Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Gravevine's on Amazon Kindle

Well, a couple of you recently asked if the blog was available via Amazon Kindle. That's the reading device that lets people download books instantly. It's becoming very popular as readers like the instant delivery system and the ecological benefits. Curiously, it's a big seller among people of my generation who suffer from arthritis in their hands, as you don't have to turn pages.

However, I had no idea that blogs could be delivered this way. So I followed the incredibly simple directions on Amazon and poof! The Grapevine is now available on Kindle. Right here.

Please note that this service isn't free, though it's pretty cheap. And you can try it out free for two weeks. Full disclosure: The Grape does receive royalties on this as a percentage of the subscription fees.

Of course the blog will always remain free via the internet, so nothing will change there. But for those of you who wanted to drag me kicking and screaming into the electronic age, well, I admit this one makes sense.

I still, however, refuse to twitter.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mailbag: Care and feeding of photogs


How can you politely ask photographers to get this natural sound for you? My photogs just don't seem to get it. I've tried taking them to lunch, always carrying the gear, and everything else you've suggested before.

Well, this doesn't happen often, but if you're in an entry level shop you might be working with entry level photogs as well. Or, if the Chief is not motivated, that attitude can trickle down to the staff.

Asking politely, as you stated, is the way to go. You might note that the photog shoots great video and your story would be so much better with some nat sound. Or you might ask the photog to get video of things that obviously come with great nat sound, like a train roaring by. Make sure the shotgun mike is turned on. Then, after you edit your package, ask the photog to take a look and ask, "Do you like what I did with your nat sound, or can I do it a better way?"

Remember, you're working as a team and you have to include the shooter in the whole process. Most all photogs take pride in their work, and once they know you're working together they'll usually come around.

Dear Grape,

I'm going to start working on a resume tape for my 2nd reporter job.

I have some packages saved where I did not do standups.

On the tape I used to get my first job my three packages all had standups.

Should packages on a resume tape always have a standup in them or is it fine if there is none or just a fronted newsroom shot?

Well, a standup does more than get your face on camera. It should be used to put you at the scene, even if you're doing a live shot or newsroom intro.

For resume tape purposes, you always want packages which include a standup that shows your ability to think in the field. Something clever that ties parts of the story together, or gets you from one part of the story to another. Standup bridges show off that talent best. Many rookies have nothing but standup closes, so try to take a moment in the field and think of something interesting.

Sometimes, when a ND sees packages without standups, he or she sees that as lazy. Not always, but sometimes. Just something to keep in mind.


I've heard our company is going to require us to either take a few days of unpaid leave or a small pay cut. Does it make any difference which one I choose if I have to make that decision?

Well, I'd choose the time off. Extra vacation is always good for creative types, and I wish they'd bring back the old comp day system which allowed us to stockpile vacation time.

The downside to taking a pay cut is that it lowers your base salary, which means you'll also make a little less when you get overtime. Also, when your next contract comes up, if you decide to stay with the same station they'll look at the current salary. If you've taken the pay cut which knocks you down $1,000 in salary and they're offering a one thousand dollar raise, you'll be back where you started.

Sorry to say I'm hearing a lot of this, but hopefully things will turn around.


I'm a single woman and I constantly get calls from viewers who ask me out. I really want to concentrate on my career and want to move on anyway. Is there a simple solution to this problem without being rude to people?

I've seen this work many times...

1. Go to a cheap jewelry store.

2. But a two carat cubic zirconia ring.

3. Put it on the ring finger of your left hand.

Calls will magically stop.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thoughts from across the pond

I recently returned from vacation... a cruise around the British Isles. I hadn't been to Europe in ten years, and once again I was struck by the great differences in cultures.

And of course, I checked out the British newscasts.

Put them side by side with any newscast in this country, and you're struck by the class shown by the British. While co-anchors do engage in chit-chat going into breaks, they don't present news in an over-the-top fashion. The overly dramatic, in-your-face performance of many American newscasters would look horribly out of place to the British. The Brits, with that wonderful accent, can almost make a war seem genteel.

