Friday, March 27, 2009

Mailbag: Where are they hiding the openings?

Grape,

I keep reading those "moving on" notices and see people getting jobs that I never knew existed. I cruise the regular websites for openings... so what am I missing?

-Out of the loop



Like many reporters of your generation, you're not taking the initiative. You're waiting for an invitation. Did you think there's some rule that all openings have to be posted on national websites? While come companies have rules about this, others do whatever the heck they want. Some openings are never advertised.

In many cases, News Directors know that the minute they post a job opening on a well known website they're going to be deluged with tapes and phone calls (even though the ad specifically says "No phone calls.") So sometimes job openings are posted quietly, on the station's website, or local newspaper. Or not at all.

But if there's somewhere you want to work, you don't have to spend all day searching for a posted opening as a license to send a tape. You can send a tape anywhere, anytime. Pick the markets in which you'd like to work, find the best stations, and send a tape. News Directors don't get mad at people who send tapes without there being an opening.

This gives you an advantage. Let's say I'm a ND and I currently don't have any openings. I'm not running any ads, and you send me a tape. It is the only tape I receive in the mail today. I can find five minutes to watch it, and if I like it, I'll toss it in my "good box" which contains tapes of people I like. Then when someone wanders in and quits next month, I already have a short list of people just sitting in that box. So in this case, your tape is one out of one instead of one out of two hundred. Like those odds a little better?

Your tape is likely to get more attention if you send it when there aren't any openings. So pick your spots, do some research on which stations are owned by good companies, which ones have good photogs, and which ones don't have screaming News Directors. Then fire off those tapes. You might not get a call next week, but one might hit you out of the blue down the road.


Grapevine,

Is media mail dead?



Pretty much. It used to be a bargain when you were mailing heavy 3/4 inch tapes, but now they've raised the rates so much that first class is actually cheaper. I recently had a client send me a DVD in a regular envelope with one 42-cent stamp. Only the post office could come up with something that is slower and more expensive.



Grapeman,

Our Assignment Editor is always in a bad mood. Any ideas to cheer him up?



Here's a wild concept: load up the daily file with good story ideas.

The AE has the toughest job in the newsroom. Make it easier for him or her and you'll see a mood change in no time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Start with a softball

Since baseball season is just around the corner, I thought it might be time to use a national pastime analogy as it relates to interviews.

We all saw plenty of "softball" questions during the last political campaign, directed at both candidates. It almost seems as if reporters are walking on eggshells, not wanting to offend the person being interviewed. Hardly anyone plays hardball anymore, as politicians are routinely allowed to squirm off the hook as the "follow up" question has become a lost art.

However, the softball does have its place. A baseball pitcher might feed a batter a dose of slow breaking pitches before firing a bullet down the middle of the plate. Reporters can also "set up" an interview subject with soft stuff before throwing one high and tight.

One example I've mentioned before was the time I was sent to ask a politician about cheating on his wife. He'd never met me, but the rumor had just broken and I knew he'd be on his guard. So I had to let him get comfortable with some easy lobs over the middle of the plate.

Me: "So, why is foreign trade so important to this community?"

Politician: (Gives standard political answer. I can see it in his eyes that he's thrilled I didn't ask THE question.)

Me: "Do you foresee any specific trade agreements that might be beneficial?"

Politician: (Gives another pat answer. Now he's really relaxed. At this point the catcher puts down number one and it's time for a fastball.)

Me: "So, what's the deal about this alleged affair?"

The guy had no chance. Never saw it coming. He dodged the question with his words but his facial reaction told the story as I got the death stare and the twitchy lip.

Remember, your job is to ask the tough questions. If that means setting someone up with bogus fluff, fine. Softball questions are fine, as long as you follow them with hardball questions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random thoughts

I've got too many little things kicking around in my head, so here goes:

-I wasn't aware that tripods were not issued to one man bands. I'm seeing a lot of work from "backpack journalists" with some pretty shaky video. I used to have a News Director, who, upon seeing video not shot from a tripod, would say, "Earthquake at the City Council," or "Earthquake at the courthouse" depending on where the video was shot. Sometimes tripods aren't practical, but most times you need them. They don't do you any good sitting in the news car.

-Sometimes it takes young reporters a while to "get" it. By that I mean you grow in steps. You hit one plateau, then stay there awhile, then move up to another. Sometimes it takes awhile for the light bulb to go on. Be patient.

-If you want to get "better faster" you need to spend all your free time watching people in bigger markets and on networks. By watching a variety of people you'll subconsciously pick up little things here and there that you can incorporate into your own style.

-Too many packages end on a sound bite. In other words, we go directly from a sound bite to the reporter sigout. You need at least one sentence to wrap things up before you sign off. It's jarring to end a package on a sound bite.

-Too many packages start with a sound bite. Nat sound is always the preferred way to start a package, as it also gives the director a little wiggle room in case he punches up your package a second or two late.

-Many of your live shot intros are too long, so you end up trying to memorize them and you end up looking like you're reciting something instead of talking to the camera. Two sentences, max. Get into your story as quickly as possible. With less to memorize you'll be more natural.