Friday, October 8, 2010

You be the News Director

Thought I'd give you a taste of what it's like on the other side. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. But these are typical of some things your ND has to deal with on a regular basis. Maybe you'll have a different view of your boss after thinking about these:

1. You have a weekend anchor opening and two of your reporters want the job. Both are better than the resume tapes you've seen. One is a local reporter who will never move, but the other is more talented. The more talented one will likely leave at the end of the contract.

Who gets the anchor slot?

2. Upper management tells you that you must do a sweeps piece on an advertiser. The story has no news value.

Do you do the story or make the argument that it doesn't belong in the newscast, and in doing so, put your job in jeopardy?

3. One of your very popular anchors is arrested for drunk driving. The story is picked up by the other media outlets.

Do you fire the anchor, suspend the anchor, or do nothing?

4. There is a "he said, she said" story about a woman accusing a politician of sexual harassment. It is one week before election day. The other stations are running the story tonight, but you have no proof of anything and little in the way of facts.

Do you run the story with what you've got, or wait until your reporters can investigate the matter further?

5. The local strawberry festival starts today and the event planners have sent a ton of berries to your newsroom.

Do you let the staff enjoy the fruit or tell the people you can't accept gifts?

6. Corporate calls and tells you that you have to lay off one person in your newsroom who is at an entry level salary. You have three possibilities: one person who is a dependable hard worker but has limited talent, one who has a ton of talent but is lazy, and one who does a solid job but is hated by the rest of the staff.

Who gets the pink slip?

7. You wander in on a Saturday and find your star reporter making resume tapes. You had no idea the person wanted to leave.

Do you put out a memo banning the making of resume tapes on station property, confront the reporter or pretend you didn't see anything?

8. You attend a wedding and see one of your off-duty photogs shooting video with station equipment. You learn he was paid to produce a wedding video.

Do you fire the photog, tell the photog he can't use station equipment for personal business, or work out a deal in which he gives the station a percentage of any money he makes while off duty?

9. Your star anchor gets ticked off and throws a book across the room. It hits a framed print on the wall, sends broken glass everywhere and destroys the print. (No kidding, this actually happened.)

Do you suspend the anchor, make the anchor pay to replace the print, or chalk it up to your anchor being a prima donna?

10. One of your best reporters tells you that one of his parents is terminal. He lives thousands of miles from home and has just signed a new contract. It is clear he wants to go home.

Do you let him break the contract and help him find a job closer to home, or simply tell him he'll have to fly home on his days off?


Thursday, October 7, 2010

I went to get a v/o and a package broke out

Several years ago we were asked to drop by a charity luncheon and shoot enough video for a 20 second voiceover. The luncheon was wrapping up and whoever was running the event was at the podium.

"Thank you all for coming," he said. "We've raised a great deal of money today."

Suddenly a local notable stood up and said, "If you wanna raise some more, I'll pay two hundred dollars to hit the Mayor with a pie."

And just like that, our radar went up.

Money shot. First clip in the opening tease.

The Mayor, who was a really good sport, agreed to take one for the team. A waiter draped a tablecloth around him, then handed the other guy a pie tin filled with whipped cream. The photog got right in front of the Mayor and the guy nailed the politician right in the face.

So we had a great v/o, right?

Yeah, until another guy stood up and kept the roller coaster going. "I'll pay three hundred to hit that guy with a pie!"

Suddenly, people with deep pockets were emptying them for the chance to hit other people with pies. Thirty minutes later we had the makings of a hilarious package on a pie fight that broke out in the ballroom of the city's most expensive hotel.

We called the station to let them know what we had and were told to turn it into a package. The producer got a ton of mileage out of the video, leading the newscast with a shot of the Mayor getting hit with a pie. If that didn't keep viewers from sticking around, nothing would.

In that case, we saw something unique and kept shooting. Management was smart enough to realize this was no longer just a voiceover, but a package that would be the watercooler story the next day.

Too often you go to a story with pre-conceived notions about what you're going to get. I've seen reporters come back to the station telling similar tales of voiceovers that had turned out to be much more, but in many cases the reporter stuck to the original assignment. "I was just assigned to get a v/o."

So let me get this straight: you're sent to get a v/o on a blood drive and aliens land a spaceship at the location. And yet you don't shoot enough for a package or call the station to update them on the fact that little green men are running around the blood bank.

Stories can fall into your lap on occasion and it's up to you to be both open minded and creative when this happens. Just because you've got a specific assignment doesn't mean you can't expand on it and make it something special.

Every assignment has the potential to be something unique. Keep your eyes and your mind open.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mailbag: The reason for blind ads, paper resumes and sweeps ideas


I'm new to the job hunting scene. Can you please tell me the reason stations post blind ads? It would seem to me they'd be better off actually telling you where the job is.

Ah, Grasshopper, the blind ad is a subtle clue that can tell you a few things. Number one, the ND has gotten fed up posting "no phone calls" in regular job ads and still getting barraged with calls, so he's gone the blind ad route. "I'll fix those job-hunting ne'er-do-wells... they can't call me if they don't know where to call! Ha!"

