Friday, April 16, 2010

Photog alert!

The last time a major volcano erupted in the Northern Hemisphere we had spectacular sunsets for several days. All that ash in the air can do wonderful things to sunlight. The sunsets after Mount St. Helens blew were just unreal.

So, if you're a shooter needing a weather shot or a show closer in the next few weeks, keep an eye out for those sunsets.

Mailbag: Is anyone else up for our morning show?

Grape,

I've heard rumblings in our newsroom that we're going to be starting our morning newscast even earlier, maybe 4:30 or 4am. Is this kind of stuff common, and do managers really think anyone is watching at that hour?



Yes, this happens all the time. The reason? Just follow the money.

Historically, news has been the cheapest kind of programming to produce. Let's say you're a GM and you can either produce more news without hiring anyone or buy some syndicated programming. Hmmmm... shall we spend money to fill time, or simply work the people we've got a little harder and spend nothing? They don't care that they're diluting the product.

It's a little different with morning shows because very few people watch more than a half hour or so. So you end up doing the same blocks over and over again. If, for instance, you added a 4pm newscast in the afternoon, then you are seriously diluting your product.

It's like making spaghetti sauce. Throw in too much water and you'll get tomato juice. Right now that's what most viewers are getting. I worked at one station that had so much news viewers regularly said, "If you've seen one half hour, you've seen them all."

Meanwhile, who's watching at four in the morning? Not me.


Grape,

My contract is coming up. Can you offer any advice on negotiating in these tough economic times?



Yeah, don't push it. With so many talented people out of work you can be replaced in a heartbeat, so the days of playing hardball are long gone.

You can, however, negotiate for reasonable things if you ask politely. Raises aren't what they used to be, and some people are even accepting pay cuts, like one-market anchors who can't go anywhere else.

Just keep things civil and don't shoot for the moon. And if money is not available, ask for perks... maybe extra vacation days, comp time, hair, clothing, etc.


Grapevine,

Are you doing anything special for sweeps?



Yes, I'll be huddled under the bed in fear of things that can kill me. All those sweeps series on germ infested dish scrubbies, supermarket shopping cart handles and deadly escalators have taken their toll. I'll come out when it's safe in June.


Grape,

Why don't you post job leads on your site?



I leave that to my friends at tvjobs.com, who do it better than anyone.

Although I hear Larry King might be looking for a wife.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Restless Reporter Syndrome

It strikes without warning, often within a few months of starting a new job. Suddenly you're out of place, disoriented as if waking up in a hotel room in the middle of the night. Your heart races, your mood sinks. Suddenly you can't sleep and are making frequent trips to the post office.

If these symptoms describe you, you may suffer from Restless Reporter Syndrome, or RRS.



Perhaps the most frequent comment heard by agents is, "Get me outta here."

If you've said that recently, or every day, you suffer from Restless Reporter Syndrome.

RRS can strike at any age, though it usually hits young people in their first jobs about six months in. Bad stations, bad jobs, bad managers and a bad city are, you guessed it, a bad combination. Suddenly you feel trapped, and you have to escape. The problem is that those who suffer from RRS often grab the first offer that comes along out of desperation, and end up in a similar situation. Then RRS returns in a few months and the cycle begins all over again.


RRS side effects include projectile vomiting, green-eyed jealousy, significant long distance bills and overindulgence in Haagen-Dazs. Seek immediate psychiatric help for trips to the Post Office lasting longer than four hours.



RRS makes you do things you shouldn't do. You send out tapes before you're ready, you convey your desperation to any News Director who calls. The patience needed to hone your skills is non-existent. The impulse to change your resume tape every week cannot be controlled.

The cure for RRS is something few young people possess; the ability to look long term. Will that second job help you achieve your ultimate goal, or is it just a way out of your current misery? If the answer is the latter, don't move.


The only cure for RRS must come from within.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Awards season

This is the time of year when many awards are announced, and you may have entered something you think is terrific. Then the awards are bestowed, and you shake your head at the winners.

Sometimes you enter something that you think has no prayer of winning, and you get the blue ribbon.

Most people who have been in this business a while have a bunch of awards. In my case, the ones that are deserved are on the wall. The ones that were not are in a box.

Most young people have no idea how the process works. Well, actually, you have an idea. You probably think all the entries go to some ivory tower where a bunch of senior news veterans spend the day judging entries, ranking them on writing, editing, and content.

Uh, no.

For most contests, here's the deal. Stations in one state box up entries and are directed to send them to a station in another state. For instance, a Colorado station might send its entries to Vermont, while Vermont sends its tapes to Arizona.

Then the fun begins.

Sometimes the News Director judges the tapes alone. Sometimes the ND delegates the task. In many cases, the ND sticks his head out of the office and yells, "Anyone wanna judge some tapes?"

At one station the ND plopped the box down on my desk and said, "Get some people and judge these." So it was me, a reporter and a sports guy. At another station I joined a weatherman, an anchor, and a couple of sales people.

I will say that in all cases we tried to honestly judge the tapes. What happens at other stations? Who knows?

