Friday, September 24, 2010

Rounds calls you probably have never made

Nothing is more boring, tedious, and lacking in imagination than rounds calls. You call the usual sources... police, fire, hospitals...and ask if anything has happened recently. And you can tell from the tone of the person answering the call that they're as thrilled to hear from you as you are to make the call.

For those of you assigned to a beat (which seems to be a dying facet of this business for some bizarre reason) you have a list of contacts to check on a regular basis. But if you're stuck for a story, there are a whole host of public relations people out there just dying for coverage on any number of topics.

The problem is, their press releases often end up in the trash after being sorted out by the Assignment Editor, a newsroom secretary or an intern.

Nothing works like a personal touch. When you want stories, don't wait for them to come to you.

I used to have a great relationship with a terrific PR guy who worked for the school system. Anytime I was stuck for a story, I'd call him. He'd always have a list of interesting stuff going on. Some school was going on a unique field trip, another had a physics teacher that was going to catapult watermelons, or some kid genius was taking his SATs at the age of 12. The guy always came through for me.

There are numerous PR people in every market like that guy. People who work in interesting situations that have good stories...and many times they don't send out press releases about them. It is often up to you to take the initiative to create a relationship. After a while, the PR person will get an idea of what you're looking for, and give you a call when something interesting is going on.

So drag out the yellow pages and create your own rounds call list. Every company, every organization is filled with people who have interesting stories. Don't just assume that because a business does something dull that they don't have great tales to tell. I once did a story about a letter carrier who was a champion dancer and competed nationally. Behind every seemingly boring task often lies an interesting story.

The more people you call, the more relationships you create... and the more good stories you find.

Need some show closing video?

That very bright speck next to the moon this week is the planet Jupiter. It's the closest it has been to the earth since 1963.

Shoot it or lose it. Since you're all shooting Friday night football you might as well point your camera up at some point.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mailbag: A "prestigious" college degree doesn't make you smarter


I'm graduating next year and I'm wondering how I'll compete with everyone else getting a diploma. I'm attending a school that isn't even known for broadcast journalism and I was wondering how it will stack up against people who have gone to prestigious J-schools. Even though I've done internships and will have some on-hands experience, will my "no name" degree hurt me?

Well, as we used to say in New York, that and fifteen cents will get you a ticket on the subway. Of course now it's about two bucks to ride the train, but prestige has about the same value.

The most clueless reporter I ever saw had a degree from one of the most "prestigious" schools in America. I've also worked with some incredibly smart people who never went to college. And while there are many great J-schools that regularly turn out good reporters, it doesn't matter where you get your degree. Since you've taken the initiative and done an internship, you're ahead of those who have gone to the great schools and spent their summers on the beach.

Remember, it's what's on the tape that gets you hired. If you went to a community college and have a great tape, you'll get the job over the kid who has the elite degree but a lousy tape.


I'm a rookie reporter and in a few days I'll have to cover a story that will attract a ton of media people. I don't want to get swallowed up and shoved around by the crowd and I'm petite, so any tips?

Ah, the maiden voyage on the media horde. You've seen them on TV and in the movies, but nothing compares to the scrum that can take place when you're covering a national story.

First, get there very early. If you know exactly where the person to be interviewed will be, plant yourself and don't move. If you don't ask whoever is in charge what route the person will take and put yourself in the middle. If there's a photog already there with a tripod, you might stand next to it so you'll have a barrier on one side.

Second, realize that you'll get shoved around even though you are a woman. Etiquette goes out the window in situations like this. So stand your ground and don't be afraid to stick out your elbows to give yourself a little space.

Third, try your best to ask the first question and don't be afraid to raise your voice. That makes the person stop (usually) and look at you, and often face that direction for the duration of the news conference.

Fourth, don't focus on the fact that you're a rookie. You have as much chance as anyone else to ask a great question and to get your question answered first. Kick some tail and take no prisoners.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reporter walks into a bar...

Best news joke I've heard in a while (courtesy of a photog, of course)

A reporter, photographer and a producer are walking along the beach after months of covering the oil spill. They are all exhausted. Suddenly the photog notices a beautiful, ornate bottle atop the sand. He picks up the bottle and pulls out the cork.

A wisp of smoke comes out of the bottle, and poof! a Genie appears!

"Thank you for liberating me from my bottle," says the Genie. "As a reward I will grant each of you one wish."

"Great!" says the photog, who puts his gear down on the sand. "I would like to spend the rest of my life living in the most beautiful place on earth so that I can take pictures for my own enjoyment."

"Your wish is my command," says the Genie, who folds his arms and nods his head. The photog disappears and the Genie turns to the reporter. "And what is your wish?"

"I would like to live the rest of my life as James Bond," says the reporter. "I'd like to travel to exotic locales, have beautiful women on my arm and save the world every so often."

"Your wish is my command," says the Genie, who folds his arms and nods his head. The reporter disappears and the Genie turns to the producer. "And what is your wish?"

"That's easy," says the producer. "I want those two guys back here RIGHT NOW!"


The lottery rules of job hunting

I want you all to take a minute and think back to your days in high school. Now I want you to name every person in the school you never talked to.

Can't do it, right?

Well, it's the same as asking a News Director to name every job applicant he didn't want to hire.

We've talked about this topic before, but it needs to be visited again. You have absolutely nothing to lose by sending a tape anywhere.

I continue to get questions like, "Will they think badly of me if I send a tape?" and "Suppose they laugh at my tape?" and "I don't have enough experience to send a tape."

Well, let's see. What could happen if you send a tape?

A News Director might eject your tape after 15 seconds. He might roll his eyes watching your first standup. He might just think, "Not what I'm looking for."

The horror! Just imagine how it would feel if a News Director 1,000 miles away that you'll never meet doesn't like your work! How will you ever get through the day? And what happens when the resume tape police show up in your newsroom, point fingers, and laugh at you!

The other thing that could happen if you send a tape? Uh, you could get the job.

Trust me, I can't remember a single tape I watched over the years that I didn't like. When you're watching hundreds of tapes, you don't have time to worry about the mindset of the person sending it. You watch for a few seconds and eject the ones you don't like. At the end of the day you can't remember the names of the tapes you ejected.

And here's another news flash. If you send another tape a few months later, the ND that didn't hire you the first time won't remember that you previously sent a tape.

Will you people just send the damn tapes and stop worrying about what people think? You might just get your dream job. Just like the lottery, you can't win if you don't play the game.