Friday, September 3, 2010

The O & O factor, and joining the right group


What's the deal with O & O stations? Are they your foot in the door to a great career?

Oh, you betcha. Even if you're at the smallest O & O (that means "owned and operated" by a network, in case you didn't know) you're still an employee of the network.

It's like that old saying about baseball. The 25th player on a major league team may ride the bench, but he's still in the major leagues.

Trust me, network higher-ups keep a close on all the talent at the O & O stations. Promoting from within is a common occurrence. That assumes, of course, that you're doing a great job. You could end up at one of the top O & O stations, or the network itself. And you'll usually have better resources at your disposal.

The same promote-from-within factor holds true of a few media groups that own several stations. Of course, we're talking about the classy groups that still exist in this country. There are some groups that treat people poorly, and you don't want to work for those.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Covering Hurricane Earl

(reposted for people who think they're bullet-proof)

Eventually, it is going to happen.

A reporter or photographer is going to die covering a hurricane.

Then, and only then, will managers rethink the policy of covering storms by putting crews in the line of fire. Until then, they'll push the envelope, just like they did with helicopters in Arizona until someone died. Until then, we'll continue to see reporters doing live shots standing out in the wind and torrential rain, trying to prove their, uh, "bravery" in the storm.

When we were children, our mothers told us there were people too stupid to come in out of the rain.

And now we get to watch those people on television.

For those who have never witnessed the power of a hurricane, let me tell you that it will literally make your jaw drop. After Katrina we were doing a story in Mississippi about a school that had sat on the waterfront. When we arrived at the location I looked around and didn't see anything but a few bricks. I asked the superintendent where the school was.

"You're standing on it," she said.

Imagine, wind and water trump brick.

Then we drove down the road to Biloxi. The storm had picked up an entire casino, one of the biggest in the area, and deposited it across the street.

I later saw a railroad car five miles from the nearest tracks and a house washed up under a gas station canopy.

Imagine what that kind of force could do to a human being.

Yes, hurricanes demand coverage, but you can do a good job and still be safe. We always looked for windbreaks and cover, so that you can still do an impressive live shot without putting yourself in harm's way. One of the biggest dangers in covering a hurricane is from flying debris. Imagine how nice a two-by-four would feel whacking you in the head at a hundred miles per hour.

When you're young, you're bulletproof. You drive too fast, take too many chances, and always think "those things" happen to other people. I was the same way. Trust me, there's no force field around your body to protect you.

There's no reason to prove your bravery by standing out in a storm and getting your hair wet and having your face pelted by rain. You can show and tell without using your body for the "show" part. Photogs have zoom lenses so they can get the shots they need from a safe distance.

And if you think a resume tape with a standup showing you standing out in a storm is going to blow away some News Director, think again. We've seen that a million times.

Have a healthy respect for Mother Nature, and live to report another day.

Why you should Google yourself

When hiring people, many stations do standard background checks. They'll spend a hundred bucks or so to find out if you've ever been arrested, have a string of speeding tickets, or have gone through bankruptcy.

But even if the station doesn't have a background check policy, you can be certain that the News Director is checking you anyway.

It's called an Internet search.

You see, once something is on the Internet, it pretty much never goes away. So if I'm hiring Nick Goodhair as my anchor, I want to find out as much dirt as there is to find.

Trust me, many a Google search has turned up unsavory stuff. It's one of the reasons you may have gotten some early interest from a ND and then never get your phone calls returned.

I've found some amazing stuff doing free searches of prospective hires. A female reporter wrapped in a towel (and nothing else); photos on Facebook or other social networking sites of the applicant in varying stages of drunkenness; a blog with either filthy language, offensive opinions, or both; and personal tales of drug use.

In this case "too much information" can cost you a job.

So take a few minutes and do some searches of your name online. Don't just use Google, but try a bunch of search engines. If something comes up that doesn't seem very professional, do your best to get rid of it.

As for your personal social networking sites, clean up any language and delete any pictures that might paint you in a bad light.

You must appear professional when searching for a job. That goes beyond your resume tape and your wardrobe.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Blog for producers

Okay, one of the group came through and pointed me toward a blog for producers. Here you go:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mailbag: response times, help for producers, and your GPA


Is there some sort of time frame during which I should be hearing from a ND who has told me he is very interested? It's been two weeks since my last call and nothing since.

