Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolutions you might consider

Most people make pretty normal resolutions...you know, lose weight, quit smoking, send out ten resume tapes each month, etc. But if you're stuck for something meaningful you might give it a little more thought, and it might even help your career.

Considering the state of local news, the business in general, and the fact that viewers are leaving in droves you might think the biz has no future. Let's face it, it is not exactly a growth industry. But while TV News as we know it has an uncertain future, you can still make it better in the present. I'm always reminded of the great Carole Kneeland, the late News Director who worked in Texas and coined the phrase, "It is never the wrong time to do the right thing." Carole had a wonderful view of the news business, as she basically turned down the police scanner and did stories that actually affected people. She also believed in treating people well, something that is often lost in many newsrooms today. If you simply let her famous quote weave its way through your life and career, you might see things in a different light...and make this business a little better.

So, with that in mind, here are a few suggestions to "re-invent" yourself in 2012:

-Make a difference with a story. Once each month, make it a point to knock out a package that makes the world a better place.

-Don't "advance" a story for the sake of advancing. Too often this leads to speculation, rumors and misinformation. We're not in the rumor business. If you have nothing new in the way of hard facts, tell the public just that. Viewers would appreciate the honesty.

-Praise a co-worker in front of someone else. Don't just tell the photog he shot some great video, make sure someone hears you say it.

-Welcome the new person at your station. Too often the new guy gets the cold shoulder because someone else wasn't promoted from within.

-Do stories that really affect the viewer. Don't just take a press release and pass it on. Find two sides of the story, then look for the third point of view... one that affects the average person.

-If you're an on-air person, be nice to the people who make you look good. Treat a photog to lunch, thank the truck op for pulling cables, buy a box of donuts for the morning meeting.

-Don't yell in the newsroom. Ever.

-Bury the ego.

-Spend time in someone else's shoes. If you're a reporter, don't criticize a producer if you've never spent a minute in the control room. If you're a producer, don't send field crews on assignments that can't be completed unless you've spent time in the field. Find out what everyone in the newsroom does and you might have a better appreciation of other points of view.

-Print out the phrase "It is never the wrong time to do the right thing" and stick it above your computer. It might help you make good decisions in the future.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Setting goals for 2012

I know, most of you only have one. "Find a new job."

But achieving that goal takes many steps. Sure, you can send out one tape and get lucky, but in most cases moving up the ladder is a process. Just because you have three good packages and a decent montage doesn't mean you're going anywhere.

The problem is that many young people are so focused on finding those resume tape stories they forget about the day-to-day job of reporting...and taking your eye off the ball can make you miss what could be the story that gets you...wait for it...outta Dodge.

If you do your best every day, the resume tape stories will magically appear.

But you need a set of goals to make those resume tape stories routine. If you're serious about moving on, and I know most of you are, here are the goals you need to set for 2012:

-I will treat every story as if the News Director at the station I want to work for is watching. Even if I receive a horrible assignment, I will go all out and treat it as if it is the last story I will ever do.

-I will pitch at least one enterprise story every day. I will treat looking for enterprise stories as part of my daily routine, even on off days.

-I will look beyond the two sides of the story for the third angle to make my story unique. I will never do a package with a single-source sound bite unless it is a profile piece.

-I will do a creative standup in every story. (Funerals are the exception.)

-I will write to my video and turn a clever phrase when it is appropriate.

-I will use nat sound and creative editing in every story.

-If I am shooting my own video I will always use a tripod.

-If I am working with a photog I will ask for his input as to how the story might be covered.

-I will dress professionally for every story that requires it.

-I will watch reporters and anchors from other markets and networks to get ideas on how to improve my own skills.

-Finally, I will send tapes to any station, whether or not it has an opening, regardless of my experience.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

And Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends as well.

Sorry, I've just had enough of this politically correct "happy holidays" stuff.

May the PC police get coal in their stockings.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

The one-man-band's night before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas,
and all thru the station,
the photogs were gone,
on permanent vacation.

Reporters all stared
at the equipment with fear,
and hoped a new job offer
soon would be near.

When out from the scanner
there arose such a clatter.
It was a big story,
one that truly would matter.

The reporter then loaded
the car she would drive.
The gear weighed one fifty,
she was just a buck-five.

She drove to the story,
and hoped things would jell,
one hand on the steering wheel,
the other on her cell.

It took her four trips
to set up the gear,
then she turned on her camera,
and cranked up the fear.

Was the video in focus?
Was the audio clear?
The interview subject
soon would be here.

Would her standup look good,
and the shot be in frame?
She did not want
to return looking lame.

The man started talking,
she pressed the red button.
The lights started flashing,
but then she got nothin'.

The levels weren't moving,
her camera stopped rolling,
the battery was dead,
the producer was calling.

"No Video! No Audio!
No B-Roll! No Nats!
This technical garbage
is driving me bats!"

She swapped out the battery
and answered the call.
Her mike gave out feedback,
her mike flag would fall.

She started to feel all stressed out and bitter,
as the producer reminded her about Facebook and Twitter.
Her camera was dead, her mike was still screaming,
she hoped against hope that she was just dreaming.

She started to tremble and kept on trying,
a photog looked over and thought she'd start crying.
He reached for her camera, and flipped just one switch,
then everything worked, without nary a hitch.

She smiled at the photog,
turned back to the story.
She'd ask a great question,
go home with some glory.

But the man had stopped talking,
he was no longer there.
She'd missed the whole story,
the cupboard was bare.

The photog came over,
gave her shoulders a rub.
He said, "Don't worry, kid,
I'll make you a dub."

"One person cannot
do the job of two.
It isn't your fault,
shooting is what I do."

He handed her the tape,
and wished her the best.
She gave him a hug,
felt a tug in her chest.

On that Christmas Eve,
as she watched the yule log,
the one gift she wanted
was a job with a photog.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New look

Maybe you've noticed this blog has undergone an extreme makeover. Gone is the hot-pink-mauve-rose-plum-whatever background color (which originally was called "wine"... get it? grapevine, wine....)

Anyway, an author friend of mine named Dwight Okita has a lot more artistic talent than I (my art development stopped with finger paint) so he was nice enough to design what's called a "header" at the top of the blog, incorporating the TV lights you see with the name of the blog.

Anyway, if you have a blog and it is currently "headless" and in need of some artwork, touch base with Dwight. Here's a little explanation of what he does:

"I recently noticed that a lot of blogs out in the blogosphere are running around headless! The header to a blog is prime real estate. It's the first thing visitors see that establishes your identity/personality/brand. I wanted to offer a service to bloggers by designing personalized headers at an affordable price -- currently $75. See my website for other header styles: http://dwightland.homestead.com."

Meanwhile, you might check out his book which was one of the top three finishers in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I personally think it's a pretty amazing story.



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Friday, December 9, 2011

The Albert Pujols waterskiing yacht hypothesis

I know, that sounds like a title of an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" but it has more to do with television than you might think.

Yesterday St. Louis Cardinal icon Albert Pujols signed a 254 million dollar contract with the Angels. Think about that number for a moment. A quarter of a billion dollars. Those are the kinds of numbers thrown around in Congress when we're talking budget cuts.

Anyway, by all accounts Albert was blissfully happy in St Louis, one of America's best baseball towns. The fans adored him, he was seemingly a good guy who stayed out of the police blotter, and on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Bottom line, the guy had a great life.

But he turned down about 220 million from the Cardinals.

So amazingly, once again, we must quote Charlie Sheen. (Not the tiger blood Internet Charlie Sheen, but the Bud Fox Charlie Sheen from the movie Wall Street.)


"How many yachts can you waterski behind?"

-Charlie Sheen to Michael Douglas



Basically Sheen's character is wondering, "How much money can you possibly spend?" Which brings us to a question for Albert: What's the difference between 220 million and 254 million? (And yes, I know it's 34 million, but that's not the point.) Second question: How are you going to feel when all those notoriously laid back LA fans leave the stadium in the seventh inning to beat the traffic?

And that brings me back to an anchor I know who was very successful in a decent sized market. He'd been there several years, was very popular. He liked management, management liked him. Good company.

So contract time rolls around and he hires an agent who plays hardball. Asks for more money. A lot more money. Won't budge on the figure.

You guessed it, finally the station moved on and rescinded its offer. Which left that anchor scrambling for another job. He ended up moving to a place he didn't like, and didn't stay there when that contract ended. Bottom line, the happy job experience was gone forever.

I got an email from someone recently who was very happy in her job, making a great salary, loved her company and co-workers, yet was still looking to move on.

Perhaps she hasn't realized she can only waterski behind one yacht.

You can't put a price on comfort and happiness. As someone who has worked in places I loved and places I hated, I can tell you all the money in the world won't make a place you don't like any better. Think long and hard before leaving a perfect situation, because there aren't many out there.

If you've found your yacht, why look for another?

-

Friday, December 2, 2011

Covering the second coming

Years ago we had a News Director who would get extremely excited when assigning a "nothing" story. He'd act as if we should call the network when the story was actually nothing more than a time-filler. We used to joke when we'd get an assignment like this, saying, "You'd think we're heading out to cover the second coming." That reference is, of course, to the return of Jesus to this planet. Which would, naturally, be the biggest story in the history of the news business.

