Friday, July 31, 2009

Photog input needed

Okay, shooters, I need some advice.

I have to buy some editing software for a project and would appreciate your thoughts on the stuff you've used. (I have an Apple computer.) The project is more complicated than a resume tape but not a Spielberg film.

Fire your reviews to

Thanks in advance!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mailbag: One more reason to hate one-man-bands


I'm a one man band in my first job. While I don't necessarily mind hauling the gear around, I'm clueless about the nuances of photography and there's no one at the station to teach me anything.

My biggest problem is standups. I always do them in the middle of the day so there will be plenty of light but they just look lousy. Am I doing something wrong?

Ah, yet another example that proves owning a camera doesn't make one a photographer. But even I know the answer to this one. The light is most harsh in the middle of the day when it is directly overhead and can create lovely shadows that can make you look like Lord Voldemort even if you have a face like Nicole Kidman. The best times to shoot standups in natural light are very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the angle of the sun is low. It gives you a wonderful golden glow.

Of course, if your story is happening in the middle of the day, that's not much help if you don't know what you're doing. But in that case, a real photog can manipulate light so that you'll still look good.

Bad lighting can be a killer, as often illustrated by the Seinfeld "bad lighting girlfriend" episode.

Hope your next job lands you in a station with photogs.


If you see a job posting for an anchor position, is there a way to find out if they're looking for a male or a female?

Sure, there are lots of avenues. You can check those "moving on" sections in to see who might have just left. You can watch the station's newscast online to see which gender is missing. Or you can call the newsroom after hours and politely ask.

Years ago they used to run ads that read, "need anchor to complement our female" and you would know they were looking for a guy. These days that kind of stuff would get you sued.

One other thing to consider. Certain shows are not averse to two men or two women anchors. Morning shows, noon shows and 5pm shows fall into this category.

Bottom line, if you're not absolutely sure, send the tape.


Can you please, please, PLEASE start twittering?

No, no, NO.

Okay, I'll throw you a bone. I just mowed the lawn.

Riveting, huh?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chicken salad packages

Veterans know what the term means. It refers to being sent out on a story only to find out the story is pretty lame. Reporter or photog calls station, tells ND or Assignment Editor or kid producer that story is lame. Crew is ordered to do story anyway.

And you end up making chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what.

I will never forget being sent to cover what was supposed to be a "major protest." I envisioned picket signs, people yelling, marching, chanting clever slogans. When we arrived there were three people at the location, sitting on the curb. So I called the station. "The story is a bust," I said. "There are only three people here."

The Assignment Editor told me "we have to have a package" and to "shoot it tight." (Giving me orders in italics really used to tick me off.)

When I got stuck with a story like that, I didn't even bother with a standup because I wanted to put as much distance between myself and the bogus story.

As I watch various newscasts and resume tapes, I can actually pick out the chicken salad packages. They usually start with an exciting lead-in from the anchor, then fall flat with no video, no decent interviews, or both. Oh yeah, and no real story either.

So what's the point of my chicken salad rant? That people who never leave the station need to trust the people in the field.

Over the years I've heard producers grumble that, "Oh, they're just trying to get out of doing a package." Hello, McFly! Field crews who run into a story that's a bust are gonna have to find another package. Do you really think reporters want to have to start their day from scratch while out in the field? Trust me, no reporter wants to show up for a story and have it fall apart.

There's a difference between producing a newscast and stacking a show. There's a difference between filling a news hole and putting legitimate stories on the air.

The people in the field are there. They know what's going on, they can see the situation, and unless you've got two rookies on a story, they can usually tell if a story is "package worthy" or not.

So, for those of you who never leave the building, learn to trust your crews in the field.

Otherwise, you'll have enough chicken salad to open a delicatessen.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Political manipulation

These days the term "media bias" is thrown around a lot when it comes to politics. We hear of reporters being "in the tank" and about planted questions and personal agendas.

Many reporters start out being objective and often fall prey to their own personal feelings. And sometimes you just meet a politician who charms you, who makes you feel as though he or she really cares and can change the world.

And most of the time it's part of the game.

I'd like to warn you guys that given the chance, politicians will use you like Kleenex and throw you away if you let them.

Let's turn back the clock back to when I was a young reporter assigned to cover a school board meeting. As we were setting up, one of the members wandered over to say hello. She told us, "When I give you the signal, the (expletive) is going to hit the fan." She then put two fingers on her face in a "V" shape so we'd know the signal.

Sure enough, about halfway through the meeting she gave us the signal. The photog swung his camera around and focused on her just as she unloaded with the best sound bite of the day. Yep, it hit the fan alright, as a great argument ensued between board members. I went back to the station beaming that I had some great stuff and of course focused on the exchange in my package.

