Saturday, March 13, 2010

A story for Monday

I admit it. I'm biased when it comes to the time change. I think they should scrap Daylight Saving Time.

You need a visual story for Monday? Check out any local school. Lots of good video of bleary eyed teachers and students.

Amazing that in a society that is striving to help education that we make young people get up even earlier than they already do.

If they want to change the time, fine. Do it after school ends. Watch test scores improve.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox. But seriously, this would make a good story. Especially since sliding the time change back to March didn't save any energy as intended.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Geneva Convention, bobbleheads and fruitcakes

The classic 1953 film "Stalag 17" is the story of soldiers in a German POW camp. At one point the representative from the Geneva Convention visits the camp to make sure the prisoners are being treated fairly. They aren't, but no one will speak up, for fear of being treated even worse.

At some point you'll find yourself in a similar position; not in a prison camp, but having to listen to someone from corporate who then might ask for comments.

Several years ago I was in a similar position when some suit was going on about a new way of doing news. Everyone thought it sounded ridiculous. One of my friends spoke up and let his feelings be known.

Wow, wrong move. He got the death stare from the corporate guy. He later got passed over for a promotion he deserved.

Another manager nudged me and whispered. "Don't say anything. Just sit here and nod your head."

So I went into the classic man's bobblehead routine. (Women may recognize this look. It's the same deal as when a man isn't listening and just nods and says, "Uh-huh. Yeah, honey. Fine.")

Years later, same deal. Friend speaks up, venting about how wrong things are. Friend is fired a few weeks later.

So when corporate shows up with something wonderful, you need to go into the bobblehead routine. They will usually use the word "embrace" in the presentation, meaning you'd better like this new policy or you can find another job.

It's a lot like getting a bad gift at Christmas from someone you like. They hand you the fruitcake, you nod, say thank you, smile, and then after they've left you use the fruitcake as a doorstop. You just don't let them know you are using the fruitcake in this manner.

So if the company asks you to "embrace" something that seems ridiculous, just nod, smile, say nothing.

Then start making resume tapes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Big Brother, part two

Well, I almost forgot about another deal regarding what may or may not be under the watchful eye of management.

There are actually stations out there that record the headset chatter during newscasts. So those little clandestine conversations that you think are private... might not be.

Also on the list of 1984-isms: the coded door keys. Swipe your key and somewhere, some computer will be able to tell a manager what time you entered the building. Most times these are favorite devices of the resume tape police.

And making personal calls with your cell phone is another thing to avoid. All those numbers show up on the station bill.

Remember, you're not really paranoid if they really are out to get you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mailbag: Is Big Brother watching?


I've heard that in some stations management can monitor emails. Is this true and does this happen?

Yes. And yes.

Since your station computer is the property of the station, the station can look at anything you write. I'm not sure how many stations actually monitor emails, but I do know one person who got in some serious trouble for sending some sensitive stuff over the Internet from a station computer.

Remember the Sicilian Rule: Put nothing in writing that can come back to bite you.


Why do consultants tell us one thing, make us change, and then six months later tell us to do something different?

Ah, that's how they keep their jobs. Let's say you're a News Director. You're paying a consultant a lot of money and during one visit the consultant says, "Everything's great. Don't change a thing." You'd say to yourself, "Why am I paying for this?"

If a consultant doesn't offer change of some sort, there's no need for that consultant.


Is there anything you hate more than the one-man-band system?

Yes. It's a tie between Celine Dion and Central Park mimes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Deer, meet headlights

Cylons. Androids. Rookie anchors.

Many times it's hard to tell them apart. Sometimes I look at resume tapes and expect a young anchor to say in a monotone, "Good evening. I'm Joe Reporter. Take me to your leader."

When you're starting out on the anchor desk, you want to nail your script perfectly. No stumbles, no mispronunciations. Perfect diction. So you focus. And focus some more.

And the end result is Bambi staring into the camera. The look is unnatural, the delivery sounds like a computerized voice.

Yet when these people track their packages or do standups, the look and delivery are completely different.

