Friday, January 30, 2009

More package repair

In keeping with the spirit of the season, a super bowl package....

I was hoping I'd have more NAT breaks at an appliance store like this, but everything came out garbled. (A lot of different tvs with different channels on at once, and the radio music blaring in the background)

How can I salvage this for the future?








NATS: Carlos walking along aisle, says "Probably around a 50 inch, a 52 inch..."23:42-44




CARLOS SOUND BYTE: "I've been shopping around, like Walmart and stuff like that. As long as I get it before Sunday!"

STANDUP: "But managers say you need to act fast. While normally their shelves would be filled with tvs.. They're empty now! Here would be a tv... Here would be a tv... And even some on display are already sold."

SOUNDBYTE: Reporter: "What are you expecting by Super bowl Sunday?" JEFF: "Probably to have no tvs on the floor."


JEFF SOUND BYTE: We usually carry probably 60 truckloads of tvs... 60 or 70 tvs or more, and right now I'm probably down to about 15 tv's total."


NATS Jeff walking along aisle and pointing at tvs "There are some 46 inch goods here, 52 inch goods here, a 47 inch."


CARLOS SOUND BYTE: "Yea despite it, I mean, it's superbowl! It's only once a year!"



Shot of store's Countdown clock to the SuperBowl

Wide shot of football helmets hanging on wall

Close up shot of pittsburgh steelers helmet

Close up shot of arizona cardinals helmet

Close up shot of flashing light fixture that says "Check Out This Week's Specials"

Closeups of Big screen tvs

Wide Shot of TV aisle

Medium shot, depth perception of TV aisle

TV's in boxes sitting on shelves

walking down aisle with Carlos, Carlos looking at price tags

walking down aisle with Jeff, Jeff lifting one big screen tv


3:01 "About usually two weeks before Super Bowl. When people get the urge once the final playoffs and the stage is set as to who is going to play., that's when the urge comes in when people want a big TV. 3:10

3:23 We usually carry probably 60 truckloads of tvs... 60 or 70 tvs or more, and right now I'm probably down to about 15 tv's total. 3:33

3:36 As you can see, there are quite a few holes in this building. Only for the simple reason we sell people tvs and they want it, we deliver it same day. 3:41

3:46 Right now, we're a little shy, we got two more days before selling time, thursday friday and saturday and we will probably sell some tv's on Sunday morning. 3:54

4:15 The last couple weeks we've been averaging probably 5 or 6 tvs a day, probably more. Some days three or four, but probably minimum four a day. 22 And that's kind of nice. 24

4:55 Every year about this time we probably have a bigger january than we do december, because of tv sets. 5:01

6:11 That's all we have left right now, are some of the bigger sets. Matter of fact, we just got those in two days ago. 6:15

6:27 SUSIE: What are you expecting by Super bowl sunday? JEFF: Probably to have no tvs on the floor. 33.

Now I don't have a lot more else to show you, because as per our discussion earlier, everything else is sold. 11:51


Jeff walking down the aisle, "There are some 46 inch goods here, 52 inch goods here, a 47 inch."

Carlos walking down the aisle, "Probably around a 50 inch, a 52 inch..."

Okay, Susie, not too bad, but you missed a lot of opportunities. There were plenty of nats available, you just didn't know where to look for them. Cash registers are a no-brainer in any retail store. And you could have asked the store manager to turn down all the sets but one, or put them all on the same channel. You can also grab some file tape of a recent playoff game, which will give you a quick pop. And some delivery guy wheeling a TV out to the parking lot or into a truck would be a nice way to end the package.

The lead-in looks like a throwaway... in other words, not much effort there. This is a fun package, so have fun with it.

"You're probably tired of hearing about the digital switch coming up in a few weeks... well, some people are switching out their television sets for a very different reason. And the federal government doesn't even have a coupon for it. Susie Reporter has more."

