Saturday, June 12, 2010

Memo to the Sports Department: Nobody cares about the World Cup

It kind of annoyed me last week when my issue of Sports Illustrated arrived and devoted so much space to World Cup Soccer.

It is the most popular world sport? Probably. But Americans are not part of that world.

Yes, you may argue that most kids play soccer. The reason for this is not the love of the game; rather, it is a clever ruse by parents seeking to wear out their children by having them run in circles for hours rather than destroy the house. If kids actually still played sandlot baseball and football as I did growing up, children today wouldn't be playing soccer.

I'm always amazed at some sports journalists attempts to "make" Americans like soccer. Yes, I can see the thrill of spending an afternoon watching a game that ends in a nothing-nothing tie. As football coaches used to say before overtime was instituted, "A tie is like kissing your sister."

Please, don't try to make me like the sports version of brussels sprouts. Stop wasting valuable air time on the World Cup. I've been a sports nut my whole life, as have most of my friends, and I don't know a single person interested in this event.

I'm sorry, but a sport in which you have to hit something with your head instead of your hands just doesn't make any sense. And maybe that's why soccer fans like the sport.... they've been hit in the head too much.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mailbag: Blind ads


Every once in awhile I see one of those blind ads which give very little information. Is there any way to decipher these to find out what station you're applying to? And what is the reason for a blind ad anyway?

Ah, those clandestine tactics by News Directors. Lurking in the shadows are jobs, only they're top secret and available only to the CIA. They might ask you to send a tape to a broadcasting employment service or email your resume to an untraceable email address.

Why would a station not wish to reveal itself? Well, several reasons. First and foremost, it has to do with our old job listing standby, the "no phone calls" directive. You can't call if you don't know who to call, right? So this is a way for a ND to eliminate that problem.

Another reason is that the station may not be located in a desirable place. If I'm a ND in a small market that's a horrible place to live, I might not get a lot of tapes. But if I remain a mystery, I might be able to "sell" any prospective job hunters on the station rather than the area.

Is there any way you can decipher these ads? Well, sometimes you can narrow it down. If the ad reads, "Main anchor position in sunbelt 60's market" you can look at the market list and see which ones match geographically. Then do some homework and try to figure out who has lost a main anchor recently.

Bottom line, if it sounds interesting, take a shot. You have nothing to lose, and you can always say you're not interested.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

News Director's playbook: Why the ND didn't have time to call you

When I was a reporter I often wondered what the News Director did all day while we were out doing stories. I mean, once the assignments are handed out, the important part of the job is done, right? I figured they went on three hour martini lunches and played poker with the guys in the sales department.

Then, when I landed on the other side of the managerial fence, I saw how quickly an average day can disappear... and very little can get accomplished.

So, if you've just sent a tape for that opening you saw on and are wondering why the ND didn't drop everything and call you immediately, here's the reason why. A typical day might go like this:

9:00 News Director arrives, feels hot breath against his neck as he unlocks office door. He notes the handful of papers on the floor that were shoved under the door since the previous day, bends down to pick them up only to have the morning anchor crash into him and send him to the floor.

9:01 Morning anchor follows ND into office, starts ranting about co-anchor, producer, director, salary, the horrible shift, or the equipment.

9:03 ND walks out of office to get coffee, but this is an excuse to get away from the angry morning anchor.

9:09 ND peeks around corner to make sure morning anchor is gone, then re-enters his office.

9:11 ND looks at stack of papers that were under the door as he checks email. Notes one is from GM that reads, "Call me immediately!"

9:13 ND reaches for Maalox bottle as he dials GM. GM rants that the live truck is dirty and needs to go to the car wash. ND pictures goldenrod of live truck getting stuck in car wash and smiles. ND checks weather channel website, then makes mental note to schedule live shot where it will be raining.

9:30 Morning meeting begins. ND asks for story ideas. Reporters pitch stories, half of which came from the morning paper. Assignment editor runs through the stuff that is in the file. ND hands out assignments. Reporters who didn't bring story ideas complain about assignments.

10:05 ND decides he will begin looking through the massive pile of resume tapes. Just as he is about to load the first tape into the machine, he realizes there is a manager's meeting.

10:06 ND gets reamed for being late to the meeting. Sarcastic comments are made regarding the dirty live truck.

11:02 Meeting ends. ND heads to office, determined to start looking at tapes.

11:05 Assignment editor informs ND that two stories have fallen through and reporters need new ideas. Intern overhears conversation and gives ND a batch of story ideas. ND makes mental note to hire intern upon graduation.

11:17 With new assignments made, ND sits down to look at tapes. Phone rings. Viewer calls to complain about female anchor's new hairstyle.

11:22 ND finally pops first tape into machine just as the Public Service Director arrives and wants to know why the PSA for the Arbor Day Foundation was dropped during the 10pm newscast. ND informs Public Service Director that the Arbor Day people didn't pay for a spot, and he will plant a tree this weekend.