By the time I got home I wasn't feeling so proud, as the realization hit me. I'd been used by a politician. She'd gotten exactly what she wanted; not only getting her chosen soundbite on air, but appearing to be a friend of the media by "helping us out."

On another occasion I was a brand new reporter in town and found an invitation on my desk for a "media appreciation dinner." I didn't really read the invite carefully, but several other reporters were going, so I figured it would be fun and a good way to meet the other reporters in town. I didn't find out till later that the dinner had been paid for by a local politician.

After that I got real careful when dealing with any politician. I wanted a reputation of being fair, and tried my best to keep my relationships professional. Over the years I grew to admire one particular politician, but I never held back on tough questions. I think he honestly respected me more for it.

Point is, most of these politicians have only one goal when dealing with the media, and that's controlling it. They'll make life easy for you, act like your best friend, maybe get a speeding ticket fixed for you. Don't fall for it.

When the time comes to ask a question of a politician, ask the toughest one you can think of. They may not like the question, but they'll respect you for it.

And so will the viewers.

Mailbag: The cluegun for McFly

This is more of a question than a comment...Hopefully you can help me figure my little resume tape issue out. I graduated about 9 months ago and thought I shouldn't go into reporting because all I ever heard was how impossible it was...Well I tried the 9-5 job thing and it's not working out for me. I wanna be a reporter! I have a bunch of dv tapes filled with my college stories and about 8 standups I did - fake ones that I planned to use for my montage. Well, there not that great. There not bad either. Should I even bother making my resume tape with the footage I have or should I buy a camcorder and start over? Also, I have a pretty good story about something we called "second hand porn" in my town. A local issue about libraries allowing people to go to porn sites. Would that be inappropriate to put on my resume tape, as the first story even?

So let me get this straight... you spend four years in college and God knows how much of your parents money so that you can do something you really want to do... and then at the age of 22 you give up because you hear it might be tough?

Cluegun, locked and loaded! Bada bing!

Listen, grasshopper, I don't know if you're one of those kids who has been coddled by your parents, but welcome to the real world. Guess what, you don't get a ribbon for participating and told how wonderful you are. We're playing for keeps here. If you want something, you've gotta fight for it.

And you don't give up your dream less than a year out of college because people tell you it's impossible.

Okay, enough of the sarcastic lecture, because it is really aimed at the people who have drilled the notion into young people that you can't get in this business or you have to start at the very bottom in market 210. I'm to the point that I may as well tape my phone conversations with new clients because I have the same speech for every single one of them who honestly believe that market 50 is some sort of utopia and that getting a job in this business is harder than getting elected President.

Some things you need to know:

-Getting a first job is easier than ever. Huh? Grape, have you gone nuts? Have you read about the economy? Yep. And here's what many of you are missing. Employers are replacing expensive people (my generation) with cheaper people (can you guess which generation I'm talking about?) Markets that used to require bushels of experience are now open to kids with limited experience. Potential, in fact, is often more important than experience. Are there a lot of job openings? No. But it is so much easier for a young person to crack a big market than it used to be.

-A fifty market is nothing special. Some are good, some are horrible. Many feature entry level people. My first reporting job was in market 62, and that was a long time ago. I've had clients under 24 crack top 30 markets, so please don't tell me it cannot be done. And we've all seen stories of people right out of college in top 10 markets. Ever hear of a guy named Geraldo Rivera? He started in New York. Take all the myths you've heard and throw them out the window, because the only thing that matters is your career, and it is mutually exclusive.

-You'll never get a great job if you don't apply for it. Yep, it's just like the Publishers Clearing House... you can't win if you don't enter. Send your tapes everywhere.

-Giving up your dream before you're 30 will leave you kicking yourself for the rest of your life. I'm sorry if the economy is bad, and the business is in a sorry state. But once again, it is the fault of my generation that has been so overprotective of children that when young people have to deal with the real world they give up so easily. If reporting is in your blood, if you burn to do it, then do it. And don't give up if it takes a while to get your first job.

Back to the original question: you've got tapes, you've got a decent package, so slap them together, make a resume tape and send the thing out. At your level you have no idea how good or bad your work is, so send it out. News Directors who hire young people for entry level jobs do so based on potential, and they know college tapes have a certain look. Bad video, bad lighting, whatever. Doesn't matter. They're looking for that spark, that flicker of talent, the gleam in the eye that tells them this kid could be something special.

Many young people have asked me if News Directors will "think bad of me if I send a tape that's not good enough." Hey, NDs don't remember the first thing about tapes they don't like. There are no "resume tape police" who send out notices that read, "Hey! Johhny Smith just sent out a bad resume tape!" Trust me, I've watched thousands of tapes and, except for those that were unbelieveably bizarre, I cannot remember a single one belonging to a person I didn't hire or consider for a job. Neither does any other ND.

But they're never gonna remember a good tape if you don't send it.