Friday, March 20, 2009

Mailbag: Stepping back?

First, thank you for offering so much great advice on your blog! I'm so glad I found it while trying to sort through my current dilemma. I sincerely hope you might be able to give me some advice as to what I should do.
Here's my dilemma...
In January I was fired from my job as the Web reporter for a top 50 station. I was there for only a year and do not have a resume tape, which I'm sure I don't have to tell you makes it near impossible to get another reporter job.
However, I was just offered an entry-level reporter position in market 138 (Topeka KS) for exactly half of my previous salary. Ouch! As in most small markets there's a lot of room for quick advancement but I just don't know...I do know however that I am desperate to get a job and get back in a newsroom.
It is a two year contract with a top 75 out after one year. My hope is that after a year of really solid work I can move to a Kansas City station down the road. Also, I am 26 and feel my age weighs heavy in all of this. Whew!
So, taking into consideration my situation, my age and the economy what would be your advice.
Do you think I would I be making a huge professional and financial mistake by returning to a small market? And... Do you think I'm too old to start at the bottom of the television news ladder again?

When I get questions like this, asking me to make a decision, I often wonder if five years down the road some reporter is going to come up to me and slap me, saying, "You told me to take that job in Podunk, and I'm still there!"

In other words, you have to make your own decisions, and not knowing the quality of your work, I can only go so far in the advice department. With that in mind, some things to consider.

-You've only been out of work two months. On the other side of the coin, jobs are hard to come by these days, and if you don't have a tape, you're really fighting an uphill battle.

-Some small markets turn out a real quality product. Is the station that offered you a job one that will let you do quality work, or will you be chasing the scanner every day? Watch some of their newscasts if you can and pay close attention to the reporter packages.

-A top 75 out is very flexible. Heck, many stations 50-75 are hiring entry level people, so if you have any talent at all you should be able to move in a year... provided of course, the market loosens up.

-Your age is no big deal. I got my first TV job at 28.

-Is this really a step back if you were a "web reporter?"...I'm sure you never did live shots for the Internet, so you might be looking at this in the wrong way.

-The money thing depends on your financial situation. And lots of jobs don't pay what they used to. There is also the cost of living factor to consider. Topeka aint New York.

-Finally, you need to contact the webmaster at your old station and see if there is any possible way to recover some of your work. There could be something out there in cyberspace that could help you. Or you could hire a photog to help you make a tape.

Since you're out of work I don't mean to beat you up, but this illustrates why everyone out there needs an "escape tape" with your best work. Make dubs and take the tapes home. Keep your escape tape away from the station, as you never know when the pink slips might fly or or newsroom might shut down. It's for your own protection. Get in the habit of making a copy every time you do a solid story. If you have a DVR, just tape your newscast every day.

I hope all that helps, and best of luck.

****Okay, you asked me not to use your name and I didn't, but I did a search and some of your old stuff is still online at your old station's website. (See, if you want to find information, just ask an Italian...)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Congrats, Roger!

Always nice when a talented client moves on, and these days it's nice to hear that anyone is actually hiring.

When I first got a call from a guy named Roger Susanin, I could tell he had a unique quality just from the conversation. His personality just jumped through the phone, and when his first tape arrived I saw that same trait on camera. He was working at a cable operation in Pennsylvania, occasionally rubbing elbows with people from Philadelphia.

Roger worked hard to hone his craft and within a short time had a really good tape. He also bought into my "send a tape anywhere" tactic. At one point he sent a tape to an opening that required five years experience, which he didn't have. He got a call from the ND, who liked his tape so much he was considering shuffling his staff around to make room for Roger. (Those of you afraid to send tapes for which you think you're under qualified, take note of this.)

That's not the job he ended up with, but he landed at a solid station in Little Rock, KATV.

I expect great things from Roger, and know he'll do well at his new home. Congrats on a well deserved success!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is email as effective as snail mail?

I get a lot of questions from young people about sending a resume tape via email. Many are curious as to why they've sent out dozens and gotten almost no response.

The answer lies in your own email box.

Open your email inbox on any given day, and along with the messages from people you know are countless pieces of junk advertising discount Viagra or telling you that you've won a lottery in Europe. While some email companies are better at filtering out spam than others, some junk still manages to find its way.

Now put yourself in a News Director's shoes. On any given day a ND might find a few hundred emails waiting to be read, and no one has time to read two hundred emails. Many stations also have rules governing emails and viruses... unless you know the sender, you simply hit the delete button. So if someone is sending you a resume tape attached to an email, chances are you'll never see it.

Almost all job postings ask the applicant to mail a tape. While you may think this is a stone age mentality, there are several reasons for this. Tapes and DVDs are easy to go through quickly, and when you're narrowing the field you want to be able to put the good tapes in a box to review later. At some point the GM or corporate is going to want to review those as well, and they don't want a bunch of forwarded emails to do it. And in many cases, more than one person is looking at resume tapes, and you don't want a bunch of people crowded around you, looking over your shoulder.

The News Director always has the worst computer in the newsroom, and half the time stuff sent via email won't play. The same is often true of General Managers.

The day may come when all job postings ask for tapes to be emailed, but it isn't here yet.

That said, many of those companies who will post your resume tape online do get a lot of visits from News Directors, but that's different than sending an unsolicited email. A ND can go to the site and watch a bunch of tapes. They're all formatted the same way and there's not a problem playing them.

And there's nothing wrong with having your own personal site with a bunch of packages or anchoring, just in case a ND calls you and wants to see something quick, or has looked at your first tape and wants to see more.

But just sending emails cold doesn't do the trick. If you want to make sure a News Director actually receives your tape, you've got to do it the old fashioned way and stick it in the mail.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mailbag: If there are cutbacks, why more newscasts?


Last year our company seriously downsized and we're pretty much operating with a skeleton crew in the newsroom. Since it's my first job and I survived, I'm not going to complain. But last week the GM announced we'd be adding another newscast. When someone asked if that meant we'd be hiring more people, the answer was no. How can we be adding more newscasts during cutbacks?

-Confused rookie

Dear Rookie,

You mean you didn't have a course in "Creative News Accounting 101" while getting your journalism degree?

This is one of the oldest revenue savers in the book. Let's say I'm a struggling station and I'm paying some syndicate for an hour long program that runs at four in the afternoon. The show is getting hammered by Oprah or Doctor Phil, so I'm thinking, "I can save the money I pay for the syndication rights and just add another newscast. I've already got a staff in place."

This is addition by subtraction, which is not taught in any math class in the United States. GM types never consider that they're doubling your workload, they just figure that you're in the building anyway, so why not be on the air instead of in the newsroom?

This is one reason you see local stations with too many newscasts and not enough news to fill them. They end up rerunning packages, and the viewer finally realizes that, "If you've watched one half hour, you've watched them all." The product is basically being thinned out, though the bean counters think they're getting more bang for the buck. In the end it hurts the station, especially if the market can't support that much news time to fill. Sadly, the concept of quality never enters the minds of these people.