Friday, September 18, 2009

Random stuff

It's Friday: have you thanked a photog this week?

Good news... three clients got job offers this week. Things continue to open up, so hang in there, and keep sending tapes. Remember, every time someone gets a job, that creates another opening, so don't wait for things to be "posted." Find places you want to work and send tapes. Cruise the "moving on" sections of places like and find out where openings have just been created.

When getting a job offer, don't forget to ask if the station will put you up in a hotel for awhile while you're looking for a place to live. Most people forget about that, and end up with a sizable bill while trying to get established.

Pet peeve: Men who no longer wear ties on camera. I realize that we have become a "slob nation" but seriously, unless you're doing a story at the beach or out on a farm somewhere, let's have at least a long sleeved shirt and tie. (If it's hot you can ditch the suit jacket.) Seeing reporters in polo shirts with white t-shirts showing makes me think they just came from mowing the lawn. And if that's not enough of an incentive, no one wants to hire reporters who dress that way.

Memo to New York women who work in the business: When updating your wardrobe, color is the new black. Memo to young men in the business: There's a new invention out there called a steam iron.

Tip for people who never get any feedback from their tapes. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed post card asking for feedback. When you make it that easy for a ND, you're bound to get something. It worked for me on many occasions.

Don't forget to "punch your name" at the end of your package. I see too many packages when the sig-out just trails off like an apology. Unless it's a terribly sad story, put some energy into your name and sig-out. Your voice is your signature.

Finally, I really appreciate the thank you notes you guys send via snail mail and email, and I save them all. They mean more than you can know.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What you should learn from the ACORN tapes

There's been a lot of discussion about those now famous undercover tapes taken at various ACORN offices around the country. Are these tactics kosher? Is this "gotcha journalism?" Do the rules go out the window since this was done by a filmmaker rather than a news organization? What's the line between investigative journalism and misrepresentation?

And it's interesting that the young lady who portrayed the lady of the evening is a journalism student.

I'm sure everyone has an opinion. And I'm sure a few of you are thinking you could knock out some great stories doing undercover work like this.

So, some thoughts...

Networks have been doing hidden camera stuff for years. Since on-camera people are too well known, I've seen plenty of producers pretend to be clueless motorists in the hope of getting ripped off by mechanics, news assistants trying to buy stolen goods, and a host of other similar scenarios designed to catch people breaking the law. And if you've made a phone call pretending to be someone else in order to get important information, it's no different.

The other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes what you might think is a small story could be something that can change the world in a big way. The Watergate break-in would have been a nothing story had not Woodward and Bernstein done some digging.

And regardless of your opinion on what these two filmmakers did, they showed what you can come up with if you're willing to dig and not wait for a story to fall in your lap. I'm not advocating that you should use their methods, just that you should learn to keep your eyes open and really look for stuff that could potentially be a good story.

But if you're thinking about doing stuff like this, some things to keep in mind:

-You have to run things by the ND before you start. Make sure that if you are doing a story like this, you are legally protected and the station is behind you. Many times a ND will run it by the station's legal counsel.

-Learn the definition of a "one party state." Laws regarding secret recordings are different everywhere. A "one party state" usually means that if one person knows a recording is being made, it's legal. (Well, duh. Doesn't offer much protection for the other person, but I don't make the laws here.) You always need to check the laws of your state before doing anything that might land you in jail.

-You need script approval before anything hits the air. Then you need management to watch your complete story before it hits the air.

-What's the line between entrapment and journalism that makes the community a better and safer place? Sit down with your local District Attorney sometime and find out the ground rules.

-Be careful. Never put yourself or your photog in danger.

-If the issue is very controversial, consider what it might do to your career and your life. Appearing to take a side in a hot button issue can give you a label you don't want: biased.

What I find interesting is that the biggest story of the day was broken by two people who don't even work in the news business. Which only illustrates the sad fact that most journalists no longer act, they react.

