Saturday, March 20, 2010

Join the resistance!


I just signed up as a follower. What does "join the resistance" mean?

Well, that's a line from a photog. Many moons ago we changed News Directors, going from a good guy to just the opposite. One of the photogs used to run around saying, "Join the resistance!" It's a reference to resistance fighters down through history; people who have banded together to right wrongs. We would do passive aggressive stuff, like hiding the ashtrays in the newsroom or putting bogus stories on the assignment board. (My all time favorite was "UFO landing/economic impact.") Any little thing to drive the guy nuts.

So I figured if you're a follower on this site, you're of the mindset that requires you to always do what is right and fight the forces of evil out there. Hence, we're starting our own little resistance and changing the world in a small way.

Funny, when I got a note from the blog people that I could start this follower thing, I really didn't know what it was but figured it might be fun and that young people enjoy that sort of thing. Now I actually get a kick out of seeing those smiling faces (along with that bottom row of people in the witness protection program.)

Tell you what... when it hits 100 followers I'll give away a free critique to some lucky follower. So join the resistance!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When in doubt, trade it out


I've heard that when negotiating a contract you should ask for things like clothes, hair and makeup since they're usually "traded out." What does that mean?

Ah, the trade out. It used to be the staple of broadcast stations that wanted get free stuff without opening the checkbook.

Basically, it's barter. I'll give your hair salon ten free spots per month and you cut the hair of my anchors. Same deal with clothes, makeup, health clubs, news cars, you name it. It is often preferred by stations that have a lot of unsold inventory (you can tell if your station runs a lot of public service announcements) and doesn't want to spend money on stuff. Businesses like unloading stuff they can't sell in return for advertising. That's why you often get bizarre gifts at Christmas parties.

Years ago it was more prevalent as the IRS didn't consider goods received as income. Then they cracked down and trade-outs became less popular.

Classic moments when I worked in radio: we had a GM that was the king of the trade outs. The guy traded for anything he could possibly get his hands on. Once he traded with a candy company for hundreds of chocolate rabbits. We were supposed to give them all away by Easter but we had so many of the things we couldn't. We had bunnies stacked to the ceiling. So after Easter people would be seen eating chocolate rabbits for lunch.

One day the GM hands his secretary a contract to type up. It's an advertising deal with a funeral home. She looks up at him and says, "Is this a trade-out?"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Prayer to St. Patrick: Please drive the snakes out of broadcasting

St. Patrick,

I know you're hearing from a lot of your countrymen today and the last thing you need is a request from an Italian, but we need your help.

You know that snake deal you pulled in Ireland? Could you do the same for the television news industry?

Seriously, sometimes many of us feel like Samuel L. Jackson in that airplane movie or Harry Potter taking on Lord Voldemort.

Any help greatly appreciated. For what it's worth, I gave up chocolate for lent and I'm going through major withdrawal. Amen.

They're cold blooded. They're sneaky. They hide where you can't see them and then they strike when you least expect it. They spew venom.

Are we talking about snakes? Or some of our managers and co-workers?

So, must you "be the mongoose" in order to survive in this business? Or simply carry an antidote that protects you from the poison?

Pushing buttons is a favorite tactic with snakes, and, sorry to say, the trend is creeping out of management into the rank and file. I got a good look at it when I went into management. People would be all chummy in the newsroom, then wander into my office with a set of Ginsu knives to throw at their co-workers. I, of course, would give them the bobblehead routine and make a mental note that the sorting hat had put them in Slytherin House.

If you find yourself being recruited into snakedom, you must resist the temptation. It's easy to get into the gossip chain, and when someone throws a knife in your direction your natural instinct is to throw it back. But reputation is everything in this business, and it's one thing over which you have complete control. You may not have any say when it comes to luck or timing, but having nice things said about you when you're looking for a job is worth more than you know.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quick story idea

Can anyone explain why I got a letter from the Census Department telling me I was about to get a letter from the Census Department?

Your tax dollars at work.

Live shot intros: When you're new, keep 'em short

When you're starting out, it is presumed you know the basics of putting together a news package.

But when it comes to live shots, you'll all headed for the deep end of the pool. One reason is that most colleges don't have live capabilities, so you're not exactly prepared when you're sent out into the real world.

I'm seeing lots of stumbling live shots from young people lately, and there's often a common denominator.

You're trying to memorize too much. Or you're reading off a pad and it looks unnatural.

So today's quick tip: Keep your intros short. When you try to memorize a long into, it looks as though you're "reciting" your lines. Remember, the director is your friend back at the station, and you want that person to take your package clean. Keep your intro short... two sentences. Then if you want to go long, do it after the package has rolled. You don't have to worry about a roll cue at that point.

Can't remember a roll cue? Just say, "Take a look." Just make sure the director and producer know that's your style.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Memo to News Directors: How to beat the competition with atmosphere

Every time I hear about a quality station switching to the one-man-band philosophy I check the website. Usually there are a bunch of veteran reporters who have been there awhile.

Trust me, many of them won't be there much longer.

If you want to insure that you'll lose quality veterans on your reporting staff, just hand them a camera.

That's sort of illustrated by the poll on the right side of the page.

But keeping your good people takes more than just shunning the one-man-band fiasco. It's about treating people well. Making them feel appreciated, challenged and happy. Not using fear and intimidation to motivate. Not treating people like ingrates who, God forbid, actually want to better themselves.

One of the most common questions I get from people working in bad shops is, "Is it this bad everywhere?"

Nope. While there are certainly horror stories out there, and I've lived through many of them, there are places that make you keep the resume tape in the drawer.

Show me a number one station, and I'll show you a staff that doesn't have a ton of turnover. She me a staff that doesn't turn over, and I'll usually show you a staff that is happy. (Either that, or they're so lacking in talent they can't go anywhere else.)

If you're a manager saddled with budget cuts and Draconian rules from corporate, the buck stops with you. You don't have to let the snowball that's rolling downhill continue to roll into the newsroom.

Let the other guys pass on the misery. If you don't, you can basically win by attrition. Let the other guys chase their good people out of the market or out of the business. Make your newsroom a fun and happy place, and employees will cut you a lot more slack when the beancounters impose their rules.

It's really the same as a political race in which you have three candidates. The smart candidate lets the other two kill each other, the flies under the radar into the victory column.

When so many good people are being chased out of the business due to budgetary concerns, doesn't it make sense to give them a perk that costs the company absolutely nothing?

A pleasant atmosphere in which to work.