stations starting ditching contracts for everyone

A Southerner once told me, "You ride a horse longer with loose reins" and this little bit of wisdom filtered down to a few newsrooms that realized putting 22 year old people under three year contracts is a ridiculous idea. Putting them under any contract is just plain silly, as kids spend too much time worrying about contracts ending and timing a new job. Managers finally realized contracts can work both ways... you can get stuck with a bad person for several years. Until you know someone's track record, contracts are a bad idea. And they often chase away talented people.


10. Finally, people began to appreciate the fact that photogs are the most important people in any news operation

And a lot of people didn't know that until they were gone.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Best and worst of the decade: Top 10 bonehead broadcasting decisions and trends of the oughts

The oughts. That seems to be what everyone is calling the decade that's about to end.

Highly appropriate, as the past ten years have pretty much been a zero as far as the broadcasting industry is concerned.

We've seen the biggest changes in the history of the business, bigger than when we went from film to video, from tape-to-tape to non-linear. TV News will never be the same, and if anyone is trying to predict what it will look like in the next ten years, well, fuhgeddaboudit.

Meanwhile, time to look back at the decade, and we're going to start with the worst decisions of the past ten years.

1. Embrace the Internet

Yes, you may love the Internet, but it is the main reason the business has taken such a hit. This big bonehead decision surfaced around 2000, and has been more damaging than Y2K. (Remember that?) Back when we first heard this directive from beancounters and corporate empty suits, the most common reaction was, "So let me get this straight... you want us to tell viewers to turn off their TV sets and turn on their computers?" Well, yeah. Problem was, the stuff on the computers was free. Had those in charge made TV viewing on a computer a subscription based operation from the beginning, appointment television would still exist. People would still tune in for the free 6 o'clock news rather than spend a buck to watch it later on a computer. But the horse is out of the barn, and it isn't going to be coaxed back in.


2. Promote the other network

Huh? Why would we do this? Well, turns out your network or local station probably does it all the time. Are you something other than a Fox affiliate yet watch your anchors talk endlessly about American Idol? Oh, now you get it. Years ago this stuff would get an anchor fired, but now it seems fine to basically promote another station that might be airing a watercooler show. The boneheads in this case are the NDs who allow this to go on.


3. The Chicken Little weather philosophy

This country got seriously whacked by a ton of hurricanes this past decade, and it set in motion the trend of trying to one-up the competition. Years ago if Mother Nature was brewing up something bad, you'd get a non-intrusive weather crawl. Now entertainment programming is filled with endless squeezebacks, ear splitting sounders preceding crawls, and break-ins for weather watches instead of warnings. Personally, I love the stations that carry "Who wants to be a Millionaire" and run their crawls or radar over the answers. (Apparently it would take someone from NASA to put the crawl over the top of the screen.) As one ND put it, "it makes entertainment programming unwatchable." The desire to get on first with hurricane stuff is out of control, with break-ins now preceding storms by five days. And wall to wall coverage has deteriorated into calls from yahoo viewers talking about the wind blowing as the hurricane fades away.


4. The one man band comes to big markets

Call it backpack journalism, multi-media journalism, or any other euphemism, it's still beancounter news designed to cut costs while throwing quality out the door.


5. Filling the newscast with Internet video

It's bad enough to cover non-stories, but stations are now taking whatever is the hot video of the day off the Internet and broadcasting it as a story. For some reason it is usually someone robbing a convenience store. Yes, there's funny and interesting stuff on places like YouTube, but putting it in a newscast is just lame and shows the world your staff can't dig up real stories.


6. Bias becomes acceptable

A friend of mine who has worked in the business for a long time calls 2008, "The year journalism died." Never before has bias, which ran both left and right, been so acceptable. If you want to know why the general public trusts journalists about as much as Congress, look no further.


7. Live shots take precedence over everything

Wonder why your package looks so lame? Maybe if you didn't have to do live shots all day with teases thrown in you'd actually have time to put together a decent story. Live shots haven't fooled the public for a long time, especially when you do them in your late newscast from the location of a story that ended several hours ago. Not really a new trend, but it got much worse this decade.


8. Including part of a newscast from a central location.

Ever see one of those out of market segments in which the anchor or weatherperson mispronounces just about every local town or name incorrectly? That's what you get when you outsource part of your news to a central location. This doesn't fool viewers either.


9. The death of the kicker

These days every newscast closes with yet another weather forecast, even though the viewer has just seen one ten minutes ago. Kickers used to be a significant part of a newscast, the thing that kept viewers sticking around till the end. For those of you who can check your ratings in 15 minute segments, check the last half of your newscast and you'll see your viewers bailing in droves.


10. The death of local sports

Not totally dead yet but headed in that direction. Blame the consultants for this bonehead decision, as they'll tell you sports fans get their sports from ESPN. Well, I'm a huge sports fan and I don't as I can't stand a smart comment every single sentence. Local people may follow national teams, but they want local sports.


11. The graveside vulture interview

(Yeah, I know the article calls for the top 10 decisions, but I had to get this one in.) The practice of shoving a microphone in someone's face at a funeral is just another tasteless line that was crossed with more frequency this past decade. I keep waiting for a reporter to get a punch in the mouth from a grieving widow. And the reporter would deserve it. May the NDs who allow this be buried under a circus tent.


Next up, the best things of the decade. (And I'll be hard pressed to find 10.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Tiger Woods, politicians, and people in the public eye don't understand about the media

Every kid has a Christmas memory like this. Parent puts present under tree, tells kid not to shake it, "or you'll know what it is." Statement drives kid nuts till Christmas. Kid focuses on that particular present, and it's the first one opened on Christmas morning.

You see, when you're told to ignore something, it just makes you that much more curious. It's human nature.

Combine that concept with a business populated by nosy people, and it takes the curiosity factor up exponentially.

So when someone says "no comment" or brushes you off or ducks out a back door, you know something's up. Because people with nothing to hide aren't afraid to talk with reporters.

I'm actually baffled by Tiger Woods bunker mentality, and the longer this goes on, the worse it gets. If I were his PR spin control guy, I would have told him to come out the day of the accident and say something like, "Hey, I got into an argument with my mother-in-law and just wanted to get out of the house to cool off. I was ticked off and pulled out of the driveway too fast. Guess I should have taken a walk."

And you know, most reporters probably would have bought it, considering the fact that the guy had nothing in his past to suggest what is now being reported.

Nothing kicks my reporter's internal radar up more than someone who won't give me a straight answer or provides no answer at all. Amazingly, people in the public eye haven't figured this out.

So here's what famous people need to realize when dealing with the media. And as reporters, this should be your creed.

I am a reporter.

If I ask you a question with respect, treat me with respect and give me an honest answer. In return, I'll treat you fairly and objectively. It's a two way street.

If you lie to me, I'll find out. Then I'll tell my audience you lied to me.

If you tell me there's nothing to the story, I'll know there is something really good out there, and I'll work harder to find it.

If you give me a "no comment" I'll only dig deeper until I find someone who will give me a comment, and you probably won't like it.

If you walk past me without saying anything, I'll only work harder to find the truth.

If you make yourself totally inaccessible I'll know something is up, and I'll pick you clean like a vulture.

Because I am a reporter.

It is my job to ask the questions the people want asked. To find the truth and present it without emotion or bias.

Trust me, nothing is more of a rush than playing Woodward & Bernstein and feeling your heart pound when you find the holy grail that is the truth.