So a while back this thought ran through my head. What would television news people do if we really did have to cover the second coming?

The answer is in my second novel. It's titled "The End" since it might be the end of the world...or it might not. In any event, you'll have to buy the book to find out how television news would cover the arrival of a messenger from heaven... and how judgment day would play out in high-definition via satellite. It's published under my pen name, Nick Harlow.

Right now it's available in the electronic version on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iTunes bookstore, etc. for the whopping sum of $2.99. You can also download it to any computer if you don't have an e-reader by downloading the free app provided by the bookseller.

I hope you'll check it out or give it to someone for Christmas. Oh, same deal as before. Send me a receipt proving you've bought the book and I'll critique one story or anchor segment free.



http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-end/id474993680?mt=11

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-end-nick-harlow/1106574268?ean=2940013266940&itm=1&usri=nick+harlow

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sometimes, great people trump a bad company

Whenever people ask me about the best and worst places I've worked, the answer is often the same station.

Huh?

Well, you can think of stops during your career in two ways. The people with whom you share a newsroom, and the company itself. And let's face it, these days many companies aren't remotely human, having been taken over by beancounters and non-creative types.

And very often, if you're being treated badly by management or your company throws nickels around like manhole covers, you seek solace in your co-workers. After all, you're in the same boat, and misery loves company.

I can remember one station that started out terrific. Great News Director who was a friendly guy, company that paid well and had great benefits, members of management who had a heart.

And then we got sold. To a company that was just the opposite, and a News Director who reminded everyone of Mister Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life." Nasty and cheap is not a good combination and makes for a toxic work environment.

I remember a line from another reporter about the new guy. "He said he wants to unite the newsroom. Well, he's done it." Problem was, we were all united. Against him.

Ironically, this brought us all closer even though we were pretty close before. The friendships became tighter, any competition in the newsroom disappeared, as we were all united in one cause: the resistance.

I still have plenty of friends from that place. One of the best...and worst places I've ever worked.

It just illustrates the importance of a news team in this environment. If you're in an "every man for himself" shop that's owned by a bad company, you've got the worst of both worlds. If you work together and help one another, even the worst environment can be a positive one. You simply have to tune out that junk rolling downhill from corporate and focus on the friendships in the newsroom.

Is your newsroom a "family" and does every day seem like a Thanksgiving get-together? Or are you all doing your own thing?

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Monday, November 21, 2011

A Black Friday story you might consider

If I'm a reporter covering Black Friday, I could write my script today. It's the same everywhere, local and network, from every reporter. The opening nat sound of the store security chain going up, the hordes rushing in. The soundbites with a few shoppers who scored bargains and a store manager who says business was great. Nat breaks of gifts being scanned at the checkout counter. Shots of people in sleeping bags (who aren't interested in Occupying the Store forever.)

Seriously, do we have to see the same damn package every year?

Many years ago I got sick of doing this story. I mean, if I was going to get up at the crack of dawn (which you all know I hate) I was going to do something fun and different.

Hence the advent of "This season's most obnoxious toys" package.

I got the idea when I was at a dinner party at the home of a couple who had a demon child that simply wouldn't go to bed. Nothing but adults in the house, and this kid kept getting up and annoying people. Finally he started following me around wanting to play a game. I asked him if he wanted to play hide and seek, told him to go hide, and never looked for him. Problem solved.

So it occurred to me the couple that had spawned this hatchling from Hades needed a little payback and a taste of their own medicine. If their kid was gonna annoy others, he might as well annoy his own parents.

We set up a story with one of the biggest toy stores in the area and I asked the manager to round up the noisiest, most obnoxious toys in the store. He didn't disappoint. A mechanical Santa that did nothing but rap. A CD of the chipmunks version of "Achy Breaky Heart." A battery operated chicken that squawked incessantly. You get the idea. It turned out to be a hilarious package. And then it became an annual affair, as viewers got a real kick out of it. I often wonder how many parents received these lovely stocking stuffers and maybe got the idea their kid wasn't Macaulay Culkin.

Anyway, you might float that one by your ND if you want to get out of the usual Black Friday mold.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Chemistry: the intangible that can get you...or cost you...a job

We all know the most talented person often doesn't get the job. Same with the most experienced, the best looking, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But there's one factor we've not talked about here over the years when it comes to anchor jobs...and that's chemistry.

During my career I co-anchored with a lot of people. Some were great friends with whom I had a lot in common, others were people who I couldn't stand that made me leave skid marks on the set at 6:31 pm. Some seemed to be on the same wavelength when it came to cross talk and ad-libs, while others would hand you a dead fish coming out of a break.

Which brings us to the "chemistry interview."

Awhile back I was working at a station and we lost our female co-anchor. So we did the usual; ran an ad, went through the tapes, held a gong show, and narrowed things down to the three finalists. Had this been a solo anchor job we would have offered it to the person at the top of the list, but because the woman we hired would have to work with a co-anchor, we had to see if there was a spark of chemistry. Viewers love on-air "couples" with chemistry.

So we arranged to bring all three women in to do a mock newscast with the guy who would be their co-anchor. In effect, we needed his opinion before picking, as one anchor once put it, "My on-air wife." But first, we sent each one to lunch with the guy. No management, just the two of them. We couldn't just pull people off the street, throw them on the set and expect chemistry. We needed to at least let them get to know each other for an hour or two in a casual setting. Then we brought them back to the newsroom, let the woman sit next to the guy as he prepared his newscast.

When the newscast was done we simply re-loaded the prompter and let the two of them do a mock show.

When we were done with all three, we watched each tape to see if there was chemistry. Then we brought the anchor in to ask who he'd like to work with. You might think management had all the power in such decisions, but this is one occasion where an anchor's opinion carries a good deal of weight. The anchor told us who he liked, who he felt comfortable with, who he had the most in common with. Then we made our decision. It was as important for him to be comfortable with the hire as we were.

So, how can you improve your chances in this scenario? You really can't. You can't fake chemistry, and you can't snap your fingers and produce it. It's either there or it's not. And it may be the reason the person most deserving of the job didn't get it.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In national stories, money and/or fame are often motivating factors

About five years ago we were hot on the trail of a suspected murderer in one of the country's highest profile cases. A bunch of reporters were staying in the same hotel, and we had just scored an interview with someone who knew the suspect years ago. The woman said very nice things about the guy, what a good person he was, couldn't imagine him killing anyone, etc.

The next morning I was talking to a reporter from a national tabloid who told me she'd seen our interview. "I'm talking to her today," the reporter said. "She looked like a good interview."

"She was," I said. We all went our separate ways that day, looking for more sidebars and clues.

A few days later the tabloid hit the stands, and the woman I'd interviewed had changed her story 180 degrees. The photog was so incensed we went back to the woman's home and asked her how she could have changed her story so drastically.

"I just remembered a few other things," she said, smiling like she'd just won the lottery.

Right.

Checkbook journalism? Fifteen minutes of fame? Both? You make the call.

Which is why you need to be very careful if you end up covering a story like Penn State or the allegations against Herman Cain. While much of what you hear may be true, there are always people out there looking for money, fame or both.

And when I see someone give an interview accompanied by one of those high profile victim attorneys, the red flags go up.

But really, how do you know? In a he-said-she-said story, how can you tell who's telling the truth? And who's just looking for a payday? (Check out the recent Justin Bieber paternity suit for an example.)

The Penn State story is beyond creepy and sad, but you know there will be some people jumping on the lawsuit bandwagon who don't have a legitimate claim. Herman Cain's story reminds me of Bill Clinton's first run for President, when his "bimbo eruptions" made headlines. It seemed he'd had affairs with every woman in Arkansas. Who was telling the truth and who was looking for a payday? Impossible to tell.

But when covering allegations, it helps to look into the background of the person making the accusations before convicting the accused in the media. Is the accuser someone who has a history of being litigious, who's looking for a big check? Does the accuser have a motive beyond a financial one? And what's the history of any attorney involved? Dig a little deeper before jumping to conclusions. And in the Penn State case, the most interesting part of that story is the District Attorney who disappeared. Solve that mystery and you might find the truth in the whole story.

In many cases, accusations imply guilt. It's like the classic no-win question to a politician. "When did you stop beating your wife?" Guilty before answering, because the question offers a no-win scenario. In sexual harassment accusations, there is no real definition of sexual harassment when it comes to spoken word. What's funny to one woman might be offensive to another.

So be careful before jumping to any conclusions. While the "where there's smoke, there's fire" line is often true, sometimes the people feeding the fire are doing so for self-serving reasons.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mailbag: Rip 'n' read 2.0

Hi Grape,

Last week Conan O'Brien showed a montage of local anchors "putting their own spin" on a same-sex marriage he was going to perform on his show. However, every anchor said the same lead, almost verbatim, about how Conan may be about to "push the envelope on late night television." The anchors were the brunt of the joke, showing how lazy we can be. Not to mention it adds another ding to local news. Oh and I was one of those anchors. Personal ding.

