Saturday, December 4, 2010

Make a resume tape in your own home!

Okay, I'm not the most technical person in the world but I know a lot about editing. And a friend turned me on to something that can help you make a resume tape with your computer, provided it has a simple editing program.

It's called mpeg streamclip. Don't ask me what it means, but it works.

Here's the free download:

It's great if you have a lot of work on DVDs as it can "rip" clips of video or whole packages and then send them to your editing program. I just did a few projects and it works great. And it works on my Mac as well.

Merry Christmas.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Show-and-tell homework

There was a great line in the show "Burn Notice" the other day. (A terrific show, by the way. Very well written.) The lead character, a spy named Michael Westen, says, after something blows up, "I prefer show over tell."

In other words, telling his enemies he'll blow something up isn't nearly as effective as showing them what he can do.

So it puzzles me that I keep seeing package after package from markets of all sizes that might as well be broadcast on the radio. Because the video never seems to match the copy. Or the video doesn't even exist.

One of the very first things you learn in this business is "write to the video." But if you never bother to shoot the video, you won't be able to write to it. You'll be stuck with all "tell" and no "show."

This is fourth grade stuff. You brought something to class to show it off. You didn't stand up there at the blackboard and talk about something without showing it.

So here's a little exercise you can do this weekend. Take the topics I'm going to list and come up with five visuals that will show rather than tell. I'll give you an example:

It's cold.

So, rather than do a package on the frigid weather and just talk about it, how might we show it? Some examples:

-frozen lake
-person walking outside all bundled up
-seeing someone's breath as they stand outside
-scraping ice from a windshield
-time and temperature clock at a business
-visible exhaust from a car

Got the idea? You could edit all those shots together, and if the audio on your station suddenly went out the viewer would still know it is cold outside. Take that concept and apply it to every story. Learn to think visually, and your packages will go to another level.

Take some of these topics and write as many visuals for them as you can think of. Some of these might not seem visual, but trust me, every story has possibilities. And while you're at it, make a list of nat sound possibilities as well.

-School bus safety
-Property tax hike
-Health care bill
-Mailing gifts for Christmas
-Crackdown on drunk drivers
-Home construction prices

Remember, you need to let your video carry the story. Any reporter can tell a story, but a good reporter has mastered the art of show-and-tell.

There's a reason a great piece of video is called a "money shot." And it has nothing to do with your written copy.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mailbag: Buyouts vs. out clauses


I sent my first round of resume tapes out to about half a dozen of my "ideal" stations last week. I explained in my cover letter that I am under contract until summer 2011. A few days later a News Director called me and asked about contract status and if I had any outs. I explained that I didn't and I had a buyout. His interest seemed to cool very quickly at that point. I didn't know if I should say that I'm willing to buy myself out of my contract because I am concerned that throws up red flags with future employers. At the same time I'm worried about being too tentative and missing an opportunity with a station that's looking to fill a spot right now. Any suggestions on how to handle this one?

Well, since we were just talking about out clauses, let's get to this question first. Out clauses and buyouts are two very different things.

A buyout is technically known as "liquidated damages" which is a nice way of saying "breach of contract." What this means is that the station has invested in you with promotion, training, etc. (even if they haven't) and you have cost them money by leaving early. At many stations the amount of damages can be staggering, especially if you're not making much money.

It bears repeating that you really need to have a lawyer look at every contract, and this clause can be a killer if you need to leave for something other than another job. Let's say mom or dad get sick and you need to move home... wanna pay several thousand dollars for that privilege?

As for why the ND's tone changed in this case, well, when you admit you'll use a buyout you're telling a manager that you have no qualms about breaking a contract... and if you did it to someone else, you'll do it to your new station. Now some NDs don't have a problem with this, and occasionally you hear of a station willing to pay the liquidated damages to hire someone. But tread carefully in any discussions about breaking contracts.

All the more reason to have an out clause in your contract. You're not breaking a contract when using an out clause, but in the eyes of a News Director you are when you use a buyout.


