Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is it just me...

Or does anyone else out there think Inception is a really bad movie?

I don't mean to play movie critic here, but this is one case that I wanted my money back.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Trust your feelings, Luke...

Since many of you are young and at some point will have to interview some powerful politicians, you might find this clip interesting:

(Click on "Luke Russert" on the right side of the page)

And may the force be with you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

There's always a third side to the story when covering politics

The events of the past two days have sparked a national discussion on topics like context, rushing to judgment, knee-jerk reactions, and the media's obsession with being first. Regardless of which network you were watching, or what talk show you were listening to, it was clear that a lesson was learned by a lot of people.

Yet in all the discussion about the aftermath of a story about a tape played out of context, there was one huge missing element that was the elephant in the room.


And when you're talking politics, there's always a motive.

There are three sides to every political story: he said, she said, and who wants them to say it.

In this case we have a months old tape that was edited and presumably dropped on the media. Was the objective to make the media look bad? The administration look less than thorough? To ruin a woman's life?

We may never know, but if some enterprising reporter out there wants to actually play Woodward and Bernstein for awhile, there's a smoking gun just waiting to be found.

The time before any election is always ripe for this kind of stuff. Over the years I've regularly received calls a few days before an election; some "anonymous" person promising some great dirt on a candidate. Oh, I'd always check it out, but the "source" always ended up working for the opponent. Politicians are always looking for media people to start a "he said, she said" story.

And in the era of 24/7 news, that's a dangerous thing.

These days news people will climb over one another trying to be the first to put a news scoop on Twitter or the station's website, many times without fully checking the facts. While technology has made news presentation lightning fast, speed kills; and often leaves the general public with something not thoroughly researched.

Years ago, before cable news and endless live shots, stories had a chance to breathe. If you found something great at one on the afternoon, you had to wait till six to break it. That lag time gave reporters the chance to do fact checking, something that's an afterthought for today's one-man-band who has to turn two packages and a bunch of live shots. In many cases, the reporter simply doesn't have the time to do a good job.

But when politics is involved, you have to take the time. And if the story's not ready, if all sides aren't thoroughly checked out, you don't run it.

When you find a political story, ask yourself these questions: What is the motive behind the story? Who stands to gain, and who stands to lose? What might the long term effects be of this story? And if you receive a "tip" very close to an election that doesn't leave you enough time to check things out, that should tell you something.

Politicians don't play by our rules. They know there are journalists out there who will do anything for a story, who don't have ethical standards, and most of all, who are too lazy to check things out. They know reporters can be easily manipulated in their quest to be first.

Don't be one of those people. Get all sides of the story, follow the money, figure out the motive, and consider the result. Then, and only then, can you run the story.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

So you wanna be a bureau chief...


I've been offered a job as a bureau chief. Can you offer any insight as to how that differs from a regular newsroom job?

Well, it differs greatly, and it takes a special type of person to run a bureau. It also takes a special kind of person to be happy in a bureau.

There are two big considerations you need to take into account:

-You'll be on an island. You'll be expected to know everything that's going on in your area, even when you're off the clock. I know that some stations insist the bureau chief have a scanner at home. (What fun!) If a big story is missed, you'll take the flak.

-You'll miss the camaraderie of the newsroom, though in some cases that might be a good thing if the camaraderie resembles an episode of Survivor. I know many people who have worked bureau gigs and complained at how lonely it gets. But if you're the kind of person that won't miss the office relationships, this won't be a big deal.

If you're young and decide to take this job, make sure you have some supervision back at the main newsroom. You'll want to make sure you have script approval and that you'll be keeping in touch with the newsroom throughout the day. CYA is a definite must for these jobs.

I was offered a bureau job once and turned it down. That sort of thing doesn't appeal to me. So I cannot offer any personal experience; I'm just passing on what others have told me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And you wonder why I'm not a member

Not a week goes by that I don't get a request from someone to join a social media site.

This might explain why I don't.


Wardrobe malfunctions: Why every reporter needs a rolling closet

It never fails. You wear your best outfit or most expensive suit and you're assigned to do a story at a pig farm. Or a flooded area. Or a landfill.

And if you don't have a rolling closet, chances are you'll look as overdressed as Lindsay Lohan going to prison.

Back in the day, most of us had other sets of clothes in the trunks of our cars. If you had to cover a story at the beach, you could pull out some shorts and a linen shirt. Plane crash in the woods? You had old jeans and shoes you wouldn't mind throwing away. Oil refinery? Some shirts and slacks that might have been destined for the charity pile.

On the other side of the coin, you may have shown up knowing you needed to dress casually for a story and something major breaks out at the courthouse. And there you are in a polo shirt and shorts doing a lead story that demanded professional attire.

Yep, we had dress clothes in the trunk as well.

Point is, you have to be prepared because your assignment can change at a moment's notice. You don't want to interview a US Senator wearing beach clothes, and you'll look silly in spike heels walking through a muddy field to a plane crash. That's why you need a few wardrobe changes you can get to quickly.

Those clothes and old sneakers may sit in your trunk for a long time, but when you need them you'll be glad they're there.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Attitude: the great intangible

We once had a very talented reporter who basically shot herself more than Plaxico Burress. My agita would go up whenever I saw her heading for my office, since I knew some sort of complaint was coming. The funny thing was, the complaints were of a bizarre nature that usually had nothing to do with journalism, everything from the architecture of the newsroom to the types of reporter notebooks we stocked.

Well, lo and behold, management pretty much cracked a bottle of champagne when this gal left.

And, lo and behold, she needed a favor a couple of years later.

Funny, I still haven't returned her calls.

Another guy repeatedly ripped me to upper management, then called me when he found himself out of a job. He left a tearful message, begging for help and asking me to call as soon as possible.

He can turn blue like those people in Avatar waiting for that to happen.

Bottom line, attitude is the great equalizer. If I'm a News Director and I've got an opening with two qualified candidates, and one is a pain while the other is never a problem, guess who's gonna get the job? Even if the one who is difficult has more talent, more often than not, a ND doesn't want to create an even bigger problem.

Why? Well, psychologically, if someone is a pain and gets promoted, you're basically rewarding bad behavior.

If you don't promote that person, you're sending a subtle message that said behavior isn't doing much for that person's career.

I've noticed over the years that people in their first or second jobs complain the most. They jump for joy when you give them that first gig, and within months they hate the job they wanted so desperately.

If you've been passed over, and you have a bad attitude, the answer might be in your mirror.