Friday, October 1, 2010

The other side of the mail chute: The "no phone calls" saga continues

This anonymous comment wandered in from someone who is obviously a frustrated manager:

I get the job of going through all the resume tapes sent to the station before giving my top choices to the news director. One thing I can't figure out---why is it only the undesirable candidates that continually call and email asking if I've received their reel? If we want to talk to you, we'll make it happen! It's ridiculously annoying.

Well, that certainly brought back memories, as this comment is spot-on. Despite the "no phone calls" notation in most job postings, some people think that being aggressive in job hunting will improve their chances.

I remember one person in particular who wouldn't leave me alone. We had posted a reporter opening, and, as is always the case, a few nanoseconds after the post hit my phone rang. (And I'm not making any of this up.)

Job applicant: "Hi, my name is xxxxxx and I'm calling about the reporter opening--"

Me: "The ad says no phone calls."

Job applicant: "But you won't need to look at any other tapes. You can hire me right now. I'm the most dynamic person you'll meet!"

Me: "I'll look at your tape when it arrives and if we're interested we'll contact you."

Then the emails and follow-up calls started. Every single day. "Have you received my tape yet? Have you looked at it? Do you have any feedback?"

Needless to say, the tape was from someone who "wanted to be on TV" as it was a montage of weird stuff shot on a home video camera. I'd seen better wannabe tapes from fashion models.

This person kept calling, I kept saying I was hiring someone else. And yet the applicant wouldn't go away, like a stray cat you fed once who now shows up at the door on a regular basis. It got to the point where the person was demanding feedback. And that's where this person and many job applicants miss the point:

As a News Director, you watch 15-20 seconds of a resume tape. Unless you watch a lot more, you can't give feedback.

But back to the original comment. People like this can be truly annoying. Instead of sending a tape and letting the work do the talking, people who incessantly call and are demanding are shooting themselves in the foot.

Being overly aggressive is a good trait for a reporter, but not when it comes to the job hunting process. If you want to "keep in touch" with a News Director, it's perfectly acceptable to send a tape every two months or so. But to hound someone on a regular basis makes no sense, and puts you at a disadvantage before your tape even arrives.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why one opinion means nothing

Every Sunday I go deep into my NFL coma. Don't answer the phone, eat lots of junk food. The house could collapse around me and I wouldn't notice as long as the TV kept working.

I have the NFL Sunday Ticket package so I get to watch my beloved Giants every week. But a few times a year one of America's most popular announcers calls their game. This guy is widely recognized as one of the best in the business.

And when he calls the game, I turn the sound off and pick up the radio broadcast on the Internet.

I'm sure ninety percent of football fans love this guy. But his voice, his attitude and his style just grate on me for some reason. I can't stand to listen to him.

But hey, that's just my opinion. And it's just one opinion.

At some point early in your career, you're probably going to run into someone who will tell you that you have no business being in the business. That your work is awful, you have no talent, and no one will hire you. And in some cases, some of you will take that one opinion to heart and run back to mom's basement.

We in the industry are creative people, but all creative types are overly sensitive to criticism. We might send out a batch of resume tapes, get five positive responses and one bad one, but we'll focus all our attention on the negative. It's just the way we're wired. I'm the same way.

When you're looking for that first or second job, negative opinions can become a demon and that demon can dance the Macarena in your head. You start second guessing yourself. "Maybe I'm not good enough. Maybe I need to do something else. This person knows what's he's talking about, so I must be awful."

When you go down that road, you give one person an awful lot of power.

First of all, anyone who writes or says something mean to a rookie is truly crossing the line. We all started somewhere, and I dare say 99 percent of us turned out some awful work in that first job. To not remember that and kill someone's dream is just unconscionable. And I often hear of college professors who dabble in this kind of talk. Sad.

I've watched plenty of tapes over the years, and a few were so bad they left me scratching my head and saying, "Where do I even start with this person?" And over the years some of those people who seemed absolutely clueless have blossomed into terrific reporters and anchors.

I've also had a few people come to me and tell me they met some ND who told them they were awful. And then I look at the tape and see a ton of talent.

One opinion means nothing. I've been wrong before, and so has every manager in this business. Some people just need a chance, some are late bloomers, some need the right mentoring environment. You don't need to be told what's wrong, you need to be told how to take your talent and make it right.

But you all need, as my father told me, "Skin like an elephant."

Get a bad review? Fuhgeddaboutit. If you truly believe this is what you are meant to do, if you honestly burn to work in this business, don't let one opinion from someone you've never met change your life.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reputation can easily trump talent

Several years ago I heard a friend of mine had gotten fired, so I picked up the phone and gave him a call. I tried to cheer him up and told him about a few openings. I'll never forget what he said at the end of the call.

"When you get fired, you really know who your friends are."