How many years do you need to spend at your first job? Some people tell me three years, but I know of people who have moved on in one.

Well, it's different for every person and the situation at every station is different. Personally, if you don't "get it" in three years you probably never will. Most rookies make a quantum leap between day one and the end of the first year, providing they are working in a good mentoring environment and getting help from management and the veterans. Others get thrown into the newsroom and never hear a word.

At some point in your first job the light bulb will go off, the clouds will part and the ray of sunshine will light up your career. You'll realize that your work has reached a certain level and you're not going to get any better working at your current station.

But that focal point is different for everyone. The key to a successful first job is to get feedback while watching the work of people in bigger markets. Combine those two things and you'll move up the ladder fast. Nothing wrong with looking for a new job after one year.

And please, rookies, don't sign a three year contract for your first job.

Hi Grape,
Do you think broadcasting is in better shape than it was a year ago?

Yeah, I really do. I think 2009 was the year of the shakeout. We're not seeing those mass layoffs anymore, and that four billion politicians spent this year was a nice infusion of capital.

The business will still never reach the levels it did years ago, but at least things are staying afloat.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An old trick to break into anchoring

There are two things in this business that can be terribly frightening: your first live shot, and your first time on the anchor desk. If there's a deep end of the pool in broadcasting, this is it.

When it comes to live shots, there's no easy way to slowly break in. You can't do part of a live shot, then work your way up to a full live shot.

But with anchoring, there's a way to slowly dip your toe into the waters.

This is an old method that worked very well years ago. Why News Directors don't do this anymore is beyond me. Some have an aversion to anything from the "old days." But this is how I, and many others of my generation, broke in on the anchor desk.

Morning cut-ins.

Years ago reporters took turns doing the morning cut-ins for a week at a time. Once every six weeks or so you'd see yourself on the schedule for cut-in duty. This served two purposes. It gave the morning anchor a break, and let reporters have a taste of anchoring. By the time you did four cut-ins per day for five days, you were comfortable with the set, the prompter, and how things work in the studio.

The best part of doing cut-ins is that they're so short. You read a quick story or two, toss to the weather person, then maybe read a tease for the evening newscast. All together you might have sixty seconds of copy. Not too much to get stressed over.

Compare that with a maiden voyage on the anchor desk doing a full newscast. All sorts of disasters can happen in thirty minutes, and the size of the script can make you break out in hives. It's too much, all at once. The other problem with breaking in on a full newscast is the snowball effect; once a rookie makes a mistake, the newscast becomes a snowball rolling downhill, with errors piling up on themselves.

If you're doing a sixty second cut-in, how bad can it be?

Trust me, this works. If you wanna break in on the anchor desk, ask your ND if you can do it in this manner. It's easier on you, easier on the viewers, and you'll develop a comfort factor that will make your first real newscast a lot easier. Your ND will develop a comfort factor as well, and he's more likely to "risk" letting you do cut-ins than a whole newscast. Nothing makes a ND break out in hives like throwing a rookie on the set for a main newscast and hoping everything doesn't crash and burn.

The deep end of the pool is no place for a rookie anchor. Wade in slowly if you can.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The ins and outs of outs

How do you ask for an out clause without making it seem like you want to leave?

Got this question yesterday and it bears answering, as many people don't understand the deal with out clauses. I would venture to guess those of you in college have never even heard the term.

An out clause is something in your contract that permits you to leave before the end of the contract, provided you meet the parameters of the clause. For instance, let us say you signed a two year contract in market 80. You have an out clause that lets you leave after 18 months to go to any station market 40 and higher. That is known as a "Top 40 out." So if a station in market 34 offers you a job in the last six months of your contract, you can leave. If a station in market 41 makes an offer, you can't.

There are no rules for out clauses, as they can be written in any manner. A good friend of mine had a "specific market out clause" for his hometown, since that was the only place he wanted to go. When he got an offer there, he was legally entitled to leave. Most times out clauses are based on market size, and kick in toward the last part of the contract. Some people negotiate out clauses with a bunch of markets, or a specific state.