While the writing in the package was decent you could have used a few football terms to turn a phrase. "It's fourth and long if you're looking for a big screen TV in time for Sunday's game," or "Some people feel that watching a football game on a small television set is like being in the nosebleed section of your living room." And if you had one more nat like the cash register, you could have done something like this:

VOICEOVER/Man watching big screen: "They're checking them out...

Nat/Cash register

VOICEOVER/Man paying for TV: "Before they check them out...

Having good nats can take a package to an entirely different level. Just try to be in tune with your surroundings, and eventually you'll learn to "spot" those sounds that can make putting a package together a lot easier.

Interviews: closing the deal

The young man looked me right in the eye with a straight face. “So, dude, is my hair gonna take me outta consideration for this job, or what?”

I looked back, trying not to laugh as he sat there with his royal blue locks which were accessorized by his numerous facial piercings. He looked as though the phone rang and he had answered the staple gun. “Your hair? Uh, no. (long pause) Dude.”

As an Assistant News Director at the time, it was my job to “screen” prospective job applicants, sending only the best upstairs to meet the News Director and General Manager. I like a practical joke as much as anyone, but bringing someone with Smurf colored hair to see the ND would not have been well received.

That young man may have been a genius, a great writer, a terrific news person. We’ll never know, because he broke the number one rule of interviews.

Dress for success.

Over the years, I’ve seen it all. A prospective anchor who showed up dressed as if he were ready to mow the lawn. A woman with a low cut dress and her name tattooed on her chest. Short skirts from Paris Hilton’s fall collection.

OK, I’ve made my point. And yes, there’s a lot more to an interview than your wardrobe. But that’s a good place as any to start, because your appearance is, after all, the first impression you make. And by the way, this applies even if you are applying for an off-air position. Or any job. You need to get off to a good start, then you must close the deal. Here’s what to expect.


Men should stick to the classics. Dark suit, white shirt, red tie. Light colored suits make you look too young. Shine your shoes. Get a haircut a week or two before the interview. A french-cuffed shirt and cuff links are a nice “old school” touch. And we old people love old school.

Women have a little more leeway. A tailored suit is always a good choice. Skirts shouldn’t be too short. Slacks are fine. No crop tops. Wear whatever color looks best on you, though if you need to look older, stick with dark colors. Keep jewelry to a minimum. Hair can hit the shoulders but really shouldn’t be much longer. I know a lot of women in sports (Samantha Ryan comes to mind) have really long hair these days, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

When you’ve chosen your interview outfit, dress up and show your parents. Chances are the people interviewing you will be the same age and have similar tastes. Think classic and conservative.


OK, you’ve made it past the receptionist into the News Director’s office. Chances are the first question will be either “tell me about yourself” or “why do you want this job?”

The absolute worst answer to either of these is “I’ve always wanted to be on TV.”

Remember, even if the above is true, you’re a future broadcast journalist, not a TV star. It is natural to dream about seven figure salaries, network exposure and book deals. Everyone does. But at this point in your career, you just want your foot in the door. You can think about climbing the ladder later.

You are there to learn. You are a sponge. You don’t know anything about the business or the real world. The biggest turn off for a manager is listening to a 22-year-old who knows everything. You can make an older person feel better about you simply by admitting you need help.

Back to the interview. Most News Directors have a process. He or she will chat awhile, give you a tour of the station, let you say hello to the General Manager, and then return you to the newsroom where you will be “turned loose.” I worked in four stations as a reporter, and this happened to me on my interview each time. The ND wants to see how you mingle with the staff. Are you outgoing, friendly, curious? Or do you sit in the corner out of the way? And how do you relate to the veterans on the staff? Believe me, the ND will ask them after you’ve left. Try your best to “fit in.”