This touches on the tendency for anchor/producers to rip-and-read. You rip the copy you've been sent from the network and read it on air instead of doing a slight creative edit on your own. A lot of mornings we're pressed for time. You know how it goes. So I just don't know how to be creative in a quick manner. Do you have any pointers on speeding up your creativity? Especially for teases and leads? Does it just come from experience? How are you so creative under deadline pressure, Grape?


Ah, the old rip and read monster rears its ugly head again.

Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth I'd gotten my first radio job and the News Director told me, "We don't rip and read here. EVERYTHING must be re-written."

For those of you who don't know where the term came from, well, back in the day we had these huge wire machines that were very loud and continuously spit out paper as it was typed. Usually the low man on the totem pole was assigned to "strip the wire" which meant you had to gather up the paper, flip down the wire machine's plexiglass cover, and rip the paper using the straightedge. Meanwhile, whoever had built the station had taken a two-by-four, hammered a bunch of nails into it, and hung it near the wire machine with the nails facing out. Over each nail were signs reading "news" "sports" "features" "weather" etc. You would then spike the copy onto the appropriate nail, (and yes, plenty of news people have been impaled over the years in this process.) So whoever was reading the news knew that the copy that had most recently been spiked was the newest stuff.

Nowadays rip and read has morphed into "cut and paste" since newsrooms now operate on computers.

Okay, end of history lesson. Back to the original question, and you're not going to like my answer.

You can't teach creativity. You either have it or you don't.

What can help, however, is time management. It's harder to use the creativity you have under pressure, so when you're laying out your newscast, the first thing you should do is write your teases and leads. And if you're spending the early part of your shift sending emails, talking on the phone and playing with social networking, stop. You can do that stuff off the clock.

You should also identify the person on staff who has that creative knack for turning a phrase, and use that person for a clever line. I used to work with a producer who would get stuck on occasion, and ask me if I could come up with something fun for a tease. Every station has a few of these people. Figure out who is the most creative person working on any particular newscast and assign that person the teases and leads.

The main problem, though, is that computers have made it so easy to cut and paste that people take the path of least resistance. Back in the day you had to re-type everything onto these carbon paper sets for the teleprompter, and since you had to re-type it anyway you figured you may as well re-write it.

Hope that helps.

--

Monday, November 7, 2011

Welcome to Palookaville, and if you don't like it here, get the hell out

Let's face it, the people in the television news business make up one massive fish-out-of-water story. You rarely get to work in your hometown, and very often find yourself moving to places you last mentioned in fifth grade geography class.

That first job can be an emotional killer. You might be a five hour plane flight from home, don't know a soul, dealing with weather you've never experienced, and a general public that seems foreign. The things you took for granted, the style of life, doesn't exist anymore.

Welcome to Palookaville.

Oh, and don't think I'm generalizing by saying all small markets are in Palookaville. The concept of Palookaville is different things to different people. To people who grew up in small towns, big cities can be as distasteful as small towns are to big city people.

Fish out of water. Doesn't matter where the fish is from, or the size of the pond. If you're out of your element, you're stressed.

I've often said that reporters who grew up in big cities have an advantage coming out of college, since they've grown up watching the best people. But in this fish story, it's the people who grew up in that one-traffic-light town who get the upper hand.

Why? Because it is harder for a big city person to slow down than a small town person to speed up.

Example: Grocery store in a big city. You put your stuff on the conveyor belt, cashier scans it, says nothing. You swipe your card, say nothing, and wheel your cart outta there.

Grocery store in a small town. You put your stuff on the conveyor belt, then begin to read the Hollywood tabloids because either the cashier has to have an extended conversation with the customer in front of you about Lindsay Lohan, or the customer in front of you fails to grasp the concept that she will have to actually pay for groceries. You know what I mean. Cashier rings up the total; then, and only then, does said customer open her purse, fumble through it, pull out a checkbook, ask if she can write a check for an extra twenty bucks, waits till the cashier gets approval from the manager. She couldn't have that checkbook ready when the cashier hit the total button? Noooooooo. Meanwhile, your Haagen-Dazs has now turned into a very expensive milkshake and you're heading to the pharmacy aisle looking for the equivalent of over-the-counter valium.

But reverse the process, and the small town person probably just thinks the cashier who said nothing is having a bad day and politely goes on his way.

Meanwhile, there's the stuff that's available. A big city person who can't get a sandwich after eight p.m. will go nuts while a small town person will marvel at the fact that you can roll out of bed at three in the morning and order a lobster.

Finally, the biggest factor of all. The people who live in your new home. If you don't have an accent that matches the locals, you're either an outsider who will never be accepted, or a novelty that invites attention. And every town is different. Some accept everyone, some hate all outsiders. (And all you have to do is mispronounce one local town and you've got the outsider label.)

Learning and polishing reporting skills is one thing, but dealing with a new environment can be the toughest aspect of this career. Just realize that if you're feeling lost and hopelessly out of place, you're not alone. The best thing you can do is adopt a "When in Rome" policy, get involved with a local charity, and think of it as a stop along the road trip of life.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Another side of the story

Interesting piece of reporting from a newspaper on the Occupy story. Shows a different angle of the story when the cameras are not around:

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/my_in_tents_night_amid_anarchy_of_ush5s5NscUZincUN0tF0yO



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Thursday, November 3, 2011

It takes a village to raise an idiot

And we're the village.

Yep, us. Wanna know why the public is so uninformed? Take a look at the garbage in many local newscasts.

I say this now because the media seems to be falling over itself over the marriage/quickie divorce of a certain woman who is famous for being famous. We won't mention her name because that's what she wants; people in the media to keep talking about her.

Yet stories about this person creep into local newscasts all the time. And if it is not her, it's the ditsy hotel heiress or the actress who keeps her train wreck in a constant state of derailment. They're front page news. Why? I have no idea. What these people do doesn't affect anyone.

And when we feed the public a steady diet of fake news, we're raising idiots. Oh, don't tell me this quickie divorce is entertainment news either; the woman is not an entertainer. She simply exists. She lives for two things: money and fame. And we're stupid enough to give it to her.

I've seen a few network talk shows the past few days talk about her, one host asking, "Why is America fascinated by her?" My answer: Because you keep talking about her. If the media stopped, we could move on to more important issues.

Stuff like this never would have been news years ago. But now a local newscast often offers viewers a steady diet of faux entertainment news, YouTube clips and convenience store crime videos.

Then, inevitably, Jay Leno goes out and asks people to identify the Vice President, showing how stupid the general public can be. And you wonder why people can't answer correctly?

It used to be every village had an idiot. Now the village is overrun with them. They can't be informed if we don't provide real information.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Legwork or lack thereof: the new bias in the industry

There's obvious, in-your-face bias that the general public can spot a mile away. There's bias by omission, by which you don't cover stories that go against your agenda.

Welcome, boys and girls, to the latest tangent to the omission condition: legwork bias. Or, to put it in simpler terms, how hard do you really dig for a story that doesn't support your agenda?

Let's say your News Director is a card carrying member of one political party and you're a member of another. He assigns you to look into allegations concerning a candidate you really like. Are you gonna turn over endless slips of paper like Redford and Hoffman in "All the President's Men" or just phone it in? And if you're assigned to dig up skeletons in the closet of a candidate you despise, will you pull out all the stops?

Many news organizations think they're being fair by covering both sides, but very often the effort is not equal.

I'll give you two examples: the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Watch coverage of either of these groups on a variety of stations and you'll come away with very different viewpoints. Right now Occupy is often the lead story... but are you getting the full story? I have friends in NYC who tell me the movement is just a few hundred people, but I've yet to see an aerial shot of the group, like the one we got of the Tea Party rally in Washington, DC. It reminds me of the time we showed up to cover a protest and there were about four people. I called in and told the desk we had no story, and was told to "shoot it tight."

So is Occupy a growing horde of people, or just a few hundred "shot tight?" We've seen plenty of shots of people being hauled away by cops, but where's the police point of view? And why are reporters saying both groups are similar? Do you remember any arrests during Tea Party protests? Confrontations with police? Did any Tea Party gatherings create a health hazard?

These are separate stories, very different stories, but both provide evidence of bias on both sides. Underestimating or overestimating crowds, pointing out the whack jobs or sympathetic figures, or using one protest sign to symbolize the entire group are easy means to a biased end. And in regard to the latter, does one protest sign mean all Tea Party members are racist and all Occupy members are anti-Semitic? If you're covering a group, you can't just focus on one person.

If you're going to dig on any story, make sure you keep using your shovel until you hit paydirt. If not, you're just digging yourself a hole.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Too many treats, not enough tricks

I remember getting my first apartment, and the feeling of being on my own. Sorta like being a homeowner without having to cut the grass.

Anyway, Halloween rolled around and I got home around seven. Suddenly a knock on the door.

"Trick or treat!"

Aw, hell. I mean, what bachelor living in an apartment expects kids to come knocking on the door?

I was stuck. I couldn't exactly break off a piece of the giant Cadbury bars I bought at the time. There was nothing remotely close to a "fun size" chocolate bar around and all I had in the fridge was some leftover linguine. Meanwhile, the kids were getting impatient. I needed to throw something in their plastic pumpkins.

