Friday, March 6, 2009

Bad news fatigue

There are several reasons I can go for a long time without watching local news. And once you get the car wrecks and shirtless criminal stories out of the way, the reason may be one that is affecting a lot of viewers.

It's called "bad news fatigue." You've heard of "Clinton fatigue" and "Bush fatigue" in politics. The same applies to the stories you put in your newscast. If you're doing the same doom and gloom every single day, those reruns of Seinfeld and Raymond on TBS look awfully inviting.

It reminds me of that old joke in which one man is sitting on the ground against a wall, continuously banging his head against it. Another guy asks,"Why do you keep doing that?" And he answers, "Because it feels so good when I stop."

In loading up your newscasts with bad and/or depressing news, you are, in effect, banging the viewers heads against the wall. And they're gonna feel much better when they stop watching your station and switch over to watch a sitcom.

Yes, the economy is a mess. (Frankly, most of the media's doing, but that's besides the point.) This industry tends to beat a dead horse down to a molecular level. And if viewers know that every single day they're going to get the same depressing stories, they eventually won't come back at all. And if you let the current state of the broadcast industry filter through into your presentation, you're going to drive a stake into its heart.

There are tons of positive stories out there... you just have to look for them. The scanner is a crutch, the bad economy is a crutch. Stop taking the easy way out and find the stories that show the other side. Lots of people are making good money off the recession. Plenty of towns don't have a bunch of foreclosure signs. Some businesses are booming.

Find the meaningful stories, and viewers will have a reason to watch. No one wants to feel depressed for thirty minutes when they have another choice.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Newsflashes for the young generation

I once worked with a producer who had been hired right out of college. After about six months on the job he announced he was tired. "When is spring break?" All the veterans who heard that rolled their eyes.

Newsflash: There is no spring break in real life. No three month summer vacation either.

You know how you couldn't wait to get out of school and get out into the real world? School doesn't look so bad now, does it?

Welcome to the party, pal.

I was talking to a news veteran yesterday and the topic of young people came up. It's got to be incredibly frustrating for you guys who are following a dream only to jump into the business at the worst possible time.

If you're feeling disgusted or betrayed, much of what you're feeling is the fault of my generation. We're a bunch of helicopter parents (well, I'm not... no kids) who've told you how wonderful you are, that you're the center of the universe. You got ribbons for participating even if you came in last. Nobody ever loses! And everyone in the world is terrific; you have nothing to worry about. At the end of the day we're all gonna sing Kumbaya.

Newsflash: The world can be a cold, cruel place. People are competing for a job, and one person wins. One! That's it! Managers aren't always honest with you, and half the time you can't even tell. Co-workers will smile at you and stab you in the back. People lose jobs on a whim of a beancounter.

The sooner you toughen up, the sooner you stop blindly trusting everyone, the sooner you'll be able to cut it in the real world. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but that's the way this business is. A lot of the people you'll meet in the industry are terrific and will become lifelong friends. But you need to keep a wary eye out for those who don't wish you the best.

Put the rose colored glasses away. Life isn't a Disney movie and bluebirds won't show up to do your laundry.

Be honest, be friendly, but be careful.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mailbag: A plane ticket often means an offer


A station is flying me in for an interview next week. I'm trying to gauge my chances and wondering how many people the average ND flies in for interviews.


Well, the general rule of thumb is three people, though with cutbacks you might be the only person warranting a plane ticket. But when a station springs for airfare that's a really good sign. If they don't wait for two weeks to get a cheap rate and just buy you a ticket right away, that's a really good sign. And if you're flying in and staying more than one day, you're gonna get an offer.

Most "short lists" have three people. While a ND will have a favorite, there's always a backup plan. The number one choice might get another offer, turn it down, or fail a drug test. Can't put all your eggs in one basket. But generally you're going to fly in your top choices in the order that you like them. No point buying a ticket for numbers 2 and 3 if your top choice takes the job.

By the way, use your time in the plane wisely. Bring every newspaper you can find with you and read them from cover to cover. Be prepared to talk about current events.

Hey Grape,

I'd like to anchor someday but I never even get the chance to fill in. Any ideas?

Years ago they used to break reporters in on the anchor desk by letting them do cut-ins for a week at a time. Run the idea past your ND. I'm sure the morning anchors would appreciate the break as well.


I love your blog but worry it will go the subscription route like so many other TV news sites. Please tell me this will remain free.

-Starving Reporter

Of course it will remain free. How else can I build up my account in the good Karma bank?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

News Director's playbook: Welcome to the dealership

My dad came with me when I bought my first car. Of course, I had stars in my eyes as every guy does for his first car, so I was ready to sign no matter what the salesman said.

