Friday, October 30, 2009

One really good reason for on air people to look nice in public...

Thinking of running to the store in old sweats and a tee-shirt? You could end up on this website.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dad, I shoulda listened to ya

Yesterday was my dad's birthday. He would have been 83 if he hadn't spent so many years smoking. (A subtle hint to those of you who light up.)

Like many news people of my generation, I am a product of blue collar parents who never went to college. Therefore, in my youth, equipped with my college degree, I assumed that I was smarter than my parents. Especially my dad. After all, the guy ran a delicatessen and made sandwiches all day. What could he possibly know about jobs in the media?

And I'm sure many of you feel the same way. Your parents might be smart, but they're old and therefore don't really know how the world works today, right?

I noted this when I went into management. I'd tell a young person to do something, and get a dozen questions. "Why do we have to do this?" "Why can't I do this other story?" The implied question was, "I'm younger and more in touch. Why should I do stuff you old people want me to do?"

Looking back at my dad, I now see his wisdom blew away my piece of parchment.

He encouraged me to go to college by working my tail off in the deli. I'd complain about schoolwork and he'd say, "You wanna make 200 sandwiches a day for the rest of your life?" Around sandwich number 50 I'd see education as the way out.

He took me to buy my first car. When the salesman gave me the price, I agreed in a heartbeat. "Too much," my dad said, and started to walk out of the dealership. But dad, someone else will buy this beautiful car... Ten seconds later, the salesman dropped his price a few hundred dollars.

When I was getting close to graduation, he encouraged me to go into advertising or publishing. After all, we were in the shadow of Manhattan. (Looking back and being brutally honest, it's advice I should have taken.) Nope, I wanted to be a reporter and break stories like the people on Eyewitness News.

I started sending resumes out to blind boxes. One day I got a call from a new cable operation that offered me an entry level job over the phone. Cable? I don't even know anybody with cable. I turned it down. My dad was furious, telling me it was a foot in the door. But hey, what did a guy who sliced pastrami all day know about the TV business? "Dad," I said, "Who wants to watch cable news 24 hours a day? They'll be out of business in no time." Yeah, the job offer had come from this little operation you might have heard of called CNN.

Point is, sometimes advice comes from places you least expect, and from people who might not know a thing about the business. Many times street smarts trumps book smarts. When you're young, you know everything. Your college professors and friends have filled your heads with Utopian ideas. But that's not how the real world works.

I have noted that most of the people who ask for advice on this blog seem more receptive than I was, and that's a good thing. But there's still a mindset among young people that if advice doesn't come from someone who is at the top of the business, or from someone with a degree, it's worthless. Sometimes you can learn more from people who have failed than those who have succeeded, because they can help you avoid making mistakes.

When you're given advice, take time to consider it no matter what the source. You don't always have to take it, but don't be so quick to dismiss what might seem like a crazy idea.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

News Director's playbook: The memorable resume tape story

I'm giving you some homework. I want you to visit some of those online resume tape services and check out the tapes of other people looking for jobs. I want you to just watch the first story on each tape.

After you've watched 50 or 60 tapes, stop. Now write down the stories you thought were so different that they stuck out.

Now you know how a News Director feels when watching tapes. And who makes the short list.

So many people ask me, "How do I find that perfect resume tape story?" Well, there's no specific formula, but in this case you need to make your own luck. As the old saying goes, luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Sometimes you get lucky and a resume tape story drops into your lap. Then again, sometimes that happens and you don't recognize it.

So how can you prepare yourself so you'll be ready when the stars align?

-Learn to look for the third side of the story. Average reporters look at the obvious; you need to stretch your imagination and find a different point of view.

-Read as much as you can. With all sorts of publications free of charge on the internet, there's no excuse for not reading. Many times something you read will be the spark that ignites a fantastic story.

-Come to work every day as if the perfect story is already on the board with your name on it. If the story hits without warning, you want to look your best and give 100 percent.

-Don't be afraid to work a story on your own time. Some great stories take time to develop, and they might not do so during your shift.

-Talk to everyone you meet and hand out a business card. If someone has a great story, they'll call you instead of just dialing the newsroom.

I was once putting a tape together and was pulling my hair out about which three stories to include. I grabbed the Chief Photog and asked his opinion. "You've got too much stuff," he said.

Nice problem to have, huh?

Hopefully you'll all have that problem soon, but it won't happen unless you're ready.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How cheap is your company?

Okay, to alleviate the stress of upcoming sweeps, we're collecting tales of cheap behavior by TV stations. So send in your best manager-throws-nickels-around-like-manhole-covers stories. Some classics you'll have to beat:

-The anchor candidate who was dropped off at the airport just before lunchtime and handed a candy bar.

-The station with only one portable light so the second evening crew had to shoot outdoor standups using the high beams of a Ford Bronco.

-The manager who rationed Sweet'N'Low for the office coffee machine. When you ran out for the month, it left a bitter taste in your mouth. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

-The station that used Video News Release tapes for field tapes.

-The station that ran ads for a bogus opening to replenish its supply of 3/4 inch field tapes.

So let's have those "tales of cheapness" for the Hall of Fame. All contributions will be posted anonymously. Send 'em to

And don't forget to turn off the lights when you leave the newsroom.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mailbag: Find your angel


I'm getting really down about my job hunt. It's been over a year and I've had some nibbles, but it's always "the economy" that gets in the way of getting hired.

I have a good tape, I've been told I'm very talented by everyone in the newsroom, my ND loves my work, and I'm still stuck.

Just curious how other people deal with this.

Well, this is an excellent question, as just about everyone in the business can say, "I've been there."

The answer is that you need to "find your angel."

Nothing is more frustrating than job hunting, and the current economic situation has taken it to a new level. I can hear the frustration over the phone with many clients.

And what always makes it worse is seeing someone else who might not be as talented move on to a place you're targeting.

I always remember the day I got a wake up call. I had been searching for months and hadn't gotten anywhere. The daily grind of working in a bad place was really getting to me. That particular day I walked in, looked at the board, and saw my name next to "Special Olympics." Good, I figured. Easy story. I was in no mood to bust it that day.

When we got to the location you'd have thought I was the Pied Piper. The special kids all ran up to me and the photog and hugged us. Every time we interviewed one of them we got another hug. They all wanted to look through the viewfinder so the photog set up his camera on the tripod and let them take turns. Then more hugs. After we shot our story we were packing up to leave. Yep, more hugs.

Read into this what you want, but that day I believe a higher power sent me a wake up call. Spending the day with a bunch of people who were blind, couldn't walk, couldn't talk, and still wore the biggest smiles I'd ever seen really put things in perspective. They couldn't care less about politics, wars, the economy, or the physical obstacles they'd been dealt. Or job hunting. They were just pictures of pure joy.

Maybe they were the angels I needed that day. Perhaps they're called "special" for a reason; are they here to remind us we need to be thankful for what we have?

Anyway, back to the original question. You just need to find your angel. Something or someone who makes you appreciate the fact that you are blessed with talent.

So pitch a story that will make you feel better, and you might put that job hunt demon on the back burner for awhile.