Saturday, March 6, 2010

Please end the "lawn mower" live shots

Pulling cables isn't fun, but it's not a big deal. As a reporter I usually rolled the things back up when we were done with a live shot while the photog took down the mast and broke down the gear. We used to have a race, and at one point broke down a live shot and were in the car in four minutes.

We called it the "live shot olympics."

But apparently some crews must cringe at the thought of touching those icky black cables which might have dirt on them. The horror!

The result: the "lawn mower live shot."

Oh, I've seen a bunch lately. The anchor starts a lead-in, we cut to a double box, and when we take the reporter full, we don't hear a reporter.

We hear a big roar. That's what happens when you're too lazy to roll out cables and stand too close to the generator. Then, incredibly, the reporter has to yell.

The reporter may as well be sitting on a riding mower ready to cut the lawn. If only there were a high tech solution for this problem.

You want clean live shots for your resume tape? Roll out the cable and set up away from the truck. And do it yourself. The truck op or photog has enough to do.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sometimes reporter involvement doesn't require words

One of the most common problems I hear from young reporters has to do with standups. Many times you get out there and you just can't think of something profound to say. Or a standup would just seem awkward.

But sometimes a reporter can be involved with a story without saying a word.

Remember, TV is nothing more than show and tell. And sometimes you just need the "show" part.

Example: You're doing a typical citizen vs. big company story. You've got plenty of sound bites and b-roll with the citizen, but you're getting nowhere getting the other side of the story.

Typically, most reporters simply throw in a line saying, "We tried to contact XYZ company but our calls were not returned." This line is usually covered with a shot of the building in which the company is housed.

But as a viewer, why should I take your word for it? Should I believe you actually tried to contact the guys at the company? Don't tell me, show me.

Give me a shot in which you're walking up to the door, knocking on it, and pulling on the door to show it is locked. Or showing up at the front door and being asked to leave by the security guard. Or dialing a phone and letting me hear you try unsuccessfully to get through to someone.

Now, instead of a package in which I've never seen the reporter, I'm seeing a reporter actually try to bring me both sides of the story. And you didn't have to do a real standup to do it.

This can work for other stories as well. Can't think of anything to say? Get involved.

Example: You're doing a package on truck driving school. You have lots of different bites with students and instructors, and plenty of b-roll.

Why not try driving a truck yourself? Again, show, don't tell. You could say something like, "After trying to maneuver an 18-wheeler, the instructor told me to keep my day job."

With the exception of funeral packages, a reporter needs to be involved in every package one way or another. Sometimes you do it with a traditional standup, sometimes you just "get involved" with the story.

But we need to see your face. As one network executive once told me, "If I don't see a reporter in every story, why am I paying that person?"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Making ends meet

When I was a kid there was a TV commercial in which a frazzled housewife said, "Make ends meet? I can't even get them to wave at each other!"

Many of you are probably feeling the same way. In this era of cutbacks, salaries have basically gone back to the level of the 1980's. The problem is that things cost a lot more than what they did thirty years ago. And many of you have something I did not have: a student loan. (My four years of college cost $5,200, so I was able to pay for everything working summers for my dad.)

So how do you get by?

Well, you really have to step back and take a hard look at cash flow. There are probably a bunch of things you can do that can help your bottom line without making you live on ramen noodles every day.

-Ask the ND for overtime if you're eligible. Most overtime budgets have been slashed but most stations have some money to play with. Tell your ND you'd appreciate any OT he can throw your way.

-Consider a second job. I know, this is tough, but sometimes you can find something that is actually fun and pays a few bucks. I had second jobs at two stations; in one, I was the public address announcer for the minor league baseball team (which included dinner and all the prizes that went unclaimed); and I did play-by-play for a local radio station. Both jobs were fun, and those extra twenties and fifties made a big difference at the end of the month.

-Get a roommate. I know, most people don't want roomies, but sometimes it's necessary. I once had two roommates. We rented a house for $225 (total!) so our monthly rent was 75 bucks. And it was a nice house... one of the roommates knew the landlord. Crazy deals like that are hard to find but they're out there. And sometimes if you're living alone in a town far from home, a roommate can be good company.

-Learn to shop. If you're one of those people who stops at convenience stores for drinks, coffee and candy bars, stop. These places have the highest markups on food. Start clipping coupons, look at the supermarket sale papers, and plan ahead. Just about every store out there has a markdown aisle, so look for bargains there as well.

