Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mailbag: Are cable news operations legit?

Hey Grape,

Happy New Year! I was starting the year off job hunting and saw a few jobs that looked interesting... then I saw that they were cable stations. Are these places legit, and how does it look on your resume if you've worked for one versus a regular affiliate?

I wouldn't discount cable operations, as there are a lot of good ones out there. Plus, they do offer more flexibility; you can often do longer stories, and if it's a 24 hour operation, you really don't have a "deadline" as you would in a normal affiliate.

Last year I had a client go from a cable op to a very good affiliate. He did great work and his cable station put out an excellent product.

Of course, every operation is mutually exclusive. There are good and bad cable ops, and good and bad affiliates. Judge each separately.

And remember, the thing that gets you the job is on the tape.


Just got back from an interview. I think it went well, but have no idea what to do next. Little help?

Sit by the phone and wait for it to ring. Kidding. Seriously, send a thank you note to the people you met and go on with your daily routine. Continue to send out tapes as if nothing happened, because nothing may come of it and you don't want to waste time with all your eggs in one basket.


I'm in my first job and was sent out to get man in the street interviews, but didn't know where to go. I figured you would know.

Well, to get a good cross section of people with all sorts of demographics and age groups, my favorites were always the post office or the courthouse.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't get mad, get even

Back when I was in college I knew I wanted to write for a living. At the time I was hung up on the idea of writing television shows. So I enrolled in every writing class that was offered.

I had been in one class for a few weeks when the professor pulled me aside and told me not to come to class any more. Long story short, he told me I had no writing talent and referred to my work as "semi-literate."

Most people would be in tears. Sicilians just get mad.

I immediately went to see my favorite professor, one who had been so encouraging. Upon hearing the story he shook his head and said, "It troubles me that a teacher would do that to a student."

Then of course, I started to get even. Since I was a staff writer for the college newspaper, I told the story in print.

I got a call from the Dean, apologizing and asking if I needed help enrolling in another course. Another professor pulled me into his office and offered encouragement. That professor later told a friend of mine, "That kid will be writing for television someday." I never did write those sitcoms, but he turned out to be right in a different way.

Over the years I've run into people like that professor who tossed me out of his class. I call them dream killers. Managers without any creative talent who seemingly take pleasure in cutting hope down to size. I always think about an intern we had who was loaded with natural talent. I asked the ND to give her a shot on camera, and I'll never forget his response. "She'll never make it on TV."

She got mad. It made her work harder.

She works for a network today.

When someone tries to kill your dream, tells you your work isn't good, or implies that you shouldn't be in the business, don't take it lying down. If you truly believe in yourself and your talent, one opinion should never alter your goals.

I often hear tales of young people going on interviews and having their work ripped apart. Or people in college who are about to graduate being told to choose another career. Sorry, that's just uncalled for. No one can predict the success of another. No one has a crystal ball that tells you if someone is a late bloomer, or has tremendous talent that needs to be developed.

Only you can decide if you want to abandon your dream.

Next time you get ripped apart, get mad. Then get even by showing these people they're wrong.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rules to start the new dacade


Okay, I've had it.

I'm tired of hearing about News Directors who make Dick Cheney look warm and fuzzy, about co-workers who are better with knives than a Benihana chef, about reporters and anchors who think it is their civic duty to impress their political beliefs upon the viewers. Call me old school or old fashioned, but it's time to clean up this business and bring it back to the honorable profession it once was.

Someone once wrote a book called "The Rules" which gave women insight on how to find a husband.

Now it's time for a set of mandates for the broadcast journalism industry. Time for everyone to go back to square one, to wipe the slate clean, to start turning the business back into something viewers can trust, that those who work in it can be challenged and happy and make the world a better place. Time for managers to realize that fear and intimidation only make the revolving door spin faster. I'm not trying to play Ghandi here, just trying to hopefully make a difference in my own way with these rules.

Here they come.

The TV Golden Rule: The first rule is the most important and doesn't come from me but from a late News Director named Carole Kneeland. "It is never the wrong time to do the right thing." Go ahead, print that out and tape it to the top of your computer monitor so that it burns into your brain. Follow that rule whether you're writing a story or dealing with a co-worker. Whether you're hiring an anchor or filing papers as an intern. When you're thinking about shoving a microphone into the face of a grieving widow. Whatever you do in life, this rule applies.

