Friday, July 9, 2010

The back end of your resume tape

Traditionally, resume tapes run between five and ten minutes. You've got about a minute for the montage, then three packages, or a couple of anchor segments.

Traditionally, people will tell you that your tape should never run longer than ten minutes.

Well, guess what? You can make your tape as long as you like. Why? Because if a News Director is still watching after ten minutes, chances are he really likes your work anyway and probably wants to see more. If someone is still watching after ten minutes, you'll get a call, or get hired.

So, after your greatest hits montage and three best packages, what should you throw on the end of the tape?

Well, that's your chance to show your versatility. If you're a hard news reporter, throw a feature at the end of the tape. If you're a perky morning anchor, let's see a hard news package. If you're a weather or sports guy, how about a news package you did in a pinch. And if you're a general assignment person, a look at the time you anchored or filled in doing weather doesn't hurt.

The back end of your resume tape is free time. When dealing with VHS tapes, you've got a time limit, but with so many people sending DVDs, there's plenty of free space on the disc. Why not use it?

The resume tape police aren't going to come after you if your tape runs longer than ten minutes. If you've got some good stuff, it never hurts to add it to your tape.

The mind of a TV reporter

The cartoon is called "The Creative Process" but I think it accurately describes what goes through everyone's head in this business at one time or another...


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taking notes isn't just for reporting

A few years ago one of my clients got a call from a News Director who wanted her to come in for an interview. She was told the contract was two years, with a top 50 out. We discussed it, it sounded good and she decided to go on the interview. Only problem was that the station did not pay for plane tickets, so she drove about eight hours for the interview.

She was offered the job, but it had magically transformed into a three year contract with no outs. When she told the ND this was not what was said on the phone, the ND wouldn't budge, conveniently forgetting the original offer. The manager probably figured the woman had driven a long way and was ready to accept anything. Thankfully, she was smart enough to read the handwriting on the wall, turned it down and ended up with something much better.

Yes, selective memory is a common malady among managers. It's right up there with restless leg syndrome... you wouldn't think it actually exists, but it does.

That's why it is imperative that in any phone conversation or face to face interview, you take good notes. If something isn't in writing, chances are it is gone forever.

So, how can you protect yourself? Well, if you're doing a phone interview and the ND says, "Two years, top 50 out," write it down. Then say, "Let me write this down... two years, and a top 50 out, correct?" This lets the ND know you're taking notes and he'll have a hard time changing his tune if and when you arrive for a face to face interview. You might also review things at the end of the phone call. Then ask the ND to send you an email detailing the parameters of the job. That puts any offer in writing, and now you have a paper trail.

The bottom line is that if the job parameters change between the original phone call and the actual interview, then the ND is someone you don't want to work for anyway. If a manager lies to you before you're even hired, imagine what it would be like to work for that person.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mailbag: Don't order the combo plate


I spotted a job listing that is for someone who can be a producer and reporter. Apparently you would produce a few days a week and report the other days. Is this a good way to showcase your reporting skills, and do these positions usually lead to full time reporter positions?

Back in my day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, this would have been known as getting a "foot in the door." Now it is usually a tactic used in car dealerships which has wormed its way into the news business: the bait and switch.

I've heard this story time and again. Reporter gives up full time reporting gig for combo job even though said reporter has no desire to be a producer. After a while another producer quits, the reporter is pressed into producing full time. The ND then claims, "We can't find anyone," and the reporter ends up stuck in the producer role. What makes this worse is that it is now impossible to put together a good tape in order to move on.

If you wanna be a reporter, get a reporter job. If you wanna produce, ditto.

I'm sure there have been cases of combo jobs leading to full time reporter gigs, but I haven't heard of one yet.

The only combo jobs that are legit are those for weekend anchors who do sports and weather, who may have to report during the week.


Our assignment editor leaves the scanner on at an ear splitting level. We can't hear ourselves think. When he goes to lunch we turn it down, then he gets mad when he comes back and cranks it even higher. Any suggestions?

Perhaps nothing annoyed me more during my career than scanner chatter, and thankfully I worked for a bunch of stations that didn't chase car wrecks.

But instead of voicing your displeasure by turning the thing down when he's out, politely ask if he can lower the volume. If he can hear it, the whole world doesn't need to.

Your other option is to help find him another job by subtly recommending him to other stations. Talk to other reporters about how wonderful he is. Then your problem becomes someone else's problem. Devious, huh?


Why do some stations go nuts during the July book and others let their people take vacations?

The July book is only useful for last place stations. If they get good ratings, the sales department can spin things to make it look like things are improving. But most advertisers are wise to this.

Dear Grape,

I just got promoted to weekend anchor and also have to produce my own newscast. But I seem to have trouble choosing a lead story. Any help?

Well, when in doubt, pick up the phone and call management. At least that will save you the trouble of getting reamed on Monday morning.

One big problem young people have is that they tend to think stories important to their generation are important to everyone else. You have to look at the big picture, and try to choose the story that is not only important, but affects and interests the most people.

Unless it's a story about Lindsay Lohan.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Station visits: the body language of a staff can tell you a lot

These days many people are being hired for their first jobs over the phone. It's pretty hard to judge a person when you can't look that person in the eye (can Skype interviews be far away?) so it's a crapshoot for both the person doing the hiring and the prospective employee.

But most stations that take the hiring process seriously will bring candidates in for interviews. And during those interviews, those candidates will more than likely be dropped in the newsroom for a few hours to see how they blend with the staff. The ND usually will ask members of the staff what they thought of the candidate later.

If you're visiting a station, whether you've been invited or just dropping in during a road trip, it's always wise to chat up as many people as you can. But while doing that, keep an eye on the rest of the newsroom staff. As Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

Pay close attention to the overall mood of the newsroom. Are people friendly toward one another, chatting away, or simply working silently in their cubicles? What happens when the News Director enters the room? Do people suddenly stop talking and sit up straight, as if afraid, or does the atmosphere remain the same? Do kid producers order people around, or do they act friendly to the field crews? And don't forget to visit the photog lounge... you'll get more honesty there than anywhere.

The problem with most interviews is that you're there because you want a job at that particular station; but you need to remove the rose colored glasses we all wear when job hunting. If there are red flags, you need to be alert and objective in order to spot them. Otherwise you could find yourself going from one bad situation to another.