Friday, January 29, 2010

He said, she said... consider the source

It's funny how we think long and hard about accusing someone of doing something wrong in real life... but are very quick to broadcast accusations without any hard facts.

Several years ago a possible story turned the morning meeting into a heated discussion, as a prostitute had accused a local police officer of misconduct, while the cop denied everything. I wasn't the boss at the time, but argued that I'd rather trust a police officer than a streetwalker. The powers that be decided to do the story and... surprise! It turned out the girl was not the proverbial "hooker with a heart of gold" and the charges were dropped.

But by then the horse was out of the barn. How many people saw the first story about the cop and attached a bad reputation to his name... and how many of those missed the follow-up that cleared him?

We run into "he said, she said" situations all the time. (See: Edwards, John) But often we do the story before we have all the facts.

And these are the kinds of stories where you sometimes have to trust your gut. And always consider the source. If one of the people involved doesn't seem credible, if the story seems so out of character, it bears looking into. Sure, sometimes the person who seems squeaky clean is lying, but you owe it to both parties to dig a little deeper. Many times you have to go "off the record" in these situations, but that kind of information can be useful in helping you get a clearer picture of what happened.

When doing these kids of stories, remember that when it comes to someone's reputation, you can't un-ring the bell. Think long and hard about the implications if you turn out to be wrong. (You could get sued, for one thing.) But put yourself in the shoes of the accused and consider that point of view.

Until you have tangible proof, "he said, she said" stories are just that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Morning shows: The Vampire Diaries

Recently a client was being considered for a morning show. This person had never worked the morning show and asked what it was like.

So, for those of you who have never worked the vampire shift and might run into this situation, I thought I'd give you a taste of what life is like as a nocturnal creature.

Being a night person, I always dreaded filling in on the morning show. At one point in my career we were shorthanded, and I had to do it for two months. After that I vowed I would never, ever consider a job as a morning anchor or reporter. (By the way, those of you who are offered morning reporter jobs should know that you'll NEVER get to do a good package. You'll just chase the scanner all night and do follow-ups. It may be the worst reporting gig in all of television.)

Anyway, here's a typical week:

-Monday thru Friday: The alarm goes off around two or three in the morning. If you have a significant other, this person gets a rude awakening, mutters something unintelligible, and goes back to sleep.

You stagger off to the bathroom and hope a shower wakes you up. (If you're a guy, you discover that trying to shave with one eye open leaves you looking as though you've gone ten rounds with an angry cat, so you start shaving before you go to bed.)

After getting dressed, you drink coffee and try to decide if you should eat breakfast. You really don't want breakfast, but you think you'd better eat something or you'll run out of gas by the time the newscast starts. (Thus the "morning show weight gain syndrome" begins.)

You chase the raccoons away from your car and head to the station. Oh, if you live in a cold climate, you'll have to either shovel the driveway (you don't dare crank up the snow blower and wake the neighbors), scrape your windshield, or both. What fun!

You notice birds are flying around in the middle of the night. Oh, wait. Those are bats. You wave at them. Professional courtesy.

After arriving at the station you discover your muse doesn't work nights and you try to write intelligent copy as you drink more coffee. Your co-anchor checks your copy and informs you that Reagan is no longer the President and is dead, to boot. If you're a weather person, you try to remember what state you're living in and note that all your weather cam shots are pitch dark. You start to get hungry again... didn't you already have breakfast? Or is there another name for meals eaten at three in the morning?

You notice you have put on two different colored socks, your shoes don't match, or both.

After the newscast you have to deal with those pesky cut-ins for a few hours. Staffers start to drift in, looking refreshed after a good night's sleep.

After cut-ins you're hungry again, so you eat breakfast for the second time. And if you work for one of those stations still crazy enough to run a noon show, you have to prepare another newscast so you drink more coffee.

So maybe you're home by one in the afternoon. You're dog tired, but do you take a nap now? You curse the fact that you don't have dark curtains. And if you take a nap, you might not be able to go to bed by seven and end up staring at the ceiling till eleven and getting three hours sleep. Your option is to fight to stay awake all day. Oh, yeah, it's time to eat again.

Around six your other half arrives home and is ready to eat dinner. This is now your fourth or fifth meal of the day.

Now you have to go to bed at seven. Nice social life, huh? You turn in, but you've still got too much caffeine in your system even though you're exhausted. You toss and turn till nine.

Saturday: You relish the thought of "sleeping in" but your body clock is so screwed up you wake up at five. Your other half mutters something unintelligible and goes back to sleep. Hmmmm. Time for breakfast.

Your other half sleeps in and gets up at 9, wanting to go out to breakfast. What the heck, you eat breakfast again.

If you're a guy you decide to play golf with some friends, as you need sunshine. By the third hole you need a nap and are so out of it you use your putter to tee off.

Then it's Saturday night, so it's time to go out with your other half and friends. You start yawning at seven o'clock and fall asleep in the movie theater during the coming attractions.

Sunday: Ah, now you've got this "sleeping in" stuff down cold. You wake up at a quarter to six! Your other half mutters something unintelligible and goes back to sleep. You eat breakfast for the 14th time this week.

Sunday afternoon you start to feel normal. You enjoy Sunday dinner... or is it lunch?