So if you think you got robbed during award season, consider the judging process. And if you get an award for something you know wasn't all that great, don't get heady with success.

Awards are subjective, just like resume tapes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A world class rant against the one-man-band

(Note: This showed up in the "comments" section but was so well done I wanted to put it on the front page. It was sent in anonymously, so I have no idea who to credit for this. But you rule, whoever you are.)

The Hidden Costs of the One-Man-Band Paradigm:

1) Wear and tear on vehicles:
With more feet on the street, vehicles are being driven all over the city increasing mileage and wear on the equipment.

2) Increased fuel consumption:
Again, with more vehicles traveling to stories, more gas is being consumed. Yes, a two person crew that is doing two stories would also travel to two locations; however, a good assignment desk would select crews that are working stories close to each other. It is not unusual to see two MMJ crews at the capitol doing different stories when one traditional crew already at the statehouse could cover both.

3) Additional dependency on assignment desk:
It is very difficult to research and make calls on a story while you are driving to a location. Ergo, MMJ’s are increasingly shifting that burden to the already busy assignment desk. While there was always some overlap, assignment editors are now doing their daily duties and the work that was previously shared with a reporter.

4) Lost / Misplaced Equipment:
Multiple people are now often sharing gear. Already stressed with new job duties, some things are coming up missing. Even if a utopian newsroom existed where everyone had their own gear, doing multiple jobs is distracting and expensive gear has a higher likelihood of disappearing.

5) Physical injury due to new duties:
Photography is a physically demanding craft. Even with smaller cameras and lighter weight gear, MMJ’s are still getting hurt. When you trip, it doesn’t matter how light your camera is…you’re going to get hurt. Now with an emaciated photographer pool, these injured MMJ’s are significantly impacting the efficiency of the newsroom paradigm.

6) Second or third tier talent:
As was mentioned before, given a choice, the vast majority of reporters will choose a shop where they can concentrate on writing and reporting. There are very few people out there who can and want to do it all. There are exceptions, but you always hear about the same people over and over; there are so very few stars.

7) Reporter burnout:
All of this has led to an increase in reporter burnout. They are worn out. Over worked and many simply don’t care. The product suffers. The de-facto message management is sending by implementing a one-man-band newsroom is that quality doesn’t matter. Reporters are hearing that message loud and clear. This is problematic because most reporters (the good ones) are ‘Type A’ personalities who want to win. They want to tell great stories. They are now in a situation where doing everything often means not being able to give full attention to finding out those nuggets of information or taking time to massage a track to get it just right or having to use out of focus over exposed video that looks even worst on a 16X9 HD TV. This is killing these aggressive reporters that want to win and are now in a situation they know will not allow them to win.

8) Overtime:
I saved the best for last. This goes to the supposed efficiency of the MMJ model. On paper it looks good to the accountants. On paper they are getting an increase in product. In reality they are paying time-and-a-half for it. A day in the life of an MMJ is long. Very, very long! Work flow is linear. That means that an MMJ must do A then B then C then D then E. They do have the luxury of doing B while the photog is doing A. They cannot do C and D while the photog is doing E. They must do A-E in order by themselves and it means a very long day. Rather than concentrating on writing a morning VOSOT or working on a web script, the MMJ must now fuel the vehicle, unload the equipment and ingest the video into the system. Now they can write for the morning show. Now they can finish that web script. Now it is almost midnight. $$$ But it looks good on paper.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Homer Hickam

Over the years I've met a lot of celebrities, and they always seem to be either really nice or just the opposite. Sometimes those you love on camera turn out to be jerks, and evil characters turn out to be kind.

So when I was assigned to field produce an interview this past weekend with a best-selling author, I just hoped he would be of the "nice guy" variety.

The guest for the Saturday Today Show was Homer Hickam, the author of "Rocket Boys" which was turned into the hit movie "October Sky" with Jake Gyllenhaal. He's also written a dozen other books. Turns out one of his latest is about coal mining (Red Helmet), and he's an expert on the process having grown up in West Virginia.

Since we were interviewing him at his home, I touched base Friday nite to let him know we'd be knocking on the door at the ungodly hour of four in the morning. He was very cordial and said he'd be up and waiting. (Live shots have to be set up two hours in advance, just in case we have technical problems. Neighbors just love us when we fire up the generator on the sat truck.)

Sure enough, we were greeted with a smile. His wife Linda appeared and made coffee for the crew. (God bless this woman.) We were given a tour of the home and offered several locations for the interview. We took great care moving furniture around to create a warm setting.

We discovered this very pleasant couple had big hearts; they were owners of five special needs cats. It was amazing to watch a best selling author prepare food and medicine for each kitty. Had we been doing a feature on Homer Hickam instead of talking about coal mine disasters, this would have provided some great video. When we were done we got to meet all the cats, ranging in age up to 20.

Celebrities who treat you this well make a lasting impression, as these days media people are often treated like lepers.

Just wanted to post a public thank you to two people who really went out of their way for us. If you need to buy a book as a gift or just want a good read, check out Homer Hickam's work. He's not only a terrific writer but a nice guy.