Friday, June 5, 2009

Mailbag: The telephone can get your foot in the door


I just got an email from a ND who does preliminary phone interviews before flying people in. Any tips?

Well, this practice is becoming more common these days. Years ago you'd just fly in a whole bunch of people, but now the short list is a necessity with budgetary concerns.

Anyway, you wanted tips, so here goes:

-Be excited when you get the call. Let your voice show your enthusiasm for the career and some genuine interest in the position. Dead air is a killer on phone interviews, so make sure your conversation skills are up to par.

-Keep it friendly and somewhat casual. You want the ND to think you have a personality and a life away from the office.

-Have a list of questions to ask the ND, because at some point you'll hear, "Do you have any questions for me?" Two really good things to ask are, "Do you give regular feedback?" and "Tell me about did you get into the business?" NDs love to talk about themselves.

-Do a little research on the station and the market. Know a little about what's going on. You might say something like, "I see you've had a big story lately," and then mention something specific.

-Don't talk salary unless the ND brings it up. Never show your hand if you don't have to. And you don't want the ND to think you're more interested in money than the actual job. (Even though you might be.)


I've been filling in occasionally for the weather department and I've discovered I like it. Any suggestions for educational opportunities?

Well, I actually went through the Mississippi State program, which I believe you can now do online. It was an excellent program then and I still hear good things about it now.

You might even get your station to pay for some or all of it if you plan to stay there awhile.

Meanwhile, a good basic book with excellent graphics is the USA Today Weather Book.

Hey Grape,

What's playing on your iPod right now?

I don't have an iPod. I don't want an iPod.

Bobby Darin's greatest hits is on the record player, if that answers your question.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Today's breakthrough is tomorrow's antique

You know you're getting old when you wander through an antique shop and a: you hear your favorite song being played on Muzak; and b: things you played with as a child are now classified as antiques.

Funny thing, though. Some things that were classified as "technological breakthroughs" just a few years ago are now obsolete. That cell phone you had with a giant bag? It's in the landfill. Anything analog? Outta here.

Over the years the methods of gathering news and broadcasting it have changed drastically. When I started in radio we had reel-to-reel tapes and edited with a razor blade and a piece of chalk. Then we got "carts" which were really cool, and are still in use today in some stations. Film gave way to tape, cameras with giant recorders gave way to Betacams, tape-to-tape editing is being phased out for non-linear. Typewriters? Fuhgeddaboudit.

You know what? The stuff you're using today will be classified as "obsolete" or "junk" in just a few years. Everything changes, everything runs in cycles.

You may think the news business is headed for the abyss, or will never return to its heyday. Maybe so. Maybe not. The point is, things run in cycles, just like the stock market. Television can be a roller coaster. In the near future, someone may invent something that may make newscasts the hottest thing in America. We can't see it yet because we don't have a crystal ball. Someone in television may figure out a way to make serious money from the Internet. Or the Internet may be obsolete in ten years. Something may come along that may make it look like it a dinosaur.

One thing never changes. The public will always have an insatiable appetite for information, and people who can provide them with it and do so in a marketable way will find work. Talent survives. Sometimes you may have to change the way you do things, but if the underlying talent is there, you will be too.

Look at the network veterans who started out in the 50's and 60's. While technology has changed drastically, the basics of putting a story together has not.

They survived, and if you're talented, so will you. Cycles come and go, roller coasters go up and down, but talent survives.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sometimes crazy ideas can pay off

Okay, I'm a chocoholic. I admit that I circle the local Walgreens like a vulture the day after Valentines Day and Easter and swoop in to scoop up the 75 percent off chocolate hearts and rabbits.

And I was a fan of dark chocolate before it became "healthy" to eat. The other day I tried a new brand of dark chocolate, one that was "a delicious source of Omega-3's" which are supposed to be very good for you. One bite told me this was something terrific. The chocolate was really good and really different. So different, I started to read the label.

My jaw nearly hit the floor, and I'm not making this up.

The label read, "Contains anchovy and sardine."

I thought, you gotta be kidding me. But then again, the chocolate tasted so fantastic, and fish is good for you, so what the heck? I kept eating it.