At some point you may be asked to take a current events test, a writing test, or both. (I once handed a young lady 20 current events questions and she asked, “why do I need to know current events to anchor?” Her chances instantly went down in flames, especially in light of the fact she thought Hillary Clinton was the Mayor of Buffalo.) If you don’t read a newspaper everyday, start. Today. If you know more about Jennifer Aniston than Dick Cheney, you’re in trouble. Read, read, read. A good knowledge of history and politics are very helpful. And don’t forget to do your homework about the city and state you’re visiting. Know the US Senators, Governor, a few facts about the region.

As for the writing test, you’ll probably be given some wire copy and asked to rewrite it. Wire copy is notoriously dry, so do your best to turn a phrase where it is warranted. Quietly read what you’ve written out loud to yourself. Do you run out of breath? Then the sentences are too long. Writing conversational copy is an art. ND’s don’t expect you to be the next Charles Kuralt right out of school, but you must show some potential. Get some wire copy off the Internet and practice.

Finally, you might be asked to stay through a newscast, perhaps watching from the studio, the control room, the newsroom or the ND’s office.

If you’ve been at the station for several hours, that’s a good sign. Managers don’t spend that much time on someone unless they are interested. At this point you might be asked if you have any other questions. An offer might be made, or you might be told that you’ll be contacted shortly.


This is a simple thing, but it shows a lot of class. Send a thank you note to the News Director. And not an e-mail or something you dash off on your computer. Make sure it is hand written. Put it in the mail the day after your interview.

Now start thinking about your experience. Is the job a good fit? Did you like the News Director and the people in the newsroom? Is there someone who would be a good mentor, or will you simply be thrown into the deep end of the pool? Remember, you want your foot in the door but you want to make sure the job will help your career. Always think long term.

Now comes the hard part. If you weren’t given a decision, you have to wait. I’m often asked “should I call? Will the ND get mad if I do?” It sounds a lot like dating in high school, but there is really no way to know. Every News Director is different. Some love to talk on the phone, some hate interruptions.

What you as a job applicant have to understand is that an ND has a lot on his plate at any given time, and filling this position might not be a top priority. There are day-to-day duties, breaking news, newsroom crises, all sorts of stuff that can delay things.

But you know what? If the News Director wants you, you’ll get the call.
Posted by TV News Grapevine at 8:57 AM

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just follow the money

That is the most memorable line from "All the President's Men" (and if you've never watched it, you should.) It's the advice given to Bob Woodward so that he can tie corruption back to Richard Nixon.

These days, we have Spitzer and Blago and Stevens. It seems every week there's a new political scandal. All big stories, all big headlines.

You know what? You can break a story like this yourself, even in the smallest markets. If you can't find a crooked politician where you work, you're not trying.

Ah, but you're saying, "But Grape, I'm not an investigative reporter. I don't have time to spend days on this." Well, reporting is a full time job. You're never off the clock. Eyes and ears should always be alert looking for stories.

Following the money can often be easy. To start, get the campaign disclosure reports of the people in office. Then just look for connections between big donors and contracts handed out by the politician.

Anytime a politician spends money, you have an opportunity. Follow the trail. Find out who is getting the contract, then look for a previous relationship.

Most politicians are far too arrogant and see themselves as bulletproof. If you want a good story for your resume tape, expose one who is crooked. And you'll be doing the community a valuable service.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Package repair, part deux

OK, this one illustrates the basic problem a lot of you are having with single source sound bites. I see this all the time from entry level reporters.

Here's the original:

LEAD IN: The County will open its brand new Humane Society building next week. The million dollar facility will replace the run down building that now serves as a home for many animals waiting for adoption. Jane Doe takes us on a tour.

VOICEOVER: Next week at this time these empty cages will be filled with cats and dogs looking for a new home. The new Humane Society building has been a long time coming, but agency Director Terri Hawks says it's been worth the wait.

SOUND BITE Hawks: It's just beautiful, and more importantly, it's clean and warm. The heater at the old facility is very temperamental. Lots of times we'd show up in the morning and it would be really cold inside.

