Friday, February 12, 2010

The Seinfeld Syndrome

Remember the episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer was dating the "low talker" and Jerry ended up agreeing to wear the puffy shirt?

Remember the other episode of Seinfeld with the "high talker?"

Now it seems the Seinfeld Syndrome has infected the broadcast industry. I am referring to the predominance of the "slow talker."

Never fails. Someone calls me up on the phone and wants to be a client. I can hear the wonderful personality in the voice, the pure energy and excitement that come with knocking out a great story. Then the tape arrives. Even worse, the person often makes things even worse by e-nun-ci-a-ting ev-er-y sin-gle syllable in an effort to have perfect diction.

The result is a delivery that is both boring and unnatural.

If you remember anything from this blog, remember this. Talk, don't read. Again, talk normally. You want to be conversational. Read your scripts as if you were talking to a friend over the phone.


I've occasionally heard the argument that small market anchors and reporters should talk slower. Hmmmm.... funny how the networks broadcast to every market in America and no one complains that network people talk too fast.

Talk normally, and you'll find you're also more comfortable because you're doing something natural. When you're doing something unnatural by talking in a delivery that's foreign to you, you're going to get nervous and have a better chance of stumbling.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the photog or one-man-band who needs a laugh...


Be gentle with the nat sound

Nothing annoys me more than a certain local station that blasts ear-splitting tones before weather crawls. It's so loud it makes you jump out of your chair... and it makes me change the channel because they make whatever show I'm watching unwatchable.

That said, I've seen plenty of packages with jarring nat sound pops. I'm glad to see that most of you are actually using nat sound, but it needs to be treated gently. If not, it's almost like sneaking up on the viewer with an air horn.

Think about what happens when you get into your car. You start the car, and if the radio was on the last time you drove, it comes on at the same level you left it. If you were blasting music, it will probably make you jump. Most people turn on their radios and gradually adjust the volume.

The same holds true for nat sound... you don't want the viewer to jump. When editing, it's important to fade your nat sound in both directions. Fades can be very quick, but they must be used.

Fading up or down makes your package smoother, and lets the nat sound flow with the other elements of the story. Whether you're editing tape-to-tape or non-linear, it's very easy to do.

And don't just clip your nat sound because it is running into a sound bite or your voice track. Fade it down and then run it under the next element in your package.

Using nat sound effectively shows a News Director that you're aware of its importance. Using nat sound with style shows you have great attention to detail.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Okay, being a luddite I'm not really sure what this means, but you can now sign up as a "follower" of this blog. (I'll come up with a clever name for those who choose to hitch their wagon to this particular star.) It's on the right side of the page.

Operators are standing by. Sadly, those who sign up as followers will not receive a free Snuggie.

Tips for running the morning meeting

While I know there are a lot of rookies out there among the producer ranks, it occurs to me there are also some newbys running assignment desks. Yikes. Talk about the deep end of the pool.

Over the years I've worked with numerous people who manned what I consider the toughest and worst job in any newsroom. Being an AE is like having homework all the time, and I'm honestly amazed more of them don't go postal after having a scanner in their ear for several years while dealing with angry staffers. The job is so hard I have never, ever heard anyone say they wanted to be an Assignment Editor.

If you're new at the AE thing, you need to set some ground rules. Because most morning meetings have two major problems: they're run backwards, and they're too long.

That said, reporters tend to come to the morning meeting looking at the AE as some sort of supreme oracle who has an unlimited amount of story ideas up his or her sleeve. Well, guess what... the AE rarely gets to leave the building. So it is up to the people on the street to come up with most of the story ideas.

But here's where the Assignment Editor makes a common mistake. The morning meeting sets the tone for the whole day, and if it starts with the Assignment Editor running down a list of stuff in the daily file, your station is starting the meeting backwards. When an AE goes first, he is, in effect, letting the reporters off the hook.

People who come to the morning meeting need to come armed with at least two solid story ideas. So what the AE needs to do is start the meeting by going around the room and asking every single reporter for his or her ideas.... without mentioning a thing about what is in the file. After each reporter has shared story ideas, the AE should then ask anyone else in the room (photogs, producers) if they have any ideas. (Photogs, by the way, should be encouraged to attend the meeting. They are on the street more than anyone and frequently have good ideas.)

After collecting and discussing the ideas (and keep the discussions short), then and only then should the AE share the stuff in the file. And after all that is out on the table, the News Director should then make the decision as to what is to be covered.

Trust me, this works. If you're an AE, you'll end up with a lot more ideas from the staff and the meeting won't be as stressful. The morning meeting needs to be a sharing of ideas, not just the doling out of assignments.

Finally, a note to management and producers. If you don't like an idea, don't rip it apart in front of the staff. Do that often enough and you end up with reporters who are afraid to bring ideas to the table for fear of being ridiculed. If you don't like something, talk about the idea that you like better.

Make the morning meeting a positive experience for all. Reporters and photogs are more challenged when they get to do stories they've found themselves than those which are simply assigned.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sarah stole my trick!

I had to laugh yesterday with all the hoopla over Sarah Palin's "crib notes" written on her hand.

Those of you who've read my articles on or are regular readers of this blog know that this trick was mine during live shots. Hmmmm.... Sarah Palin worked in local TV.... wonder where she got the idea?

As a young reporter I hated holding a pad and reading from it during live shots. I thought it just looked cheesy and made me look unprepared. So I either taped my pad to the bottom of the lens (this only works if it's not windy) or wrote key points on my fingers. My right hand held the microphone, my left had my "crib notes."

Lots of reporters did this years ago. Not sure if people are still doing it, but it was very effective for me, so if you wanna try something new, give it a shot. The trick is to not "show your hand" to the camera. As you gesture with your free hand, you can steal a look at your notes if you forget something.

Two important points: don't use a permanent marker (you'll end up with stuff like "tax increase" or "hurricane damage" on your palm for weeks) and make sure you wash your hands after live shots. I once forgot this rule, went to a party directly from a live shot and shook some guy's hand. He pulled it back covered with ink.

Looking natural during live shots is a real art. Do whatever works for you. If that means "getting your hands dirty" so be it.