Thursday, December 30, 2010

A resolution suggestion for 2011: find a new angle

I spent a good part of the summer covering the oil spill. It started with oily beaches and fishermen, and gradually moved on to the trickle down effect of the disaster.

When you cover the same thing every day for weeks, eventually you have to start looking for new angles. You can only show oily beach b-roll so many times. You can only talk to out of work shrimpers so many times. And that oil covered pelican was on so many newscasts it should have been paid royalties.

By the end of the summer we'd run the gamut of sidebar stories, everything from dolphin rescues to beach weddings that had been canceled. But every day we strove to come up with something new and interesting.

The problem with local news is that I keep seeing the same stories told the same way over and over and over. I can almost predict what stories will be in a newscast and how they'll be covered. A few examples to illustrate the point:

-Hurricane preps: Live shot from Home Depot or Lowes, generator sales, stocking up on food. B-roll of boarding up homes, evacuating, cleaning out supermarket shelves.

-Murder: Live shot from scene, interviews with tearful family members and police official. B-roll of police lights, yellow crime scene tape, and a mug shot.

-Government meeting: Live shot at night outside closed City Hall, interviews with city officials. B-roll of angry people at meeting.

-Tornado aftermath: Live shot with devastation in background. Interviews with people who lost their homes. B-roll of chain saws cutting fallen trees, cleanup crews, and shots of childrens toys in the rubble.

And you wonder why people aren't watching? You're basically giving viewers what the entertainment division provides during the holiday season: reruns.

The sameness throughout the local news industry is staggering. Reporters do the same stories, talk to the same people, take the same approach. Sure, you get the facts and the basics, but the story you're telling is the same.

The industry has gone on auto-pilot. Insert tearful sound bite here, edit compelling b-roll there, throw in standard nat sound, add a standup for good measure.

So how do you switch back to manual from automatic?

You have to put yourself in the shoes of the viewer. What questions does the viewer want asked? What does the viewer want to see? But you have to take things a lot farther. What is the angle of the story no one has considered? What would make this story unique and interesting?

You consider different angles by putting yourself in different pairs of shoes. That hurricane is coming, but it affects everyone differently. It affects an adult differently than a child. It affects a construction worker differently than someone who works at a zoo. It's an ill wind that will blow a lot of bad and someone some good.

The more shoes you try on, the more viewpoints you'll see.

This year, take the time to consider viewpoints other than your own. You may be obsessed with technology while old people couldn't care less. You may like rap music while the majority of adults find it grating. You may think health care is the most important issue in our country while others think it is the economy.

View the world through the eyes of others, and you'll find more angles.

The more eyes, the more angles.

Find the interesting ones, and run with them.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Caveat emptor

That's Latin for, "Let the buyer beware." (They made me take Latin in high school. Ugh.)

Anyway, you can't be too careful these days, especially when someone promises you a shortcut to a better career. There are some great people out there who truly want to help young journalists.

And there are some that simply see you as an open checkbook.

Full disclosure: I charge for my mentoring services. If you've ever checked my rates you can tell I'm not getting rich off this.

On various television news websites you'll see ads for resume tape services, mentoring, agents, talent coaches, you name it. Some will help you a great deal, others will not. Some will promise the moon and tell you that you'll be in a major market if only you'll sign up as a client. Others take a realistic approach and tell you that while they can help, most of your success will come from you.

When you're young and trusting (if you're not from New York) you're often a salesman's dream. Those blue skies seem appealing, and it's so simple to have someone else take your raw talent and do all the work.

News flash: You still have to do the work yourself.

I hear comments all the time about people who are in the business of helping careers. I've heard about the great agents who take a personal interest and those who sign up clients never to be heard from again. I've heard about resume services that turn out a terrific product and others that will give you something that looks like it was shot by a fifth grader. I've heard of some companies that charge a reasonable fee and others that make some of the loan sharks in my old neighborhood look like amateurs.

If you're shopping for help, do your homework, and treat it as you would the biggest story of your life. If you're going to put your career in someone else's hands, make sure that person has your best interests at heart. Get references, talk to previous and current clients, look at samples of their work. Find out if you're going to be a name, not just a number.

By the way, if you're hiring someone to help you, you're the boss. If you're paying the bill, that person works for you, not the other way around.

Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own career. Be extremely careful when hiring anyone to help.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Closure: the most overused and misunderstood term in television news

Every time I start to watch a package about some crime followed by a trial, I know it's coming.

Person murdered, criminal convicted, interview with family member.

And then the "C" word.

How many times must we hear these gems?

-The family has now achieved closure...

-They are looking for closure...

-Now that the trial is over, there's a sense of closure...

Let me tell you a little about closure. It doesn't really exist. Because the past never goes away.

I have a good friend who had a family member murdered years ago. Man who committed the crime went to jail forever. Yet every year on the day of the crime, he turns into an exposed nerve. Closure? Not hardly. Sure, the guy is in prison for life, but does that bring back the victim?

Stop and think a minute about something precious you've lost. Maybe it's a parent, a beloved pet, a friend. Maybe it's a true love who went off and married someone else.

You may have moved on, but you haven't achieved closure.

People we love leave invisible fingerprints on our souls. When they're gone, it leaves a hole in the heart... and no amount of justice or revenge or time can repair it.

Closure doesn't exist. Find another word to use in these stories. Sure, people feel better when the bad guy's in jail, but that doesn't bring things back to normal, and never will.