If you're truly guilty, tell me now. Be honest with me and I'll respect you more for it.

And then I won't spend all day digging up something that could be even worse.


I can almost predict what will happen next, and so can most of you. And it will happen with every public figure caught cheating on his wife. The man in question (now playing the victim) will go on a talk show and spill his guts like the Pope is sitting in a confessional. We'll hear stories about sex addicts (previously known as "men") and see a wife doing the Tammy Wynette thing.

And we'll all know it's fake.

If only these people knew that by saying nothing, they're telling the media and the rest of the world a whole lot more.

When you get the runaround, a "no comment" or have an end run pulled on you, that's the time for you as a reporter to work harder. The harder they try to hide something, the more they have to hide.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The follow-up question: a dying art

Someone, and I don't remember who, once said, "There are those who listen and there are those who wait to speak."

That's a terrific way to describe husbands and an awful lot of reporters. Very often if you don't listen, you miss the opportunity for the best sound bite of the interview.

The problem with a lot of young reporters is that they head out to an interview with a list of questions. Then they'll sit down, ask question number one, and without even paying attention to what the interview subject is saying, get ready with question number two. So they end up missing really good stuff.

Example:

Reporter: "So what's your take on health care?"

Congressman: "Well, I'm in favor of it. At least the space alien who inhabits my body is."

Reporter: "Do you favor the public option?"

Okay, that's an extreme example of a reporter not paying attention, but this kind of stuff happens all the time, especially on some on the interview shows with young hosts. The Sunday morning hosts don't let this kind of stuff slip by, but during the
week it's pretty common on cable talk shows.

Look, if you've got your questions written down, they're not going anywhere. You can ask them any time. You don't have to pay attention to your note pad. Ask the question, and really listen to what is being said. Very often you might pick something up that's very subtle, but it can take your interview in a different direction and give you a big story.

And when the person being interviewed stops talking, you don't have to start. Remember that great tip given to me by a network anchor about interviewing politicians; they love the sound of their own voices and can't stand dead air. If you just sit there and say nothing after their stock answer, they'll keep talking, and very often say something worthwhile.

It's okay to write down your questions and if you don't it's always a good idea to have an idea of what you're going to ask before you head out to an interview. Just don't forget that the most important part of the interview is the answer, not your question.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mailbag: Companies that are "meeting happy"

Grape,

It seems my ND is always in meetings or conference calls. Most of the time when he returns to the newsroom he has a pained look on his face. Can you give us an idea as to what happens during these affairs?


Well, if there's one thing I don't miss about management, its meetings. And if you work for a "meeting happy" company, you can waste a ton of time accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Meetings fall into two categories; department head meetings and conference calls, usually headed up by some corporate poobah who has never set foot in a newsroom but thinks he knows the business. Here's what happens in a nutshell.

-Department head meetings. Most stations do these every two weeks but some like to hold them weekly. So all the department heads gather in a conference room and brace themselves for a flogging. You generally go around the room and managers talk about what's going on in his or her department. Sales might talk about new clients, production might talk about the new weather set, etc. Sadly, news, with the biggest department, only has one representative (it aint exactly an electoral college) and the ND usually gets hit from all sides about what happened or what isn't happening. Other department heads (usually who know nothing about the news business either) always want to chime in about coverage. It's a tongue-biting exercise when someone like a traffic manager rips you over a story you aired. Most NDs dread these. I did work for one station in which the GM ran a positive meeting, and there was a healthy exchange of ideas, but those are rare.

-Conference calls. Oh, if these were video conference calls a whole bunch of managers would be fired because corporate could see us not paying attention. Many times these are run by a beancounter or corporate flack who wants to impose some new mandate on the group's news managers. So you dial in (and this part is really important) you hit the "mute" button on the phone so that the person running the meeting can't hear your real thoughts.

The people who participate in these calls fall into two categories; the brown nosing suck-ups, who feel the need to chime in every two minutes to pat the boss on the back and offer even more suggestions; and the "mute button" group that chimes in at least once to let the world know you're actually there. Members of the mute button group will have the speakerphone on while filling out paperwork, playing computer solitaire, or reading the sports page because more often that not the information being passed on is totally useless. But you still have to throw in a "yeah, great idea" every once in awhile to keep your job.

So if your ND is a blue meanie after one of these, now you know why.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The reverse interview

A few people have recently asked about interviews; specifically, what questions to ask when the ND invariably says, "So, do you have any questions for me?"

Most people get caught off guard by this, stammer and say, "Uh, no."

But this is not only a good way for you to get some good information, but show that you're interested in more than furthering your own career. It also shows you're a curious person, and considering we're in the business to dig up stuff, that's a good thing.

And, some questions might turn up a few red flags as well.

So, when you get this question, try some of these.

"How did you get into the business?" Ah, nothing gets a ND's ego going like talking about his own career. You'll get brownie points for this one. Don't forget to use the husband-tuning-out-wife-bobblehead as you listen to what may be a long and drawn out story.

"What's your news philosophy?" Always a good way to find out if you'll be doing real stories or chasing car wrecks.

"What is your feeling on one man bands?" These days, this is a critical question. You'll probably get a definite answer one way or the other. If you hear something like, "Well, you might have to pick up a camera once in a while, but I don't see that happening too often," that's a red flag. A statement like that is right up there with, "Elin, honey, I'm just going out with the guys to hit a bucket of balls."

"What happened to the person I'm replacing?" Always good to know if the person moved up the ladder, quit, or was pink slipped. If the answer is, "We can't discuss personnel matters," that's a red flag. It might not reflect badly on the ND, but you need to find out the answer.

"Do you give regular feedback?" The biggest complaint I hear from people is that they never hear anything from management unless it's bad. You always want a mentoring environment, even if you're experienced.

Remember, keep your end of the interview casual. Be a good conversationalist, be interested in what the ND has to say, and act like you want to be part of a team rather than just someone who is looking for a stepping stone.

Finally, do a little homework on the ND before your interview. Find out where the ND is from and where he's worked. Sometimes managers are on the way down, or move around as much as reporters do. If you've got a ND born in Florida who is working in South Dakota, you can bet there will be resumes going out of his office as well,

Friday, December 4, 2009

When shooting interviews, mix things up

I saw an obvious one man band package the other day (you can always tell when the interview subject looks directly into the camera) on a local station and all the interviews were done in the exact same spot. When edited together, it looked awkward.

This is TV 101, something I learned on my first day on the job from a photog. We had to get some man in the street comments and were camped out at the post office. After I did my first interview, the photog moved his tripod a bit and pointed his camera in another direction. Then he told me to get on the other side of his camera. "You want to mix up your shots, and have people looking in different directions." When I edited the piece, I noticed how nicely if flowed with different looks and different backgrounds.

I realize some of you who have been handed a camera and thrown into the deep end of the pool haven't been taught this stuff. So, a couple of rules:

-If shooting a one man band interview, frame up your shot, hit the record button and step to the side of the camera. Tell the person to talk to you, not the camera. Never, never, never have someone look directly into the camera.

-If shooting multiple interviews at one location, mix things up. Stand on different sides of the camera and change your angles and backgrounds.

Did you notice this forces you to use a tripod? Ha, tricked you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Your first job can be like being on "Survivor"

I was watching the clever Fox show "Glee" last night and in one scene the guy leaves his wife and needs a place to sleep. Long story short, he rips the plastic cover off a new mattress and sacks out.

All I could think of was, "That plastic was my first shower curtain."

