Thursday, October 22, 2009

Yet another entry in the "why broadcasters shouldn't date in the workplace" hall of fame

And this one involves Darth Vader, Imperial stormtroopers, and a woman channeling Glenn Close.

You can't make up stuff this good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Human Resources has little to do with the hiring process

You've seen the ads posted on places like There's a brief job description that reads something like this:

Wanted: One man band reporter who can hit the ground running and endure daily floggings from management. Long hours, low pay, no overtime. Send tape and resume to Human Resources...

So you send your tape off to Human Resources thinking that's the person who will make the decision. Some of you even call and follow up with the HR person.

Uh, no.

Here's what the Human Resources department (many times known as "Inhuman Resources") actually does.

Tapes come in. Some by-the-book android who hasn't smiled since 1962 (think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller) opens the mail and logs the names of the people who apply. This bit of paperwork then gets filed in the warehouse seen in the Indiana Jones movies. Then the drone takes the tapes to the ND.

I've never known of a Human Resources person to screen tapes.

So, a few points:

-Even though the ad directs you to send a tape to HR, you don't address your cover letter to HR, because it will end up in the ND's hands anyway. Take the time to call and get the name of the ND. And please, make sure you spell the name right. Getting the gender correct is always nice, as I can't tell you how many times I've gotten letters addressed to "Ms."

-Don't bother following up with HR. They have no idea how the hiring process is going.

-Just because you got an official application back in the mail, that doesn't mean they're interested. Many companies require HR to send an application to everyone that applies. I've talked to lots of people who get all excited when an application shows up in the mail, and most times it's not a big deal. But you should always fill it out and mail it back, just in case it's from one of those stations that only sends applications to those on the short list.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

B-roll is your friend when you have too many sound bites

With the possible exception of Celine Dion and Central Park mimes, nothing annoys me more than packages with single source sound bites. That's when a reporter does one interview and chops it up so that we keep going back to a sound bite with the same person... over and over and over and over.

Sometimes you need a second sound bite from an interview subject, but there's no rule that says the person has to be on camera for bite #2. Since nothing is more boring than a talking head, you can avoid this by covering some or all of that bite with b-roll.

Example: You're doing a package on swine flu. You've interviewed a local doctor and you are going to use two sound bites from the guy.

First bite (on camera): "We're hoping to get enough vaccine to treat all the young people in the school district."

Okay, now you have to go back to the guy who is going to talk about why young people need to be vaccinated.

Second bite: "Kids in school are in close quarters, and many still go to school when they're feeling sick, so it's easy for the flu to be transmitted in the classroom."

So, instead of showing the doctor's face again, why not cover that bite with classroom video? It's simple, makes your package look better, and it follows our "show and tell" rule.

When shooting your package, always make sure you have enough b-roll. If you hear something during your interview that might be covered with video, make a mental note to get b-roll that's appropriate.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just like Fox Mulder, I want to believe

If you watched the X-Files, you'll know that Mulder had a poster in his office with a shot of a flying saucer and the line, "I want to believe" under it.

That might describe young reporters who take everything as the truth. You're a lot more trusting in your youth. As you get older, you cast a discerning eye on just about everything.

Since I got so much mail on the balloon boy, I thought it only fair to highlight a few times when I got suckered in as well.

-The time we talked to a guy who said he had legal proof that no one had to pay taxes. He did a very detailed interview, bringing out stuff from the Constitution and all sorts of legal rulings.

Cool, I thought. No more taxes. Did I bother to call the IRS to see if it was legit? Of course not. Why would the guy lie?

The IRS didn't agree with him, and threw him in jail the next day.

-The time I did a seemingly innocent feature on a dating service. The owner told me he'd been matching people up for a long time, and his service was the wave of the future. It was a fun story with a happy ending, showing couples who were finding their soul mates.

Did I bother to check to see how long the business had been in operation? Nope. Why would the guy lie?

That weekend I was at a party. One of the people at the party was a detective, who came up to me and said, "Hey, thanks for showing us where John Doe was."

"Huh?" I said.

"Yeah, that guy in your dating story. He's an escaped prisoner. Well, not anymore."

-National story. I interview a woman regarding someone the police are after. Oh yeah, she knew the guy. Nice as could be. Couldn't possibly commit a crime.

Next day in the hotel lobby I ran into a reporter from a major newspaper, who mentioned she had interviewed the same woman. "Wow, what a great interview," she said. "She had all kinds of dirt on the guy."

I went online and read the story. The woman's tale was 180 degrees from the story she'd told me.

So we contact the woman again and ask her how her story could be so different. She claims she just remembered things differently the more she thought about it.

-This one wasn't mine, but a classic nonetheless. It's a few days before Christmas, and a crew spots a family living under the interstate in the cold. They stop, shoot a quick story. The community opens its wallets. Some nice landlord gives them a place to live. They get toys for the kids and money.

Wow, let's show up on Christmas morning and show the poor kids opening their presents.

You guessed it. They were long gone, money in pocket and Christmas presents to boot. The whole thing was a scam.

Point is, even the most innocent stories can be filled with lies. Even the best of us get caught, so you have to always check and double check.

Because very often people will do and say just about anything to get on television.