11:37 First resume tape rolls.

11:37:14 First resume tape ejected.

11:52 ND manages to go through ten tapes when the AE reminds him he has a lunch meeting with the Executive Producer.

12:00 - 1:05 Lunch. EP asks how search for new reporter is going.

1:16 ND gets call from reporter candidate despite the fact the ad read "No phone calls." ND puts reporter on hold and leaves him there.

1:19 ND hears thunder in the distance. Grabs keys to live truck and moves it out of garage.

1:27 Salesman calls wanting to demo new weather equipment. ND tells salesman to call Chief Meteorologist.

1:31 Chief Meteorologist enters office, telling ND the current weather equipment is hopelessly out of date even though it was purchased last year.

1:35 ND goes to get coffee to get away from Chief Meteorologist. Sadly, the weatherman follows him.

1:48 Tape viewing resumes. ND knocks out five more tapes before the afternoon meeting. Also notes the reporter he put on hold is still on hold.

2:00 Afternoon meeting. Night reporters actually have excellent ideas.

2:30 Meeting ends. First morning crew returns. Young reporter enters office and asks for help writing story.

2:50 Non-linear editing system crashes. ND tries in vain to find Chief Engineer. ND then picks up phone, dials station intercom system, and announces that free pizza is available in the newsroom. Chief Engineer magically appears.

3:15 Computers are fixed.

3:16 Reporter calls in. News car needs a jump. ND tells AE to handle it.

3:18 Torrential rain begins pelting the roof. ND looks up and promises to go to church on Sunday.

3:25-4:30 Script approval.

4:35 Nightside reporter calls. Story has taken a different angle and she needs to discuss it.

4:47 ND looks at stack of tapes and realizes he'll have to take them home.

4:52 Sales person wanders in, trying to get ND to do bogus story for new client. ND immediately heads to get coffee to get away from sales person.

5:00-6:30 ND watches newscasts.

6:35 ND heads home, box of tapes under his arm, smiling as the now gleaming live truck rolls back into the lot.

And that's why you didn't get a call today.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The follow-up resume tape

During one of my first job hunting experiences I got a call from a News Director who was very interested in me. He called, and we talked on the phone for about thirty minutes. I kept waiting for him to tell me he was going to fly me in for an interview. Instead, he asked me for the last five packages I'd done. "I thought you liked the ones I sent you," I said. "I do," he said, "but I want to make sure you put out that kind of effort every day."

So I dubbed off my last five packages, sent them, and eventually got the job.

Asking for a follow-up tape is a common practice among managers. So if you've put together a great resume tape, don't think you're "done." You have to keep putting out resume tape quality work every day.

As a manager I remember one of the first people we hired had a great tape, and I ended up kicking myself for not asking for a second tape. Turned out the first tape was bogus, and that person couldn't remotely duplicate the quality on the resume tape.

So, two things: don't be surprised if you're asked for a second tape, and make sure you're still knocking out great stuff even after you mail out your tapes. As long as your daily packages are in the same quality ballpark as your resume tape pieces, you'll be okay.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The new News Director has arrived. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

This is the time of year when managers get twitchy. The numbers from the May book are trickling in, and if they're not good this is the perfect time of year for a station to change News Directors. The November book is six months away, which gives the new person plenty of time to get things straightened out. So suddenly our business resembles a Mayan temple with severed heads rolling down the steps.

Most new NDs arrive and call a staff meeting, usually emphasizing that very little will change and, "you don't have to worry about getting fired."

Really. I guess that's why they fired your predecessor. And obviously, ownership doesn't want you to change anything and keep landing in last place.

I was at one station in which a terrific ND was replaced with a guy who rolled in with a gunslinger attitude. Within nine months 60 percent of the staff had left. We saw the handwriting on the wall, and, just like that scene in the Amityville Horror, it read, "Get Out!"

I'm not trying to alarm you here. Many new NDs will come in and just make a few changes, especially if the predecessor has been promoted within the company or simply moved on with a better offer. But if you're in last place and your ND just got canned, time to make resume tapes.

You may be a piece-of-the-furniture anchor with years in the market, but if you're not delivering the ratings your head could be on the block. You might be a terrific reporter, but if your style doesn't match that of the new ND, you might be forced out the door.

You'll know pretty quick where you stand. If your schedule suddenly changes to something awful, if your story assignments are dogs, if your ideas in the morning meeting are routinely dismissed, you're a target of the "make them miserable so they'll quit" strategy.

Regardless of your situation, no two News Directors are alike. Tastes and styles are different. You owe it to yourself to be prepared and have an "escape tape" ready. There have been numerous stories over the years of new management coming in and staffers being escorted out the door, without so much as an hour to make dubs.

Actually, you should always have an escape tape, and keep it at home. Things in this business can change in an instant, and you don't want to be left out in the cold with your best work locked away in the station.