Friday, January 15, 2010

Mailbag: Gave notice, now no more live shots

Grape,

Okay, this really puzzles me. I've done a good job at my station and had a good relationship with management. I just gave my notice as I'm taking another job and now I'm not doing any more live shots. No one will give me a straight answer as to why this is happening. Did I do something wrong?


You didn't do anything wrong, but in the past people have been known to slam their soon-to-be-former employers on live television. So many stations do that sort of thing.

An example of this is what's going on with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, as both continue to hammer the company that signs their paychecks. Of course, in their cases they have enough money so they never have to work again. But stations often live in fear of an on-camera person saying something embarrassing on the final day.

What viewers find terribly annoying are the stations that never give any explanation as to what happened to on-camera people. Most stations will have some sort of goodbye on the last day, "Jennifer is leaving us for a job in New York, and we'd like to wish her the best." But others do nothing, forcing people to call the station and ask, "What happened to Jennifer?" and get the, "She no longer works here," response.



Grapevine,

How many years experience do you need before it is permissible to send a tape to a major market?



Oh, this is the best letter of the week. Permissible? Do you think the resume tape police will show up at your door, cuff you, and haul you away to resume tape jail if you send a tape to a big market?

Sorry, you get a shot with the cluegun. You can send tapes ANYWHERE, ANYTIME. You might get lucky and either get a job or find a ND who likes your potential and stays in touch. If they don't like you, they'll never remember you sent a tape.

There are dozens of stories of reporters and anchors who started in major markets and networks with zero or very little experience. Why not you?


Grape,

I'm new to the business and heard a veteran use the term, "Strip the wire." I'm too embarrassed to ask what that means. Can you explain?


Sure. Years ago wire machines, along with typewriters, provided wonderful natural sound to a newsroom. Now they're too quiet.

Anyway, the wire machine was a large metal soldier about the size of a water cooler that pounded away all day, pouring out a continuous roll of paper with stories printed on it. If there was a big story, the machine's bell would ring. People would take turns stripping the wire, which meant that you had to get to the end of the paper and start separating the stories. Generally, wire machines had this flip-down fiberglass top that you could use as a straight edge to cut the paper. When you were done, you had to separate the stories by impaling them on nails that were protruding from the wall. They had labels like "national" "local" "sports" and "feature."

Of course, if you did this in a hurry you ran the risk of impaling your own hand. Hence, the first aid kit next to the wire machine.

The worst part of this was having to change the ribbon, a task which generally fell to the rookie on the staff. It would leave you covered in black ink, so most stations had this industrial strength hand cleaner above the wire machine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Random thoughts: I got your global warming right here

-Now I'm all for saving the environment and try my best to recycle everything. I walk to the drugstore when the weather is nice instead of driving. But when you live two miles from the Florida border and the thermometer reads 12 degrees, when there's ice in the driveway, when I have to dig out my upstate New York wardrobe... well, maybe it's time for a story or two on weather cycles and mini-ice ages. Those stuck for a package might hit the local weather service.

-If you want to know how to conduct a long-form interview, check out the MLB network's interview last night of Mark McGwire. Bob Costas did a nice job of listening, then following up. He also knew when to shut up and let the natural sound of McGwire sniffling carry some weight in the interview. (Yes, you can have nat sound during a sound bite.) Pausing and letting McGwire twitch while his voice cracked was a good example of listening rather than waiting to speak, and also letting the video do the talking when McGwire was not.

-Is it just me, or is Morgan Freeman mispronouncing Katie Couric's last name during the CBS Evening News intro?

-If you've ever had some yahoo stick his face in your live shot, check out photobomb.com. You're not alone.

-A few clients have recently gotten job offers that come without contracts. Hopefully this will become a trend, and it shows some real outside-the-box-thinking by News Directors who have figured out this is a good idea.

-If you're ever asked to call a News Director in regard to a job opening, don't sound scared. Use your normal reporter voice. I'm amazed at how afraid some people sound when they call me for advice for the first time. News Directors are people, just like you. (Although in many cases I admit that's a real stretch.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Teases are not just a producer's responsibility

Never before has the importance of teasing a story become more apparent. The NBC-Jay Leno situation proves it.

I know. You're thinking, "But Grape, that's just the lead-in to the newscast. What does that have to do with me as a reporter?" Ah, Grasshopper, you have much to learn about the care and feeding of the average viewer.

Years ago, before remote control, children were assigned the duty of "channel changer." Generally the kid would sit on the floor close to the TV while parents directed said child to "see what's on." If said child had gone to bed, parents who were too lazy to get up and change the channel generally stuck with the newscast that followed what they were watching.

But now we have hundreds of channels at the tips of our couch potato fingers, so you might think the "lead in" is not as important as it used to be.

You'd be partially right, since it's no big deal to switch to the newscast you want. But the thing about lead-ins is that they offer the best opportunity to tease stories.

And that's where you, as a reporter, come in.

Back when I was a rookie I didn't think about teases. When the anchor (we had no producers) asked for tease video, I generally cut the first piece of b-roll that was cued up.

Now put yourself in the producer's shoes. You haven't been out with the crew and you have no idea where the money shot might be or what piece of video might be used to really sell the story. So you might be inclined to do what I did... cut the first piece of b-roll that's cued up.

It takes very little effort to become part of the tease production. When shooting a story and when looking at your video before writing the script (I sure hope you're doing that) keep an eye out for something that might make a viewer stick around after the lead-in. Then tell the producer about it, or cue it up when you hand that person the tape.

You may think, "What's in it for me?" Well, higher ratings mean you keep your job, and your company might have money to give you a raise. (Ah, now I've gotten your attention.)

See, all this stuff with Jay Leno isn't solely about a great lead-in... a lot of it has to do with promotion.

And a successful promo only works with help from the reporter.