Behave and grow up: You are in the public eye at all times. It boggles the mind to see the amount of television news people on the police blotter these days, and the number of DUIs seems to be on the increase. First, don't get drunk in public. If you do, call a cab. Getting behind the wheel while drunk is not only stupid and against the law, but you could kill someone. And being a sloppy drunk in public doesn't do much for your reputation. Program the number of a cab company into your cell phone if you insist on drinking away from home. All those car wrecks your station has made you cover should have taught you something.

Do stories that make the world a better place: One of the reasons local news is dying is because viewers are sick of the same daily parade of scanner news. Show viewers how to save a buck, make their lives easier. Spotlight people who need help, then spearhead the effort to get it.

Stop chasing the scanner: It's lame, it's a crutch, and what's more, it takes no reporting skills. That's right, none. An intern could do it. Asking a cop "what happened" doesn't make you Woodward or Bernstein. Let's get back to finding stories the old fashioned way, and the viewers who don't watch local news anymore because they're sick of death and destruction might come back and watch again.

End the "vulture" stories that prey on the tearful survivors: Put yourself in the shoes of the person you're interviewing. If you'd just had a loved one killed, would you want a microphone shoved in your face? Being a member of the media doesn't give you the license to be tasteless, because that's what "vulture journalism" is. Grief should be private, not something used to promote a newscast. Nothing crosses the line of bad taste more than doing an interview at a funeral.

Pay it forward: Has someone been a mentor to you, given you great advice, helped you on your way up the ladder? You need to do the same for someone else. And if you work in a toxic environment, take steps to change it. In order to pay things forward, someone has to start the ball rolling. Maybe you need to be first in line.

Stop micro-managing: If you're going to hire people to do jobs, let them actually do their jobs. There's a difference between mentoring, which consists of giving guidance, and not letting someone do their job because you don't trust them. You have to let people make mistakes, or they'll never learn and gain confidence.

Stop the ball that's rolling downhill: Just because your supervisor treated you badly doesn't give you the right to pass on that attitude to your subordinates.

Be a green news person: Stop wasting resources at work because you aren't paying for them. All those internet jokes you print out and pass around? Stop. If your station doesn't have a recycling plan, start one. Don't wait for management to do it, take the initiative. Don't start the generator on the live truck until you absolutely have to. Don't drive the news car like a rental because you aren't paying for it. Respect the equipment, and you might not be complaining as often when it fails to work.

Never kill someone's dream: Yes, that young person you just interviewed may appear to be a clueless mess, but a little encouragement could set that kid on the right path. Being a big meanie in interviews just gives you a reputation as someone people don't want to work for.

Producers must stop being dictators: This is a weird business in that it often puts people right out of college in decision making positions. For many young producers, the power goes to their heads and they start telling field crews how to do their jobs and ordering them around as if they were management. Here's a news flash: unless you've worked in the field, you have absolutely no clue what goes on out there. Spend some time away from the desk and you might have a clearer picture of what it actually takes to put a story together. And remember that you are part of a team, not the boss.

End the meaningless live shots: Viewers watch news for content. Your product would be better served if you let field crews spend time making a story better than doing a parade of live shots where nothing is going on. Use live shots when something is actually happening live.

The sky is not falling, and never will: It's fine to go wall to wall during a hurricane or something catastrophic. But the constant parade of squeezebacks, weather bulletins and ear splitting tones before crawls turns makes what we're watching not worth the trouble and so annoying we'll change the channel. Save the real bulletins for real emergencies.

Stop using the term "exclusive" like Kleenex: If you've broken a truly big story on your own, fine, but if it happens to be a story no one else bothers to cover because it isn't all that interesting, it's not an exclusive. This is perhaps the most over-used term in television news, next to…

"Breaking News": Except in rare circumstances (see: Woods, Tiger) a car wreck is not breaking news. Neither are most of the stories that carry this label in the lame attempt to create the impression that the world is about to become riveted to a story. Unless it is truly a big story that impacts a lot of people, drop the label.

Finally, have fun: While more demands have been piled on news people the last few years, bear in mind that you're not waiting tables, working on an assembly line, or doing my father's favorite job-you'll-end-up-with-if-you-don't-go-to-college, digging ditches. This job can be a blast when you consider the alternative.