When was the last time you really dug up a story from scratch?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mailbag: Help me, Obi-Wan, you're my only hope...


I know how you're always saying you need enterprise stories for your resume tape and I consistently bring great story ideas to the morning meeting, but my ND always shoots them down and I end up doing a follow up on some scanner story from the previous night. I'm the king of re-enactments. So, and I know this must sound like a stupid question, is there any way to make re-enactments interesting?

Not unless you work for the History Channel.

Wow, yesterday's news today. I'll bet your station's ratings are through the roof.


I was wondering what your thoughts are on slates for the beginning of a resume tape. I was thinking of having clips of myself flying through the screen with a nice background and some upbeat music. What's your take?

Nobody every got a job because of a slate. Name, job title and contact info are all you need on a solid background. Save your creativity for your packages. And you don't need to spend money putting your picture on a DVD or tape label. But please do put your name and contact info on it.


I'm very new to this career. What does it mean when you hear a photog refer to a reporter as "high maintenance."

It means you should carry the tripod.


I'm still in college and haven't decided on what I'd like to do in a newsroom. Can you tell me what you think are the best and worst jobs in the business?

Well, identifying the worst job is easy. That's the Assignment Editor. A thankless gig which makes you feel like you have homework every day. If you like being second guessed more than a NFL head coach, this is the career for you.

Producing isn't much fun, and these days most producers are despised by the field crews.

A good job is one that puts you out in the field, whether it's as a reporter, photog or field producer. Nothing beats the pure rush of seeing news happen in person. And nothing makes the day go faster than getting out of the building.

The absolute best job (but one that's nearly impossible to get) is doing play-by-play. Unless you're an ex-jock or son of a broadcaster, fuhgeddaboudit.

Monday, September 14, 2009

You don't have to spend a million bucks to look the part

One of the more common problems I see on resume tapes of young people is, and I hate to say it, incredibly bad taste in clothes. (And I'm not just talking about the gals from New York who haven't gotten the memo that we broadcast in living color.)

Often the wardrobes are obviously leftovers from college. And who can blame you guys? You're saddled with college loans, then you get your first job and it pays bupkes. You don't have the cash to buy a few two hundred dollar outfits or five hundred dollar suits.

The crux of the problems is that many of you grew up before the recession during which your parents did not use the word "no" so you have no idea how to shop for a bargain. And in many cases, the bargains look just as good as the stuff you'd get in a high end store.

We have a chain of salvage shops here and I always find it an adventure to comb through them. You never know what you'll find. One time the store was loaded with water damaged Philadelphia Eagles gear. Another time I found tons of stuff from a hardware store.

Many years ago I wandered in and was hit with the stench of smoke. Yep, smoke damaged clothes from a high end New York department store. The sign read "Any article of clothing, one dollar." I started digging and found a horribly wrinkled, smoky Halston suit. I held my nose and tried it on. It fit perfectly. I paid two bucks (the pants were extra), paid a dry cleaner ten bucks to get the smoke out and I had a five hundred dollar suit which hangs in my closet to this day. Classic stuff never wears out or goes out of style. (Easier for men than women, of course.)

But you can't always stumble on bargains like that one. So you learn to shop the discounts and closeout stores. The thing to remember is that sometimes inexpensive stuff looks just as good on camera as the top of the line stuff. And remember, if you're an anchor you usually just need to look good above the waist. Places like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx often have terrific bargains, and just about every market has stores like these where you can get an expensive look for a little money. Sometimes a woman just needs a little color in the wardrobe, and a ten dollar silk top can work wonders for what might have been a boring blue suit. Sometimes a guy needs some crisp new shirts, and ten bucks can do the trick there as well.

I've also got a client who swears the best bargains are on ebay. Of course, you can't try the stuff on, so it's a bit risky.

I've often heard the excuse from small market people who look a little sloppy that, "This is the way people dress here." Sorry, you have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. You wanna get to a big market, you have to look the part. But no one says you have to go broke doing it.