Friday, June 4, 2010

The "Hoosiers" factor

If you've ever seen the Gene Hackman movie "Hoosiers" about a small town basketball team, you've gotten a subtle message about television news markets.

Toward the end of the film Hackman takes his team to the state championship. The day before the game he walks them around the court, takes out a tape measure and shows them that the basket is still ten feet high and a foul shot is still fifteen feet. It is the same, whether you're playing in a backyard or on the world's biggest stage.

The same holds true for television news. A package is a package, whether it is done in market 210 or at the network. In each case you still need good video, nat sound, strong writing and creative editing. Along with solid reporting skills, of course.

So it makes me shake my head when so many young people think they have to start in a tiny market, or can only jump a certain number of markets for their second job. I'm not sure if college professors are telling kids they have to start really small, or if it is simply a myth that is so old it has become reality to some.

The truth: plenty of people have gotten their first jobs in New York or at the network. if you're talented, the sky's the limit. You have absolutely nothing to lose by sending your tape to any station. Limiting yourself to markets 100-210 can only set you back two years if you truly have talent. You may eventually end up in a small market, but you may not.

The same applies for a second job. If you can turn a package with the best of them, once again, take your best shot.

The rules of broadcast journalism don't change from market to market. I've seen great products in tiny markets and horrible ones in large markets. The business is getting younger, as veterans see the handwriting on the wall and bail out.

When someone tells you you have to start small, don't believe it. When you're told that maybe you can make it to market 50 in your second job, fuhgeddaboudit.

Talent knows no age or experience. If you've got it, aim high.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ending a package: don't let your story drop off a cliff

Imagine you've been reading a story in the newspaper. It's an interesting story that has held your attention. You're getting to the good part and then just as

Pretty annoying when I don't finish a sentence, isn't it? Incredibly, that's how many reporters these days finish up a story.

I cannot tell you how many stories I've seen that end with a soundbite followed directly by a tag-out. And when you end a story that way, you've basically given the viewer a package without an ending.

(On the other side of the coin, we have the "opening-line-of-the-package-is-the-same-as-the-lead-in syndrome, but that's a topic for another day.)

Stories need an ending that wraps up what the viewer has just seen, and that is best provided by a line or two of voice track. When you end a package on a sound bite, and then tag it out (probably because you can't think of anything else to say) it's jarring to the viewer.

Imagine fairy tales without "and they lived happily ever after." So Prince Charming put the glass slipper on Cinderella's foot. The End. If you were reading the story that way to a kid, the child would ask, "And then what happened?"

Think of it as a "cool down" when you exercise. You don't go all out on the treadmill and then pull the plug. You gradually slow it down as you finish your workout.

When you reach the end of your script, you need to look back at the whole thing and come up with a few words that sums up the package. Tie it all together in a smooth manner, then tag it out. Your packages will have a smoother flow and feel more comfortable to the viewer.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mailbag: Why the writing test?


I recently went on an interview and was asked to take a writing test. They gave me some wire copy, along with some stuff from one of their newscasts and asked me to rewrite it.

Is this common, and what is the point? Can't they see my writing ability on my tape?

Yes, writing tests are common and they're used to find out two things: how fast you write, and if the work on your tape is truly your own. Many people have so much of their stuff rewritten that managers want to see what you do on your own.

Years ago one of our reporters who would be kindly referred to as a ditz got a major market job. "How in the world did she get a job there?" asked one reporter. "Because a manager wrote all her packages," said a producer. I'm sure when she arrived at the major market the managers there discovered she needed a ton of help to get a package on the air.

Same applied to anchoring. Good anchors like to write their own copy, since it is easy to read your copy that that written by someone else.


I'm a new grad and I'm a little worried that I'll be competing with a ton of people who also just graduated. I'm worried that our college equipment just produces stuff that looks bad. And do News Directors get swamped with tapes this time of year?

Swamped is putting it mildly. Bushels of tapes arrived at the end of May and early June from recent grads.

The best way to set yourself apart is to have a tape that showcases your potential. Many grads are worried that their sets and lighting are bad, or their cameras aren't the best. But just worry about the content, as NDs understand many colleges have hand-me-down equipment often donated by local stations. If your video looks grainy but you show a lot of potential, your talent will shine through.

Hey Grape,

My assignment editor is a big meanie. Any suggestions on how to take the edge off this guy?

Well, it's the worst job in television news, so it's pretty common that AEs can get testy at times. The main source of said attitude is usually the lack of story ideas in the file. Bring more than your share and you'll make the AE happy... and then maybe he'll direct his venom at someone else.


Is there a future in this business?

Yes. I just don't know what it is.