I found a few ketchup packets left over from a fast food run, wrapped my hand tightly around them, and placed one in each pumpkin, making sure to bury it in the bottom. The kids took off and I turned out the lights.

I know, I'm a big meanie, but it was either that or get egged. Maybe all the bad Karma I've endured is the result of some poor kid dumping out his pumpkin and having his mother say, "Some SOB gave you ketchup?"

I related this story years later to a friend who thought it was hilarious. He decided to incorporate it into his Halloween stash, spending the year saving every packet of duck sauce, ranch dressing, and honey mustard dip for October 31st. When he recognized the obnoxious kids in his neighborhood, it was condiment city.

Trick. Where is it written that only those who prowl the streets in costume can play tricks?

Which brings us to the concept of payback. It's the same in life as it is in costume on Halloween night.

Be nice to people you work with and they'll give you the equivalent of chocolate when you ask for something. Trample the rose bushes and you go home with expired hollandaise sauce.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three success stories that nuke the market size myth down to the molecular level

Stop me if you've heard any of these before:

"You have to start in a tiny market, spend two or three years there, then maybe move up 30 or 40 markets."

"You need several years experience to get a job in a medium market."

"Don't even bother applying to a top 20 market unless you have ten years experience."

Sound familiar? You've probably heard one or all of these from a college professor, crusty old reporter, or News Director.

And they're all true. Check that, they were all true in 1980.

But that was then and this is now. And "now" being what it is, the rules have gone out the window. There are no rules. Nada. Bupkes. Oogatz.

Many people of my generation are freelancers or have left the business entirely. Bottom line, most old reporters aren't gonna pick up a camera. That has created a ton of openings in big markets for young people.

Some of you are saying, "Hell, Grape, you've been saying this for years. Where's the proof?"

Well, in the past month, I've had three clients make huge market jumps. Submitted for your approval, three success stories that dispel the market size myth once and for all:

-Catherine Ross, reporter, moving from KXMC in Minot, North Dakota, to KXAS in Dallas.

I started working with Catherine right after Christmas. We hit it off since she grew up a few blocks from my high school and is a rabid Mets fan.

When she told me she was a reporter in Minot, the town was familiar to me. Not because I've been to North Dakota (I haven't) but because Minot used to be THE smallest market in the country. Thanks to an oil boom, it no longer has that distinction, as Minot is now rated as market 157.

Anyway, Catherine was a reporter, and despite working in freezing conditions in the middle of nowhere, she was lucky enough to be working with really good photogs. She also had a knack for finding very interesting enterprise stories, and her writing skills were off the charts. She really used nat sound well, wrote to her video and sound. I could see right away she wouldn't need much help moving on up the ladder.

She also had a great personality on the phone, which is important these days as stations often do phone interviews as a preliminary to a face-to-face talk. She was a smart perfectionist, always asking what could have made her stories a little better.

What set her apart was her ability to find different sides to stories, telling tales from the third and fourth points of view. We fine-tuned her tape, searching for those perfect stories that stick in a News Director's brain.

She started getting calls this summer and was recently hired as a reporter at KXAS, the NBC owned-and-operated station in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Minot (157) to Dallas (5) market jump: 152


-Beau Berman, investigative reporter, moving from KOSA in Odessa, Texas to WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut


If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you already know Beau's work as I've posted links to his stories before. He's the guy who did the terrific series on the fact that local cops were driving around with expired fire extinguishers. When a young girl died in a fire after a cop showed up only to find his extinguisher wouldn't function, Beau dug deeper into the story. He's an old fashioned reporter who believes in legwork, and it showed in his series. He's a serious young man who takes his job seriously.

When I saw the series I knew he was a classic investigative reporter, and you just don't see that skill set in young people anymore. The series later won an AP award and the Edward R. Murrow award. In addition, it got the laws changed regulating the checking of fire extinguishers in police cars. Not only did his series open eyes, it no doubt will save lives in the future. (If you ever do a story that has results like this and changes the world, you'll feel like you won the lottery.)

Beau was getting job offers in big markets, but wanted to be an I-reporter and was hopeful of getting back to the Northeast. I told him he needed to be patient. He understood that not many local stations have investigative reporters anymore, but waited until the right offer came from Hartford. So now he's getting to do investigative stories close to home.

Not bad... change the world for the better and get the job you want.

Odessa (151) to Hartford (30) market jump: 121


Hilary Whittier, reporter, moving from KNDU in Kennewick, Washington to WPIX in New York City (Fuhgeddaboudit!)


So about a year and a half ago I get an email from this young lady asking a simple question about the business. I respond, then she writes back saying she'd be "honored" if I watched one of her stories. Being a sucker for a compliment, I watched and was blown away. The first thing I thought was, "This gal belongs in a big city." Her comfort level on live shots was terrific. Her packages were good, but needed help incorporating nat sound and finding different angles.

I later discovered she had been in the business only six months, which amazed me. I had never seen any rookie look so at home on camera.

During a phone conversation she told me her goal was to get to New York City and was willing to spend a lifetime chasing that dream. When I told her she had the raw talent to make it there, she didn't believe me. She had 18 months to go on her contract, so we worked on her package construction and anchoring. The live shot delivery was something I didn't want to touch, like a baseball coach who doesn't want to mess with a pitcher's delivery. We just worked on more show-and-tell. I met her earlier this year when I was on the West Coast, and I knew she'd be a good interview.

I also told her over and over that she should send tapes to New York. Now. She still thought I was nuts.

Until she got an offer from a New York station.

Kennewick (126) to New York (1) market jump: 125


All of these people are in their mid-twenties. None are former beauty queens, minorities or have any trait that might be perceived as an advantage. There's no nepotism involved; they're not sons or daughters of big wheels in the business. They're simply talented people who had the guts to dismiss the market size myth.

Maybe now you'll believe me. As I kiddingly said to Hilary when she got her job, "Why do you continue to question me? I'm always right."

Can this happen to you? Why the hell not?

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Eulogy for Mom: Filling the blank canvas

Over the years I've mentioned my blue collar Dad many times on this blog, but I've never talked about my Mom. She provided the creativity gene to go along with Dad's street smarts.

And since Mom passed away this week, it's only appropriate that you know the source of the muse that lives in my mind.

While Dad made sandwiches a work of art in the deli, Mom simply created traditional versions. A ceramics teacher who wielded a mean paintbrush when confronted with a blank canvas, she taught me the sheer joy of making something out of nothing. Most of my television stories weren't anything close to artistic, but they all started with a blank tape and empty sheet of paper. She could take a lump of clay and turn it into a beautiful centerpiece for any home. She molded both me and the clay at the same time.

It's worth noting her artistic genius in the kitchen as well, though we Italians feel we are simply born with the cooking chromosome. I've been whipping up concoctions since I could see over the top of the stove. And like most Italians, the recipes were not written down. A little of this, a handful of that, and Mom always made things come out right. Thanks to a childhood as her kitchen assistant, I have no problem duplicating her recipes. They're burned into my brain, which is another blank canvas.

Despite working long hours into the night, she managed to make a comfortable home. It had the traditional Italian Catholic trilogy of pictures hanging on the wall (Sinatra, JFK and the Pope), records playing in her basement art studio (Sinatra or Dean Martin), and the smell of garlic embedded in the wallpaper. Said wallpaper, thanks to my ill-advised attempt at surprising her for Mother's Day, consisted of fish swimming upside down. (Personally, I think she got even with me for that stunt by buying me an accordion, an Italian instrument of torture if ever there was one.)

She also wasn't a Norman Rockwell Mom. While most mothers got sentimental gifts at Christmas, she was thrilled to get the Die Hard DVD collection. Loved Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, and just about any action movie. But she never forgave me for renting a copy of Alien, from then on always asking if a sci-fi movie would feature a creature exploding from someone's chest.

Going through her stuff I was amazed to find a ton of my old homework assignments from grade school. You know, the things Moms stick on refrigerators and put in a scrapbook. Book reports with gold stars, compositions on what I wanted to be when I grew up, poems that really didn't rhyme. But they all started with a blank canvas.

There must be thousands of pieces of pottery scattered across the Northeast that originated in our basement. In the evening I would hear the laughter coming from downstairs as I did my homework; it was her students enjoying the pleasure of creating something out of nothing. Those "somethings" all started as liquid clay poured into molds, or lumps of clay turned into something useful, beautiful, or both.

A blank canvas isn't always a canvas. It can be a sheet of paper, a brand new videotape, a flashing cursor on a new document that hammers your brain and dares you to create something from nothing. What she passed down to me, I've hopefully passed to some of you, so you guys know who to thank.

When you think about it, we're all pretty much a blank canvas when we're born. Our parents set up the easel, give us the paint and the brushes. Tell us to try our best to color inside the lines and not get any of it on the wall. Then it's up to us what we do with our canvas. We make choices to fill our lives with bold strokes and bright colors, to accent it with soft touches and soothing tones, to inject it with the tiny details that make it unique, to sign it so the world knows who created it.

Mom's canvas was a work in progress for over 88 years. The masterpiece now hangs on God's wall for eternity.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fleabaggers and teabaggers: covering protests in America

Protests are as old as America itself, and whenever there has been unrest, there's been a protest.