The answer to that question lies with that of the cure for the common cold and the final destination of socks that disappear in the dryer.

NDs are notorious for not calling when they say they will (just like single men). That doesn't mean the ND has lost interest. It's just that there's so much on a NDs plate that calls often get pushed to the back burner.

Of course there are NDs who love to play games to see how desperate you are, and hold out until you call. The result is a lower salary offer.

I once went on an interview on a Friday and was told since I was the last person to be interviewed I'd have an answer one way or another on Monday.

Four weeks later I got the job.

You offer a lot of advice to reporters, Is there any advice you can give to producers or at least point us to a good resource?

Well, I'm not sure if there's an "equivalent" blog or site targeted to producers. But you might check this out:

Okay, producers out there... any help?


I just graduated. Do I need to put my GPA on my resume? My grades weren't all that great, but spent a lot of time on internships and I've got a very good tape.

Well, this will make your day. NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR GPA!

Your tape gets you the job. No one ever asked about my college grades (thank goodness) and I don't know a single ND who would. Can you imagine a ND saying, "Well, she can't report to save her life but she made the Dean's List. I'm gonna hire her."

You can all delete this tidbit from your resume.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pocket speed, rotator cuffs and the Hot Tub Time Machine

The best Christmas present I ever got as a kid was a pool table. It was the perfect gift for an only child. No friends around? Snowed in? No problem. I could amuse myself for hours.

I still play pool nearly every day, and over the years I learned the concept of "pocket speed." That means you hit a ball with just enough force to let the ball...barely...drop... into the pocket. The reason? Well, if you hit a ball too hard, it can bounce out. And if you're aiming for the side pocket, using less force will let the ball continue into the pocket if it glances off the sharp edge, as opposed to ricocheting back onto the table. Relaxing and playing with "touch" will bring better results.

The same holds true in many sports. A few years ago I found myself alone on the basketball court at the health club. I remembered how I used to make half-court shots as a kid, and thought I'd try one. No one was looking, so I fired away... and dropped to the floor like I'd been shot by a sniper. I'd torn the rotator cuff in my shoulder. You see, my brain was still 18 years old and didn't want to admit my body was 40. (I made the shot, by the way.)

One year later after surgery, rehab, and a reminder from the surgeon that I was middle-aged, I picked up a golf club and found my drives went straight as an arrow. My wicked slice, the result of trying to kill the ball off the tee, was gone. Since I no longer had the strength in my shoulder, I was swinging easier, and getting better results.

At this juncture you're saying, "Okay, Grape, enough with the sports analogies. Is there some journalism-related lesson somewhere in our imminent future?"

Well, yeah, there is.

Most of you are simply trying too hard.

You see, there's a difference between working smarter and working harder. And watching a lot of resume tapes as I do, I see a lot of young people trying way too hard.

Most of the problems are on the anchor desk. You don't have to be a body language expert to see the hunched shoulders, the tightened facial expressions, or the lack of a smile that accompany the over-enunciated robotic delivery. In many cases the packages are so very different from the anchoring. The delivery on the packages is relaxed and conversational, while reading a prompter seems to turn many into androids. But then we see the standups that don't match the package delivery. Again, the rigid posture and obviously over-memorized script that give off a very unnatural look.

The quest to be perfect makes you look just the opposite.

Trying too hard can also filter into way into the job hunting experience. You edit your tape, and send out a few. No results? "There must be something drastically wrong! I have to re-edit it!" So you re-edit, again and again, when there may be nothing wrong with the first effort. The other part of this equation is the obsession with job hunting; it can consume your life, so much so that you often miss the experience you're having in the present.

I just rented a movie called "Hot Tub Time Machine." (Don't roll your eyes, it was pretty damn funny.) At one point one of the characters decides to see "What surprises the universe has in store."

That's pretty good advice, when you stop and think about it. While you always want to give your best effort, sometimes 110 percent is too much. Sometimes taking things down a notch, relaxing, and playing the game of life with "pocket speed" will let you run the table.