Number two, the job may be in Palookaville, and if a regular ad told people to send tapes to Palookaville, people might wrinkle their noses and pass. But said job may offer a good working environment and photogs. So now people apply for the mystery job and get a call from the ND who has the opportunity to sell the station while downplaying the lifestyle of said Palookaville town.

Bottom line, you have nothing to lose applying to a blind ad, so take a shot. You can always say no if the situation is not to your liking.


I noticed one of my co-workers has had resumes printed up professionally on some really expensive paper. They look great. Am I at a disadvantage sending out stuff I've just printed on regular paper?

Just like sports teams can look good on paper but still lose games, the same is true of job applicants. You can send out resumes on heavy linen bond, have your photo printed on a DVD and mail the whole thing in a Tiffany's gift box and it still won't do a damn thing unless your tape is good.

One tip: remember not to leave your resume in the office copy machine. That's happened countless times at every station. To a lot of people. Including me.

Hey Grape,

We're supposed to submit sweeps ideas next week and I'm stuck. Any tips on where to look for them?

As we speak the Grape's staff is tirelessly compiling sweeps ideas for the November book, and these will be posted soon. In the meantime, you can focus your search in these areas:

-Things in your house that can kill you
-Things at work that can kill you
-Things on vacation that can kill you

The key is to make viewers so petrified with fear that they will encase themselves in a plastic bubble with a television set until the end of sweeps.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why big city people have a hard time starting out

When you grow up in the New York City area, most every other city in this country seems like a small town.

My biggest problem starting out in a medium market was dealing with the energy, or lack thereof, of the city. When you go from a city that never sleeps to a place that rolls up the sidewalks at nine o'clock, it's a big adjustment.

While big city people have an advantage in that they've grown up watching big market reporters, the adjustment to a slower pace can be maddening. No restaurants open after ten, no place to get a decent pastrami sandwich, a newspaper that's more folksy than newsy. (Thank goodness for newspapers on the Internet.) There's an energy you can feel in big cities that just doesn't exist in smaller ones. And that missing element can wear on you and give you a feeling of being lost.

Getting adjusted is tough; just accepting the lifestyle you're now living compared to the one you left behind can make you depressed and even more desperate to get another job. In this business, about 90 percent of us are fishes out of water, as there are very few people fortunate enough to work in their home towns and stay there.

What you have to do in order to adjust is to find the unique things about your market that can make it a memorable experience. While in my first job in Roanoke, Virginia, I discovered a restaurant that served peanut soup. Sounds weird, I know, but it was terrific. But I've never had it anywhere else. The city offered other unique charms; a gorgeous drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, incredibly friendly people (I think I made more friends there than any other place I worked), and a courthouse cafe run by a hilarious woman who could barely speak English but kept all the customers entertained. (You often received your soup with a fork.)

Of course, I didn't appreciate these things when I was there; it was only when I looked back that I saw these unique features that made the town a little different.

You may think you're stuck in a nowhere place, but if you take the time to seek out the things that make it unique, your time there will be a lot more bearable.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Why incompetent people keep their jobs, part deux

Leave it to the New York Mets to blow up my theory by today firing their incompetent manager and clueless General Manager.

In any event, all is right in the New York universe, at least for a day.


Some heroes wear a cape, others carry a microphone

While watching last night's Giants game they popped up a shot of Andy Robustelli, their great defensive end from the 50's and 60's.

And just like that, I was a star-struck eight year old.

Even at that age I had become a football Giants diehard. One Saturday morning my dad announced he was taking me to get a football helmet. What I didn't know was that Robustelli owned a sporting goods store and actually worked there in the offseason. So when we walked in and were greeted by one of my heroes, my jaw dropped. My hand disappeared into his and he led me through the store, then personally took plenty of time fitting me with a helmet as he told me I'd make a great Giants player in the future.

Can you picture any of today's millionaire athletes doing that?

At halftime they showed Frank Gifford, and that took me back two years to the time I had to call him for an interview for my book. Again, the jaw dropped when he actually called back. No secretary, no assistant. Frank Gifford actually picked up the phone and called me.

Sometimes heroes are who you expect them to be.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, as I was back doing more oil spill stories, though this time the focus was on the claims process. We were setting up in a packed meeting hall, filled with a thousand people whose lives had been devastated. They were looking for a lifeline while their lives were tied up with bureaucratic red tape. Some had lost a business, some had lost a home, some had lost both and were sleeping in their cars while waiting for a check that might never come.

At one point a woman came up to me and shook my hand. "Thank you for coming," she said. "You're all we've got left."

When you hear something like that, you can't help but go the extra mile doing a story. And if you don't, you don't belong in this business.

We have an incredible ability to change lives in this business. To make a difference.

Sometimes you might just think you're doing your job, and then you find out something simple you've done has totally changed the life of someone else. Your story might bail out someone in need, raise money for a good cause, or simply inspire someone to take their lives in a different direction. You might do a career day talk and launch the next great reporter, who will change lives in the future. You might expose the bad guys and make them pay, bring an injustice to light, promote a good idea that becomes a life-saving law.

There are plenty of life changing stories out there. When you find one, you're a superhero for a day.

So this week, how about making a difference?