Friday, August 21, 2009

Random stuff

-It was nice to see all that old video of Don Hewitt, the guy who created "60 Minutes." There's a lot of be learned from that style of journalism. Memo to knee-jerk managers: just because a ratings book comes in that doesn't meet expectations doesn't mean you have to change the format. 60 Minutes hasn't changed in 40 years and it still works just fine.

-If you're looking for angry people to talk about health care, you don't need a town hall in your market. Just head for the nearest hospital or doctor's office. I've heard quite an earful from health care workers during some recent medical visits.

-This is almost too painful to ask, but did any of you out there actually get a pay raise when they raised the minimum wage?

-For those of you in college, it might help to have your voice and delivery critiqued before you graduate. (An internship will help with that.) I'm seeing a ton of recent grad tapes from people who have voice and/or delivery problems. Granted, it's not something on the top of most journalism professors lists, but voice problems can get your tape ejected faster than almost anything.

-With the new fall season coming up, it's worth noting that weekends are a good way to get viewers to sample your newscast during the week. Too many news operations phone it in on weekends with skeleton crews and no "hold packages." If you're following a hit show on Sunday night, doesn't it make sense to put out a good product instead of one loaded with feed packages?

-I'm seeing too many packages without standups. Unless you're covering a funeral, you really need to do one in every package. It puts you at the location. Doesn't matter if you're live in the newsroom or out in the field, a standup adds an element and makes you think on your feet.

-Too many montages are way too long. When I see tapes with fifteen or more clips before I get to a package, I grab the remote. Six or seven of your "greatest hits" is fine for a montage, then let me see what else you can do.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Background checks: the unseen job killer

Several years ago we were looking for an experienced reporter and an interesting tape crossed my desk. I realized a friend of mine was working in the same market at the competition, so I gave him a call, hoping for some insight on the reporter. It didn't take long for the air to go out of the balloon.

"You don't want him," said my friend.

"Why not?" I asked.

"He closes down a bar every night."

Resume tape, meet trash can.

In that case the guy with a decent tape didn't get any consideration because of something that wasn't on his resume. News Directors look for lots of things, but red flags are right up there with writing ability. If you can hire a reporter who is normal instead of one who's likely to end up in jail, you're gonna hire the one who won't cause a problem.

On another occasion I was applying for a reporting job with a company that required everyone to take a drug test, so I was sent to a medical facility. While sitting in the waiting room, I saw the guy who was in front of me come out of the back room red-faced, and the nurse behind him laughing hysterically. When I asked her what was so funny, she said, "His urine sample was ice cold. If you want to beat a drug test with someone elses sample, don't use a refrigerator."

Then there was the case of the great photog we wanted to steal from the competition. Our ND had asked all the field crews for opinions, and we all liked the guy. He was always professional and the kind of person who'd lend you a battery if yours went dead. Alas, the failed drug test sent his application into the dumpster. Even if the ND had wanted to look the other way, the company had a zero tolerance policy. Fail the test, no job.

These days background checks are becoming standard as more stations fear future liability or downright embarrassment. Recently someone pointed out to me that some companies will even ditch an application for a speeding ticket... since chances are you'll be driving station cars and live trucks.

There are career-enders in this business that have absolutely nothing to do with talent. And in some cases, you can't even get your career started because of transgressions in college. Watch the NFL draft sometime and you'll hear how some players have their stock drop because of problems in college. Lots of things may be chalked up to youthful indiscretions, but they're still red flags.

Even the smallest things can send a bad message. Got a personal website with pictures of yourself drunk or in varying stages of undress? Or a blog with details that hold a clue to your life behind the scenes? Trust me, NDs google everyone these days just to see what's out there.

When you're young you think you're bulletproof, but there's no such thing in the world of television. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard, because employers will do the same.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Current events test

Okay, boys and girls, time for a pop quiz. If you've been paying attention, you'll do fine. Miss any of these questions, and you're not reading enough.

1. The Post Office is losing money. (I know, what a shocker.) What long time service might be cut?

2. Former President Clinton recently traveled to what country to facilitate the release of two prisoners?

3. What's the name of the newest member of the Supreme Court?

4. Before Nancy Pelosi, how many women have held the position of Speaker of the House?

5. Name a current governor who has admitted to having an extramarital affair. (Give yourself bonus points if you get more than one.)

6. Which NFL team signed Michael Vick?

7. What's the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

8. What's the most money you can get for trading in a clunker?

9. What is the "Passengers Bill of Rights?"

10. Name the two guests at the White House "Beer Summit."

Bonus pop culture question: Who is A-Rod's current girlfriend?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don't always count on a second chance

During this past weekend, whenever you heard the name "Michael Vick" it was generally followed by the words "second chance."

And you might think that if someone who committed such a horrific crime would be given another shot, well, everyone would get another shot.

But in television news you'd be dead wrong.

Every year it seems the TV trades are filled with television news people who commit crimes, most often drunk driving.

Not all of them come back or are given a second chance. While television is a business just like the NFL, sometimes the money factor isn't enough to save you. It all depends on the situation, the manager, and yes, the ratings.

Personally, if I were a ND right now and one of my staffers was arrested for drunk driving, that person would be outta here. I've got zero tolerance for that kind of stuff, and let's face it, most viewers will lose respect for people who have that little regard for their fellow man.

But we've all seen instances of high profile anchors who got hammered and then got behind the wheel, only to return to their jobs like nothing happened.

That doesn't guarantee anything if you're the person who slips up.

Over the years I've seen a few people make career ending mistakes, ranging from instances involving drugs to insubordination. Those people, though very talented, didn't get a second chance. In those cases, management wasn't in a forgiving mood.

You may be the highest rated anchor in the market, but that doesn't guarantee you're bulletproof.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dog days of August: Good time to send tapes

Logic would seem to dictate that the minute May sweeps are over, News Directors would be rushing to start the hiring process.

But television news is not a logical business.

One would think that you'd want to get your team in place and up to speed for the next sweeps period in November.

But when there are bean counters involved, common sense goes out the window.

So News Directors take the long hot summer as a chance to work with a shorthanded staff and save a few bucks on salaries. Why hire someone for November in June when you can save three months salary and hire the same person in September? (It wasn't any coincidence that of my first three jobs, two started on October first.)

So if you're wondering why those job openings posted in June still aren't filled, now you know. Just because you haven't heard anything doesn't mean you're out of the running. NDs might be stockpiling the tapes and getting ready to hire.

Right now.

September is always a good hiring month, since, if you hire someone right after Labor Day it's going to take a good month for that person to start working for you. There's the two-week notice, the move, getting a new place to live, learning the newsroom system. But if you get your staff full by October first, you'll feel comfortable about November.

That's why this is a very good time to send tapes. Once Labor Day hits, the hiring for November sweeps will begin in earnest.