But the rules have changed, as we now live in a cell-phone-camera viral-video world, and the presence of a camera changes the actual content of the story.

I remember sitting in a newsroom back in the eighties and watching some protest from overseas, with a crowd shaking its fists. Then someone said something that stuck with me. "They must get awfully tired shaking fists 24 hours a day."

In other words, point the camera, cue the fist shaking.

Flash forward to the two major protest groups of the year, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Two very different groups angry with the government.

A while back I was getting my car fixed and had an hour or so to kill, so I took a walk. I heard some patriotic music and followed it. Lo and behold, I had stumbled on a Tea Party rally.

I decided to check it out. For once, I didn't have a photog with me or a camera of my own. There was no media around, so there was a chance for me to see first hand what was the real story behind the protest.

I walked into the group and was quickly welcomed. Most of the people were middle aged or older, but I saw something I'd never seen before on news coverage. Young people and minorities.

The signs they waved at passing motorists were not derogatory, but pretty funny shots at the government. They simply played music, waved flags, and talked. Then a local news camera showed up and they kicked up the flag waving and cheering a notch.

When it was over the people all looked down at the ground and picked up any litter. There wasn't a gum wrapper to be seen when they cleared out.

On the other side of the coin, I have not seen an Occupy Wall Street protest, but it would be interesting to do the same thing without a camera.

Back to our original thought: how do you get the real content of stories like this?

-Ditch the derogatory terms for the groups. I've heard commentators refer to Tea Party people as "teabaggers" (a lewd term we won't get into here) or the Occupy Wall Street people as "fleabaggers" (apparently a reference to the fact some feel these people look as though they need a bath). Don't ever use those terms. It lets the viewer know immediately how you feel.

-Shoot from a distance before the group knows you're there. How do they behave when the camera isn't around? Do people confront the cops when the media aren't there?

-Shoot some video when they're gone. How did the group leave the place?

-Don't use video of the obvious crazy people from either group. Trying to paint these people as a bunch of whack jobs also conveys your opinion.

-Get a good mix of soundbites. Look for the people who don't necessarily fit the profile of the group. A young minority from the Tea Party or an older business person from Occupy Wall Street.

The video from these two groups is the most compelling part of the story. Make sure you get some of it when they don't know you're there.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Reverse engineering a package can teach you a lot

The term "reverse engineering" has been around a long time. Basically the principle goes like this: take someone else's product, take it apart, figure out how it works, then make one just like it or better. Manufacturing and technology companies have been doing this for years.

Guess what? You, as a reporter can do the same thing. And maybe end up with a better product than the one you took apart.

We've said many times on this blog that you only get better watching the pros, not the other rookies in your entry level market. So, to start the reverse engineering process, you need to find some stories you admire.

Let's say you've found a killer package that hits on all cylinders. It really moves, has great writing and nat sound, terrific editing. You've got it on tape, or you can watch it over and over again on the Internet. Get yourself a legal pad and start taking it apart.

-First, transcribe the entire package. Write out, verbatim, the voice tracks, sound bites, and standups. Don't forget the anchor lead.

-Note the natural sound breaks and their length. Also note how the nat sound plays underneath the package.

-List any pieces of video that really convey the story.

-Note the b-roll that matches the copy. (It's TV 101, but you'd be amazed how many people don't do it.)

-List any bells and whistles: graphics, music, etc.

Okay, you should have a whole bunch of elements by now. Step back and take a look at the entire script, and note how it differs from what you do on a daily basis. Note how the reporter wrote to the video, in or out of sound bites, in or out of nat sound. How did the reporter use graphics to reinforce the information? Did the reporter turn a phrase or two that was clever? And did the standup add to the "show and tell" aspects of the story?

Do this for several packages and eventually the light bulb will go on and you'll figure out how you can do the same thing.

Or something even better.




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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Social media: The secret job killer

Must reading for anyone looking for a job:

http://redtape.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/09/29/8044153-when-it-comes-to-online-reputation-lifes-not-fair-and-companies-arent-either?GT1=43007



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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The new Fairness Doctrine

Back in 1949 the FCC implemented a rule known as the "Fairness Doctrine." The goal was to insure that stations provided fair and balanced coverage to all issues, especially politics. It was abolished in 1987.

Regardless of the rule, bias has always been present in the media. You can trace it back to the beginning of the printed word. Newspapers have done editorials for years, and now stations and networks do it in a back door manner.

These days viewers often choose their news provider based on the political slant rather than the quality of the product. It's sad that it has come to this, as most journalists try to be objective and fair. In many cases the slant of a network or station is the decision of management, and you have to follow the leader or you're out of a job.

Even though the Doctrine was abolished nearly a quarter century ago, it doesn't mean you as a journalist have to throw the rules of journalism 101 out the window. We're all opinionated, and most news people have strong feelings one way or the other about politics or social issues. But you have to check your opinions at the door and do your best to be fair. And trust me, when you get a reputation as a reporter who is fair, you get the respect that goes with it. Show the world you're biased, and you're killing one half of your audience and almost all of the trust factor.

With that in mind, and with the 2012 elections just around the corner, here are the rules for the new Fairness Doctrine.

-I will never let my opinion be part of any story.

-I will treat all candidates fairly.

-I will not lob softball questions at candidates I like, nor "gotcha" questions at candidates I dislike.

-I will not slant my questions to let the viewer know how I feel. Questions should not begin with, "With all due respect" or "But don't you really think" because those telegraph the fact that I do not agree with the candidate.

-I will not ask questions so totally obscure that I would have to look them up myself. Those are "gotcha" questions.

-I will not commit "bias by omission." That means I will not leave out a part of the story that I do not personally like, that would hurt a candidate I like or help a candidate I don't like.

-I will keep my political and social opinions to myself in the newsroom and out in public.

-I will not shoot video or edit my story in a way that makes a candidate look bad. If I am a producer, I will not use an unflattering still frame of a candidate I do not like. If I am a photographer or one-man-band, I will light and shoot my interviews in a professional manner.

-I will not use sound bites or b-roll of the most extreme followers of a candidate in an effort to show that the entire group is made up of extremists.

-I will not treat female candidates differently than males. I will not use terms like "shrill" to describe a female candidate, nor have any opinion about a female candidate's appearance.

-I will not use opinionated terms to describe a candidate, like "popular" or "embattled."

-I will not view people whose views differ from mine as "ignorant."

-I will not let my facial expressions tell the viewers what I think. I will not roll my eyes during a sound bite about which I disagree, nor nod my head during one I agree with.

-I will not edit in such a way that things are taken out of context, or in a way that the viewer does not get the entire story.

-On election night, I will have a poker face. I will not look like I won the lottery if my candidate won or appear as though someone has run over my dog if my candidate lost.

-I will remember that as a journalist it is my job to tell the viewers what I know, not what I think.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Coming up, when the news continues...

Okay, I'm back from my annual pilgrimage to New York. I love going up this time of year, as fall is my favorite season. Of course it was hot in NYC. And when I got back to Florida, it was cold.

The trip illustrated (for me, at least) how much the world has changed and continues to do so. And not in a good way.

For example, if you were of a certain age and watched the new show "Pan Am" you were reminded how wonderful air travel used to be. Well dressed passengers and impeccably coiffed stewardesses, actual food and free booze. Airline employees who actually smiled. And then I got on a plane and was shoved into my seat like an egg into a carton after being greeted by a gate agent who wasn't cheerful enough to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles. A very large man who would be best described as the "before" ad for Jenny Craig in a shirt that might fit Britney Spears walked down the aisle barefoot to the restroom.

And then there was this interchange between me and the steward-- excuse me, flight attendant.

Flight attendant: "Would you like a snack?"

Me: "What do you have?"

Flight attendant: "Peanuts or pretzels."

Me: "Peanuts."

Flight attendant: "We're out of peanuts."

And then there was my first trip to the new home of the Mets, Citi Field. Or, as it might be better described, a shopping mall and food court that happened to have a baseball diamond in the middle. Ear splitting music as every batter walked to the plate. Six dollar hot dogs. Eight dollar beers. (Thankfully, we ate before the game.)

Ah, but there's a museum as you enter the park. With a ton of stuff commemorating the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers, in case you didn't know, are one of the teams who bailed on New York City in 1957. Paying homage to the Dodgers in the new Mets Stadium is like giving Monica Lewinsky a wing in the Bill Clinton Library.

One old black and white photo caught my eye in the museum. A shot of the stands in the fifties. Women in hats and men in ties.

Combine that image with the weeble on the plane, and you could see how we have become a nation of slobs. And class has gone out the window.

But back to the treadmill that is 2011. In the coming months we'll be doing things a little differently on this blog. The posts might not be as frequent, but they'll probably be longer. (After eleven hundred posts, you understand the thinking.) Besides, I do have to make a living.

Speaking of which, the blog will remain free, even though several industry people have told me lately that I'm out of my mind not making this site subscription-based. With that in mind, I'll meet you half way. A "donate" button has been added to the right side of the page under the heading, "Throw the Grape a chocolate bar." In other words, if you feel you've gotten something of value out of this blog, and you're so inclined, drop me a buck or two for my chocolate fix. (Or a lot more and help pay the mortgage.) If you're a typical broke rookie reporter, you don't have to do anything. The advice here should be available to anyone who wants it, regardless of financial status.

