Friday, February 18, 2011

Broadcasting myths

I often find myself answering the same questions from young people who have been conned (yes, conned!) into believing a whole bunch of things about the industry that are basically myths. Sadly, these myths can keep people from realizing their full potential.

I'm not sure where all these started, but I have a hunch that most of them come from people who truly don't understand the business side of things. Might be from a college professor who's never worked in the industry, or someone who has paid so many dues that he thinks everyone else has to take the same route. (I'm gonna get mail on this, I know.)

So, in no particular order, let's blow up some myths:

-Bigger market means better quality. Ha! Double ha! There are big market stations out there that put out absolute garbage and small market stations that knock out a great product. The number next to the market size means nothing. The factors that matter are the News Director, the company, the quality of the photog staff, style of news, and the morale of the newsroom. You're better off working in a smaller market that will let you get to the next level doing enterprise stories than a larger one that makes you chase the scanner all day.

-Upon graduation from college, you have to start your career in a tiny market. This was never true, and it's even more ridiculous today. Bigger markets are hiring younger. The older generation is getting out of the business, and young people work cheap. There are countless stories of people who started in top 10 markets. If you're talented, you're talented. Send your tapes everywhere.

-You need to spend at least two years in your first job before moving on. While there is no substitute for experience, some people "get it" in six months and learn all they can in their first stop. Then again, some people in the business 30 years still can't do a decent package.

-The job posting ended, so I can't send a tape. Let's see, the advertisement ended at 12:01 today so if I'm a News Director and I still haven't filled the position and a terrific tape shows up, I'm going to throw it away because it didn't arrive in the proper time window. Postings are nothing more than ads. If you're interested, send a tape.

-I can't send a tape because the station has no openings. That's right and no one will ever leave that station and create an opening. Ever. Till eternity. Why not have your tape in place when someone does leave? Send it. Trust me, News Directors hang on to good tapes for a later date if they don't have current openings.

-"No phone calls" is just a way to weed out the reporters who aren't aggressive, so I'll call. Nope. No phone calls means no phone calls. You can be aggressive everywhere else, but when it comes to job hunting, follow the rules.

-I don't want to work for a News Director who won't look at my work online because he's not up on technology, so I won't send a tape. I've read this argument on a few boards, and this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Just because a ND might be a luddite doesn't mean he doesn't run a great shop. You're cheating yourself if you think this way.

-The News Director promised me (choose one: I'd anchor in the future; He'd let me out of my contract; We really don't need to put that in writing.) Wake up, many managers will flat out lie to your face, then go to confession, say ten Hail Marys and do it again next week.

-The station is number one in the market, so they're the best. Ratings are often not an indication of quality. A number one station may put out absolute junk, but it may have been the dominant station for years, or have deep pockets, or a terrific promotions department, or be an affiliate for the hot network. By the same token, some second and third place stations may put on a great newscast. And some viewers just like trash. (Note the ratings for prime time.)

-It's a good news market. People who see a market with a lot of crime stories often say this. In reality, every market is a good news market. You want great stories, you can't wait for them to fall in your lap. They're out there, in big cities and the smallest towns. But you have to dig for them.

-An agent wants to sign me, so I'll be sure to get a job. Agents are not miracle workers who wave a magic wand. They simply send out tapes like you do. Good agents have relationships with managers across the country. Bad agents simply sign everyone, send out boxes of tapes, and hope someone gets hired so they can collect a commission. It pains me when I get a client who needs a ton of work and has already been signed by an agent.

-I need an agent to get a major market job. Wrong again. Major market managers have acquired the life skill of opening mail. If they're looking for someone, they'll look at every tape, because the next big star might be sitting in the pile.

-Someone with my experience level just got a great job, so I should be able to do the same. Sorry, everyone and every situation is unique. What someone else gets has zero effect on your career.

-I need to be in market X by the time I'm X years old.You're just setting yourself up for agita if you think this way. Some people are late bloomers, and these days things are moving slowly.

-The job listing requires more experience than I have, so I can't send a tape. Wrong again, McFly. Most of the times these ads say something like "three years experience preferred" and preferred doesn't mean required. And even if the ad says "required" you should send a tape. No one is going to look at a great tape and then say, "Oh, wait. She's two months short of the requirement. We can't hire her."

-I didn't hear anything for a month on my latest batch of tapes so I have to blow up my resume tape and start over. Wrong again. Time moves ever so slowly in the hiring process. You may think the ND has nothing else to do but look at tapes, but many times that's a back burner process. Be patient.

-I'm not ready for that market, and if I send my tape, the ND will think badly of me. You get hit with the cluegun for this one. News Directors watch so many tapes they don't remember any of those that they don't like. You have absolutely nothing to lose by sending a tape.

