Thursday, April 8, 2010

Breaking rules


Just read your guide for college grads.

You're kidding about not needing a journalism degree, right? Some people in our newsroom said this is ridiculous, that you can't get anywhere without one. And who starts in a top ten market with no experience? Got any proof?

Yeah, I hear this all the time. "No one will hire me. I don't have a journalism degree."

Hmmm... let me think of someone in the business who doesn't have a journalism degree. Hang on, give me a minute. Oh, wait, let me just get a mirror.

That's right, you guys take advice from someone who didn't major in journalism. My college didn't even offer broadcasting courses.

Ever hear of Peter Jennings? High school dropout.

Barbara Walters? English degree.

Geraldo Rivera? No experience, no journalism background, started in New York City.

Need someone more recent without a degree or experience? How about Megyn Kelly?

There are two things you need to know about this business. First, a degree doesn't make you smart or qualified. One of the sorriest reporters I ever saw had a degree from a "prestigious" university. The smartest weatherman I ever worked with never spent a day in college.

Second, we tell stories for a living. Do you really need four years of intensive instruction on how to tell a story? Or could you pick up the basics in a few months at a TV station?

I've heard this from dozens of interns. "I learned more here this summer than I did in four years at school." Granted, there are some great J-schools out there. Places like Missouri, UT Austin and Arizona State consistently turn out sharp kids. But a degree in journalism isn't required.

Remember, there are no rules in this business. If Megyn Kelly can walk into a DC station with no experience, no training, and get a job, why can't you? Some young lady started in Houston a couple of years ago right out of college. Why can't you? All you need in this business is common sense, street smarts, the ability to write and communicate, and a decent personality.

Oh, and enough guts to stop listening to "experts" and enough confidence to go right to the top.

Send your tapes anywhere, even if you don't have the "right" degree, and maybe I'll be talking about you next year.

Since there are no rules, you're not breaking any by trying.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mailbag: Cramming information into a "packlet"

First, I think most agree it's best to have several sources of sound in a package. Can you give some advice on how to do that in a 1:15 pkg? Also, in your opinion, what's the maximum number of bites you should have from one person?

Second question... Do most stations make reporters cover one main package for the day (or two pkg's on the same topic) in addition to two vo/sots on other topics? I've always done this but some of my friends at other stations say they get to focus on one story all day. I'm jealous.

Thanks Grape... Oh, and have you started tweeting yet?!

Some good questions here, so I'll take them in order. We used to call short packages "packlets" because we didn't consider them real packages. Then, of course, consultants demanded high story counts. "You must shorten your packages so we can get more voiceovers of car wrecks and fires into the mix!"

This leads to a scene that takes place around America every night as Joe Sixpack comes home late from work and greets his wife Mabel...

Joe: "Darn, I missed the news. Anything interesting?"

Mabel: "Not really, but they had a high story count."

Okay, off the soapbox. The 1:15 package can be a challenge if you don't know how to "write short." We touched on this last week, so if you missed that post, just read it again. But here's a breakdown of a 1:15 packlet:

Three sound bites, ten seconds each: 30 seconds

One standup: 10 seconds

Three nat sound breaks, three seconds each: 9 seconds

That's 49 seconds. So you've got 26 seconds left for your copy. Remember, keep the writing tight and let the soundbites and standup explain part of the story. You don't have to tell the viewer what the sound bite is about to say. And if you're still stuck with too much info, dump it into the intro and tag. If you have a lot of numbers or stuff with no appropriate b-roll, that's where it should go.

(I'm going to do a "package clinic" soon in which you guys can send your package scripts and I'll cut them down for you.)

Next question on the maximum number of bites from one person. Uh, how about one?

This is the biggest problem I see in packages, and it's not just the rookies. You do one interview and chop it up into several pieces. It's called the "single source sound bite" and it just screams laziness, because it appears you were too lazy to interview anyone else. (This does not apply to profile pieces, as you'll be focusing on one person.)

If you have to use two bites from one person, there's no rule that says you can't cover the second one with b-roll. Do we really need to see the same talking head again?

Now, to the number of packages. I've worked at stations that required one package and others that required two. One station had a terrific system in which we'd do six packages per week. One was left for the weekend crew, so the weekend newscasts wouldn't be so lame. But you had all week to work on the weekend piece. Another station gave everyone one package per day and we'd take turns on v/o patrol, as one reporter would pick up all the voiceovers and vo/sots for the day.

In my opinion, quality suffers greatly when you do two packages per day. It all depends on the News Director and the size of the staff. What is really taking quality time away are the parade of endless live shots.

Finally, regarding Twitter. No. I just don't "get it."

Monday, April 5, 2010

The lineup

It's opening day! Finally, baseball is back and I get to shake my head at the Mets annual attempt at fielding a decent lineup. But don't get me started.

A News Director is a lot like a baseball manager in that he or she has to put together a lineup that will win. Sometimes you find a combination that works, and sometimes not. Many times you end up playing people out of position, or putting people in the starting lineup who don't pan out.

Your position in the lineup, or on the bench, has everything to do with one person's opinion and little to do with being fair. Why did that other person get the weekend anchor gig when you're clearly more experienced? Why does one reporter get assigned all the good stories while you end up with the chicken salad packages?

It's all a factor of the lineup.

(The one man band thing, by the way, is like taking a relief pitcher and asking him to bat cleanup. Sorry, couldn't resist taking a shot at the bean counters in the middle of the metaphor.)

Many times there are other factors in the lineup. For instance, the Mets sent some promising people back to the minor leagues who were clearly better players than the ones they kept. The reason? They're paying other people too much money to play in the minors. Makes no sense to me, as you should want your best team on the field.

But sometimes a station is paying an anchor too much money to sit on the bench, and the result is you don't get a chance you probably deserve.

News departments, like baseball teams, need utility players; those guys who you can plug into any position knowing they'll do a solid job. And News Directors also love their clutch hitters; people you can call in the middle of the night who won't complain and hit the ground running for the big story.

So if you feel like you're sitting on the bench or playing in the minors, your best hope is to be that utility guy or clutch hitter. Make yourself more valuable to a News Director, and the day will come when you're in the starting lineup.