Now, back to the original question. Usually when a ND wants to hire you, he will offer the worst contract and salary, in hopes you'll say yes. He might say, "three year contract, and we don't give outs." Well, guess what. EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE. Remember that phrase. Because if someone wants to hire you bad enough, they'll bend. Some people won't, but it never hurts to try.

So let's say you don't want a three year contract, but the ND won't budge on that. You can say, "How about a two year contract with a top 40 out during the third year?" Therefore, you've effectively cut your contract down one year, provided you can find a job in a top 40 market. If you can't, you're stuck the full three years. (By the way, three year contracts are way too long for a first or second job.)

Let's say you're from Texas, and you want to go back home. You might ask for a Texas out, or an out clause that states you can leave to go to Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio. And you might want to include cable operations in your out clause. For instance, if a Dallas cable outlet offered you a job, you might not be able to leave unless your out clause included cable. That's a gray area, so make sure everything is spelled out.

Now, if you're doing a market size out clause, you'll want a realistic number. For instance, if you're in your first job in market 150 and your ND offers you a top 10 out, that's ridiculous, because odds are you won't make that kind of jump. Make sure your market is attainable.

As always, it is imperative that you have a lawyer review any contract, and especially any out clause you have in the contract. Stations can play hardball when it comes to contracts, and unless you follow the parameters to the letter, you might be stuck.

Back to original question again. News Directors know that just about everyone will leave at some point, especially if you're from another part of the country. It is ridiculous to assume someone from New York has a lifelong ambition to work in Peoria. As long as you ask for an out clause politely, and don't make it seem as if you'll bolt in a few months. Out clauses generally kick in toward the end of a contract, so as long as it appears you'll work out the majority of a contract, most NDs won't have a problem with that.

One more tip: Many NDs will say, "This company doesn't give out clauses." Well, it's up to you to put on your reporter's hat and find out if that is true. Check with some other stations in the group and find out if other people have outs. If they do, you know for sure that getting an out clause is possible.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Supply, meet demand

As a lifelong Mets fan, I despise the Yankees. Therefore, Derek Jeter makes me sick. The smug look, the supermodel girlfriends, the damned clutch hits. Please.

So I'm greatly enjoying sitting back and watching the chess game being played between Jeter and the Yankees regarding a new contract. Jeter, in case you don't follow sports closely, just finished a contract during which he made 189 million dollars. The Yankees, meanwhile, seems as though they can print money faster than Congress.

Jeter wants a raise. I'm reminded of the line from Wall Street in which Charlie Sheen asks Michael Douglas, "How many yachts can you water ski behind?"

Seriously, Derek, how much cash do you need? Notice that little thing called a recession lately?

On the other side, the Yankees can't mistreat a guy who has been their soul for so long. Their stance is that he's gotten old and his talent is fading. They just paid him 189 million. Should they pay for part performance, reward a guy for being a great player and staying off the police blotter?

This is going to be fun to watch.

Which brings us to the television news industry. (You're saying, "It's about damned time, Grape.") When negotiating a salary, you have to always keep in mind one simple fact: in this business, supply always exceeds demand. One job opening brings hundreds of resume tapes. A News Director knows if his first choice is too expensive, there are plenty of other choices out there who will jump at an offer.

A few years ago I worked with an anchor who had been at a station a long time. He was popular, made a terrific salary, and was well liked in the community. He liked the market and didn't want to move. Yet for some odd reason, he and his agent decided to play hardball at contract time. Instead of taking the station's fair offer he held out for a lot more. And held out.

And ended up out of a job.

TV stations and popular anchors often end up in the same situation as the Yanks and Derek Jeter. And sometimes pride gets in the way and both sides lose. The station loses a popular anchor, and the anchor loses a job.

It's important to bear this in mind when negotiating any contract. When you play hardball, you can get drilled, just like in baseball. Keep any negotiations civil, and don't ask for the moon. Because everyone is replaceable.