Friday, February 26, 2010

News Director's playbook: Why you sometimes don't hire the best person

You have a great resume tape and apply for a job. You get a call from the News Director who is impressed with your work. He'll get back to you.

Then the ND hires someone else. Your curiosity gets the better of you and you visit the station's website to see who got the job you wanted. You watch a few of the new person's packages, and it's clear this person doesn't have half your talent.

So what happened?

Well, despite what you hear from every manager in America (the ones who don't want to get sued, anyway) the best person often does not get the job.

Television is such a subjective business that the definition of "qualified" differs from station to station and manager to manager. You might be the best person in one case and not even in the running in another.

News Directors do more than hire on ability. There are all sorts of intangibles that go into the process; appearance, demographics, salary history, age, experience, you name it.

Years ago you routinely saw ads that read, "Anchor needed to complement our female anchor" and you'd know they were looking for a guy. Now you might apply for a job and be out of the running before you even stick the tape in the mail, since you don't fit what the station needs. You might be a spunky, in-your-face reporter and the station needs a friendly, perky morning show type. You might be a stunning, green-eyed redhead but you look exactly like the stunning, green-eyed redhead the station already has on staff. You might be a very talented co-anchor, but there's too much of an age difference with the anchor already on staff.

Don't get frustrated if you're talented but not getting any offers. You just have to find the right fit. When your talents match the station's needs, you'll get the offer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Today's reading

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gear is nice, but people are most important

I often hear from young people who have gone on interviews who like the people they've met but are disappointed in the station's equipment. "They're still editing tape to tape," or "the set didn't have any flat screens," or "the newsroom had old computers."

Seriously? Like this stuff makes a bit of difference in your career?

The young generation is obsessed with technology. You want the newest, the fastest, the model with the most features.

But give me a great photog, and I'll beat you every time. You could have state of the art editing and a high def camera. Give me an old 3/4 deck, a 1984 BVU 800 editing system and a terrific shooter, and I'll still win.

Because producing great television isn't about equipment. It's about people.

I worked in one station that was just about falling apart. But the photogs were world class, and so was the rest of the staff. I spent time in another station with the best of everything, yet all the photogs but one were lazy and the staff was phoning it in.

I don't have a single story on tape from the second station.

Viewers at home don't care if you're shooting on a new camera or editing non-linear. News Directors watching resume tapes couldn't care less what gear you have, or if you're anchoring with a plasma screen over your shoulder.

When looking for a job, the main thing to consider is the quality of the people with whom you'll be working.

You've probably noticed that technology becomes obsolete very quickly. Quality people don't wear out. Today's camera may be tomorrow's trash, but a great staff will still be great next year.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ah, the maiden voyage on the anchor desk


My News Director told me I would get to fill in anchoring for the weekend newscasts next month. While it is three weeks away I'm already getting the jitters, and worried that I'll be such a disaster they'll never let me do it again. Can you relate your first time on the anchor desk, and maybe offer some tips?

Okay, get the paper bag. Breathe in, breathe out...

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth they broke in reporters on the anchor desk by having us do the cut-ins. It was basically ninety seconds, toss to weather, and that was it. Throw in a vo/sot or two, and you were basically on camera for less than a minute. Do that four times a day for five days, and by Friday you were pretty comfortable on the desk.

Why News Directors don't do this anymore is beyond me, as it is one of the best ideas of the past that has disappeared. Why throw someone in the deep end of the pool when you can let them wade in from the shallow end?

Anyway, after a few weeks of doing cut-ins, a full newscast wasn't a big deal for me.

But since you probably don't have the luxury of practicing during cut-ins, some suggestions.

-Schedule a practice session, perhaps between newscasts when someone can run the prompter for you. Then look at the tape to see how you're doing.

-On the day you anchor, make sure you read your script aloud. By doing this you'll spot the places you might run out of breath, and then you can re-write accordingly.

-If a producer is going to write your script, you need to re-write it to your own style. It's easier to read your own words than those of someone else.

-Learn to mark your script. Separate the sentences with "breath marks" if you like. If you have a camera change between stories, mark the change on the bottom of the page of the first story. Let's say your first story is on camera one and you'll be doing the second one on camera two. On the bottom of the first story write "C-2" with a big arrow pointing in the direction you'll be turning. And write it with a bold magic marker. You want to know the change is coming, not discover it when you begin the next story.

-Go over the script with the director before the newscast. He'll point out any problem spots and make you feel more comfortable.

-Learn to read off the script. Prompters die all the time and you need to keep up the old fashioned way when they do. And you'll be able to see those breath marks and camera changes.

-Make sure you have plenty of breaks in the first newscast. Packages and vo/sots give you a chance to regroup. Nothing is worse for a rookie anchor than to have two straight minutes of copy at the top of the newscast, because if you stumble out of the gate you'll be a snowball going downhill.

-Read normally. Psychologically you'll speed up, since you want the thing to be over with as soon as possible. What this does is make you stumble and causes your voice to get higher, same as a record played at a faster speed. (Sorry for the dinosaur reference, but it's the only way I know to explain it.)

-Make sure you have water on the set. Cotton mouth is a really common problem among rookies.

-What the heck, ask the ND if you can do some cut-ins before your debut. Your morning anchor sure won't complain.

Hope that helps.