Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ah, the old consultant "addition by subtraction" trick

Dear Grapevine,

What does it mean when a consultant for the competing station asks you for a tape?

It means the consultant thinks you're talented. An old consultant tactic to help the client is to find jobs for the good people who work for the competition. They may not improve their own client's station, but through addition by subtraction, they are making the competition weaker by moving the good people.

But don't confuse them with agents. They're not going to push you as an agent would, but they will put you in their database of talent. For instance, if I'm a client with a consulting firm and I need an anchor, I can simply call the consultant and say, "Send me all your female anchors," or "send me all your meteorologists" and I'll get a tape with a bunch of people on it.

People do get jobs this way, but it doesn't happen too often. Consider it a compliment, but don't slack off in your own job hunting tactics.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mailbag: Do managers have a clue what we do?


I'm in my first job. My ND continuously asks us to do things that are either ridiculous, impossible or both. Then I've got producers who think nothing of telling us to go up to people at a funeral and get sound bites. Do these people truly understand what it's like on the street? Why do they ask us to do things that don't make sense?

Because they've never had to do it themselves. I'd love to see a manager or a producer who has never been in the field take a microphone and shove it in someone's face at a funeral.

A big part of the problems newsrooms have now is that the people who are pulling the strings have never actually gathered news. Until you've been out there, you cannot really know what it's like.

There are a few stations that encourage staffers to shadow other employees once in awhile. A reporter sits in the booth with a producer, a producer does a ride-along with a field crew. If you've never done that, try it. It can do wonders for your point of view.


What does a ND really mean when he says, "We're not hiring right now."

It means they're not hiring right now.


If a ND has actually asked you to call, what's the best time so that you don't get voicemail? In the past my messages have gone unreturned.

Very good question. Mondays are never good. All sorts of emails have piled up, the ND has to deal with junk that happened over the weekend, and the GM usually wants to see the ND about said junk that happened over the weekend. Fridays are the best. The weekend is here, people are in a good mood.

As for specific times, 10:15-11:45 (the morning meeting is over and the ND hasn't gone to lunch) and 1:15-1:45 (back from lunch and before the afternoon meeting.) Calling in the late afternoon during crunch time just shows you don't know how a newsroom works.

Dear Grapevine,

What does it mean when a consultant for the competing station asks you for a tape?

It means the consultant thinks you're talented. An old consultant tactic to help the client is to get the good people out of the client's competition.

But don't confuse them with agents. They're not going to actively push you, but they will put you in their database of talent. For instance, if I'm a client and

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Leaving the camera in the car can create an open door policy

Imagine you're home watching TV, doing your laundry, or just relaxing. The doorbell rings. You open it and find a reporter and photographer, camera rolling with a blinding light in your face. Your instinct would be to back up, slam the door, or both.

Sometimes you need ambush tactics in this business. Chasing Bernie Madoff? No problem. Knocking on the door of some corporate criminal? Fire up the lights. But if you need an interview with someone who has just gone through something traumatic, it's best to leave the camera in the car.

The last big tragedy I worked involved the murder of ten people in a very small town. I was the first member of our crew to arrive in the middle of the night and was directed to the command center. I asked to see the person in charge. When an official came out I introduced myself and told him who I was representing.

He backed up a bit, looked over my right shoulder, then my left.

"I don't have a camera with me," I said. I stuck out my hand. "Sorry for your loss."

He exhaled and relaxed.

As the story played out, we were called upon to seek out sound bites from people who knew the victims. This involved the old fashioned duty of going door to door.

And in every case, we left the camera crew waiting in the car. A block away.

Tact and compassion will get you far if you're covering something delicate. Ambush journalism will get the door slammed in your face.

On the third day of that story someone actually drove to our sat truck and told us one of the victim's family members would talk to the media at a certain time. When we arrived, I noted that not all the crews covering the story were there.

Had being tactful gotten us an invitation? Had using ambush journalism left some other crews out of the loop?

Trust me, no one really wants to knock on the door of a stranger who has just had a family member murdered. But if you have to do it, start out as a human being before you change into a reporter.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Take a photog to lunch week, year two...

(UNDATED) A television news "holiday" is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, much to the delight of hungry photographers everywhere.

"Take a photog to lunch week" has taken on a life of its own since its inception in the late 1980's. Originally conceived by a reporter who wanted to bribe a photog to edit her resume tape, the week is now highlighted on calendars in photog lounges all over the country.

"It doesn't cost a lot, but it means so much to a photog," said John Shooter, President of the National Society for the Prevention of Blue Video, better known as NSPBV. "A little appreciation goes a long way with this group. Any reporter smart enough to buy lunch for a photog will come back to the station with some world class stuff. And if you spring for dinner after hours, you'll think you were shooting with Steven Spielberg."

The organization has also issued a list of suggested restaurants for the event, none of which have drive-thru windows.

Reporter Jim Goodhair bought lunch for a few photogs last year, and was amazed at the results. "By the end of the week my work had taken a huge leap. You should have seen these guys; they set up umbrella lighting on every story, reflectors, fog machines, you name it. One rode the mast on the live truck to give me some aerial b-roll. At the end of the week I had a new resume tape and jumped from market 210 directly to the network. All for the price of a few Chinese buffets."

Most photogs admit this event highlights the "it's the thought that counts" concept. "I nearly impaled myself with the legs of my tripod when my reporter picked up the check," recalls photog Ray Cathode. "If I'd known in advance I would have ordered dessert. But seriously, I really go the extra mile for that reporter to this day."

News Directors, Assignment Editors and Producers have always frowned on the event, however. "This really plays havoc with our schedule," said News Director I. M. Beancounter. "For goodness sake, they actually take thirty minute lunches all week. I don't see why a reporter can't buy them something they can wolf down in the car."

While the event runs from June 16th-23rd, photogs acknowledge that reporters don't have to participate just once a year.