Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mailbag: Sometimes the best isn't number one


What's the deal with awards? I'm told weekly, if not daily, I do a great job... finding stories, telling stories and turning stories. My critiques, mostly from out-of-market/higher market contacts, are always 90% positive. So why is it that every time it comes to awards (AP, local Press Clubs, etc.) I end up empty-handed?



Dear Confused,

Well, I touched on this once before, but the bottom line is that awards are all subjective. One man's trash is another man's treasure. I may think your package is the best I've seen all year, while another person may just yawn.

You young people probably think that you enter a tape and then it goes before some board of governors in an ivory tower who agonize over every story they see.


Here's how it works.

Every year your station will be directed to send its entries to another state. Wyoming might judge Florida that year, while Kansas might judge Wyoming.

Okay, on the other side of the fence is the judging process. A giant box of tapes arrives in the News Director's office. There are no guidelines or rules. Sometimes the ND watches the tapes alone, but often the task is delegated. I've often heard, "Anyone wanna help judge tapes?" in the newsroom. The last time I was involved, we had a ND, a producer, a reporter, a weatherman, and a sales guy. On another occasion it was just myself and a sports guy. In some cases, it is not a high priority, as you don't get paid for it and it takes a lot of time.

Personally, I always tried to be fair and honestly take the time. But in many cases, it's a last minute thing without a whole lot of thought.

I'll never forget one year our best hard news reporter had done some incredible stories and we were all convinced he'd win the reporter of the year award. Instead it went to a woman who was regarded as the worst in the market. Something about her must have struck a chord with whoever was judging.

Point is, I'd rather have a winning resume tape than an award any day. Awards are nice, and mine are hanging on the wall, but they don't get you a job or pay the bills.

Keep working hard and you'll get first place where it really counts.

Things are opening up

Just a note to give you all a little hope...

One of my clients received a job offer last week and a few others are getting calls. I'm hoping that means the industry has hit bottom and things are beginning to move.

Hang in there...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Missing person

I happened to stumble onto this website the other day and thought you guys should all see this. It's a long shot, but maybe someone out there has some info. Please take a look... you could help put a life back together.

This also illustrates why you should all be careful, fiercely protect your privacy and ditch the personal web pages.

Tale of the comet

No, not the "tail" but the "tale."

So last night one of the weather people tells me there's a comet that will be visible at night. Now I love this kind of stuff, like last year when all those planets aligned. Great, I'm thinking. When can I see this?

The weatherperson didn't say.

Where can I see this?

Nope, no info on that either except that it is in the constellation Leo. Like I have any clue where that is. No graphic showing me what star or planet to use as a point of reference, no time that I should go outside. Do I TiVo Jack Bauer to see this thing? Do I have to get up in the middle of the night? There are only a million stars in the sky. I guess I can check out each one.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, off to an astronomy website I go. (I sure wasn't going to the station's website. If they're gonna make me work, I'll go someplace that gives information without making me do so.) I find out this is a green, double tailed comet (Who knew?) and read a lot of interesting stuff about it.

So I found out where to look for the comet, stayed up late and went outside with my binoculars.

Point is, the weatherperson really missed the boat. On a day when nothing was happening here weather-wise, having something unusual to talk about can really make the weather forecast interesting. What actually is a comet? Why does it have a double tail? This one had never been in our solar system, so where did it come from? Could it hit earth and do we need Bruce Willis to save us? But rather than take the time to make an informative graphic that showed me where and when, all I got was a homework assignment. And I'm too old to be doing homework.

The weatherperson made me work, and when I watch TV, I shouldn't have to do that. A simple graphic would have given me the information I need.

Always put yourself in the viewer's place. Does your story need more information, a graphic, to simplify things? Don't pull this "for more information, go to our website" garbage. If I wanted to go to your website, I wouldn't we watching TV! Assume the viewer is doing nothing but watching you, so put as much information as you can into your story. Or, in this case, the weather forecast. Instead, all I got was a tease, and that's something a producer writes.

Bottom line, I blew off the rest of that newscast to get information on the comet.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dealing with critiques

It seems as though two or three times each year I get a new client who will call, confidence shattered, because someone critiqued their work and said they were worthless, had no business in the business, and should find another line of work. Then the tape will arrive, and, it never fails, the person has a tremendous amount of talent.

Why does this happen? Well, because most of you don't have the little filter in your head that will throw away the garbage and keep the honest constructive criticism. If I tell you nine things you're doing right and one you're doing wrong, you're going to dwell on the negative. Along the same lines, if six people in the television industry tell you that you're doing a good job and some college professor who's never worked a day in the business says you're hopeless, the negative comments are going to eat away at your confidence.

So let me give you a few rules when you're looking for a critique. (And by the way, critiques from family members don't count. They're all like my dad, thinking you're wonderful and wondering why the network doesn't dump its anchor to hire you.)

-Critiques must be objective. If the person giving you feedback likes you too much to say anything negative or dislikes you too much to say anything nice (like a News Director) the critique isn't much help.

-Tough love is the best kind. A good critique will highlight the things you are doing right, while offering suggestions on things that need improvement. Sometimes brutal honesty hurts, but if it is offered with advice on how to fix a problem, you can actually learn something.

-A critique should always have something positive on which to build. Some clients I've had sound like they've gone through a fifteen round fight after being put through the wringer by a critique. If you get a critique like this, throw it away. (If you give a critique like this, shame on you.)

-Some criticism can be based on jealousy. News Director are legendary for their confidence draining tactics, working under the premise that talented people need to "be kept down." Some managers never have a good word for anyone. And if your ND has never worked in a decent market or been a reporter, consider the source.

-Getting critiques from people outside your market is a good idea. If you happen to make a contact with someone in a big market who is kind enough to offer advice, send a tape every once in awhile and listen to the suggestions. People in big markets know what it takes to get there.

-While it is impossible to be an objective when it comes to your own work, you can be objective regarding a critique. Try to look outside yourself when someone points out a problem. In other words, if someone tells you that your delivery is too slow, play your own tape then watch a big market or network newscast and honestly compare things.

-Be open minded and be patient. Sometimes it takes awhile for the light bulb to go on. If someone suggests something, don't just try it once and give up if it doesn't work. Have faith in your own talent, because the person making the suggestion probably has faith in you.