I'm new to the business and I've noticed that when I attend a news conference the newspaper people barely talk to me. I'm always friendly to them but it seems like they all hate me. They won't talk to the photogs either. What gives?
Ah, it has always been thus. Print journalists, for whom I have great respect, often run into the situation in which the TV crew is late and the news conference is held up until they get there. Nobody holds up a news conference for a print reporter. Plus, TV people get a lot more attention, we're recognized, etc. So it's probably a jealousy thing. Don't take it personally, as it really has nothing to do with you.
I'll never forget meeting a print reporter on a story. I'd been in the market three years and had met just about everyone, but not this reporter. So I went up and introduced myself. She left my handshake hanging in space and said, "I may have heard of you," then walked away.
What's interesting is that many newspapers now offer video on their websites, so you're starting to see print people with video cameras. Let's see how the dynamic changes.
When starting a cover letter, do I need to say, "I'm applying for a reporting position," or do I just leave the letter generic?
Generic is fine, even if there are multiple openings. Two reasons: News Directors know why you're sending tapes, and they might consider you for a different position than the one you're applying for. For instance, if the station is hiring an anchor and reporter, you might think you're applying for the reporter job but the ND sees you as just the right person for the anchor slot. Never pigeon-hole yourself.
It's like putting "Objective" on your resume. Hello, McFly! Your objective is to get a job, that's why you sent a resume. It is obvious to the person doing the hiring what your objective is.
I'm in a small Florida market covering the oil spill and see network and big market people every day. So far I haven't said much more than hello to them as I'm somewhat intimidated, being a one man band and all. Should I "know my place" or is it okay to make some contacts?
Oh, by all means, make contacts. Veterans love helping young people who are willing to listen. For instance, you might ask a network photog for advice on shooting... those guys love helping rookies. The rest of the crew members are the same way, as long as we have time. Collect as many business cards as you can. You might later touch base with people who show an interest in helping you and send them your tapes.
By the way, it pays to chat up everyone you meet, not just those in high places. Other rookies you befriend might turn out to be good contacts down the road.