Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bureau jobs: two points of view

First, let me say that I've never worked in a bureau. Never had any desire to. I'm a social person, and the camaraderie of a good newsroom is a very appealing thing. When NDs would call me about bureau jobs, I would politely decline. I have some clients who are in bureaus right now, and all of them say, "never again." Next to morning reporter gigs, these are the worst jobs for an on-air person.

These days more and more bureau jobs are popping up, for several reasons. First, the one-man-band thing makes it cheaper. Second, people can actually work out of their homes and an office is no longer necessary (also cheaper.) Third, it lets the ND stretch an already thin staff farther out into the market. (By the way, putting a rookie into a bureau situation is just insane from a management perspective. You're not just throwing a kid into the deep end of the pool, but into the ocean.)

There are two kinds of bureaus: those with one person or crew and those with a bunch of people. Most of them are the former. This is where you must be careful when considering a bureau job. So let's take a look at two points of view:

-As a reporter in a bureau you have a ton of responsibility, more than those at the main station. Where normal reporters might have a beat like education or crime, your beat is the entire area. You're expected to know everything that's going on. Normal shift? Hah. If something breaks you'll get the call since you're the only reporter in the bureau. Nights, weekends, overnight, doesn't matter. Tag, you're it. Miss a story in your area? Tag, you're it.

Camera or gear broke down? Enjoy the drive back to the main station. Wanna day off? You'll have to figure out some way for someone else to cover the bureau, and there won't be a lot of volunteers. And if you have to call in sick it creates a nightmarish domino effect at the main newsroom.

-As a manager you know that you have someone covering a certain area, and you're not shy about calling that person any time, any day, when news breaks. You expect your bureau person to know everything and never miss a story. You might expect that person to have a scanner at home, and sleep with the thing on. (Not kidding.) And if you can't reach the bureau person during a big story, you're gonna get ticked off.

Meanwhile, out of sight, often out of mind. You don't develop the relationship with the bureau people as you do with the rest of the staff.

Bureau jobs are tough. It's like you're never really off the clock. There's nothing social about them. If you're young, you won't be around the veterans who can mentor you. So think long and hard before considering one.



BureauGuyOnce said...

I'm not sure you're the most qualified to knock bureau life having never worked in one. You kindof missed the point of having a bureau: true community connection.

Putting a reporter in a community does two valuable things for a newsroom truly committed to understanding what's important to viewers.

1. A bureau entrenches the journalist in the area. This makes the reporter's job of earning the trust of sources much easier. He or she understands community issues b/c he's not just passing through, as a "city" reporter would. The reporter lives there and often lives, or at least witnesses, the issues.

2. When news breaks the "bureau" reporter is already there with as much of a one hour lead on the competition. Also because he or she is there every day for the small stories there is a tremendous advantage in dealing with media sources who can be hard to reach on the big stories.

I worked in a small one man (band) bureau for almost three years. While doing so I racked up some the biggest journalism awards out there. It CAN be done successfully.

True, bureaus save money as overhead for remote crews gets more affordable and equipment gets much lighter. I agree with the lack of guidance and "lonely" factor - it's very hard and not everyone can handle it. However some love the independence and are happy to stay out of the drama in the main newsroom.

Many may leave saying "NEVER AGAIN!" But I bet if the network calls and offers up a spot in the Paris or London Bureau at NBC they may rethink their decision.

-The Grape said...

Interesting point of view. You're the first person I've heard in all my years who has said good things about a bureau.

By the way, if you get a bureau job in London or Paris, you won't exactly be alone as a one-man-band. I'm referring to local news bureaus, not network bureaus that are staffed with dozens of people. Two very different kinds of "bureaus."

BureauGuyOnce said...

I wouldn't be totally sure of that in ten years. One man news rooms are more and more common... even on a network level (CNN's MultiPlatformJournalist).

Small camera, laptop & decent internet connection=all you need to broadcast these days.

The business is changing and to stay relevant in the workplace people must be as independent as possible.

Although - as I said - the solitary life can be very hard, especially on someone single who is climbing the ladder. Everything in your post is true. But it's just the negative side. I'd hate to steer someone away from a bureau without hearing the benefits it offers.

Alas, my bureau tenure was in a mid-sized market at an affiliate station - not London or Paris.

Lisa Jen said...

Here is my random question of the day...If your ultimate goal is to work for a network as a national correspondent or maybe even an international correspondent, would starting at a small station still be the most efficient way to reach that goal?

Kristen C. said...

I'm looking at an entry-level bureau reporting position for my first job. It's seven hours away from where I currently live, and high in the mountains. I would be working out of my apartment, two hours away from the main station.

I think it might look good to an employer knowing I came out of something like that with some good stories and contacts, and survived. You seem to be suggesting it's not worth the misery.