My first job was an adventure, and the fact that I had almost no cash made it ever more so. When I arrived in my two-seater, I had all my clothes, a ten inch black and white TV, and a record player.

No furniture, no nothin'.

The apartment had a tub/shower combo, but no curtain. So it was baths for awhile.

I slept on the floor the first two weeks, waiting for my first paycheck so I could buy a mattress. When it arrived I carefully cut the plastic down the side and slid it over the shower curtain rod. It worked fine as a shower curtain until the next paycheck.

My new neighbor came over to introduce himself and noticed my tiny television set. He had an interesting job; he swapped out television sets in hospitals. He told me the ones he took out were perfectly good color sets that the hospital let him take.

One problem: hospital TV sets have no sound. The speaker is in that handset near the bed.

He told me I could have a color set if I wanted, and I knew exactly what to do. I got a cable splitter and hooked up the black and white to the color set. The black and white provided the sound, the color set provided the picture. I hooked it up to a cable box and when I turned the knob it would change the channel on both TVs.

Another neighbor laughed and said I had created the world's first true stereo TV system.

Being broke isn't much fun, unless you can step back and laugh at the adventure of it all. Every paycheck would come and I'd take a few bucks to buy something I needed. Nice towels one week, a toaster the next. Little, simple stuff like that seemed to get me through.

Many of you are in a similar boat, but unlike me, many of you have student loans. Sometimes it can seem like there's no end in sight to the financial woes, but it does get better. You simply have to look at the big picture.

Even if it has no sound at the time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Your personal life needs to be on flash paper

These days the smoking gun is rarely a gun. It's an email, a text, a facebook note, a tweet.

Yep, putting stuff in writing can really come back to bite you.

Today's news is filled with alleged Tiger Woods texts, emails from the White House to the couple that allegedly crashed the party.

No gun, no gunpowder, no CSI forensics. Just words.

Which reminds me of a very valuable piece of advice I got as a kid from the neighborhood bookie. We'll call him Sal.

Sal used to amuse the kids by giving us pieces of flash paper. It's the stuff used by magicians, special paper that when touched by a flame goes up instantly in a flash. It leaves no ashes.

No evidence.

It was cool stuff. I used to impress my friends at school with it. Then one day I asked Sal why he had so much flash paper.

Bookies, for the benefit of those who don't have a vowel at the end of their last names, use flash paper to write down the bets from their customers. They also always have a burning cigarette nearby, even if they don't smoke. "If the cops bust through the door," said Sal, "you just touch the cigarette to the paper and there's no evidence." He touched the cigarette to a sheet of paper and poof! it was gone.

Then Sal gave me a great piece of advice. "Never write nuthin' down, kid. Then it can't come back to bite you."

So it amazes me how people in newsrooms write down personal feelings all the time on their computers and cell phones.

I was amazed when I was a manager that some employees wanted to argue in writing rather than come into my office. Naturally I always printed out everything, in case I ever needed a paper trail. (Yes, managers cover their own tails just like everyone else.)

Over the years I've seen a bunch of people get into serious trouble for putting things in writing.

So, bottom line, don't. If you think your ND is a jerk, fine. Just don't write it down. In fact, don't write anything down.

And if you're not sure, ask yourself this question. "Can what I've just written ever come back to bite me?"

In reality, if you have to ask the question, the answer is usually yes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mailbag: Looking back into a crystal ball

Grape,

Just curious...looking back to the time you got into the business, what was the common denominator for the people you worked with who made it to the top, or at least to a great market?


Wow, excellent question. I often am asked if there is some sort of formula for success. If there were, I'd write a book with the recipe.

But since you asked me to look back, I took some time to think about the people with whom I worked who were getting their feet wet at the same time I was. (Bear in mind that my memory isn't what it used to be, and that yesterday I actually put the coffee pot in the refrigerator.)

-One of the most talented people I ever knew had his career take a bizarre turn simply because of a change in management. I really thought this guy would hit it big, but life threw some real wild cards in his direction and he got out of the business.

-One of the biggest airheads I've ever known made it to a major market. And yes, she was drop dead gorgeous.

-Two guys who were very talented made it to a network but couldn't stay there. Not sure why, but their careers peaked early and then headed downward.

-One very talented woman made it to a major market, had kids, and got out of the business to be a mom.

-One incredibly talented woman simply had no desire to move out of a small market, and made a career there despite offers from big markets.

-One clueless reporter who had just about every script re-written by management got a major market job on the strength of his writing.

-Two of the best reporters I've ever known who were both health nuts came down with catastrophic illnesses after making it to major markets.

-One of the worst human beings I've known who cheated on his wife and hit on everything in a skirt made it to a network and is still there. (As a good friend said of this, "Cream and jerks often rise to the top.")

-A terrific anchor got out of the business because she simply got sick of job hunting.

-And a whole bunch of people who were at best mediocre made it to big markets or the network. Each time this happened, people in the newsroom who knew them simply shook their heads in amazement.

So, bottom line, there's no way to predict whether you'll be successful or not. Sometimes the stars align, sometimes they don't. (I have another idea for a book called "Why good things happen to bad people.")

The best thing you can do is to always do your best so that your odds of being successful will improve.

Monday, November 30, 2009

December's a good time to see what's on the other side of the fence

Several years ago I was doing the traditional Salvation-Army-kicks-off-kettle-drive story and I was grabbing a soundbite with the public relations person. This was turning into an auto-pilot story until she said something that surprised me.

"We might not have enough money to pay our bell ringers this year."

"Huh? You guys pay bell ringers?"

"Well, we don't have enough volunteers, so we have to pay people to ring the bell."

I was floored. I mean, who knew? I simply assumed all those people you see at supermarkets and malls were just nice people who volunteered. The story suddenly took a different turn. Then we got into a discussion about why certain large venues didn't have bell ringers. Again, not enough money, not enough volunteers.

So naturally, guilt took over and I offered to ring the bell for a few hours.

A few weeks later I was assigned to do it at a super Wal-Mart, and, as luck would have it, the weather was absolutely miserable. Cold and pouring rain. The store manager took pity on me and let me bring the bucket inside.

Then I wished I had a camera with me.

The people who were well dressed and obviously not broke wouldn't make eye contact with me when I said, "Merry Christmas." The people who looked as if they were one step above being homeless stopped and put something in the bucket.

Anyway, two hours, a little over two hundred bucks in miserable conditions. I walked away with a new insight into human nature.

A few years later we worked out a deal with the Salvation Army where our staff would take turns for an entire day at one location, ringing the bell. I think it had the same effect on a lot of people.

We've all done stories on helping people during the holidays, but many times we really don't take the time to understand a different point of view. What's it really like to be poor? What's it like to run the Salvation Army and not have enough bell ringers?

Just some thoughts for a slow news month. Then again, it might not be a slow month for someone with a different point of view.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Black Friday package I'd love to see

ANCHOR INTRO: Well, it's Black Friday, and that means all of you were up before the crack of dawn looking for Christmas bargains. Reporter Joe Goodhair set his alarm clock to see what all the fuss was about.

TAKE PKG

Nat sound: Door sliding open at store

Voiceover: And they're off! Shoppers kicked off the holiday season at four this morning, hoping to save big bucks while getting away from their relatives.

Sound Bite Shopper: Microwaves are 110 percent off! They'll actually pay me to take them away!

