Saturday, January 24, 2009

Don't make a News Director hunt for references

Paper resumes are generally the last thing a ND looks at, after checking out your tape, and (if he or she gets that far) reading your cover letter.

While your resume should only be one page (unless you started in the dinosaur age like the Grape) I continue to be puzzled by people who put "References will be provided on request" on the bottom. This drove me crazy when I was in management, because, drum roll please...

It forced me to make an extra phone call.

Keep things simple, and make things as easy as possible for a News Director. Include a separate page of references, and, this is important, make sure the phone numbers are correct.

It makes absolutely no sense to leave references out of your resume. Are they some deep, dark government secret that will only be revealed if we reach DEFCON One?

Three references, from different places, with working phone numbers. You'll make a ND happy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mailbag: In some cases, continental drift moves faster than managers who need to hire someone

Dear Grapevine,

I am a senior in college graduating in May. I am hoping to find a job as a television news reporter or producer. I am currently an anchor, reporter, and associate producer for my campus television station. I know that many stations want to hire people right away to fill vacancies and do not want to wait until I am available. When is a good time to start sending out my resume and tape? I have been seeing some jobs open up now that I am interested in is it bad to send in my tape for a job I might not be able to fill yet so they keep me in mind for future openings?

-Starting my job search


Dear Starting,

First, welcome to the party, pal! Job hunting in television is a process like no other. And when you get your first job, you get to hear your parents say,"I spent HOW MUCH to send you to college and your starting salary is WHAT?

Seriously, there's a great upside in this business if you're talented and work hard. (Luck helps too, and if there's nepotism involved... well, that's another story.)

But to get to your question, it is NEVER a bad time to send a tape. NOTHING bad will happen to you. The resume tape police will not come to your dorm and haul you away.

Send your tapes now. Why so far in advance? Well, two reasons. First, entry level stations are always looking for people, and chances are there will be more openings by the time you graduate. If you're not available now, the ND will put your tape in a box until he needs someone. Be clear in your cover letter about your graduation and/or availability date.

Second, hiring takes forever. Didn't use to be that way, but since corporate types and bean counters got involved, the process moves at a glacial pace. Here's a typical scenario:

January 22: Reporter hands in resignation

January 23: ND talks to GM about filling position. Sometimes GM gives the go-ahead. These days, though, the GM might have to call corporate for approval.

January 31: Someone from corporate calls back and tells GM a decision will be pending.

February 14: Corporate approves position in middle of sweeps, after ND has had to go shorthanded for two weeks.

February 15: Job is posted, generally for two weeks.

February 16: Deluge of tapes begins. (Note: People who send tapes via overnight mail to jobs that have just been posted are throwing their money away. Regular mail is fine.)

March 5: ND has narrowed search down to short list, and shows tapes to GM.

March 6: ND starts setting up interviews two weeks out. (Why two weeks? Cheaper plane fares.)

March 22: Interviews begin

April 1: Someone is offered a job, but must undergo background check.

April 5: Background check confirms reporter is not the Unabomber, and offer is made. ND faxes or overnights contract to reporter.

April 10: Reporter gets contract back from attorney. (Always, always, always have an attorney review your contract. And do not sign contracts over two years for an entry level job.)

April 11: Reporter accepts job, gives two weeks notice.

April 16: Reporter travels to new market.

April 24: Reporter starts work.

That's actually a faster scenario. You can have monumental delays from corporate, people accepting jobs then getting better offers, background checks coming up bad, all sorts of stuff.

The point is, don't try to "time" your application. When your tape is ready, mail it.

Best of luck.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Package repair, part one

Okay, as promised I'll take package scripts you've sent and attack them with my red pen. Consider it tough love.

Our first anonymous victim (excuse me, student) sent the following: (and I'm changing one name in the package)

{***ANCHOR***}

WE'RE CLOSELY TRACKING THE STORY OUT OF TWO SMALL NORTHSTATE HIGH SCHOOLS.

WE FIRST BROUGHT YOU THE STORY YESTERDAY -- WHEN SISKIYOU COUNTY DRUG AGENTS ENROLLED AN UNDERCOVER AGENT AS A STUDENT AT YREKA AND MT. SHASTA HIGH SCHOOLS.

THEY SAY OVER SEVERAL MONTHS… THE AGENT BOUGHT SEVERAL KINDS OF DRUGS... SOMETIMES VERY CLOSE TO THE CAMPUSES.

YESTERDAY AGENTS ARRESTED 32 PEOPLE.. INCLUDING A CITY COUNCILWOMAN.

{***MUGSHOT***}

40-YEAR-OLD Jane Doe ... WAS SWORN INTO THE CITY COUNCIL IN NOVEMBER.

DEPUTIES SAY THEY FOUND 34 POUNDS OF MARIJUANA AT HER HOME.