"Thirty six hundred," the salesman said. (Yes, this was a long time ago.) I grabbed the pen.

"Thirty four," said my dad.

Salesman shook his head. "I can't go any lower--"

"Let's go," said my dad, standing up and heading for the door.

Long story short, after the salesman met with the manager (yeah, right) he came down in price.

Salary negotiation is a lot like buying a car. You spend ninety percent of your interview time talking about journalism, and then you suddenly find yourself in a car dealership opposite a man in a polyester suit who's trying to sell you undercoating.

Now these days you can't walk away like you could when the economy was decent. But there is still some wiggle room that can get you a few more bucks. So here's what the ND is thinking (with his thoughts or strategy in parentheses) during a typical negotiation.

ND: "I think you'd do a good job here." (Watch reporter's face light up, knowing a job offer is coming.) "Of course, I'm looking at two other strong candidates." (Watch blood drain from reporter's face. There may or may not be two other candidates, but the point here is to make the reporter think that if he doesn't grab this job, someone else will swoop in.)

Reporter: "Well, I'd like to work here."

ND: "I can offer you thirty six thousand. That's all I have in the budget." (Never make your best offer first. You have to lowball the candidate. If he takes it, you've saved some money for your budget. If not, you have some wiggle room to negotiate. And with creative accounting, there's almost always wiggle room.)

Reporter: "Well, I make that much now. I was hoping to make forty in my next job."

ND: (At this point the ND is gauging the body language of the candidate. Is the guy desperate, or will he really walk without a better offer? And how badly does the ND want to hire the reporter?) "I don't have that in the budget, but let me talk to the GM and see what we can do."

(At this point the ND leaves his office. He may actually go and talk to the GM or he may take a walk to the break room and have a cup of coffee. All part of the game.)

ND: "I talked to the GM, and we can offer you thirty-seven five. But that's as high as I can go." (ND gauges reaction of reporter. By upping the offer, even a little, the ND has put himself "on the reporter's side" as if to say, "I fought for you." Maybe true, maybe not. The ND may still have a few cards to play with benefits and such, but doesn't offer them yet.)

Reporter: "Could you at least throw in some moving and relocation expenses?"

ND: (Those were the last cards, and darn, the reporter saw them.) "Sure. We can give you fifteen hundred for moving and put you in a hotel for two weeks. (The hotel costs nothing, since it's a trade, and the moving expense was in the budget anyway. Nothing lost here, but the reporter feels as though he's won another one.)

Reporter: "Okay, you've got a deal."

Would the ND have gone higher? In this economy, the wiggle room isn't a wide as it used to be. But keep in mind that everything is negotiable. If you can't get salary, you can always try for perks.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Job hunting through the back door

First, I've been MIA the last few days due to the flu. When it feels like there's a man playing a Chinese gong in your head for five days, you don't feel like writing. (Memo to the Center for Disease Control: for the third year in a row I got a flu shot, and still got the flu. Nice use of our tax dollars.)

Anyway, since finding jobs is tougher these days, let's talk about finding openings.

Most of you probably subscribe to (well, worth the money, by the way) to check out the openings. As a manager I always posted openings there, and so do most stations.

But there are some that like to keep the hiring process quiet. Some NDs just don't want four hundred resume tapes wandering thru the door and a deluge of phone calls (despite the "no phone calls" notation in the ad.)

Ever seen one of those "moving on" posts that announces a new hire? One for an opening you didn't know about? You probably said, "Hey, that wasn't fair. I didn't even see an ad for that job."

Well, the person who got that job knew about it.

So, how can you find these "secret" job openings?

You know that "no phone calls" rule I have about calling News Directors? Well, it doesn't apply to calling anyone else in the station.

Pick a market in which you'd like to work. Then call the newsrooms of the stations at night. Doesn't matter who answers the phone; trust me, it won't be the ND. Then simply start a conversation by telling the person you're looking for work... are there any openings, or any coming up? Anything cooking in that particular market? People on the night shift love to chat about stuff after the managers have gone home. And, while that phone call might not bear fruit for that particular station, you might hear something like, "Our competitor just lost someone... they're looking for a male anchor."

And don't forget to check those "moving on" notices every day. When someone moves, that means there's an opening at their old station.

When you hear, "Nothing's happening" don't believe it. This is a big country with more than two hundred markets. People retire, move, get out of the business or get fired every day.

And if the job hasn't been eliminated, someone has to replace them.