Friday, June 26, 2009

Your GPA doesn't mean a thing

Many of you have just graduated from college. And that means you'll have to head out into the cold cruel world where you don't get a spring break and mom doesn't do your laundry.

As Bruce Willis would say, "Welcome to the party, pal."

I'm always tickled that young people put their grade point averages on their resume. While it is nice to have a transcript filled with A's & B's, in the world of television news this piece of paper will never be seen. You could be the valedictorian of your class, but if you don't have a decent tape you won't find a job. News Directors will always hire someone who has an internship and some street experience at a college station than someone who has been a student of "television news theory" and doesn't know one end of a camera from the other.

The only thing that matters is that you got a degree. No one cares how you got it, but they do care what you did while in college. If you worked as an anchor on the college television station, great. If you wrote for the college newspaper, terrific. But if you knocked out nothing but term papers, it doesn't matter.

If you're still in college, make sure you spend whatever time you have left doing something away from the books. Get an internship. Work at every college media facility. Get some hands on experience.

Trust me, most people learn more in their first month at a television station than in four years of college.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mailbag: Is there a secret to success?

Dear Grapevine,
I can't figure this business out. There are people who are brainless idiots who rise to the top, and others who are talented and work hard and have to struggle. Is there some sort of common denominator for success in TV news?
-Resume Diva

Dear Diva,
Yes, of course there's a common denominator in the world of television news.
It is called "life is not fair."

You're right, there are people who couldn't spell IQ making seven figures and Mensa members clipping coupons. There are so many intangible factors to consider... appearance, voice, nepotism, you name it, that you can drive yourself crazy trying to beat the system. You'd have better luck playing slots in Vegas.

But while you cannot predict how the stars will align at any given point, you can improve your chances. Here are a few ways to "make your own luck."

-Be versatile. Know a little about a lot. If you're a reporter, learn to do weather and sports, even on an emergency basis. If you're a weathercaster, learn to put a package together. The more flexible you are, the more valuable you are to a News Director. If I have a choice between two people who are dead even talent-wise, I'm gonna hire the one who can wear more than one hat.

-Ditch the ego. Over the years the biggest egos I've ever seen worked in the smallest markets. (Maybe that's why they're in small markets.) Some of the nicest people work in the major markets and for the networks. The network correspondents I work with now are not only professional, but treat the members of the crew with respect, and as equals.

-Make your News Director's life easier. Come in with story ideas every day, volunteer to work holidays and weekends when you can. Don't be a newsroom gossip. News Directors move around as much as anyone else, and they often take their favorite people with them.

-Ask for advice. This was my biggest mistake when I was young and thought I knew everything. Be a sponge. Learn from people with different points of view. Ask experienced people for help.

-Be nice to photogs. I shouldn't even have to say this, but carry your share of the gear.

-Be nice to everyone. As much as people move and as small as this business is, everyone knows everyone in a six degrees of separation sort of way. One bad reference can kill a dream job. Make sure everyone with whom you work will say nice things about you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Perhaps things are turning around...

Hey, two of my clients got jobs in the past week! There's light at the end of the tunnel!

Hang in there, gang...

Monday, June 22, 2009

How corporate let the fox into the hen house, and continues to feed it chickens

I vividly remember my first corporate "embrace the internet" meeting. The suits were going on and on about how the internet was going to open up new avenues for local stations, how it was going to generate a second source of income. How our new mission in life was to "drive viewers to the internet" as often as possible during a newscast. The techno-geeks in the crowd nodded, the rest of us rolled our eyes.

After the meeting, one of our producers came up to me and said, "So let me get this straight. We're now supposed to tell people to turn off their television sets and turn on their computer? What's that going to do to our ratings?"

Well, you didn't need to be Stephen Hawking to see the writing on the wall. People turned off their sets, went to their computers, and stayed there.

When I was growing up we had this old Italian pastry shop named "Sal's" that everyone in the neighborhood loved. But on the weekends during the summer Sal made this to-die-for lemon ice which turned the place into a hot spot on Sundays.

It was the only place in town to get it, so that's where we went.

Television is no longer the only place in town to get news. So people no longer have to go there.

Imagine if you will that your station decided to shut down it's web site. Well, at least the news portion of it anyway. Just leave the phone numbers and station bios. Then imagine that your anchors stopped saying, "For more on this story, go to" about fifteen times every newscast. Imagine that you don't have to flesh out your story online, that what you see on the tube is all you get.

What would happen? Where would viewers who liked your station get your newscast?

Well, duh, they'd have to turn on the television set.

Here's a wild idea. Let's have all the NDs in one market agree to shut down the news portion of the website. And, what a wild concept, drive the viewers to the TV set. What would happen? Well, viewership would go up.

A viewer missed a story and had to call the station for info? Great! Your station has just made a personal contact, and by helping someone has gained a loyal viewer.

There are those who argue that the internet provides a revenue stream, but people buying internet spots would have bought TV anyway, or are taking money away from the TV side. It's just a shell game.

It's time for corporate suits to realize that technology is not only hurting this business, it's killing it. Time to get back to basics, and make news appointment television.

If that happened your newscast would be just like Sal's lemon ice. If you wanted it, there would be only one place to get it.