Voicover: But giveaways like that aren't the only attraction. The season's hottest toy was out there, the elusive Tickle-Me-Cabbage-Patch-Barbie-That-Hooks-Up-To-Guitar-Hero-And-Has-An-iPhone-Ap.

Nat sound: Parents wrestling on ground for toys

Sound bite Parent: I took two cheap shots to the ribs and broke a tooth, but I got one.

Standup bridge: Despite the fact that my News Director made me get up in the middle of the night, it wasn't a total loss. I scored these blank DVDs for two bucks, which should save me a ton of money during resume tape season.

Voiceover: Store owners say the madness is worth it, but the starting times are getting earlier each year as each store tries to outdo the other.

Sound bite Manager: I was sad to see that the store across the street opened at two a-m. So next year we're going to open on Wednesday.

Voiceover: So Black Friday did what it was supposed to do... put stores in the black... while filling two minutes on an otherwise dead news day. Now for more of our time-killing team coverage, let's throw it to Susie Fembot who can tell us about the economic impact.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hometown applicants have an advantage

Ever notice how so many stations tend to promote the people who actually grew up in that market? There's a reason for that.

They're not going anywhere.

Awhile back we ran a poll on dream jobs, and "getting a job in my hometown" was the winner. More so than cracking the network, more people want to work in their hometowns; they already have roots, and getting a job back home would put the seemingly endless task of job hunting to rest.

News Directors know this, and that's why it is always more appealing to hire people who grew up in the market. If there are two people applying for a job and they're dead even in talent, the one who is from that market will more than likely get the job.

News Directors, for the most part, hate the job hunting process. The huge boxes of tapes, the endless interviews, countless phone calls to check references, and the crapshoot of actually hiring someone. By hiring someone who wants to come home, a ND knows he won't have to worry about that person leaving in two years.

It's one less person to hire.

Several years ago a friend of mine got a job in his hometown and told me, "I'll never have to job hunt again." That was ten years ago, and he's still there.

Recently one of my clients got a job in her hometown, and I'm sure she won't be making any resume tapes either. How did she do it? She laid the groundwork for the past year, visiting stations on her trips home, keeping in touch with News Directors, sending tapes every few months. NDs got to know her face to face, knew she wanted to come home, and saw her talent grow each time she sent a tape.

That's why I always tell you guys not to waste those trips home for the holidays. Visit your hometown stations, let them know that coming home is your ultimate goal. You may not find an opening right away, but you'll be in the back of the mind of a ND when the time is right.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another myth exploded: people are getting hired during sweeps

Well, I'd never seen this before, but apparently the time honored rules of television news job hunting are totally out the window.

Two of my clients got jobs during sweeps.

In the past (the very recent past) you'd never see this. You wouldn't dare bother a News Director during sweeps, just as you'd never call a News Director at 4:30 in the afternoon.

But now the rules have changed, as some NDs are spending time during sweeps interviewing and hiring.

What's changed all of a sudden? Not sure, but considering the knee-jerk tendencies of owners and GMs, it's possible that a few NDs are trying to get the jump on their counterparts by snatching up the good people.

Or, what might have happened is that stations are so short staffed that people who gave their notice in October will be leaving their stations stretched even thinner for the holidays, and the NDs want to fill those openings quickly.

Doesn't matter. It's a good thing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't look for ratings to validate your efforts

Very often sweeps will end and be followed by up to three weeks of tortuous waiting. You'll see your ND get even twitchier during this period, and that often trickles down to the staff. You start to second guess yourself. "Did I do enough? Was my work good enough?"

And if the ratings that come in aren't good, you sometimes blame yourself.

Ratings are often not a validation of quality.

Sure, it is nice to be number one, but there is plenty of quality work being knocked out by people working for last place stations. And lots of garbage being produced by people at first place stations.

Even if you're under a new regime and have made wonderful improvements, it often takes a year or two to reflect that in the ratings.

And sometimes it never makes a dent.

Ratings, like everything else in this business, are subjective. And viewers are slow to change, doing so at a glacial pace.

The only thing you can do is continue to put forth your best efforts every day, not just during sweeps. As long as you do that, you won't have any regrets if the ratings aren't good.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The holidays offer anchoring opportunities for those who volunteer

When I first got into management I had a very talented young reporter who asked me for a shot at anchoring. I knew she'd do fine, but had trouble convincing the powers that be. Finally, I played the "noon show card."

"Let's put her on the noon show," I said. "No one's watching anyway."

"Fine," was the answer. (Noon shows do have some value.)

So I scheduled her for the noon and she knocked it out of the park.

Similar opportunities are coming in the next few weeks. Since regular anchors really don't want to work the holidays, it might behoove you to volunteer to anchor on those days that no one wants to work. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah, there's bound to be an anchor shortage somewhere. Throw your hat in the ring. Most NDs will realize that "no one's watching" on holidays and might give you a shot.

By the way, you know who is watching on holidays? NDs who have gone home. They might be big market managers now, but they may have grown up in your market. And NDs can't resist checking out local news whenever they travel. (Another good reason not to phone it in on a holiday.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Interview with a corporate beancounter

Today we're sitting down for lunch with Carmen Denominator, the head beancounter for a medium sized broadcasting group.

Grape: Carmen, thanks for agreeing to sit down with us today.

Carmen: No problem. (Glances at watch) But I'm only allowed thirty minutes.

Grape: They have fast service here. Let's start with--

Carmen: I know what you're going to ask about. The one man band thing.

Grape: You read my mind.

Carmen: Look, cameras are so small and easy to operate now that anyone can shoot video, so why have two people do the work of one person?

Grape: Because most reporters are not competent photogs.

Carmen: Pfffft. Like the viewers care if the video is out of focus. It saves money. More money for me to count.

The waitress arrives and asks for our order.

Carmen: I see both the hamburger and the soup in a bread bowl are both $6.95. Could I have half a hamburger and half of the soup bowl?

Waitress: Lady, we can't cook half a hamburger. And if we cut the bread bowl in half the soup will run all over the place.

Carmen: How about half a club sandwich?

The waitress glares at her. (We should point out this restaurant is in New Jersey.)

Carmen: Fine. I'll have the three bean salad.

Grape: How appropriate.

Carmen: What do you mean by that?

Grape: Well, you're a beancounter.

Carmen: Financial officers do not appreciate that term.

Grape: Journalists don't appreciate being thought of as numbers on a balance sheet.

Carmen: Ah, here we go. Look, I don't make the rules. My job is to create a healthy bottom line for the company. If that means making a few cuts here and there, so be it.

Grape: But those cuts are affecting the quality of the product and chasing good people out of the company.

Carmen: Well, in case you hadn't noticed, quality left this country and moved to China a few years ago. And so what if people leave? There's an unlimited supply of people out there to take their places.

Grape: Nice attitude.

Carmen: I don't make the rules.

Grape: Did it ever occur to you to consult with people who actually work in the trenches before making cuts?

Carmen: No. It wouldn't matter. I have this flow chart in my office that tells me how television stations work, so it's easy to make cuts.

Grape: You have a flow chart?

Carmen: Yes. I know how many people you need to put on a newscast, how much equipment is necessary. I know the average reporter drinks two-point-three cups of coffee per day, so that tells me how much coffee should be in your break room budget. It's a very good flow chart.

Grape: What about breaking news?

Carmen: What about it?

Grape: Well, in some years you have a ton of breaking news and it blows out the overtime budget.

Carmen: You should plan for that contingency.