In the near future I'll be telling you of three success stories which prove that market size means nothing. Three tales of clients who each jumped about 150 markets. We're going to nuke that myth down to the molecular level.

We'll talk a lot about the upcoming election and how to cover it fairly. There will be new rules to follow, since the old ones have apparently gone out the window.

I'm also going to be asking you guys to send me links to great stories, so we can share them with the rest of the class. You not only learn by working hard, but by watching the good work of others.

And we'll talk a little about life in Palookaville, dealing with the psychological aspects of living a thousand miles from home in a city where you don't know a soul.

This country is at a turning point, and so is our industry. It has always been a young person's business, but now those young people have more influence. It's a big responsibility, and one every journalist needs to take seriously.

Hopefully you'll be up to the challenge.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Payback can be hell. In this case it's just $7.99

In the four years I've maintained this blog I've offered free advice; answered questions online, with personal emails, and over the phone; and generally tried to help the next generation navigate the minefield known as the broadcasting business.

This site has always been free. In return I've never asked for anything.

Until now.

Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to pay a subscription for access to this blog or stick checks in the mail. But I am going to ask for a small amount of help with a personal project.

While television has been my career, fiction has been my passion. Over the years Pocket Books has published some of my Star Trek stories, and you can find a bunch of my sci-fi tales on Amazon. So it is with great pride that I announce the publication of my first novel, Rom-Com. In case you haven't figured it out, it's a romantic comedy. The tag line is: The News Never Sleeps When The Women Run The Network.

Even if you're a guy, it's one you'll enjoy, since it is about a television news network. The bottom line plot: four women take over a television network and turn things upside down, reversing the traditional co-anchor pairing of older-man-younger-woman by creating anchor teams with an older woman and a younger man. (Why this doesn't happen in real life is beyond me.) It is, of course, written with the same brand of sarcasm and warped humor that permeates this blog, so the television industry takes more than a few shots along the way. It's published under my pen name, N.J. Harlow. (The Sci-Fi stuff is under my own name.)

In any event, I'm asking for your help with both sales and marketing of the book. It's available in both print in electronic versions at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the iPhone bookstore, and is downloadable to any iPhone, Blackberry, Android or iPad. Prices start at just $2.99 for the electronic version and $7.99 for the paperback. I hope you'll buy one (or a bunch as Christmas gifts) and help send it up the charts.

With that in mind, I'm also asking you to help take this viral. You'll find links to the book at the bottom of this post. I would appreciate it if you could send them to those in your email address book. Post it to whatever social networking services you use, and ask those you're connected with to send it on to their contacts. That won't cost you anything but time, something I've give a lot of to this blog.

There will be another novel released in the coming months. Also about the television news industry. Only that one is a thriller.

So, here's the deal. Buy the book. If you want an ebook but don't have an e-reader, you can download a Kindle or Nook application to your computer or most devices for free.

But there's more to this than just asking for your help. You get a reward for doing so. (And I may live to regret this.) And, if you order now…(operators are standing by) I'll critique one package or an anchor segment for you free of charge. Send me proof that you've bought the book… a receipt, whatever. And then upload something you'd like critiqued. How's that for a rebate?

To purchase on Amazon, either in paperback or for Kindle, click on the cover:




Link to the electronic version at Barnes & Noble for the Nook e-reader:

Barnes & Noble


Link to the electronic version for iPad, iPhone or iPod:

Apple

Thanks in advance for your help.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

29-cent feedback

One of my clients reminded me of something I used to do when I was shopping for a job. I'd actually forgotten about it. (When Sicilians get older, we only remember the grudges.)

Anyway, back in the day those 3/4" tapes used to get returned most of the time. You could pop them in the deck and find out where the ND stopped watching. But since tapes and DVDs now go to the great landfill, there's no way of knowing what the ND thought of you if you don't hear anything.

Ah, but sometimes there is.

What my client reminded me of was the old postcard trick.

Here's the deal. You put a self-addressed 29 cent postcard in the package along with your tape/DVD, resume and cover letter. On the back of the postcard you politely ask for feedback. It might read something like this:

Dear ND,

Thanks for taking the time to watch my resume tape. If you have a minute, I'd appreciate any suggestions and feedback you might have.

Thanks,

(Your name)

Then leave the bottom of the card blank.

This makes it real easy for a ND to respond. All he has to do is jot down a line or two and put it in the outgoing mail slot. It's easier than sending an email, and with an email you end up getting in a back and forth discussion, which you don't want.

I did this when I was a reporter and was surprised how many NDs responded. Don't know what your response will be, since past performance is no indication of future returns, as they say on those investment commercials.

But hey, for 29 cents, it's worth a shot.

By the way, tune in tomorrow for a special announcement.



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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Everything old is new again

Most of you probably think that updating a story for the web is something new, something that has revolutionized the news business.

In reality, it's something journalists have been doing for decades.

"But Grape," you're saying, "there was no Internet before Al Gore invented it! People didn't have computers in their homes!"

Ah, Grasshopper, but television could go live with breaking news. And newspapers had more than one edition.

That latter tidbit seems bizarre in light of the financial problems the newspaper industry is having. Just the cost of paper and delivery is killing the traditional printed word. But many moons ago, most newspapers routinely printed two editions, and some even knocked out five in a 24-hour period.

In New York, the Daily News had an early edition that came out the evening before the traditional morning paper. It was called the "Night Owl" edition. After that, there were five editions, marked by stars in the upper left hand corner. If it read "Final" with five stars, you knew you had the last edition of the day. Other papers called their vampire edition the "Bulldog edition" and sought to grab those readers who couldn't wait for morning, or who worked the night shift. In addition, job-hunters routinely bought the Sunday New York Times on Saturday, when the classified ads section was distributed to stores.

What does this mean? It means that before word processors and websites, reporters had to pound typewriters and often write several versions of a single story. And it had to be published the old fashioned way.

Television, meanwhile, has been doing live shots for more than half a century. And while 24-hour news operations didn't exist, newsrooms operated 24-hours a day.

So when you complain that you have to update stories for the web all day and grumble that this didn't happen in the good old days, think again. In fact, it was a lot harder back in the day.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

The source of your feedback is often more important than the feedback itself

The biggest complaint I hear from reporters is the same one I had twenty years ago. "I never hear anything from my News Director." And the old saying that followed was, "If you don't hear anything, you're doing okay." This lack of feedback from managers made things worse when you actually did talk to the ND, as the staff simply assumed that if you're called into his office, the news must be bad. An assumption that still exists today.

So, where do you get feedback if you're not getting any from your boss? Well, you need to be careful here, as often times bad feedback is worse than no feedback.

Mom and Dad will tell you you're wonderful, and in my case, continually ask why the network doesn't hire you. Your close friends will never tell you anything bad. College professors are a mixed bag, some so bogged down in theory that they wouldn't know a good reporter from a crash dummy. But you still have options.

Every station has a solid veteran who doesn't mind helping out the rookies. Seek out these people. Don't drive them nuts with questions, but occasionally ask, "How could my package have been better?" Even better, if you don't have an idea of how to approach a package, talk to the vet before you head out the door to shoot your story.

And if you're at one of those stations that has photogs, make use of their ideas. These people are often the smartest people in the newsroom, and look at stories with a different eye. You should always talk to the photog on the way to the story. I got into the habit of including photogs in interviews. When I was done asking questions, I'd turn to the shooter and say, "Anything you want to add?" Very often the photog had a good question I hadn't considered.

Too many people aren't getting feedback, but in many cases you have to take the initiative to ask. Just make sure you ask the right people.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Mailbag: Welcome to the real world of "news"

Grape,

I just graduated and got my first job. It seems that all we do is chase the scanner. Then I see car chases on various networks. It appears everything I learned in J-school isn't true. I thought we're supposed to look for real stories, but instead we just cover what I consider garbage. Or is this stuff real news?


Nope, it's not news. People die in wrecks every day. Police chase bad guys every day. Some stations are airing this stuff to appeal to the lowest common denominator (people who have no life, those who live and die with reality shows) in the hopes of boosting ratings. In reality, they simply chase away intelligent viewers, those that advertisers dearly love. And so the death spiral of local news continues.

I'm glad that you figured this out at such a young age. Now go find a real story and pitch it in the morning meeting.


Hey Grape,

I hear horror stories about News Directors but mine is a really nice guy, never yells, and gives me feedback. Is this that unusual?


To be honest, yeah. But count your blessings, and if you're in a place you like, you should consider staying. Meanwhile, bust your tail for this guy... if he moves on, you may want to go with him. Finding a News Director who is supportive and trusts you to do your job without being a helicopter manager is not easy. But there are plenty of decent human beings in this business. The demons are just the ones who get all the press.

By the way, you can usually find plenty of dirt on the NDs who are jerks, and nothing on those who are nice.


Dear Grape,

My News Director just told me I don't belong in this business. This is my first job and I'm really beginning to have doubts about my talent. Should I cut my losses and try something else?


