Friday, January 2, 2009

Mailbag: Can you help the competition?

Grape,

I'm a brand new reporter and the other day was sent to cover a news conference. The other two stations were there. As we were packing up one of the other reporters was doing a separate interview and the photog's camera battery died. My photog lent him a spare, and the guy used it until he finished the interview.

Is this common practice? I thought we were supposed to be fighting the competition.

-Rookie Reporter

Dear Rookie,

What you saw happens all the time and is just a matter of common courtesy. Batteries die, tapes run out, and it's okay to help out the other guys. You'll forget a pen, pad or microphone someday. On that day you'll be glad your photog was nice to the competition, because you'll be the one in need of a favor.

You beat the competition by digging harder for facts and hustling more. If the other guy has technical problems, you haven't really beaten them... and if it happens to you, they haven't beaten you.

It's a very small business, and many times a simple act of courtesy can be remembered well down the road and pay dividends for you.


Grapevine,

You talk a lot about stations being truly strapped for money. But how is it that my station can afford a chopper, which mainly covers odd and non-news things, but can hire more staff?

-Chopper Curious

Dear Chopper,

Well, some companies have deep pockets. Some companies plead poverty while their corporate execs fly private jets. And some companies just know how to manage money and invest it in news gathering.

Trust me, there are plenty of ways to cut costs without cutting people and equipment. Maybe the chopper has a sponsor, maybe your station leases it by the hour or shares it with other companies.

Look at it this way, if television stations were in such horrible shape, why are people lining up to buy them?

Learn to read a corporate balance sheet and you might find the answer.

By the way, politicians spent about three billion dollars on TV advertising in 2008. Not exactly chump change.


Dear Grapevine,

I'm looking for my first job and I've heard people say that certain places are "good news towns." What does that mean?

-Looking for a foot in the door

Dear Looking,

Generally people describe towns with a lot of scanner news as "good news towns." In reality, that means news that falls in your lap.

Every town can be a good news town for you, provided you are willing to actually dig up your own stories. You can turn great stories in the sleepiest markets if you take the initiative. Be pro-active instead of waiting for the stories to come to you.

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