Grape: You can't plan the future. Who knew gas would be four bucks a gallon and blow up the news car budget?

Carmen: You should have planned for these contingencies. On days when there's not much news, send everyone home early. When you have stories close to the station, your crews can walk to them.

Grape: That in your flow chart?

Carmen: No. I figured that out all by myself.

Grape: Let's talk about budgets. When I was in management we'd have to jump through all kinds of hoops to get our budget requests in, and then you guys would deny everything.

Carmen: (laughing) Yeah. Amazing you guys still fall for that one.

Grape: So you have no intention of granting budget requests?

Carmen: Please. Use the stuff you've already got.

Grape: The stuff we've already got is obsolete.

Carmen: You still got your newscast on the air last night though, right?

Grape: Yeah.

Carmen: Case closed.

Grape: Why not make some cuts at the corporate level?

Carmen: You cannot be serious.

Lunch arrives. Carmen picks up her fork and begins to eat her three bean salad.

Grape: Aren't you going to count those first?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mailbag: Snappy answers

Grape,

Do I need a picture on my resume? I see some offers out there to put photos on my DVD along with my paper resume. Worth the money?

Nope. The only thing that gets you the job is what's on the tape, and we can see what you look like when we play it. No News Director ever said, "Well, she can't report a lick but sure had a nice DVD cover. Let's hire her!" Save your money.



Grapevine,

Do I need a fancy slate on my resume tape? I see some people with flying boxes, music, and all sorts of bells and whistles.

Fuhgeddaboudit. Save the production value, bells and whistles for your packages. All you need on a slate is your name, address, current job and contact information. No News Director ever said, "Well, she can't report a lick but sure had great production values on her slate. Let's hire her!" (Hmmmm.... I'm getting a bit redundant here.)


Grape,

Why are News Directors always in a bad mood?

Well, there are a lot of factors. If the ND is already a cylon, it's inbred. If the ND has no home life or a bad one, he or she can take out those frustrations on the staff.

Then there's pressure from the GM, corporate, the beancounters who question every little expense, and the constant parade of complaints from the staff.



Grapevine,

Why are photogs often in a bad mood?

Because they're often smarter than the reporters for whom they shoot.


Grapeman,

It's like I have to be a CIA operative around here and sneak around in the middle of the night to make a resume tape.

Why are small market managers so paranoid about people looking for jobs?

Because they're stuck in a small market and you're getting out.



Grape,

Please twitter.

Please stop asking.


Grapevine,

Just got my first job. What's the best thing I can do?

Act like you know nothing, be a sponge, and soak up everything you can.

Oh, and carry the tripod for the photog.



Hey Grape,

I love my job but don't make any money. Should I be worried?

Nah. If you love what you do chances are you'll be successful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why the best person doesn't always get the job

A while back a reporter sent me a resume tape which included an anchor intro. While the reporter was very good, the anchor was awful.

I see this a lot, as people often ask me to look at their packages online, which include the anchor intros. Trust me, there are a lot of people out there without much talent, or veterans who are simply phoning it in, sitting on the anchor desks across America cashing bigger checks than you while operating on autopilot.

So, you're asking, "Why do these people have jobs that pay twice what I make?"

Ah, Grasshopper, life is not fair.

Guess what? Some of these awful people started out just like you. They might have had talent and drive. And, like everyone else out there, they actually cared when they got their first job.

You see this a lot in small and medium markets. People who realize they aren't going anywhere suddenly stop trying and their performance suffers. Or they don't have the talent to move on, and end up being "a piece of the furniture."

That doesn't mean you aren't talented or would do a better job. It just means that for whatever reason, they have a lock on the job you want.

In some cases, longevity trumps talent. We've all seen those anchors that have been in the same place for years. People who, if they had to look for another job, wouldn't get a nibble. Sometimes News Directors get comfortable with people like that; they show up every day and don't complain, and the public has grown comfortable with them, like a favorite pair of slippers.

That doesn't mean you should give up.

What it means is this: Don't let this happen to you.

And believe it or not, it can happen at a very young age.

You're at your first or second job, your resume tape is done, and you're biding time waiting for an offer. So you phone it in for just one day. One day becomes two, then three, then it becomes a habit.

And before you know it, you're in the same place for ten years.

Most of us have the capability of operating on auto-pilot. They key to avoiding this is to remember your first day on the job. On that day you were going to change the world and take the business by storm.

The only way to actually do it, is to keep that attitude every single day.

Friday, November 13, 2009

November, 1963: The best examples of nat sound carrying a story

I've been reading Joe McGinniss' terrific book on Teddy Kennedy (The Last Brother) and it brought back memories of JFK's assassination. Those few days are widely regarded as the turning point for television news; when America turned on the TV for big news instead of the radio.

So lately I've been watching some of the vintage coverage of those days online, and it's amazing how much television news has changed. The most obvious difference is that these days anchors just don't know when to shut up and let the pictures and the sound carry the story.

Talk to anyone who lived through that period and ask about JFK's funeral. Ask what sound comes to mind.

It's the unmistakable rat-a-tat of the drums during the funeral procession. I can hear it like it was yesterday, like a song stuck in your head for a lifetime.

And it was nice that the anchors of that day knew enough to say very little, because they didn't have to. They were as quiet as America's living rooms. That was the definition of viewers being riveted, not something regarding a silly hoax involving a balloon.

Riveted, and no one on an anchor desk had to say a word.

I encourage those of you not old enough to have lived through this to spend some time watching the coverage of those four days in November, 1963. It's all easily accessible online. Pay attention to the lack of sensationalism, to the way the pictures and sound were more powerful than anything an anchor could say.

There are three parts to every story: words, pictures and sound. Many times the latter two are enough.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sometimes the biggest story you've covered is way too common for your resume tape

I noticed it right after Hurricane Katrina. Resume tapes started leading off with Katrina packages, even from faraway places that didn't get a drop of rain. Most focused on relocated victims. Each package had a tearful story of a lost home and file tape of the storm for B-roll.

As far as resume tapes go, those stories were a big yawn.

Why? Sure, Katrina was a huge story. But if everyone is doing the same thing, what's the big deal? Most of those out of market Katrina stories took absolutely no reporting skills. Setting up an interview and using network file tape is not exactly challenging. If everyone's got the same b-roll and the same story, I'm gonna hit the eject button.

After a while, stuff like that becomes "video wallpaper" which means you just don't see it anymore.

So think about the first story on your tape when you're putting your resume together. It may be important, it may have been a lead story... but are other people going to have the same thing? Your lead story may have been huge in Podunk, but unless it has some truly unique element to it, a News Director will pass.

It's the days when nothing is happening and you turn a huge story that will get you noticed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank a vet today

Many of you will be doing Veterans Day stories today. No, it's not just a holiday or an opportunity to score a bargain at the mall. It's a day to honor those who served and still serve our country.

And if you don't know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, well, as my dad would say, "Look it up."

It is absolutely appropriate as a news person to thank a Veteran at any time, but especially today. "Thank you for your service" is always a nice gesture.

If your station let's you wear flag pins, fine. If not, you can always sneak some red white and blue clothing into your outfit.

Just don't miss the real meaning of the day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The great sweeps promo decoder

Someone always throws a switch in the promotions department when sweeps begin... and that trickles down to producers who have to write teases and updates for riveting stories like "How escalators can kill you" or "Shopping cart handles... lingering death awaits in the supermarket."

Anyway, in case you didn't know, here are the actual meanings behind sweeps promotional terms.