A few years later I started this blog and my mentoring service, and heard from a few old friends, which is always nice. But I'll never forget the first time I posted the fact that I work for a major network. What a surprise... I heard from several long lost "pals" who had, at one time or another, thrown a knife in my direction.

"Hey, old buddy, long time no talk. Wow, you're working for a network. Maybe you could put in a good word for me..."

And maybe I can hit the "delete" button.

Then my cell phone rang. I recognized the number and had no intention of answering the call. Alas, there was a long, tearful voice mail from an old co-worker who had trashed me to management on a regular basis, now begging for help.

Only one phrase ran through my mind. "To delete this message, press seven."

I know, most Sicilians subscribe to the theory of "don't get mad, get even." But in my case, I don't get mad.

I do nothing. When I could do a lot.

Sure, I could make a five minute phone call to a friend in the business and make long lines disappear, open doors that have been previously closed, and jump someone's resume tape to the top of the stack. But if someone has crossed me before, why trust them now? A backstabber doesn't usually change his spots.

Which brings me to the topic of reputation. You think videos can go viral? Try being a backstabber in this business. You might think that doing something shady might leap frog you over someone in the short term, but in the long term that knife you just threw becomes a boomerang and nails you right in the heart of your career.

I've worked with dozens of talented people in this business, and there are a ton of them I'd never hire. I can think of a few whose talent would just blow you away, but were absolutely hated by the rest of the staff because they were always playing games.

When I first got into management I was amazed at the many times people would wander into my office and simply trash another member of the staff in order to elevate their own careers. Most managers see through this, so in reality those who subscribe to the backstabbing philosophy often find their stock has dropped. In one case a talented knife-thrower had left, then found the new job not to his liking. He called, begging for his old job.

Right. I'll get back to you.

You are responsible for your own career, and a big part of that is creating a reputation that doesn't send up red flags. The person you help today might get the promotion you wanted, but that person will remember your good deed down the road, and maybe help you someday.

Every circus has a knife thrower, but the whole act is a trick. In reality, we know they're frauds.

In a newsroom, we know the same thing.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why you can't think of a standup

When I first broke into the business I would go out with a photog, get my sound bites and b-roll, and then inevitably hear the photog ask, "Standup?" Oh yeah, gotta do one of those. It's a rule.

So I'd knock out something without much thought and generally throw it at the end of a package.

Standups are often uncomfortable for young reporters. After all, it's not natural to stand out in the middle of a location and talk to a camera while stuff is going on around you. You worry how you look, how you sound, and if the standup makes sense. So you throw something simple together for a standup close.

In reality, you should start thinking of a standup the minute you start doing the story.

(Okay, J-School purists, get off your high horses with your indignant standups-add-nothing-to-the-story arguments. Enjoy your lives in Palookaville.)

There's a reason you start a resume tape with a standup montage. And there's a reason News Directors want to see standups first.

It's because they're important, and show your ability to think creatively in the field.

So don't leave your standup to the end of your shoot. When you arrive at your first location, start thinking about how you can incorporate a standup into the package.

-Perhaps the story has two locations, and a standup can get you from one to the other.

-The story may cry out for something to be demonstrated. Don't talk about how something works, show me.

-The story might need some sort of re-enactment, and you can lead the viewers along the way.

-You might want to get involved in the story. Don't tell me about the opening of the sports complex with the batting cage, pick up a bat and swing away.

-Show and tell is always the best thing you can do.

There are no rules about standups. You can be as creative as possible. And remember that a clever standup bridge is always more effective than a standup close. Walking standups add energy to the package. (Don't even think about getting back on that horse, J-school people.)

Remember that your standup not only gives you face time but showcases your ability to tie a story together. Once you get in the habit of looking for standup opportunities, you'll be able to see many possibilities instead of struggling to throw anything together for the end of your package.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Why incompetent people keep their jobs

You can't work in this business without running into a few people whose continued employment boggles the mind.

Over the years I've worked with some incredibly smart people and others who might not defeat a crash dummy in an IQ test. And it always seemed that those managers who were lacking in smarts managed to keep their jobs. Low ratings? No problem. Staff hates your guts? Don't care. Management decisions that make absolutely no sense? Whatever.

Some of these people give new meaning to the words "Teflon" and "bulletproof." They drink and drive, make inappropriate comments, have a revolving door in the lowest rated newsroom... and still they don't get fired.

So what's the deal?

Bottom line? It's the bottom line.

You see, some companies don't care about the quality of the product or the working conditions of the employees. They only see one number, and it had better be in black ink.

Yep, you might have a GM or ND who makes Paris Hilton look like a Rhodes Scholar, but if said manager is turning a profit, well, said manager gets to keep the job. Even the lowest rated stations in the market can make a profit. Doesn't matter if the employees are miserable or the product is horrible, as long as the cash register keeps ringing.

So if you've every wondered why the mean or the clueless keep cashing paychecks, look no further than the balance sheet for an answer.