{***ANCHOR ON CAM***}

TONIGHT -- WE'RE TAKING A LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE -- THAT *ADULTS ARE ACCUSED OF SELLING TO STUDENTS JUST FEET AWAY FROM SCHOOLS!

JOE NORMAL TALKED TO STUDENTS IN YREKA ... WHO HAVE MIXED REACTIONS TO THE RAID.

{***PKG***}

<11:10 My little brother was one of them that had weed so they're looking for him.

FOR JUNIOR SHILO HUSTON -- NEWS OF THE DRUG BUST HITS CLOSE TO HOME.

HE'S NOT ALONE.

MANY STUDENTS SAY DRUGS ARE MORE WIDESPREAD THAN MANY PEOPLE WOULD LIKE TO THINK.

Misa: How shocking is it that adults were selling to kids? shannon shelbock: Honestly, I'm not that surprised. The way things were going, it doesn't seem like anybody cares.

THAT IS, UNTIL THIS WEEK.

OFFICERS TOOK DOZENS OF ACCUSED DRUG DEALERS OFF SISKIYOU COUNTY STREETS, AFTER AN UNDERCOVER DEPUTY WENT UNDERCOVER AT YREKA AND MOUNT SHASTA HIGH SCHOOLS TO INVESTIGATE.

THERE HE REPORTEDLY FOUND DRUGS WERE BEING SOLD TO STUDENTS JUST OFF OF Y-REKA'S CAMPUS.

INVESTIGATORS SAY DEALERS MET TEENAGERS DURING LUNCH BREAKS AND AT AFTER SCHOOL EVENTS.

15:18 There's lots of it that goes on. I'm glad we're stopping it. I'm not into it. 15

- AND SHE'S NOT ALONE.

HUTSON AGREES, SAYING HIS CLASSMATES AND BROTHER NEED A LITTLE HELP ... TO JUST SAY NO.

11:18 He just smokes weed, and I tell him he's not supposed to, but he doesn't listen to me.

BUT MAYBE HE'LL LISTEN NOW.

SOQ.>

b-roll shots:

* students congregating at a parking lot near the school, where investigators say dealers sold drugs

* students walking out of Yreka High School

* wide shots of school (quiet)

* close shots of statue of Yreka High mascot

* blurred video of students walking through campus

* 2-shot of Misa and Shannon Shelbock

* wide-shot and close-up of school signs

* Mount Shasta City Hall exterior

* Mount Shasta City interior (wide-shot pan of office)

* close-up of Jane Doe's business card

Nat sound: students chatting

Transcription of sound bites: I threw away my notes immediately after I finished the project. I can tell you most of the sound was about the undercover investigator.

Description of stand-up (unused): We're told the undercover investigator never broke out of character. Police say he socialized with students here during lunch (pointing to crowd of students in parking lot) and at after school events.

***

Okay, drug bust story. Yawn. The word "yesterday" in the lead-in. Twice, no less. Double yawn. Yesterday means yesterday's news.

And then, about halfway through the lead-in it gets really interesting. A City Council member is allegedly a drug dealer!

You not only buried the lead, you poured cement over it, dumped in Jimmy Hoffa's body and built a stadium on top of it. This is a watercooler story. No one is going to be surprised that kids are buying drugs, no one is surprised that drug dealers hang out near schools, but they sure will be talking about an elected official who might be selling them to their little darlings.

So, let's start with the lead-in so that it grabs the viewer by the throat and won't let go. And remember, everything in present tense. Tell the viewer what is happening NOW.


Intro: Council Member Jane Doe is behind bars tonight (or out on bail), after police found more than thirty pounds of marijuana in her home that was apparently earmarked for sale to your children. She's allegedly part of a 32-person drug ring that was exposed by an undercover sting operation... one that no doubt has parents worried about security around school campuses. Joe Normal tells us that for many students, drug dealers at recess are nothing new.

Now to the package, and I'm going to assume you were assigned to do a story at the school while another reporter covered the political angle. (If not, you really missed the important part of the story.) Also, there's not much in the way of nat sound. You really needed some classroom video, closing lockers, cafeteria chatter, whatever. But I'll work with what you've got. And you shot a standup, which looks decent, but didn't use it. You need a standup in every package except for a funeral story.


NAT BREAK, Students walking out of school.

VOICEOVER: When the final bell rang today, students at Yreka school were greeted by a school bus or a parent... and not by a drug dealer. Marijuana is no longer on the lunch menu either after authorities cleaned up the streets around the school... thanks to a cop who went undercover and enrolled as a student.

STANDUP: We're told the undercover investigator never broke out of character. Police say he socialized with students here during lunch (pointing to crowd of students in parking lot) and at after school events.

NAT BREAK, students talking

VOICEOVER: Today's hallway gossip isn't about who's dating who, but who's been doing what. Students here say drug use and dealers lurking near campus is nothing new.

SOUND BITE/STUDENT: My little brother was one of them that had weed so they're looking for him.

