Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mailbag: Blogs, name game & "preditors"


My station wants all of us to start blogs. Any thoughts on what sort of stuff I should put in it?

Well, you can put observations about your stories in there but please leave your opinions out of it. Keep it clean. Don't include any personal stuff whatsoever as stalkers cruise station websites for personal info.

You can talk about what goes into putting a story together, some behind the scenes looks, stories about what photogs do, etc.

Hi Grape,

I'm about to get married and don't know what to do about what will be my new legal last name. As you can see from my signature it will no doubt create a whole slew of jokes, and I'm not sure I want to endure that. I love everything about my fiancee except his last name. He says he doesn't care one way or another if I keep my maiden name. Your thoughts?

(Name withheld)

Well, after looking at your name-to-be, at least three jokes popped into my mind immediately. (None of them printable.) Yeah, stick with your maiden name. Plenty of females have done the same.

The only downside is that when you're out in public with a maiden name of Smith people will start calling your husband "Mr. Smith." But that's far less of a problem than you'll have with your new last name.

Dear Grape,

A station wants producers who edit=preditors.

Seems reporters aren't the only ones doing double duty. At my old job I edited for the morning show and, on occasion, my own midday show.

I didn't realize that's a common thing. Is it?

"Preditors?" Who comes up with this stuff?

Honestly, with the exception of producers in union shops, I've never known a producer who couldn't edit and wouldn't hire one who couldn't.

Producers should all be able to edit... depending on others to pick and choose money shots, great tease video, etc. doesn't make sense. Even if you don't actually push the buttons, you need to know your way around an editing system and be able to look at the video for your newscast. A good producer can write well and tie stories together. A great producer takes a hands-on approach with the video in the newscast.

Producers also have more free time than anyone in the newsroom, (sorry, it's true), so they really must know how to edit. There will be plenty of days when APs, reporters and photogs are not around to cut video.

If you're a producer who says stuff like, "Cut me ten seconds of tease video on the lead package" and the first time you see the video is when you're in the booth, you're not doing your job.

By the way, as far as "double duty" is concerned, I probably edited half of my packages during my career. I never worked with a reporter who didn't know how to edit.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The State of the Tube Address

Sign posted in a station back in the 1980's:

"The good old days ended the day before you got here."

Truer words were never spoken. As a young reporter I heard tales from veteran photogs about the days of networks flying them first class around the country. About expense accounts with no end. About having a week to work on a story.

Wow, I thought. If only I'd been born twenty years earlier.

Now, to most of you who are just getting in the business, the days of simply working with a photog would qualify as the good old days. As I look back, they were: quality shooters always providing me with great stuff, the occasional trip out of town, the boss who picked up the check if you ended up in the same restaurant.

Yes, those days are gone, and in twenty years some rookie will hear your stories about what it was like in the good old days.

Tales of gloom and doom permeate the business right now. The one-man-band trend is the leading economic indicator. The Internet is either the devil that is killing the business or its potential savior.

Yes, the job is a lot tougher than it used to be. But then again, so is everything in America. In case you hadn't watched the stories you've been covering, life as we knew it is in the process of evolving. What will be left when everything shakes out is anyone's guess. Bottom line, life is tougher regardless of your profession.

At times like this I look back to those eight years I spent making sandwiches in my dad's delicatessen. Every time I felt exhausted or complained my dad would say, "That's why you're in college, so you don't have to do this like your old man." Looking back, that may have been my only "real job" doing physical labor. Slicing meat all day, putting together two hundred lunches, being bone tired at the end of the day.

And then I think about my life after college. I've made a living telling stories.

Think about the alternative next time you think your job is tough, or you've worked a long day, or knocked out two packages or three live shots. If any of you waited tables or had any kind of summer job, think back to how that felt compared to what you do now. Or look at the jobs of some of the people you interview; wanna trade with an oil spill clean up worker, a dishwasher, or a roofer?

