Thursday, June 17, 2010

Best performance by a photog: and the Oscar goes to....

It's no secret to those of us who have worked in the business for a long time that photogs are generally the smartest people in the newsroom. They have road maps in their heads, can fix anything from a viewfinder to a carburetor, read newspapers all day when they're not busy, meet more people on the street than the average reporter, and hear all kinds of gossip hanging around courthouses and city hall.

So some stations that have gone the one-man-band route have asked some of their more creative shooters to start a career as a reporter.

One of those is a guy who used to shoot wonderful stuff for me. Rick Portier, also known by the genteel blog name of "turdpolisher", now knocks out packages which are highly entertaining. (I think my sarcasm rubbed off on him.) What's amazing to me is that his stuff is better than that of a lot of reporters out there who have been doing this for years.

Anyway, check out his work.

Warning: If you're a News Director considering going this route and think you're going to get a photog to wear a jacket and tie, fuhgeddaboudit.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mailbag: The whole day interview


I'm about to fly out on an interview and I'm told I'll be spending the whole day in the newsroom. What exactly might they do with me besides the interviews?

Well, after you sit down with the ND, maybe the GM, maybe the EP, you'll probably be "dumped" into the newsroom for a few hours. Managers do this to see how you interact with the staff. Do you sit in the corner and read the newspaper, waiting for someone to bring you to another interview? Or do you bounce from desk to desk, meeting everyone you can and learning how the system works? Many times NDs will ask the staff what they thought of you after you've left.

You might also get a writing test and/or current events test. You'll probably watch the newscast with the ND, from the studio, or the booth.

Some stations will even send you out to do a sample package.

The point is to chat up everyone you meet and look like you're someone who finds things to do when you're not involved in a standard interview.

And if you're invited to the morning or afternoon meeting, do some homework on the area and have a few story ideas in your pocket.


I work in a small market and my ND is a screamer. Will it just get worse in a bigger market? Since you do work with the networks, can you shed some light on that as well?

Well, it's been my experience that the bigger the market, the nicer the people. And the biggest egos are in small markets.

In the five years I've worked as a network field producer, I've never heard anyone yell. Not once. Everyone is totally professional and very courteous.

When I worked in upstate New York we frequently had crews from New York City in town that used our facilities. Again, totally professional.

I have noted that if you have a manager who has been in a small market for awhile who has watched others move up the ladder, frustration can set in and fuel a temper. Just my observation.


Why are stations now using the term "backpack journalist" instead of one-man-band?

Because "Video Sherpa" didn't sound terribly appealing.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Most television reporters have multiple personalities

In many ways, a camera and microphone give you license to be someone you're not. They let you approach the unapproachable, to play the part of the aggressive news hound, to be bullet proof in dangerous situations. In real life, if I were a young single guy I would never walk up to a beautiful woman and ask what she was looking for in a man; doing a television feature story on dating, I could do it without a problem.

Because TV makes me someone I'm not.

And in many ways, a job search can take the personality you've created on television and suck all the bravado out of your veins. Suddenly, the take-no-prisoners reporter turns into an insecure high school girl waiting by the phone for a certain guy to call.

Where do our true personalities lie? Most likely, somewhere in between.

Years ago I worked in radio, and a disc jockey told me this: "The only secure thing about this business is the insecurity." Truer words were never spoken about broadcasting.

I look at many tapes and talk to a lot of reporters and anchors, and very often the people I see on camera don't match those I hear on the phone. Suddenly the tables are turned when you're the one looking to be interviewed; the toughest reporters seem to lose all confidence, as the insecurity demon does the Macarena in your head and asks the question:

"Am I good enough?"

And the longer the search goes on, the stronger the demon's voice. When you send out tapes and no one calls, when you go on interviews and don't get the job, you begin to wonder what's wrong.

Many times, the answer is nothing.

As in life, the stars have to align. There are many factors that go into filling a position. You may have the best tape, but you're not the right fit. Wrong age, wrong sex, and any number of things can weigh into a hiring decision.

The stars can only align for one person in any job hunt. Does that mean there's something terribly wrong with the other 199 that applied for the job? That the other 199 need to rush out and re-edit their resume tapes?

Of course not. Some of those people may have bad tapes, and some may need more seasoning. Some may be terrific. But only one fit the specific needs of the person doing the hiring.

Many of you have a lot of talent but are way too hard on yourselves. If you send out just a handful of tapes and hear nothing, there may be nothing wrong. If you send out two hundred and don't get a nibble, that's the time to make a change.

But second guessing yourself will drive you crazy. If you know deep down that you're good enough, if you've been told by people whose objective opinions you trust that you're good enough, then stop worrying about it.

Stars align on their own timetable, not yours.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer hiring timelines

This time of year, pink slips are flying fast and furious, as the May book can cause the guillotine to fall. All of a sudden the job boards are filled with openings. You send a tape, figuring you're a really good candidate.

And you hear nothing.

Let me explain why hiring is even slower during the summer than at other times during the year.

Imagine you're a News Director, you've just lost or fired a reporter. That reporter made $36,000 per year. So you post an ad and the tapes start flooding in. (Yes, it's a flood.)

Now, the next book is in November, so you have some time. You want your new person in place by October first at the latest, as you don't want to be short staffed for the next ratings period.

What? The ND isn't racing against other NDs to hire quickly and fill that opening?

While some NDs do hire quickly, here's what can happen in many cases. You simply have to do the math.

Okay, I'm the ND with an opening in June and I'm over budget, or I just need to save some money for November election coverage. I can hire a reporter right away, or I can wait till October first and save $12,000.

Remember, our reporter that left was making 36k, or $3,000 per month. Every month that position remains open is $3,000 the ND didn't have to spend. He can save it for later, or perhaps use it to sweeten the pot for the new reporter. He might fall in love with a reporter who needs 40k to move. That's four grand more than the last person made, but the ND has saved 12 thousand, so he's still eight large ahead.

Got it?

Other factors? Many NDs know that viewership is way down during the summer and don't want to expend resources when no one is watching. Though that might change this year due to a few factors: the recession is keeping people home, and the networks actually have some new scripted series on tap for the summer. Add that to some great summer shows on cable, and suddenly viewership isn't all that bad.

So if you get a call right away and then hear nothing for weeks, don't give up. If you don't hear anything for months, that doesn't mean you're out of the running. In many cases it is simply a matter of timing.

By the way, one added note. If you ever have a choice, it is great to have a contract that ends in September. That makes your timing just right to get hired for the November book.