VOICEOVER: The energy efficient system will take care of that problem. But the big plus about this facility is the operating room. Some local vets will donate their services to spay and neuter pets put up for a adoption right at the new building.

SOUND BITE Hawks: It's a lot easier to adopt out pets when people know they won't have a big vet bill waiting for them.

STANDUP: The new facility has twice as much room for animals as the old place. And the cages are a lot bigger, so dogs and cats will have more room to move around.

SOUND BITE Hawks: It's really going to be much more comfortable for the animals. They can get stressed out when they're too close together, or don't have enough room.

Jane Doe, Action News

Shot Sheet:

Several shots of cages, exterior building, sign in front of building, various shots of interior, operating room, stacks of pet food, medicine cabinet.

No Nat sound (sorry, there weren't any animals.)

OK, Jane, you're entitled to rookie mistakes, so make them now before you move on.

I'm not going to re-write this package, because I can't save it. Instead, I want you to re-think your approach to the story.

Let's see... the story is about a facility for dogs and cats. So the video I just might like to see is... (anybody? C'mon, raise your hand)... dogs and cats.

Several big problems here. You needed to go to the old facility and show how bad it is. You could have picked up some animal video there, even held a pet for your standup. Show a volunteer wearing a coat indoors to show how cold it is. You would have had plenty of nat sound... dogs barking, cats meowing, pets getting fed, people looking for a pet or dropping one off.

The other big problem is that you took the lazy approach and only talked to one person... oh no, it's the single source sound bite. You could have talked to a volunteer, a vet donating his time, someone looking for a pet. Put the camera inside a cage and even get the animal's point of view as people walk by and check out the creatures.

Remember, get as many points of view as possible. Look for the different angle. Talk to more than one person. Show, don't tell.

More package repairs are coming. If you've sent one I haven't forgotten you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Clue gun: Ratings are no indicator of quality

Dear Grape,

As a reporter looking for another tv news job in another market, I know I shouldn't be considering high or low ratings as a valid reason to take or reject a job offer. But what about low morale that some people at last-rated stations seem to have? What about the stresses of being at a last-place station where managers are stressed themselves and negative vibes reverberate through the newsroom, or demands on air-talent are made to "make the ratings better?"

Last year one client told me he wasn't going to apply to a certain station because it wasn't number one in the market. Well, I shot him with the clue gun and got him to send a tape, because very often ratings don't tell the whole story.

There are plenty of things to consider when job hunting. The News Director is the first thing, and the biggest thing, because the ND sets the tone for the newsroom. So, would you rather work for a guy who is a cylon and runs a number one station, or a decent human being who will help your career grow, but runs the station that is number two in the market?

Then consider the company. There are a few right now that are notoriously cheap and put out a lousy product. Incredibly, some of those stations may actually be number one in their markets. That doesn't mean you want to work for them.

As for morale at a last place shop, well, I think I had the most fun at my first station, and it was dead last. We had an attitude that we had nothing to lose, so the ND let us try new things, push the envelope. We had a better team spirit in that station than the others in which I've worked.

I also worked for a perennial number one station and working there was like the Bataan Death March. Morale couldn't have been lower. The people were very talented, the product was good, but we were treated like dirt. The only reason we did well was because the staff had so much pride in its work. I worked for another number one station that put out a horrible product, but because the community had "always watched the station" they did well in the ratings.

There are plenty of stations with great ratings that don't deserve them. In some cases, they've figured out what the public wants and have given it to them. If the market wants a parade of car wrecks, then car wrecks will make you number one.

Judge each station separately and forget the ratings factor. It really doesn't have any indication as to how you'll be treated, or what the quality of the product is.

Like most tv stations across the country, my station is going through some tough times. Advertising is sinking, so therefore, no OT, and no new hires (we're already short-staffed). However, my station hasn't laid off anyone, yet. But things continually get worse. Can they lay-off staffers that are on contracts, like me?

-Not Liking Looming Lay-offs

Well, you're not gonna like my answer. I honestly have no clue.