SOUND BITES/STUDENTS (two-shot): Misa: How shocking is it that adults were selling to kids? shannon shelbock: Honestly, I'm not that surprised. The way things were going, it doesn't seem like anybody cares.

SOUND BITE/STUDENT: There's lots of it that goes on. I'm glad we're stopping it. I'm not into it.

And anyone who is into it might have to think twice... the student sitting in the next desk might just be a cop.

SOUND BITE/STUDENT (One of the bites you had about the undercover investigator.)

So with a few dozen less dealers on the street and the possibility the police might be watching, students who do use drugs might have to consider just saying no.

SIG OUT


Okay, so that's my version given what you've provided. Hope that helps. Remember, there are no "right ways" to do a package, no specific formula. Just put your best stuff up top, hook the viewer, the organize your story. Try to think visually when you're out in the field... ask yourself, what pictures will make this story come alive?

Any more out there, fire away.

By the way, that Yreka place really needs to buy a vowel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You've got to have good stories to keep me from watching Seinfeld

You probably think the Grape and the wife are locked down in front of the tube at six, firing the remote at the set like Bruce Willis with a gun, flipping around to see who's got the best lead story.

Nope. Unless I've seen a tease during the day for a story I absolutely have to see, I'm watching Seinfeld. It says a lot that I'd rather watch a rerun of a show I've seen a dozen times than the same old stories on local news. The names may change, but the stories are the same.

When I got into this business we'd all hang out in the newsroom at six and watch the newscast. You'd come back from shooting your story, look at the board, and actually want to see a story another reporter had done because it just looked interesting.

About halfway into my career this changed. The stories were the same every day. At six o'clock, the newsroom was pretty much empty. It said a lot that even the people who worked in the business didn't find the product interesting enough to watch.

These are typical of the daytime teases that make me wanna watch Kramer chase a rickshaw or Elaine dance.

"An escaped convict is on the loose..."

Don't care. The cops always catch them.

"A drug deal gone bad leaves two dead."

Really don't care for obvious reasons.

"A car wreck..."

I've hit the mute button before the anchor can finish the sentence.

"It's going to be cold tonight, we'll tell you how to get ready."

You shoulda done that yesterday. (And geez, I've never been cold before.)

"Local thieves are targeting you..."

OK, so I'll lock the door while I watch Jerry and the Pez dispenser.

One problem is that producers are teasing the wrong stories, but in many cases that's all they have to work with. As reporters you have to find compelling stories, stories so interesting that when they're teased the viewer has to watch.

Same with resume tapes.

If you're starting your resume tape with something ordinary, it's the same as a boring lead story in a newscast. Your first story has to be memorable, compelling, interesting, and just plain different. If you want to make an impression, if you want a ND to sit up and take notice, take a good hard look at your current resume tape. If the story is something that happens every day, you've got the wrong story leading off your tape.

Enterprise is the word. Put yourself in the viewers' shoes.

Make a News Director watch, and you'll get hired.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mailbag: Trade-offs

Grape,

I am finishing up my two years in my first job as a reporter/weekend anchor in a starter market. Like many, I do my own shooting and editing. I remember reading on your website the suggestion that you shouldn't take a one-man-band position in your next market. I recently found a position opening in a top 20 market back home at a cable news station and am interested in applying. However, the position is for a VJ. I thought perhaps my chances of getting a job back home might be better if I apply to the cable station, since I have only two years experience (one of those years spent producing and anchoring weekends), and everyone at the cable station is also close to my age and experience. Should I hold off for a job with a photog or apply to this one and hope to gain one as my experience with the station grows? I know the VJ trend is growing now, and I'm anxious to get back to the city I love.

--Ready to move on

Dear Ready,

Well, this has popped up with a few young clients. In one case, the client was in the same situation... desperately wanting a certain city. She took a one man band job to get her foot in the door and soon was working with photogs. Now she hardly ever shoots. (This was not cable, by the way.)

You have several things to consider. If the cable station has photogs and you can "work your way up" it might be worth considering. If they don't, your work won't take the jump it needs to get the next level. Is the market one with brutal weather conditions? I sure wouldn't want to schlep gear around in hip-deep snow. And has anyone made the jump from the cable outlet to a local affiliate?

One thing about cable stations in large markets... you do tend to get noticed as you rub elbows with the crews from affiliates. We had a cable outlet in one market in which I worked... when we had an opening, we'd ask ourselves if there was anyone on cable who might fit our needs.

But all this gets thrown out the window when it comes to working in your home town. Believe me, I would have killed to get back home... problem is, when you want to get to New York, it's easier said than done. But I probably would have shoveled the snow in front of the station if they'd offered me a job.

Your career, like life, can be a series of trade-offs. Does getting home outweigh having to shoot your own video? What decision gets you where you want to go down the road? Always look long-term.

Looking back, I moved so many times and never put down roots anywhere... and that's probably the one thing I would change if I had to do it again. Anytime I fly into New York I still feel the pull... and the sadness when I fly out.