Geez, I've heard this story way too many times. From people who turned out to be very successful.

One opinion means nothing. If you believe in yourself, you owe it to yourself to follow your dream. If you suddenly turn 30 and you're not on your way to where you want to be, then try something else.

There are plenty of late bloomers in this business, and sometimes it takes a year for the reporting light bulb to go on. There are also News Directors who love cutting people down and don't have a clue when it comes to spotting talent. A good ND is patient with a rookie.

Hang in there and focus on your goal. Only you can kill your dream. No one else has that power.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Top 10 things you can do to improve your chances of getting a job that have absolutely nothing to do with your resume tape or the ability to read this run-on sentence without taking a breath

We spend a lot of time talking about resume tapes on this site. When I was a reporter I spent too much time worrying about mine.

In this case, I'm going to put you in the News Director's shoes. Shopping for a reporter or anchor is a lot like shopping for a car. Plenty of vehicles can get you from point A to point B. Lots of cars offer good gas mileage. But very often the difference between one car and another are the little things. The heated seats in a cold climate, the built-in GPS for men who don't ask for directions, the glove compartment that keeps your beverages cold. Little stuff, sure. But all other things being equal, little things can make the decision a no-brainer.

With that in mind, you all have the standard engine, transmission, radio and heater. Time to focus on those options to make yourself seem like a top-of-the-line model.

(Okay, I'm done with the car analogy. I know, it took awhile, but hope you got the point.)

So here are some intangibles that can give you an edge:

1. Read as much as you possibly can. News Directors love smart reporters, but they really love smart reporters who know a little about everything. If you can discuss the debt ceiling, how to collect frequent flyer miles with a credit card and why the show Terra Nova will bomb this fall, you'll impress someone. Know as much as you can about the important stories, and be able to have a conversation on just about any topic.

2. Dress for success, especially on an interview. Just because you might be working in a small market or Palookaville and everyone else gets dressed in the dark doesn't mean you have to. The latest trend, even among network reporters, is casual. You'll stand out if you're impeccably dressed.

3. Have a ton of energy on the phone. Lots of stations are doing phone interviews instead of flying people in, and many do preliminary phone interviews before buying someone a plane ticket. Let a News Director hear your smile and enthusiasm.

4. Don't rip your current company or boss to a prospective employer. You may work in a newsroom run by Lord Voldemort on steroids, but you still have to appear grateful for the opportunity to work there. You're just ready to move on, if anyone asks.

5. Be nice to everyone and don't gossip. This business is incredibly small, and people who are drama queens or toxic to a newsroom get a reputation. Create an impeccable work reputation. Never phone it in, always volunteer to pitch in, help your co-workers when you can. Managers love employees they don't have to worry about. And one of those people you help might be in a position to help you down the road.

6. If you're young, don't act your age. Act older. Immaturity is a major problem in many newsrooms. News Directors love people who are mature. You may have been a wild child in college, but those days are over. Welcome to the real world.

7. Keep your Internet footprint clean. No pictures of you getting hammered at a party or in various stages of undress. No tales of drug use, wild times in college or very personal information available to the public. News Directors routinely Google people they're considering, and many stations do background checks. Do an Internet search on yourself and make sure there's nothing that makes you look bad out there. If you've got a social networking page, keep things basic and professional.

8. Keep a Rolodex of people who are nice to you, who offer a helping hand, or who show an interest in your talents. The business is an incredibly small world, and you often run into the same people more than once. Networking existed long before Facebook and Twitter.

9. Send a hand-written thank you note after every interview. Old school but classy, and makes the impression that you were not raised by wolves.

10. Be ethical and unbiased. Doesn't cost you a thing to keep your opinions to yourself, but it's Journalism 101 and in short supply these days.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Packages need a beginning and an end

For whatever reason young reporters always seem to have problems starting a package and finishing it. I see lots of pieces that flow nicely thru the middle, but often have an awkward beginning and an abrupt ending. A package should grab the viewer, but not be jarring.

First things first, let's start at the beginning. What's the first thing you write when you sit down to knock out your script? Well, if you're looking for the first line of your package, a sound bite, or a piece of nat sound, you've missed the obvious. A package starts with your anchor intro. Often you see an anchor intro a piece and then a reporter repeat the same words in the beginning of the package. That means the anchor lead-in was an afterthought. Remember, the intro is part of the package, like a cover on a book.

So, always write your anchor intro first. And none of this, "Big news at City Hall today. Joe Reporter has the story." Put some thought into it. A good intro is part information, part tease. You need to hook the viewer. "A big development at City Hall today could cost you some money. Joe Reporter tells us who might have to shell out a few bucks...and why." Okay, so you've gotten a little info in there, teased the viewer, and set up your story. Which you don't have to start by saying, "A big development at city hall today.'

Now, the start of the package. Personally, I love nat sound. It's a smooth way to start a package, it sets the scene, and it gives the director a little wiggle room in case he's late punching up your story. Sound bites are more abrupt. Standups? I really don't like them at the beginning of a package. A bridge shows off your talent and ability to think in the field, and also offers you a chance to shift gears in the middle of the story.

Which brings us to the end of the package. I'll bet 90 percent of rookie packages end with a sound bite and a sig-out, as if the reporter can't even think of one more line to wrap up the package. And that's what you need at the end if you don't have a standup. Something to tie it all together. Going from a sound bite directly to a sig-out is just too abrupt, like that ending of The Sopranos where they just cut to black. (Don't get me started on that.)

So make sure your package has a definite beginning and end, and don't just slam something together because you have to. Very often your beginning sets the tone for the story, while the end ties everything up neatly for the viewer.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: Ten years later, the media has forgotten how to remember

You always remember where you were and what you were doing on certain important days in history.

In the case of 9/11, we should remember what we felt in the days after. Because ten years later, America seems to have forgotten.

And the fault lies with the media.

The country was united right after the attack. We had a common enemy, Congress had put aside partisan politics.

Reporters and anchors wore their hearts on their sleeves, occasionally tearing up, not worrying about how it looked. Because if the story didn't affect you emotionally, you simply weren't human.

We were all New Yorkers back then. I was working in the South at the time, and even the Yankee jokes stopped. People who knew where I was from asked if I'd lost any family or friends. Thankfully I hadn't, but I, like most Americans, felt like I had.

My mom tells me the country felt the same way during World War Two. United against an enemy, pulling together. Though we were at war back then, she says it was one of the best times in this country. People helped one another. Colors and religion and opinions disappeared. Americans were just Americans.

That's how it felt right after 9/11. We didn't see people as liberals or conservatives, Christians or atheists, Republicans or Democrats. When Mike Piazza hit his famous home run for the Mets to defeat the hated rival Braves in the first game after the attack, the Braves had transformed from despised rivals to Americans who just happened to play baseball in Georgia. When the New York Giants played their first game in Kansas City, they received a standing ovation. They were no longer those arrogant, impatient, rude people from the Big Apple, but just Americans who lived in New York.

The country seemed to be turning a corner back to America's best days. Those three thousand souls that had been taken had given us a wake-up call.

A short time after the attack I was attending a seminar for television news managers. One day we were all talking about how our stations had covered the event. Some anchors wore flag pins. I wore a ribbon on my lapel during a live shot. One station draped a giant flag across the set.

And then someone said, "That's offensive." I thought, "Well, here we go. Back to normal. It was nice while it lasted."

Ten years later, the country is more divided than ever, with people looking for ways to be offended so they'll end up on television. Because that's our job now, to put angry people on the tube.

Everything is Republican versus Democrat, flaming liberal versus Bible-thumper. People aren't people anymore: the media instantly labels someone by what they believe, as if political affiliation is the most important thing about a person. You could be as giving as Mother Theresa, but if you voted the wrong way you're gonna get hammered by some network somewhere.

And everyone who doesn't agree with what you think is an idiot. They have to be. The people on television told you so.

I think back ten years to a dinner party we had at our home. I had invited our best friends, not even considering where their political affiliations lie. On this occasion my extremely liberal friend ended up talking to my very conservative friend. They got along great. A couple of nice guys with wives and children. Politics and religion never entered the conversation. They're both great people, great friends of mine, and I could care less how they vote. Either would help the other in time of need, not thinking about the other's opinion.

Of course, that was then. This is now. According to some people on television, we're supposed to hate anyone who doesn't think a certain way. Check the labels on people when you meet them. If they're a certain religion, belong to a certain party, voted for a certain person, simply dismiss them as morons.

Because we're smarter and you should listen to us. After all, we're on television.

We have forgotten how to remember. What we felt during those days after 9/11. How we wanted to help in any way possible, even if we were miles away from New York City. How we learned the guys at the other station were no longer the enemy, but the competition.

As journalists we have great influence, though lately the public has seen through the often transparent attempts to change minds. We are supposed to serve the public trust, yet the public no longer trusts us.

Today, three thousand souls are trying to tell us something. Again. It's time we listened to them as we once did.

It's time to remember. Remember the souls who were lost. And while you're at it, remember that your job is to tell people what you know, not what you think.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Covering 9/11: Let your video and nat sound do most of the talking

For those too young to remember JFK's funeral, I suggest you go online and watch the coverage.

