Friday, October 16, 2009

Balloon boy shows how gullible news people have become

I never thought I'd see the day when a major network led with a non-story.

Then again, we have a US Senator who used to be on Saturday Night Live and a former Congressman dancing to "Wild Thing" on Dancing with the Stars. So nothing surprises me anymore.

Stories like the balloon boy and Octomom tell me that meaningful news is just about dead. Along with responsible journalism. The battle to be first instead of right, the obsession with throwing anything on the air that might be compelling outweighs news value and importance to the viewer.

Seriously, we have soldiers dying overseas, a raging health care debate, millions out of work, and all sorts of stuff that directly impacts our lives... and the important story of the day is something that sure looks like a hoax? (Check out the kid's interview on CNN if you don't believe me.)

There's a reason you check facts before you put anything on the air. And there's a reason you pick a lead story that is the most important of the day...not the biggest watercooler story of the day. And going wall to wall with this kind of stuff is as bad as covering a car chase.

Here's the scary part; people looking for 15 minutes of fame are now aware that the media will jump at anything. Then they can turn those 15 minutes into a cover story on a tabloid, or a reality show appearance. (The parents of balloon boy already had two of those on their resume.)

Check and double check and triple check before you put anything on the air. If the story sounds like it was made up, it probably is.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You don't have to e-nun-ci-ate ev-er-y sin-gle word

Why do I con-stant-ly see roo-kie re-por-ters talk-ing like this? Be-cause they are prob-ab-ly try-ing to get per-fect dic-tion.

If that was hard to read, imagine how hard it is for a viewer to hear.

When you're starting out, you don't want any trace of an accent and you want to sound perfect. Instead, you often end up sounding like an android. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

There's a reason we tell reporters to sound conversational; because we want you to "have a conversation" with the viewer. And it's because that's the way people actually talk. If you picked up the phone and sounded like the first sentence in this post, the person on the other line would wonder if something was wrong with you.

I get lots of new clients who are very chatty and have great phone personalities, then I get their tapes and it looks like they've been assimilated by the Borg. (For the Star Trek challenged, the Borg are an evil bunch of alien ne'er-do-wells that turn humans into robots.)

Here's what you need to remember: talk, don't read. I'll say it again in italics. Talk, don't read.

If you still don't understand the concept, listen to one of your packages. Don't watch, listen. Does it sound the way you normally talk? If not, you're reading instead of talking.

When reading a script, pretend you're talking to someone face to face, or talking on the phone. It will sound a lot more natural.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to get a major market anchor job...

This just boggles the mind...

Got a new News Director? Beware...

I've been through a lot of News Directors, and it seems that every time a new one arrives you hear the following phrase in the first staff meeting:

"Don't worry. None of your jobs are in danger."

Uhuh. That line is right up there with, "The check is in the mail."

Your new ND may have good intentions and be a solid human being, but it is only natural that that the new boss has different tastes than the old one. You may be the most talented, loyal person in the newsroom, but you might not be what the new person likes. It's a lot like a baseball team getting a new manager; there are going to be changes. Those changes may be in style, personnel, and management techniques. But make no mistake, there will be changes.

So, if a new ND is on the way, how can you "bulletproof" yourself as much as possible?

-Make an escape tape. You might be out the door and you don't want to be scrambling for a resume tape if that happens.

-Watch your back. You'll always see staffers playing politics with the new boss, wandering in the office to "offer help" when they are sometimes throwing knives. Most NDs see through the blowing smoke, but some are receptive to newsroom gossip.

-Don't be an obvious brown nose.

-If you've been on autopilot, kick your efforts up a notch and show you're a team player.

-Bring lots of good story ideas to the morning meeting. This is probably the best thing you can do. (Of course, you should be doing this anyway!)

Of course, sometimes no matter what you do, you're on the chopping block anyway. On one occasion we got a new ND who made the "check's in the mail" speech. A few days later a photog overheard the guy in the hallway talking about soon being "rid of the previous ND's people." The photog immediately passed the word and a mass exodus ensued before heads started rolling down the steps of the Mayan temple like that scene in Apocalypto.