So why the Marty Feldman bug-eyes? Why do you sound like a Borg drone?

Live TV makes all the difference. If you screw up doing a standup or cutting voice track, you can do it again. If that happens while you're anchoring, your life is over.

Actually, it isn't.

There are tons of classic bloopers online from network household names and major market anchors. No one fired them for stumbling here or there, or having to correct a word.

Because they all looked natural when it happened.

Viewers want to watch human beings deliver the news. We've said it before; talk, don't read. When you're on the set, don't think about being live; concentrate on talking to the one person behind the camera. Tell that person a story as if you were on the phone or sitting in a restaurant. If you worry too much about how your face looks on camera, it's going to look unnatural.

Relax your face. Pilates instructors have a great line: "soften the jaw." Don't project your voice, let the microphone do the work. Smile when the story calls for it. Don't read an intro to weather or sports, have a conversation with the sports anchor or weathercaster.

The most successful anchors are those who are natural, and act the same way off camera as they do on camera.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What beancounters don't consider about the one-man-band system

Using a one-man-band system costs your station money.

There, I've said it. I can hear the beancounters now, frantically scrambling on the floor to gather up the beans they just spilled. "He can't say that! He's not an accountant! One person doing the job of two saves money!"

That logic would seem to make sense. And we've all heard the raging arguments on both sides, with one holding out for quality while the other calls the holdouts a bunch of dinosaurs. Everyone knows the business is changing, but is it really?

Okay, so here's the argument against one-man-bands that is going to prove the one thing that might get beancounters to sit up straight and take notice.

Your bottom line would be a lot better if you continued using photographers.

Fact: the best reporters are taking jobs with stations that use photogs.

In the past year I've had a few clients who had more than one job offer at the same time. In the cases in which one job was a one-man-band gig and the other was a traditional reporting job working with photogs, the clients took the job with the photogs. In most cases, the job paid a little less. (Did you hear me, counters of beans? People took the job that actually paid less for the privilege of working with photographers.) Without fail, I've heard from these people who tell me how their work has skyrocketed to the next level because they're working with professional shooters.

So what happened to those job openings at the one-man-band stations? They had to hire their second choice. Or third. Or fourth.

Now let's look at this from a bottom line angle. Station A uses one-man-bands. Station B does not. Both have a reporter opening. Both have the same candidate as their number one choice. The reporter takes the job with the photogs, even for less money. Take this scenario out a few years into the future, and Station B has a world class reporting staff while Station A continually has to settle for second best.

Which translates into better ratings for Station B.

Which means more profits for Station B.

So, that 100k or so Station A saved by cutting the photogs loose is blown away by the advertising revenue Station B picked up.

Fact: Young people are obsessed with technology.

High-def makes regular television look like it was shot through a screen door. When we got our first high-def TV, we were so fascinated by the picture quality we'd watch a high-def channel even if we weren't that interested in the program.

Young viewers (you know, those eyeballs that ad agencies really value) won't stand for second best when it comes to video quality. They want Blu-Ray, high def, and 3-D; so if you're thinking they're going to settle for lousy video, you'll turn blue like those creatures in Avatar waiting for that to happen.

Young news viewers want a product that looks good. When your product is shot by professional photogs, it will look better than that shot by one-man-bands.

More young viewers equals higher ratings. Which equals more ad revenue.

Again, Station B wins by a mile.

Fact: People tend to stay longer at stations in which they are happy.

Every client I have who is a one-man-band says the number one priority is to move to a station with photogs.

The hiring process costs money and a ton of time. Running ads, paying for airline tickets, hotels, moving expenses, etc. can add up.

You don't have those expenses if your staff isn't constantly running through a revolving door.

These days, one of the ways to keep reporters happy is to maintain a high quality photog staff.

The station that doesn't have high turnover saves money.

My father used to say, "You have to spend money to make money." That premise was true when he ran his delicatessen and it's true for the television industry now.

Hire the best people, give the viewers a great looking product, and you'll usually win the ratings war.

And make the most money.