Monday, October 25, 2010

Excuses, excuses...

I used to work with a producer who had a great comeback when reporters would come back with various excuses about story coverage. Not enough time, interview fell through, forgot to do a standup, whatever.

The line is this: "Excuses are little lies we tell ourselves."

You hear excuses a lot as a manager, and when you're a reporter excuses are an easy crutch. They're a convenient way to blow off a day that didn't go exactly right, because, let's face it, it wasn't your fault.

Which brings me to great football coach Bill Parcells. He once made a famously tacky quote regarding complaints from players:

"Don't tell me about the pain, show me the baby."

Which, in a nutshell, means that the only thing that counts is what hits the air. The viewer doesn't care if you were running late, if your camera had problems, if your photog was in a bad mood, if you forgot your notepad out in the field, or if you ran out of tape.

We once had a consultant visit our station and invite everyone to bring a few stories to a Saturday session. One reporter played a story that was just okay, then boasted about the fact he'd shot nearly an hour's worth of tape and had worked really hard, only to have the story turn out in a mediocre fashion.

"Who cares how much tape you shot or how hard you worked?" said the consultant. "Is the viewer ever going to see the raw tape or know how hard you worked?"

Back to Bill Parcells again: "You are what your record says you are."

In our blameless society, we have become conditioned to blame outside forces if things don't go perfectly on any given day.

Little lies we tell ourselves.

If you want to be successful, to really achieve your goals, there are no excuses. Sure, stuff happens in the field and unforeseen circumstances can change your story, but it's the reporter who can adapt and go with the flow who will make it to the top.

Key interview fell through? Find another.

Story isn't what you expected? Take it in another direction.

Not enough time in your day? Take care of your text messaging and Internet habit when you're off the clock.

Your standup didn't record because of a crease in the tape? You should always shoot a safety.

Not enough b-roll? Get in the habit of shooting more than enough.

Just as excuses can become habits, so can good work habits. Learn to get all the basics while planning for the stuff that might happen. Photogs always have extra tapes and batteries, a spare microphone, and a clunker tripod in case their good one falls apart. They pack their news cars with rain slickers and boots for foul weather, shorts if it gets hot, sunblock if they're shooting at the beach. They're prepared for every contingency. By the same token reporters need to equip themselves with spare ideas and backup plans. You need to pack your brain like photogs pack their cars.

While stories can and often do change during the day and equipment can make you pull your hair out, there's no excuse for having a sub-par story.


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