You should be able to get a good handle on where you stand in a short amount of time. If you feel you're turning into a whipping boy, start sending tapes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When the big story hits, you need a rolling closet

It never fails. You get a call from the newsroom and some major story has just broken. But you're twenty minutes from home and wearing a tee-shirt and shorts. Or you're all dressed up and the story is in a muddy field and it's pouring. And if you tell the Assignment Editor you need an hour to go home and change, that story might go to someone else who is ready to rock.

I'll never forget one weekend when I was filling in doing weather and a big story broke. The anchor on duty was frantically trying to find a reporter (this was before cell phones) and finally got in touch with our high maintenance rookie. After telling her it was a major story, the response was, "But my hair is a mess. I'll need a couple of hours to get ready."

Being prepared to "jump and go" is part of seizing the opportunities in this business. If you're home and can't go there's no excuse. But if you're away from home, there is a solution.

All good reporters stock the trunks of their cars with clothes. One good outfit, one outfit you wouldn't mind throwing away.

The good outfits are obvious. The bad ones include jeans or old khakis, old shoes or sneakers (we used to call them "mudders"), waterproof boots, a rain slicker, decent looking shirts or tops you wouldn't mind tossing, a baseball hat. A batch of towels. Cold weather gear. A mirror, comb, and whatever you need to look presentable. And pack extra things like shirts, socks and underwear, as you might be out in the field awhile. Two pairs of everything is a good idea. A few bottles of water is also a good idea.

Oh yeah, a roll of toilet paper. (Laugh now, but you'll thank me later.)

Most photogs have this stuff, so you can get a good idea by peeking in the back of a news car.

Anything else you use on a regular basis, toss it in the trunk. Men, be advised that some forms of makeup will melt.

Be prepared, and the next time the big story hits you'll be ready to grab it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The great broadcasting nepotism quiz

Okay, boys and girls, time to help you deal with the "life is not fair" aspects of the business. So let's play a little game involving some of the household names you see on television.

If you've ever said, "How the heck did that person get that job?" well, you're not alone.

This might help explain some of it.

1. Anderson Cooper is known for his CNN talk show and his appearances on 60 Minutes. (Along with hosting the reality program The Mole.) Who is Anderson Cooper's mother? Hint: Her name might be on something hanging in your closet.

2. Sean McManus is the President of CBS News. His famous father was a major household name for many years in the world of sports. Name him.

3. Joe Buck is the lead play-by-play announcer for Fox on both baseball and football. What is his father's name, and which team was he associated with?

4. Political commentator Cokie Roberts knows her politics because both her parents served in the House of Representatives. Who are they?

5. Fox's Chris Wallace is the son of what famous hardball CBS reporter?

6. ESPN's Jeremy Schapp learned about sports from his dad. Name him.

7. Before Maria Shriver became the first lady of California, she was a network reporter. She is the niece of what US President?

8. CBS anchor and host of Big Brother Julie Chen is married to someone who works in broadcasting. Name him.

9. Sportscaster Chip Caray is the son of a sportscaster and the grandson of a sportscaster. Name them.

10. Long time New York anchor Pia Lindstrom was not nearly as famous as her mother, who stars in the classic movie Casablanca. Name her mother.


1. Anderson Cooper's mom is Gloria Vanderbilt, the heiress (yes, THAT Vanderbilt family) who has a line of clothing.

2. Sean McManus is the son of longtime Wide World of Sports host Jim McKay, whose real name was Jim McManus.

3. Joe Buck's dad was longtime St. Louis Cardinal and CBS Sports announcer Jack Buck. (He's the guy calling Mark McGwire's 62nd home run.)

4. Cokie Roberts parents, Hale and Lindy Boggs, served as representatives from Louisiana.

5. Chris Wallace's dad is the worlds best interviewer, Mike Wallace.

6. Jeremy Schapp's dad is the late Dick Schapp, longtime New York and ESPN sportscaster.

7. Maria Shriver is the daughter of Eunice Kennedy, JFK's sister.

8. Julie Chen is the wife of CBS President Les Moonves.

9. Chip Caray is the son of longtime Braves announcer Skip Caray, and the grandson of legendary Cubs announcer Harry "Holy Cow" Caray.

10. Pia Lindstrom's mother was actress Ingrid Bergman. Her sister is actress Isabella Rosselini.

So, feel better?