"In a story you'll see ONLY on this station..." actually means, "It's a story no one else wanted to cover."

"We have MAJOR breaking news tonight..." actually means, "We have breaking news, but add an extra adjective for sweeps."

"In an EXCLUSIVE interview..." actually means, "No one else wanted to talk to this joker."

"We interrupt this program for a weather alert from the Super-Dooper Doppler Center..." actually means, "There's a cumulus cloud in the viewing area."

"Eye-Missedit News has learned..." actually means, "We read the paper this morning and wanted to pass this on."

"We have special team coverage..." actually means, "We could only think of two good packages for today, so we split one in half."

"It's a parent's worst nightmare..." actually means, "The economy is so bad you can't afford hundred dollar sneakers for the little munchkins."

"We should warn you that what you're about so see is disturbing..." actually means, "We searched YouTube all day to find some bizarre video to promote."

"New tonight..." actually means, "Here's a story we couldn't fit into the six o'clock show."

"It's a story we've been following all day..." actually means, "The story moved on the wire at 9 this morning, and we wrote it at four o'clock."

"My co-anchor Joe Goodhair is on assignment..." actually means, "Joe Goodhair called in sick during sweeps and the ND doesn't want the GM to know it."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Baa, baa, baa. You don't have to be a Yale alum to bleat like a sheep

Sometimes I think news departments would be a lot better off if they didn't monitor other news organization.

You know the managers. Call them sheep, or lemmings. They don't act, they react. They wait for some other station to go wall to wall with some story (See: Boy, Balloon) and then they drop what they're doing and blow out the rest of the newscast.

Just because someone else thinks it's a story.

On the other side of the coin are the politically biased managers, who basically think, "If they're covering it, I'm not."

And now, with Hurricane Ida, it's a contest to one-up the other guys with coverage of the long awaited storm that has had Gulf Coast weather people treating it like the last available date for the Senior Prom.

I realize that most of you who read this aren't managers. (Well, the ones who send me comments aren't anyway.) But if you're a reporter who regularly looks to other news organizations for your story ideas, you might as well put a bell around your neck and join the rest of the flock.

And eventually, you'll get shorn just like the other sheep.

If you want to stray from the flock, you'll stand out.

Strive to be different. I've worked with a lot of great enterprising reporters who always had a knack for finding stories no one else had. I went to a party once and heard someone say, "I like that reporter. She always has interesting stories."

That should be you.

And if it is you, you'll get noticed when you look for a job.

Otherwise, you're nuttin' but mutton.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mailbag: America's newsrooms freak out!

Grape,

This is my first job and my first sweeps period. It's like someone flipped a switch and all the managers freaked out. Our ratings are decent but not great. So what's the deal?


Ah, nothing sends managers to the edge like those three months of November, February and May.

These days upper management and corporate pretty much have knee-jerk reactions to everything, so one bad book can send your ND packing right before the holidays. "Merry Christmas. Here's your pink slip."

The problem is that most beancounters don't give NDs enough time to turn things around. (They also don't understand the news business.) One bad book and they'll blow up the whole format and make drastic changes. And if that doesn't work they'll do it again next year. That's why you see so many stations with marginal ratings constantly changing their names, slogans, and people.

That doesn't help NDs, who are at the mercy of a ratings point here or there. So much of the twitchy attitude is justified.


Grapevine,

I'm in college and saw that news challenge on Fox. What's your take on it?


Well, I posted that awhile ago. For those who missed it:

http://www.foxnews.com/collegechallenge/

Basically it looks to be a great opportunity for some college kids to get a foot in the door by knocking out a solid package. There's scholarship money involved, but let's face it: if you win this contest you'll probably have a job waiting for you when you graduate.

Take a shot. You have nothing to lose.


Hey, Grapeman!

Just curious about newscar etiquette. Should a reporter offer to drive the car, or is it the domain of the photog?



Well, I used to offer to split the driving on long trips. Photogs will appreciate the offer even if many don't want you driving their car. (And for goodness sake, leave the radio alone!)

I've also driven live trucks, which is scary in itself.

Even if you don't drive, you can impress the photog by jumping out to pump the gas or buying coffee while he fills it up. Any break you can give these guys will greatly improve the quality of the video you receive. Plus, it's the decent thing to do.


Grape,

Why are "sweeps" called "sweeps?"


Because if you have a bad book a GM will come by the newsroom with a very large broom.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Need a good sweeps story? Here's one almost no one is covering

I'm fortunate in that I know a few good mechanics. When I started seeing little stickers on gas pumps which read "contains 10 percent ethanol" earlier this year, I asked one his opinion. He didn't think it was good for older cars (since I have one) and isn't kind to plastic and rubber parts. And putting it in a lawn mower really isn't a good idea. Fine. I started cruising past stations with ethanol for ones that were ethanol-free.

Yesterday I was in Florida and zipped through seven gas stations, all selling gasoline with ethanol. Finally I saw one with a sign. "No ethanol!" I went inside and talked to the owner, who was doing big business selling ethanol-free gas.

When I got home I started reading articles about ethanol online, how it can affect your engine, how it will give you lower gas mileage. (Wonder how your station's newscar gasoline budget is doing with that factored in?)

While I understand we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil, this trend seems like it bears looking into.

And let's face it, it's a story that affects everyone in the country.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Articles for your library

I've written a number of articles for tvjobs.com along with other industry veterans.

There's a lot of good information in all of these pieces, so you might want to bookmark this page and check 'em out.

http://www.tvjobs.com/cgi-bin/featurestories/archive.cgi

Home for the holidays? Lay some groundwork

This time of year you may be preoccupied with sweeps, but many of you are looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah. And if you're one of those people who dreams of working in his or her home town, there's a valuable job hunting opportunity you can tack on to your vacation.

While most stations don't do any hiring during the holidays, that doesn't mean they aren't on the lookout for talent. And the days after Thanksgiving until the new year offer the most relaxed atmosphere in a newsroom you'll ever find.

So, if you're heading home soon, now is the time to set up a station visit. Doesn't matter if the station has any openings, your object here is to let them know who you are and drop off a tape.

To start, get a list of the stations back home you'd like to work for. Then compose a letter. Let's say you're from Chicago. It might sound something like this:

Dear ND,

It's always been my dream to work in my hometown of Chicago. Right now I'm working in East Podunk, where I've been doing general assignment reporting and filling in on the anchor desk.

I'm coming home the week before Christmas to visit my parents and would like to bring you a tape and introduce myself.

I realize your time is very valuable, but is there a time I might drop by for a few minutes while I'm home?



Something like that is professional but casual. You're not hammering the ND for a job, just asking for five minutes to shake hands and say hello.

Managers are pretty relaxed this time of year, and more receptive to this kind of stuff than they are at other times.

So take a shot, as you have nothing to lose. You may not get hired, but if they like you they'll keep you in mind. And that's the whole point.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thinking too much can get you in trouble

If you watch a lot of sports, you'll note that it always seems to be the easy, routine plays that cause the most trouble. That slow ground ball hit right at the shortstop goes right through his legs. The perfect pass that hits a wide open receiver dead in stride is dropped.

Athletes will tell you that they'd rather react to a play than think about it. That receiver waiting for the pass to come down has time to think. "I'm wide open and the whole stadium is watching me. Don't drop it."

And then he drops it.

Many times when you don't have to think, when you just react, you make the play.