-Learn to cook. It is amazing to me (well, it's amazing to all Italians) that many people are clueless in the kitchen. If you're someone who can burn a salad, find someone who can teach you some culinary skills. You can buy a nice steak for what you paid for that fast food burger and fries. You can make a great omelet for about fifty cents.

-Negotiate your credit card interest. If you're someone with credit card debt, simply call the company and threaten to stop using the card if they don't lower the interest. Most times they will.

-Ditch the designer coffee. You're paying five bucks a cup, and I'm paying five bucks a pound. Do the math and brew your own. Or drink the free stuff at the station.

-Order water in a restaurant. Why pay two bucks for a soda?

-Cut your dry cleaning bills. That Dryel stuff works great in a dryer.

And if you master all this, you'll have a career as a consumer reporter.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Your standup is your signature

I haven't seen this too many times in my life, but I saw it again a couple of weeks ago.

Reporter package. Nothing special about the piece, and no standup bridge. So you assume a standup close is coming. (The crutch of the creatively challenged.) Then the standup close arrives, and goes like this:

"John Doe, name of town."

Seriously? Could a reporter possibly put less effort into a standup?

I saw this for the first time several years ago. We'd hired a new reporter and one person on the staff had already worked with him. The guy was supposedly a solid reporter, really creative.

And then, right out of the gate, we got the three word standup close.

The value of standups has been long debated. The journalism purists, the ones with the big letter "J" tattooed on their foreheads, often take some high and mighty position that a standup is a self-serving tactic that adds no value to a story. They'll even get all flustered about walking standups, getting on a soapbox and ranting about the fact that the reporter has no good reason to be walking.

You wanna believe that, fine. Enjoy your life at the bottom of the ladder.

The main reason for a standup, journalistically speaking, is to put the reporter on the scene. To show the viewer that the reporter was actually there and is bringing an up close and personal view that you can only get by being on the scene.

The main reason for a standup, when it comes to your career, is to brand that story with your signature. It's your chance to shine, to show your creativity, to tie a story together. A great standup can take a package to the next level. There's a reason resume tapes start with a standup montage.

If you can't do a decent standup, you won't go very far in this business.

So put some effort into your standups. Your first preference is a standup bridge. A standup close is okay but shows you can't think in the field. A standup open is never a good idea, as the meaning can be changed if the director punches you up late.

And don't be afraid to walk and talk. Movement adds, well, movement to the piece.

And we are, after all, shooting video, not still pictures.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Since sweeps are about to end and job offers about to be extended, I thought it would be a good time to discuss something that people rarely consider, but something that can leave a lasting impression.

How to say goodbye when you turn in your notice.

At my first station we had a News Director with a great sense of humor who loved practical jokes. (Sending interns to find the chroma-key, etc.) One day a photog came to me, told me he'd gotten another job, and asked me to type a letter of resignation for him since he couldn't type.

"What do you want to say?" I asked, as I rolled a sheet of paper into the typewriter.

"You're creative. Just something short."

So I wrote this:

Dear News Director,




The ND thought it was hilarious. Of course, no one has a sense of humor in these days of political correctness, and things are often taken the wrong way. So, three things:

-Your letter of resignation needs to be professional.

-The longer notice you can give, the better.

-Don't phone it in while you're a short-timer.

While you may want to write something like, "I'll really miss the daily floggings and sarcastic remarks about my work," you need to bite your literary tongue and at least make management feel as though they've done you a favor. Something like this:

"Please accept my resignation as of (date.) I have accepted another position and will be starting there on (date.)

Thank you for the opportunities you have provided during my time here."

Keep it short and simple.

Now as to the amount of notice, anything more than two weeks is a bonus to a News Director. It's nearly impossible to run an ad, go through tapes, interview people and hire someone in that period of time. And then that someone has to give notice, so we're talking at least six weeks before your replacement comes in. While you're gone the news department will be short handed, so you'll be doing your co-workers a favor as well. And sometime down the road, someone may call for a reference and they might say something like, "She really helped us out... gave us a month's notice."

Finally, show your professional attitude after you've given notice. Work as hard as you normally do. Just because you've already gotten another job it doesn't mean you should coast during your last two weeks.

You may have nothing to gain but a reputation.