Not being a lawyer, I cannot say if your contract will protect you or not. Layoffs are different than terminations.

Best thing to do if you're not sleeping nights is to go over your contract with an attorney.


Is there some reason we have so much weather in our newscast? I mean, it is in the first block, then there's the full weather segment, then a segment at the end. What's the deal?

Well, two reasons, and one of them has to do with our old nemesis, the consultant. A while back they did surveys and asked people the question, "Is weather important to you?" Well, of course, everyone said yes, so the consultants decided we needed more weather, then more, then more. Doesn't matter that you've seen the forecast ten minutes ago, we're gonna give it to you again, beat you over the head with it, and make you write it on a blackboard one hundred times like a multiplication table in the third grade.

As for why there's weather at the end of a newscast, it is because many producers can't time a show, even though everything is computerized. Back in my day (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) we ended each newscast with a kicker, and the show timed out. No computers, half the time no producers. Sticking weather at the end of the show gives a producer an easy out, as a good weather person can talk for ten seconds or sixty to finish the newscast.

Many years ago Jay Leno visited our station and "helped" the weather guy with the forecast. As the guy ran through the record highs and talked about the previous day, Leno interrupted and asked, "Why do you guys spend so much time talking about what happened yesterday?" The guy is a comedian, but his comment made so much sense.

For you weather people out there with three or four minutes to fill, don't just do the same thing every day, please make things interesting. Explain things, be a science teacher, show some unusual weather video, mix it up. By the time four minutes goes by and I still don't have the forecast, I have highway hypnosis... then I can't remember the forecast when I do hear it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mailbag: Turndown service


I have almost two years experience and I have been looking for an agent with little success. I've contacted many of the top agencies and so far either no response or no thanks. Is this a sign that I'm not very talented?

-Second Thoughts

Dear Second,

To answer this question, we must look at things from the agent's point of view.

These days, the good agents I know aren't taking on many clients (if any at all) because they haven't been placing their current clients as quickly as they normally do. That may change when the economy loosens up. (And it will.) In the past year I've had a few clients with tremendous talent who I thought would benefit from having an agent, and I placed calls to agents I trust on their behalf. Most times they simply couldn't take on any more clients.

But in your case, you are someone with limited experience, and in many cases not worth the trouble to a prominent agent.

Why? Well, just do the math. If you're making 20k right now in your first job and can get 30k in your next job, the commission for an agent is not exactly a windfall. Let's say the agent gets six percent of that 30k, which would be $1800. Does an agent want to go through the trouble of marketing your tape, making phone calls on your behalf, etc. for that amount of money? Probably not. Agents have overhead and expenses like any other business, and taking on a client has to make sense financially. The commission on a six figure anchor is more than the agent would get for placing three reporters in your situation.

That's not to say there aren't agents who take on clients of lower salaries, because there are. Some are decent, but may simply put all their clients in a box and send those boxes off to every opening. I once got a box with about twenty tapes and a note that read, "Here are my clients. If you have an interest, call me." I felt badly for the young people who had signed with this agent. They could have done that themselves. Agents like these use the "hooks in the water" strategy, feeling that if they sign as many people as possible and send out as many boxes as possible, the odds are they'll get a commission somewhere.

Occasionally you'll find a good agent who will take on a young person who has incredible potential, as the agent might see a big paycheck down the road. But more often than not, they'll pass.

This has nothing to do with your talent level. You might find a search for an agent easier when looking for that third job, but not having an agent doesn't have any relation to the quality of your work. Plenty of people have gotten network and big market jobs without agents.

When and if you do get an agent in the future, make sure you get someone who does more than put tapes in the mail. A ND likes calls from agents who say stuff like, "I have someone in mind for that co-anchor position... she does the kind of work that you like." A good agent takes a personal approach, and doesn't just see you as a number.

There are good agents and bad agents. And you're better off with no agent than a bad one.