I remember one time when I was doing morning weather. It was five minutes to air and the producer walked back to the weather center. "I need a huge favor," she said.

"Okay," I said.

She handed me the script for the one hour newscast. "Someone gave the anchor the day off and didn't schedule a replacement."

Now you have to understand I'm not a morning person. I'm not even in my body till noon, so filling in doing weather was always a chore. Now I was being asked to do both news and weather, with a script I'd never seen. (Meanwhile, I was pretty ticked that no one seemed to notice there wasn't an anchor in the building till five minutes till air.)

Not having a choice, I sat in the anchor chair with the script. The sports guy gave me a pat on the back and the red light came on. I read the prompter cold.

Next day a member of management told me I'd done a really nice job. "Really?" I said. Remember, I'm still asleep at that hour. But he was being sincere in his praise.

On that occasion I didn't have time to think and things went fine.

It seems that when you over think stuff, particularly on live shots, you run into trouble. Or you sound robotic. Or both.

When you're trying to be too perfect, you'll never get there. Oh, you may get through your script without a mistake, but when you look at the tape something will seem a little off.

So don't think too much. Relax as much as you can. Rehearse, but don't overdo it.

Eventually things will come naturally, and seem more routine. And when you're not thinking about it, that's when you'll nail that perfect live shot.

Friday, October 30, 2009

One really good reason for on air people to look nice in public...

Thinking of running to the store in old sweats and a tee-shirt? You could end up on this website.

www.peopleofwalmart.com

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dad, I shoulda listened to ya

Yesterday was my dad's birthday. He would have been 83 if he hadn't spent so many years smoking. (A subtle hint to those of you who light up.)

Like many news people of my generation, I am a product of blue collar parents who never went to college. Therefore, in my youth, equipped with my college degree, I assumed that I was smarter than my parents. Especially my dad. After all, the guy ran a delicatessen and made sandwiches all day. What could he possibly know about jobs in the media?

And I'm sure many of you feel the same way. Your parents might be smart, but they're old and therefore don't really know how the world works today, right?

I noted this when I went into management. I'd tell a young person to do something, and get a dozen questions. "Why do we have to do this?" "Why can't I do this other story?" The implied question was, "I'm younger and more in touch. Why should I do stuff you old people want me to do?"

Looking back at my dad, I now see his wisdom blew away my piece of parchment.

He encouraged me to go to college by working my tail off in the deli. I'd complain about schoolwork and he'd say, "You wanna make 200 sandwiches a day for the rest of your life?" Around sandwich number 50 I'd see education as the way out.

He took me to buy my first car. When the salesman gave me the price, I agreed in a heartbeat. "Too much," my dad said, and started to walk out of the dealership. But dad, someone else will buy this beautiful car... Ten seconds later, the salesman dropped his price a few hundred dollars.

When I was getting close to graduation, he encouraged me to go into advertising or publishing. After all, we were in the shadow of Manhattan. (Looking back and being brutally honest, it's advice I should have taken.) Nope, I wanted to be a reporter and break stories like the people on Eyewitness News.

I started sending resumes out to blind boxes. One day I got a call from a new cable operation that offered me an entry level job over the phone. Cable? I don't even know anybody with cable. I turned it down. My dad was furious, telling me it was a foot in the door. But hey, what did a guy who sliced pastrami all day know about the TV business? "Dad," I said, "Who wants to watch cable news 24 hours a day? They'll be out of business in no time." Yeah, the job offer had come from this little operation you might have heard of called CNN.

Point is, sometimes advice comes from places you least expect, and from people who might not know a thing about the business. Many times street smarts trumps book smarts. When you're young, you know everything. Your college professors and friends have filled your heads with Utopian ideas. But that's not how the real world works.

I have noted that most of the people who ask for advice on this blog seem more receptive than I was, and that's a good thing. But there's still a mindset among young people that if advice doesn't come from someone who is at the top of the business, or from someone with a degree, it's worthless. Sometimes you can learn more from people who have failed than those who have succeeded, because they can help you avoid making mistakes.

When you're given advice, take time to consider it no matter what the source. You don't always have to take it, but don't be so quick to dismiss what might seem like a crazy idea.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

News Director's playbook: The memorable resume tape story

I'm giving you some homework. I want you to visit some of those online resume tape services and check out the tapes of other people looking for jobs. I want you to just watch the first story on each tape.

After you've watched 50 or 60 tapes, stop. Now write down the stories you thought were so different that they stuck out.

Now you know how a News Director feels when watching tapes. And who makes the short list.

So many people ask me, "How do I find that perfect resume tape story?" Well, there's no specific formula, but in this case you need to make your own luck. As the old saying goes, luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Sometimes you get lucky and a resume tape story drops into your lap. Then again, sometimes that happens and you don't recognize it.

So how can you prepare yourself so you'll be ready when the stars align?

-Learn to look for the third side of the story. Average reporters look at the obvious; you need to stretch your imagination and find a different point of view.

-Read as much as you can. With all sorts of publications free of charge on the internet, there's no excuse for not reading. Many times something you read will be the spark that ignites a fantastic story.

-Come to work every day as if the perfect story is already on the board with your name on it. If the story hits without warning, you want to look your best and give 100 percent.

-Don't be afraid to work a story on your own time. Some great stories take time to develop, and they might not do so during your shift.

-Talk to everyone you meet and hand out a business card. If someone has a great story, they'll call you instead of just dialing the newsroom.

I was once putting a tape together and was pulling my hair out about which three stories to include. I grabbed the Chief Photog and asked his opinion. "You've got too much stuff," he said.

Nice problem to have, huh?

Hopefully you'll all have that problem soon, but it won't happen unless you're ready.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How cheap is your company?

Okay, to alleviate the stress of upcoming sweeps, we're collecting tales of cheap behavior by TV stations. So send in your best manager-throws-nickels-around-like-manhole-covers stories. Some classics you'll have to beat:

-The anchor candidate who was dropped off at the airport just before lunchtime and handed a candy bar.

-The station with only one portable light so the second evening crew had to shoot outdoor standups using the high beams of a Ford Bronco.

-The manager who rationed Sweet'N'Low for the office coffee machine. When you ran out for the month, it left a bitter taste in your mouth. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

-The station that used Video News Release tapes for field tapes.

-The station that ran ads for a bogus opening to replenish its supply of 3/4 inch field tapes.

So let's have those "tales of cheapness" for the Hall of Fame. All contributions will be posted anonymously. Send 'em to tvnewsgrapevine@gmail.com

And don't forget to turn off the lights when you leave the newsroom.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mailbag: Find your angel

Grape,

I'm getting really down about my job hunt. It's been over a year and I've had some nibbles, but it's always "the economy" that gets in the way of getting hired.

I have a good tape, I've been told I'm very talented by everyone in the newsroom, my ND loves my work, and I'm still stuck.

Just curious how other people deal with this.



Well, this is an excellent question, as just about everyone in the business can say, "I've been there."

The answer is that you need to "find your angel."

Nothing is more frustrating than job hunting, and the current economic situation has taken it to a new level. I can hear the frustration over the phone with many clients.

And what always makes it worse is seeing someone else who might not be as talented move on to a place you're targeting.

I always remember the day I got a wake up call. I had been searching for months and hadn't gotten anywhere. The daily grind of working in a bad place was really getting to me. That particular day I walked in, looked at the board, and saw my name next to "Special Olympics." Good, I figured. Easy story. I was in no mood to bust it that day.