Which makes one think that at some point, some guy in a chocolate factory had an idea to combine fish and chocolate. Bizarre, yes. But I stopped to think about the fact that every time I eat seafood for dinner I crave chocolate.

So are anchovies and chocolate a metaphor for the news business? No, but the idea is.

Look, we're all conditioned that news coverage has to be done a certain way because it has always been done that way. Packages have to run between 1:15 and 1:30. You need a standup and a sound bite. You need nat sound. Newscasts have to be produced a certain way and have to have 87 mentions of the website and five weather forecasts in 30 minutes.

Time to draw outside the lines.

Who says packages have to have sound bites? If you've got one with terrific nat sound, great video and a solid standup, you might be good to go.

Who says you can't do two standups in one package?

Who says you can't start a live shot staring up at the mastcam to show what you're talking about?

Who says you have to have a live shot in the first block, even when nothing is happening?

I see lots of resume tapes, and a lot of them look the same. After awhile they're video wallpaper. If you want to stand out among those looking for jobs, you have to be different.

Take chances. Try different things. Some may work, some may not. But if you hit on something wild like fish and chocolate that really works for you, you might just just to the top of someone's short list.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Television news & romance: often oil and water

Tomorrow I'll be celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. And I've only been married once. Not many people in this business can make that claim.

Sadly, I know scores of news people with multiple ex-wives or husbands, alimony and child support problems, courtroom custody battles, and other sources of stress resulting from a bad choice at the altar. I'll never forget working with one single reporter who was making a good salary yet was always broke. The reason? Three child support payments to three different ex-wives. Yikes.

So I thought you guys might find some advice useful regarding the other part of your life away from the newsroom. In no particular order, here are some things you need to know:

-Marrying someone else in the news business is risky. Sure, you have the same common interests, but here's what usually happens; one person is more talented than the other. The talented one gets the job offer in the big market, the other half can't get arrested. The talented one turns down the offer and gets bitter. Jealousy rears its ugly head, or is always the underlying current in the relationship. I've seen this happen a few times, with couples stuck in markets they desperately want to leave. It's hard enough for one person to find a job, but for a couple it's next to impossible.

-Your spouse should be someone whose job is easily transferable. Teacher, nurse, salesman, stuff like that. Any career in which the spouse can find work anywhere.

-If you're a woman on the air, and your on-air name is different than your married name, your husband better get used to you being the star. If you're Jane Jones and your hubby is John Smith, watch his reaction when people call him "Mr. Jones."

-Children are not an "accessory." Sure, we all want the big house, nice cars, money to go on terrific vacations. For some reason people think they're "supposed to" have children. I've seen too many kids become pawns in custody battles. If you get married, wait a while. Make absolutely sure the person you marry is someone you're going to stay with, and be positive you want to have children for the right reasons. By the way, having a child doesn't improve a strained relationship, it just makes it worse. And nothing rips a kid's heart out more than watching his parents split up.

-And on the subject of kids, if you're a woman totally committed to a career and you have that first kid, don't be surprised if you chuck it all to do the mommy thing. I've seen that happen lots of times. Nothing wrong with it, just be prepared.

-Don't marry young. When you're single and in your 20's, your life should be like an episode of "Friends." Cherish these times, because they're never coming back.

-Marry someone who understands the demands of your career. If your significant other doesn't "get" why you have to work weekends, holidays, overnights or during hurricanes when the world is evacuating, you're headed for trouble.

I'll never forget the young newlywed reporter who had to stay late one evening. Her husband called and yelled at the anchor who picked up the phone. "Why is it seven o'clock and my wife isn't home with dinner on the table?"

-The holiday trade. If you're in this business, chances are you're not working in your hometown. And your spouse probably isn't there either. So when the holidays roll around, you're heading to the airport. You then have to deal with the "every other year" deal on whose family you'll spend the holidays with. Throw in the monkey wrench of having to work holidays and you can see this can be stressful.

-Money. Learn to manage it and save for retirement before you get hitched.

-Be ready to deal with the fact that it might be a long time before you put down roots. As I look back my good friends are all over the country. The closest one is two hours away. That is the biggest downside to this career. Even if you stay in one place, those you grow closest to will move away.

-Marry a saint. I did.