Late Sunday afternoon fear hits you in the face like a cold bucket of water. You have to fall asleep soon! But your body clock is messed up again! You go to bed at seven. You finally fall asleep by nine and get about five hours of sleep. Except when your other half crawls into bed at ten and wakes you up. You mutter something unintelligible and stare at the ceiling for thirty minutes trying to fall asleep again.

One Month Later: You're now eating 22 breakfasts each week and have a box of Count Chocula stashed under the anchor desk for times you need a sugar rush. As you put on a pair of pants, the button gives way, ricochets off the mirror and hits you in the face. You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

There are those who love morning shows, and more power to them. They always argue that "you can get things done during the day!" (That's right, they think grocery stores are not open after six.) So people on a normal shift might actually have to shop until seven. The horror!

But if you aren't a morning person, think long and hard before even considering a shift like this. Your life will be dominated by the thought of going to sleep. You'll have absolutely no social life. Your friends will stop calling because they don't want to wake you up. You'll age two years in six months.

But you will discover the incredible number of choices in the cereal aisle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mailbag: Who do I watch to get better?


I'm in my first job in a small market and trying to get better. Every night I DVR the competition and watch all the reporters in an effort to raise my skills. But I seem to have hit a plateau. Any suggestions?

You've got the right idea, but using your DVR in the wrong way. Don't watch other reporters in a small market, watch those on networks and big markets. The other guys in your market are in the same boat as you are.

If you want to get to the major leagues, watch those already there. You don't have to copy a particular journalist, but takes notes and pick little things you like from different reporters and anchors. That's how you develop your own style over time.

You might also visit those online resume sites where you can watch hundreds of resume tapes. Pick out the ones from big markets.

Dear Grapevine,

I'm new at this one man band thing and I'm having problems. It seems that all my interviews look dark. I'm setting up my camera so that my interview subjects aren't staring into the sun and squinting by keeping the sun at their back. We have no photogs at my station, so I don't know where to get advice.

Well, I'm not a photog nor do I pretend to be one, but I can tell you that your interviews are simply backlit. When you have the sun directly behind someone you're interviewing you end up with a person who looks like they're in the witness protection program.

But you need a real photog to teach you. Since there's not one at your station, I would suggest you cruise the net. There are lots of shooters with blogs out there, and these guys are almost always willing to help someone who asks for it.

You gotta love the one man band system that just gives a poor kid out of college a set of gear with no instructions. This is the television equivalent of the deep end of the pool.


What's the average number of tapes you need to send to find a job?

There's no "magic number" for a job search. Some people get lucky sending out the first batch and others send out more than 100. Keep putting stuff in the mail until you get some nibbles.

I would say, though, that if you've sent 100 tapes and heard nothing, you might need to revise your tape.


Seriously, what takes News Directors so long to make a hiring decision?

The same problem is affecting just about every business in the country. People are afraid to make the wrong decision, so making no decision or putting the decision off is easier.

Makes you wonder how these guys ever decide what to eat for lunch.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pop Quiz

There are no right or wrong answers to these hypothetical situations. Just some things to think about.

1. You are either a one-man-band or a photog working alone. You arrive at a fire before the fire department, and are the first news person on the scene. As you begin to shoot a woman runs out of the building with her clothes on fire. Do you:

A: Keep shooting
B: Put down the camera and try to help the woman
C: Hit the record button, place the camera on the ground facing the woman, then run to her assistance

2. A viewer tips you off that a nationally known terrorist suspect is in the area. The viewer does not want to get involved and is afraid to call police. You have no camera or photog available. If you wait until one is available, the terrorist may be gone. Do you:

A: Wait until you are able to get video before calling police
B: Call the police and hope your cooperation gets you an exclusive later

3. You are a producer and no one from management is available. One of the reporters has a story that cannot be confirmed, but the other stations in town are leading with it. The story is not on the wire. If the story is wrong, it could ruin someone's reputation for life. Do you:

A: Run the story
B: Wait for confirmation

4. There's an anchor opening at your station that you desperately want. You apply along with other people on staff, but the ND hires someone from outside the station. The person is incredibly good looking, not terribly smart, but an extremely nice person. Do you:

A: Treat the new person like a leper
B: Welcome the new person and make the anchor feel comfortable

5. You're covering a very important event along with crews from other stations. Just before a news conference begins, the photog from another station has battery problems and doesn't have a spare. Do you:

A: Lend him your spare battery
B: Do nothing and let him miss the story

6. A politician tells you something in confidence. Later you find out that the information is crucial to a police investigation and could help them convict someone of a serious crime. Do you:

A: Pass on the information to police
B: Do nothing
C: Give police the information, then do a story about it

7. You're offered a great job by another station but have four months left on your contract. You have a buyout. The News Director offering you the job doesn't know about your contract situation. Do you:

A: Tell the ND you're under contract and try to work things out
B: Accept the job and hope he doesn't find out

8. You're a producer. A reporter is sent to cover what appears to be a murder and it turns out to be a suicide. The person is not a public figure, and is not related to one. Do you:

A: Broadcast the story
B: Kill the story

9. A politician you really admire gives you an exclusive interview and says something incredibly stupid during the interview. If you broadcast the sound bite his campaign would likely be over. Do you:

A: Use the sound bite
B: Ignore the sound bite and let voters make decisions on their own

10. Tomorrow is election day. A woman comes forward and claims she has had an affair with one of the candidates. The candidate denies it. You have absolutely no facts and no time to dig for them. Do you:

A: Run the story
B: Wait until you have more information