When we got to the location you'd have thought I was the Pied Piper. The special kids all ran up to me and the photog and hugged us. Every time we interviewed one of them we got another hug. They all wanted to look through the viewfinder so the photog set up his camera on the tripod and let them take turns. Then more hugs. After we shot our story we were packing up to leave. Yep, more hugs.

Read into this what you want, but that day I believe a higher power sent me a wake up call. Spending the day with a bunch of people who were blind, couldn't walk, couldn't talk, and still wore the biggest smiles I'd ever seen really put things in perspective. They couldn't care less about politics, wars, the economy, or the physical obstacles they'd been dealt. Or job hunting. They were just pictures of pure joy.

Maybe they were the angels I needed that day. Perhaps they're called "special" for a reason; are they here to remind us we need to be thankful for what we have?

Anyway, back to the original question. You just need to find your angel. Something or someone who makes you appreciate the fact that you are blessed with talent.

So pitch a story that will make you feel better, and you might put that job hunt demon on the back burner for awhile.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Yet another entry in the "why broadcasters shouldn't date in the workplace" hall of fame

And this one involves Darth Vader, Imperial stormtroopers, and a woman channeling Glenn Close.

You can't make up stuff this good.

http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/mets/espn_phillips_admits_shame_in_sex_OloRFGW29bie9fm7CoeO8I

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Human Resources has little to do with the hiring process

You've seen the ads posted on places like tvjobs.com. There's a brief job description that reads something like this:

Wanted: One man band reporter who can hit the ground running and endure daily floggings from management. Long hours, low pay, no overtime. Send tape and resume to Human Resources...

So you send your tape off to Human Resources thinking that's the person who will make the decision. Some of you even call and follow up with the HR person.

Uh, no.

Here's what the Human Resources department (many times known as "Inhuman Resources") actually does.

Tapes come in. Some by-the-book android who hasn't smiled since 1962 (think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller) opens the mail and logs the names of the people who apply. This bit of paperwork then gets filed in the warehouse seen in the Indiana Jones movies. Then the drone takes the tapes to the ND.

I've never known of a Human Resources person to screen tapes.

So, a few points:

-Even though the ad directs you to send a tape to HR, you don't address your cover letter to HR, because it will end up in the ND's hands anyway. Take the time to call and get the name of the ND. And please, make sure you spell the name right. Getting the gender correct is always nice, as I can't tell you how many times I've gotten letters addressed to "Ms."

-Don't bother following up with HR. They have no idea how the hiring process is going.

-Just because you got an official application back in the mail, that doesn't mean they're interested. Many companies require HR to send an application to everyone that applies. I've talked to lots of people who get all excited when an application shows up in the mail, and most times it's not a big deal. But you should always fill it out and mail it back, just in case it's from one of those stations that only sends applications to those on the short list.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

B-roll is your friend when you have too many sound bites

With the possible exception of Celine Dion and Central Park mimes, nothing annoys me more than packages with single source sound bites. That's when a reporter does one interview and chops it up so that we keep going back to a sound bite with the same person... over and over and over and over.

Sometimes you need a second sound bite from an interview subject, but there's no rule that says the person has to be on camera for bite #2. Since nothing is more boring than a talking head, you can avoid this by covering some or all of that bite with b-roll.

Example: You're doing a package on swine flu. You've interviewed a local doctor and you are going to use two sound bites from the guy.

First bite (on camera): "We're hoping to get enough vaccine to treat all the young people in the school district."

Okay, now you have to go back to the guy who is going to talk about why young people need to be vaccinated.

Second bite: "Kids in school are in close quarters, and many still go to school when they're feeling sick, so it's easy for the flu to be transmitted in the classroom."

So, instead of showing the doctor's face again, why not cover that bite with classroom video? It's simple, makes your package look better, and it follows our "show and tell" rule.

When shooting your package, always make sure you have enough b-roll. If you hear something during your interview that might be covered with video, make a mental note to get b-roll that's appropriate.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just like Fox Mulder, I want to believe

If you watched the X-Files, you'll know that Mulder had a poster in his office with a shot of a flying saucer and the line, "I want to believe" under it.

That might describe young reporters who take everything as the truth. You're a lot more trusting in your youth. As you get older, you cast a discerning eye on just about everything.

Since I got so much mail on the balloon boy, I thought it only fair to highlight a few times when I got suckered in as well.

-The time we talked to a guy who said he had legal proof that no one had to pay taxes. He did a very detailed interview, bringing out stuff from the Constitution and all sorts of legal rulings.

Cool, I thought. No more taxes. Did I bother to call the IRS to see if it was legit? Of course not. Why would the guy lie?

The IRS didn't agree with him, and threw him in jail the next day.

-The time I did a seemingly innocent feature on a dating service. The owner told me he'd been matching people up for a long time, and his service was the wave of the future. It was a fun story with a happy ending, showing couples who were finding their soul mates.

Did I bother to check to see how long the business had been in operation? Nope. Why would the guy lie?

That weekend I was at a party. One of the people at the party was a detective, who came up to me and said, "Hey, thanks for showing us where John Doe was."

"Huh?" I said.

"Yeah, that guy in your dating story. He's an escaped prisoner. Well, not anymore."

-National story. I interview a woman regarding someone the police are after. Oh yeah, she knew the guy. Nice as could be. Couldn't possibly commit a crime.

Next day in the hotel lobby I ran into a reporter from a major newspaper, who mentioned she had interviewed the same woman. "Wow, what a great interview," she said. "She had all kinds of dirt on the guy."

I went online and read the story. The woman's tale was 180 degrees from the story she'd told me.

So we contact the woman again and ask her how her story could be so different. She claims she just remembered things differently the more she thought about it.


-This one wasn't mine, but a classic nonetheless. It's a few days before Christmas, and a crew spots a family living under the interstate in the cold. They stop, shoot a quick story. The community opens its wallets. Some nice landlord gives them a place to live. They get toys for the kids and money.

Wow, let's show up on Christmas morning and show the poor kids opening their presents.

You guessed it. They were long gone, money in pocket and Christmas presents to boot. The whole thing was a scam.


Point is, even the most innocent stories can be filled with lies. Even the best of us get caught, so you have to always check and double check.

Because very often people will do and say just about anything to get on television.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Balloon boy shows how gullible news people have become

I never thought I'd see the day when a major network led with a non-story.

Then again, we have a US Senator who used to be on Saturday Night Live and a former Congressman dancing to "Wild Thing" on Dancing with the Stars. So nothing surprises me anymore.

Stories like the balloon boy and Octomom tell me that meaningful news is just about dead. Along with responsible journalism. The battle to be first instead of right, the obsession with throwing anything on the air that might be compelling outweighs news value and importance to the viewer.

Seriously, we have soldiers dying overseas, a raging health care debate, millions out of work, and all sorts of stuff that directly impacts our lives... and the important story of the day is something that sure looks like a hoax? (Check out the kid's interview on CNN if you don't believe me.)

There's a reason you check facts before you put anything on the air. And there's a reason you pick a lead story that is the most important of the day...not the biggest watercooler story of the day. And going wall to wall with this kind of stuff is as bad as covering a car chase.

Here's the scary part; people looking for 15 minutes of fame are now aware that the media will jump at anything. Then they can turn those 15 minutes into a cover story on a tabloid, or a reality show appearance. (The parents of balloon boy already had two of those on their resume.)

Check and double check and triple check before you put anything on the air. If the story sounds like it was made up, it probably is.