Their newscasts seem to reflect their society; polite, classy and not terribly sensational. (They apparently leave that to their hilarious tabloids, which had a field day with the Michael Jackson story.) Bottom line, we could use a little of that class over here, both on TV and in our society. This was illustrated on our flight home, in which several people were dressed in flip-flops and gym shorts. It was as if someone had put wings on a discount store.

I also met a lot of people on the trip, and when they found out I worked in the news business, most wanted to know why the product is so biased one way or the other. And sadly, most admitted that they didn't watch local news at all anymore.

In an effort to push the envelope and one-up the competition by crossing the lines of both good taste and ethics, we have alienated the people who ultimately pay our salaries... the viewers.

Keep that in mind the next time you write a line like, "It's a parent's worst nightmare!" or "You may find the next video disturbing!" I've always found it helpful to think, "What would my mother think if she saw me doing this?" (Might be a Catholic guilt thing.)

If any business needs an injection of class, it's television news. You can do your part.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The market size myth

If you've ever seen the Gene Hackman movie "Hoosiers" about a small town basketball team, you've gotten a subtle message about television news markets.

Toward the end of the film Hackman takes his team to the state championship. The day before the game he walks them around the court, takes out a tape measure and shows them that the basket is still ten feet high and a foul shot is still fifteen feet. It is the same, whether you're playing in a backyard or on the world's biggest stage.

The same holds true for television news. A package is a package, whether it is done in market 210 or at the network. In each case you still need good video, nat sound, strong writing and creative editing. Along with solid reporting skills, of course.

So it makes me shake my head when so many young people think they have to start in a tiny market, or can only jump a certain number of markets for their second job. I'm not sure if college professors are telling kids they have to start really small, or if it is simply a myth that is so old it has become reality to some.

The truth: plenty of people have gotten their first jobs in New York or at the network. If you're talented, the sky's the limit. You have absolutely nothing to lose by sending your tape to any station. Limiting yourself to markets 100-210 can only set you back two years if you truly have talent. You may eventually end up in a small market for your first job, but you may not.

The same applies for a second job. If you can turn a package with the best of them, once again, take your best shot.

The rules of broadcast journalism don't change from market to market. I've seen great products in tiny markets and horrible ones in large markets. The business is getting younger, as veterans see the handwriting on the wall and bail out.

When someone tells you you have to start small, don't believe it. When you're told that maybe you can make it to market 50 in your second job, fuhgeddaboudit. I've heard so many people talk as though market 50 is some sort of utopia; trust me, many times it isn't much better than market 150.

Talent knows no age or experience. If you've got it, aim high.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Writing exercise

(Reposted by request)

Okay, I thought I'd share a few exercises that will help you stretch your creative abilities a little and make your writing a little more interesting.

Assignment one: Take five of our most recent package scripts. Then I want you to re-write them, but you are not allowed to use the words "is" "are" or "was."

Sounds easy until you try it.

Example: George Bush is a conservative President, and he is supported by the religious right.
Re-written: George Bush represents a conservative viewpoint, his views echoed by evangelicals.

By the time you're done with five scripts you'll start to see your copy in a different light. It will sound smarter and flow better. If you want to take this even deeper, refrain from using any form of the verb, "to be."

Assignment two: You've heard of writing into your sound bites? I want you to write out of a piece of nat sound. Same deal, take your last five packages. (If you don't use nat sound, you'd better start.)

Example: Nat sound of train roaring thru town. "Citizens of Anytown have been living along these tracks for years. But now regular train service in the middle of the night is keeping them up."

Re-written: Nat sound of train roaring thru town. "Imagine hearing THAT at three AM every morning. It's no wonder the residents of Anytown are cranky when it comes to the subject of the new middle of the night train schedule.

Sound is just as important as pictures and copy. Weaving it seamlessly into your script will help your packages move more smoothly, and add another element.

Good luck. There will be a test later.