It's dominated by nat sound and pictures. Nearly 50 years later, I can still hear the repetitive cadence of the drums as the President's coffin was wheeled through the streets. The image of John-John's salute is seared into the brains of everyone who watched.

Who did the commentary? I can't remember. Doesn't matter. Words weren't necessary.

They often aren't when you're dealing with emotion, and should be kept to a minimum. If you've ever covered a funeral for a soldier, cop or firefighter, you can't help but get choked up by the playing of taps, the haunting sounds of the bagpipes.

That said, you're writing has to be at the top of its game at times like this. You have a very brief opportunity to make your words count this weekend. They should be filled with the emotion that matches the video and nat sound. They should complement what viewers see and hear, not overshadow it.

And please, stay away from terms like "closure" and "healing" and "justice" because those don't really exist for those who lost loved ones ten years ago. These people have holes in their hearts that can never be repaired. No amount of justice or comforting can bring back the souls we lost.

Ten years ago we saw some of the most phenomenal reporting in modern history. Probably because the best reporters knew when to shut the hell up.

Finally, the story isn't about you. Standups aren't necessary. Forget reporter involvement. Show respect while covering it, and respect in your copy. This is one story that almost tells itself, so stay out of the way.



TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview with a worrier

Today we're having breakfast with Eileen Left, a very talented young reporter in the process of job hunting. Eileen is a world class worrier, so we're going to try to get her to dial her stress level down a notch. Eileen has already arrived at the restaurant when I get there.

Grape: Hope I didn't keep you waiting.

Eileen: Been here an hour. I wanted to get here early. I mean, I could've had a flat tire, run out of gas, gotten stuck behind a funeral-

Grape: Been abducted by aliens...

Eileen: That too. And then, what would you think of me if I was late? I mean, you're The Grape, you're old school. Reporters don't miss deadlines.

Grape: Breakfast is not a deadline. Relax.

Eileen: I'll try.

The waitress arrives to take our order. As always, our interviews are done in New Jersey.

Waitress: (snapping her gum) Waddaya want, honey?

Eileen: Are the eggs cooked all the way through? And is the sausage kept at the appropriate safe temperature in the kitchen? I could get e-coli, trichinosis-

Waitress: I'll have the chef cook the hell out of whatever you want. He can nuke it down to the molecular level and you can spoon the ashes into your coffee.

Grape: Two ham and cheese omelets, two glasses of orange juice.

Eileen: Thank you.

The waitress writes the order on the pad and leaves.

Grape: So, tell me about your job hunt.

Eileen: Well, I've sent out fifty tapes. Of course, I'm not sure if they all arrived. I haven't gotten fifty phone calls. What if the post office lost some of them? What if the mailroom boy at the station sent my tape to the wrong person?

Grape: I'm sure they arrived just fine.

Eileen: It's the Post Office.

Grape: Point taken. So, any nibbles?

Eileen: I've had calls this week from four News Directors who love my work.

Grape: And?

Eileen: And they said they'll get back to me soon. But what if the General Manager doesn't like me? What if another reporter with a better tape shows up. Maybe I should have put my bungee jumping accountant package first on my tape.

Grape: If they called you, they liked your tape. I've seen your tape, and it's great. You're immensely talented.

Eileen: Suppose they don't like my hair? Maybe I should have cut it.

Grape: Your hair looks great.

Eileen: You're a man. You're supposed to say that.

Grape: Point taken again. But your hair does look great.

Eileen: But they haven't called. Maybe they think I'm fat. Do these jeans--

Grape: Don't go there.

Eileen: I'm not pretty enough.

Grape: The bus boy just walked into a wall staring at you.

Eileen: So why haven't they called?

Grape: Any number of reasons. Saving money, can't make a decision, waiting for corporate approval on salary. Could be anything. But if you got four calls you're doing great. You'll be outta here in no time.

Eileen: But suppose none of them call? Suppose I never get out of Palookaville? I could end up a spinster reporter. I could-

Eileen's phone rings.

Eileen: Hello? Yes, this is Eileen. Oh, hello..... really? That sounds great! When do I start?

Eileen chats a little while then hangs up.

Grape: Job offer?

Eileen: Yeah! I accepted it. Great salary, great place to live. I need to be there in three weeks.

Grape: See, all that worry was for nothing.

Eileen: But what happens if I get there and they hate me? Or if I'm late for work on my first day....

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An answer for the FCC

"Frankly, I think we should focus on tackling the very live challenges that face broadcast news in the 21st century: where have all the journalists gone and why? Whatever happened to the kind of fact-filled investigative journalist that held the powerful accountable? Why do so many important stories go untold?"

-FCC Chairman Michael Copps



Oh, this is one of those quotes that made me wanna pick up the phone. For the answer, we need a little history lesson.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, TV was free. In New York we had six channels. Plus a rotating antenna on the roof so we could pick up blacked out Giants games from Hartford. Cable TV? Satellite? Paying to watch television? Insane!

The "pie" as the advertising pot is often called, had six slices. Stations were cash cows. You could own a station, literally do nothing, let your pet cat run the place, and make a fortune.

Then, the story goes, a little company called HBO got a cable license, and the FCC supposedly shrugged. Somewhere, a golden goose shuddered. Somewhere, the baker of said pie got out his knife and cut off another slice.

Oh, yeah, back in the 1980s we routinely covered stories shoulder-to-shoulder with radio reporters. Have any of you working today seen a radio reporter lately? Hmmmm. Well, back then the FCC made some nice changes that allowed companies to own every damn station in town. So every one of those radio newsrooms consolidated down to one. And then when syndicated radio became popular, they disappeared. A whole bunch of good journalists unfairly described as having "a good face for radio" found themselves unemployed, not telegenic enough for television.

Cable grew, and then the "pizza pie" satellite dish arrived. (The irony of the pie would impress Edgar Alan Poe.) For a hundred bucks you could have a few hundred stations. The baker threw away his knife, turned the pie into cobbler, and handed everyone at the table a demitasse spoon.

When the pie got subdivided the golden goose keeled over and died. Along with a whole bunch of newsroom jobs. And when the beancounters declared that a reporter could do the job of two people, a whole bunch of journalists fled the business or were forced out.

Now newsrooms operate with skeleton crews, doing five times as much news as we did 20 years ago. Because it's cheaper to have a news staff produce more news than to buy a syndicated show.

Back to the FCC guy's original question: you wanna know where all the journalists have gone? They're still out there. Most of them just aren't working in television. They left because of decisions made by bureaucrats without a creative bone in their body.

Go count your beans. Enjoy your pie. What's left of it.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pop quiz

Ah, so you're back from the long weekend and didn't bother to even read a newspaper. Too bad. You are subject to a quiz at any time in this class. Stop whining and don't look at me in that tone of voice. You want unicorns and rainbows, you're in the wrong place.

1. Who did Rick Perry succeed as Governor of Texas?

2. What Governor told residents to "get the hell off the beach" before Hurricane Irene?

3. Which Republican Presidential candidate used to work for President Obama?

4. Who is replacing Charlie Sheen on "Two and a half Men?"

5. What is the US Postal Service considering eliminating?

6. What is Kate Middleton's current title?

7. What did Mitt Romney's dad do for a living?

8. What agency downgraded the US Credit rating?

9. Who was the Mayor of New York City on 9/11/01?

10. What does Labor Day honor?

Bonus question:

What wind speed must a storm exceed to be classified as a hurricane?


Pencils down. The answers can be found by looking them up!

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Are your tapes in the mail?

Just a reminder that the fall hiring season unofficially starts in earnest on Monday.

It's September first... do you know where your tapes are?

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One-way phone tag

Grape,

ND says they want to see some of your work for an opening they have.
You get it to them... couple of weeks go by... no response?
They forget about you? How should you handle that?


Perhaps the most common complaint I hear from job hunters, and one I made when I was a reporter, is the return call situation with News Directors. The above comment is typical.

You can run into one of the following situations:


-News Director calls, likes your work, says he'll get back to you. Weeks pass with no call.

-News Director calls, tells you he likes your stuff. Tells you to call him on a certain day. You do, but never get a return call.

-News Director calls and says he'll have a decision for you one way or another by a certain day. Day passes. A week passes. Agita ensues.


In my personal experience, two situations stick out. In one, I flew in for an interview Friday and was told by the ND as he dropped me at the airport that he would definitely make a decision on Monday. THREE WEEKS LATER he calls (while I'm on vacation) and offers me the job. In the second situation, I get a call from a News Director about a tape I had sent TWO YEARS EARLIER.

As mentioned before, lots of things can put hiring on the back burner. News gets in the way, stations want to save money, etc. Nowadays we live in a society in which no one wants to make a decision, which makes things even worse.

So waddaya do?

Well, if you're asked for samples of your work and hear nothing, it could mean those higher than the ND didn't like your work, the hiring got delayed, or any number of things. Wait patiently. I know, this is difficult, but everytime you call, your salary offer goes down. You can't appear too eager.

If you're asked to call and don't hear back, try again every few days. But after three tries, just wait.

If you're told a decision is coming on a certain day and it doesn't, do nothing. This happens more often than not.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano

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