-A Masters Degree will help me get a better job. It will help you get a teaching job when you're done with broadcasting, but the tape is the thing that gets your foot in the door. No one cares what degree you have or what your GPA was, only what you can do in front of a camera. I've worked with two very successful people in this business who didn't even go to college. However, it won't hurt you to work on a Masters after you get your career started, for the aforementioned teaching opportunities.

I'll probably think of some others, maybe do a volume 2. But for now, I hope that helps you see the business in a different light.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can't find a story? Check for follow-ups

During sweeps months you pull out all the stops to take your work to the next level. You might do more interviews, dig a little deeper, add bells and whistles like graphics, take extra care in editing. The result is often a promotable story that is designed to capture the viewer's interest.

And then when sweeps end, you forget all about those great stories you knocked out during sweeps.

Guess what? The viewers haven't.

They want questions answered. "What ever became of that person?" "What happened with that big story?" "What's new on that major issue?"

Reporters march into morning meetings after sweeps, desperate for ideas. In reality, your best ideas may be sitting in your own file.

Whether you keep notes on paper or in a computer, take some time to look back at the stories you've done in the past year. Chances are you'll find a ton of them that deserve revisiting.

An old trick by good stations is to take stories done by other stations and do follow ups. If you've dropped the ball and someone else picks it up, it's their story.

Viewers love follow-ups. They want to know what's happened since it first aired, if anything has changed, and if there's a happy ending.

If you don't do a follow up to your best stories, it's like writing a story without an ending.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A camera and microphone don't make you bulletproof

A few years ago when the Iraq war was heating up I got a call from a network guy wanting to know if I knew any photographers who wanted to work the story. "We're paying twenty grand a month," he said. You read that number right. The reason was obvious. You shoot some video, other people will probably shoot bullets at you.

Lara Logan's assault is a chilling reminder that we are often in harms way and don't even realize it.

Often times we show up with a camera and a mike in dicey neighborhoods and don't bat an eye. After all, even the bad guys want to be on TV more than they want to hurt us. They need us, right? I still often feel the same way. I've wearing a network logo and there's a big sat truck down the street, so who would possibly hurt me?

Well, we're just as vulnerable as the next guy, whether we're in Iraq, Egypt or just doing a local story. More than 100 journalists died covering the Iraq war, some, like Daniel Pearl, in horrifying fashion. Reporters get roughed up covering local stories as well.

When I was a rookie reporter I was assigned to do a story on tensions in a rough neighborhood. We arrived and got pats on the back from the people, who all wanted to be on television. We never felt like we were in danger. We shot the story, I did a standup, and we headed back to the station. When we were looking at the video our jaws dropped. We didn't notice what was going on in the background as I did the standup. Rocks and bottles were flying around. Our rose colored glasses hadn't seen it.

A few years ago a photog I know was shooting some crime video in a bad section of town. A cop came over to him and said, "Time to go." The photog explained he wasn't done. The cop said, "You don't understand. When we leave, you leave. It isn't safe here. And we're not leaving you here alone."

To borrow a catchphrase from the old TV show Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there." We're not bulletproof.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to get even with your male co-anchor in one easy lesson

Perhaps if the anchor crosstalk in the United States was as entertaining as the stuff from Australia, ratings might be a lot better...


Monday, February 14, 2011

Feature story idea for Tuesday, February 15th

It's a chocoholic holiday!

It's one of two days during the year (the other being the day after Easter) on which you can score great chocolate at bargain prices. People will be snapping up half price hearts tomorrow, which should hold them until the discount rabbits appear in April.

Don't laugh... if you're not up early all the bargains are gone. (I know this from personal experience.)


The electronic footprint

When you're in the public eye you are governed by a different set of rules. The public holds you to a higher standard than the average person. You're not supposed to break the law, be rude in public, or do anything stupid.

And now in our electronic world, Big Brother is always one cell phone away from capturing our every move and uploading it to the Internet.

These days, wherever you go, whatever you do, you leave an electronic footprint. From Brett Favre to the Craigslist Congressman, we see constant examples of people who left a paper trail, even though the paper is now electronic.

Wanna check out how you're doing? Google yourself. You might be surprised what you find. Because you've left an electronic footprint.

Not only are your stories online, but any blog posts, photos, comments, etc. That picture of you getting hammered during spring break that you posted on a social networking site might still be floating around the universe. A rant about a politician or a cause could still be circulating.

In most cases, the Internet is forever. And in many cases, it's impossible to get something deleted.

Back in the old neighborhood, I was told many times never to write anything down. Because it could come back to bite you. That's still great advice, even though flash paper has been replaced by a keyboard and a cell phone.