I remember riding home with a photog after we'd spent grueling days covering the 1988 Democratic and Republican conventions. Three packages a day, live shots, the logistical nightmare of hauling equipment through thousands of media people on the convention floor. At one point we were so tired of lugging the gear that I went to a luggage store and bought one of those carts flight attendants were using to wheel luggage through airports (at that point wheeled luggage didn't exist); we piled the deck, the battery belt and the tripod on the cart and it saved our backs quite a bit.

As we pulled out of the hotel lot to head home I said, "I don't think I've ever been this tired in my life." "Yeah," said the photog, "but it's a good kind of tired."

He was right. When you've accomplished something special, it doesn't matter how much you've put into it. You can take that feeling home and bathe your soul in it.

I never got that feeling after a day making sandwiches.

You all tell stories for a living. You may be underpaid and dealing with the new realities of the business, but the bottom line is that you put dinner on the table by telling stories.

If that's not enough for you, go out and get a real job.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Only you can fix this problem

Well, apparently we're somewhere between Congress and used car salesmen on the old trust meter.

So, only 22 percent of Americans trust members of the television news media. It sounds even worse when you do the math and realize 78 percent don't trust us. Here's something even more telling: newspapers rated higher than television... and they do editorials. Their opinions are right out in the open, and people still trust us even less.

First, let's look at how it got this way.

-Bias: Never before has media bias been so in-your-face. When you have some members of the media who don't even try to hide their political affiliation, you've got a trust problem with the public. Sometimes it is just the tone of the person doing the interview; softballs for members of one party, an attack dog attitude for the other. Bias has always existed, but it was a lot more subtle years ago.

-Sensationalism: Average stories are blown way out of proportion. While this has always been true, it's gotten much worse of late.

-One-sided reporting: Too many reporters go out and do one interview per package, never stopping to even consider another side of the story.

-Out of context editing: I can take just about any political speech and make someone look like a saint or the devil with a few simple cuts.

-Lack of class: How can you trust anyone who shoves a microphone in someone's face after a tragedy?

-The Internet has revealed all of our old tricks: The public is now well versed in ratings, editing tricks, journalistic principles or lack thereof, and how reporters actually gather facts. People can see entire speeches and decide for themselves what a politician actually meant. They can look up anyone's background. And they no longer take one news organization's word for anything.

The Japanese have a saying. "Fix the problem, not the blame." That said, here's how you can do your small part to make television news trustworthy again.

-Check your opinions at the door. You may be a bleeding heart liberal or a Bible-thumping conservative, but the public doesn't need to know it from your actions or your words. Keep your personal views to yourself and put stories together in a fair manner. Give each side equal time. Make sure your b-roll doesn't cast either side in a bad light. Let the viewers decide for themselves how they feel about a story.

Remember, people who disagree with you are not stupid just because they don't share your views. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Except media people have to keep theirs under wraps. People who watch your stories on a regular basis should have absolutely no clue where you stand on issues or what your political affiliation might be.

-Be professional, especially in the field. A few years ago I was on a network story covering a tragedy. Several people had been killed in a senseless crime, most of whom were members of a particular church. I walked into the church without a camera and asked the priest if he wanted to comment. I'll never forget what he said. "I can't believe you actually offered me the chance to say no." Others had apparently been shoving cameras in his face.

The next day a family member actually drove to our satellite truck and invited us to come by for a news conference. When we arrived, several other news organizations weren't even there.

Did they trust us simply because word got around that we were polite and didn't use ambush journalism? You make the call.

-Treat all people you interview equally. The dirty mechanic covered with grease deserves the same respect as the man in the thousand dollar suit. They're equal. The mechanic might even be a lot smarter than the guy in the suit. (Hence the term "empty suit.") Keep this in mind: both have one vote on election day. Both count the same in the ratings book.

-Stop airing stories that are in bad taste. Here's the great indicator: if you wouldn't want your mother to see your story, it's outta here. Either that, or fix it so she could watch it. Also, it's time for the all-time most effective tease ("You may find our next story disturbing") to be retired. If it's disturbing, it doesn't need to air.

-Look for more positive stories. The most common complaint I hear from viewers is that local news is all bad, all death and destruction. Would you want to listen to someone everyday who told depressing stories? Well, that's what the viewer is getting.

Bottom line, ethics, class and professionalism start with you.