Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interview with a multi-platform-solitary-digital-journalist-electronic-media-videography-specialist (previously known as a "one man band")

This morning we're having breakfast with Rachel Shlepp, who works as a one man band. She has been shooting her own stories for about a year, and is looking to move on.

Grape: Thanks for taking time to chat with me today.

Rachel: Not a problem.

The hostess leads us to a table and hands us menus. I grab one chair, while Rachel slides the chair on the side so that two chairs are facing me. She takes the one slightly to the right.

Grape: What are you doing?

Rachel: Oh, you can listen to me but make sure you look at the empty chair when you answer.

Grape: We're not shooting a story, we're eating breakfast.

Rachel: Oh, right. Sorry. Force of habit. I've been wondering why I haven't gotten any second dates.

Grape: So tell me, what's your average day like?

Rachel: Oh, either two packages or one pack and a bunch of vo/sots. Sometimes it's one pack cut twice for two different shows.

The waitress arrives to take our order.

Waitress: Youse guys know what ya want? (We're in New Jersey)

Grape: Ham and cheese omelet, glass of milk.

Rachel: Pancake.

Waitress: Huh?

Rachel: One pancake. I can only focus on one thing at a time. Maybe later I can think of something else I want to eat.

The waitress rolls her eyes and heads for the kitchen.

Grape: So how much gear do you have to haul around?

Rachel: The usual. I've got a nice camera that's pretty light. Tripod. Mike stand, stick mike and a couple of lavs. Got a light kit but no one ever told me how to use it, so it sits in the car.

(I've noticed that when Rachel answers she bobs her head in and out, leaning forward and back.)

Grape: Why do you sway your head back and forth?

Rachel: Oh, force of habit again. I do really long standups like this so at least part of it will be in focus. Then I just edit out the out-of-focus stuff. Clever, huh?

Grape: Ingenious. So how do you--

Rachel: (She puts up her hand) Hang on. Gotta tweet every thirty minutes. (She taps something into her cell phone.) Okay, done.

Grape: What did you say?

Rachel: Having breakfast with Grape.

Grape: Do you think that makes sense to a viewer?

Rachel: I guess not. They probably think that's all I can afford to eat. One grape. Ha! That's actually true!

The waitress arrives and slides the plates onto the table.

Waitress: Ham and cheese omelet... and.... one lonely pancake. Don't stuff yourself, honey.

Grape: So how do you--

Rachel: Hang on. (She takes out her cell phone, extends her arm, leans her face down next to her plate, smiles and snaps a picture. Then she taps something into her phone.) Had to update my Facebook page. Didn't want my fans to think I was just eating one grape for breakfast.

Grape: Tell me about how you work a story once you leave the station.

Rachel: Well, it's kinda hard. I mean, every time the phone rings I've gotta pull over since I can't talk and take notes and drive. And if my story changes in the middle of the day I've got to stop and set things up from the car. Sometimes the assignment manager can help, but I'd rather set up my own stuff, you know?

Grape: How about shooting and asking questions at the same time?

Rachel: That's the hard part. I'll be in the middle of something and then the audio level will crap out or I'll run out of tape and then I have to become a photog and by the time I fix whatever's wrong I've forgotten what I was going to ask. Hard to concentrate on the interview, take notes, and keep an eye on the gear. I forgot...did you ask me if I liked "Inception?"

Grape: No. You told me you're ready to move on and want to go to a station with photogs.

Rachel: Damn straight. The other stations in this market have photogs and I am soooo jealous. Oooooooh! I want orange juice! Sorry, my mind goes in all different directions lately. I start to focus on one thing, then all of a sudden I realize I've forgotten something else. Anyway, the other reporters in town tell me how great it is to work as a team, share ideas with photogs. And photogs always have good ideas since they think visually. Their stories always look better too. You know what they say, everyone has a camera, but not everyone's a photographer.

Grape: Very true. So would you consider another--

Rachel: Don't even go there.

Rachel's phone rings.

Rachel: Hello? Yeah, I know. I haven't had time to get it fixed. I'll try. Bye. (She shakes her head.) The audio is quirky on my camera. Levels are always too low, but I never have time to bring it to engineering.

Grape: So what do you do?

Rachel: I DO MY STANDUPS LIKE THIS! AND ASK MY INTERVIEW SUBJECTS TO SPEAK UP! I'm pretty resourceful, huh?

Grape: Very. Anything you'd like to add?

Rachel: Yeah! I'd like some bacon. Why didn't I think of that before?


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Monday, March 28, 2011

Have a magical day

It was about four in the morning and I needed to talk to a certain producer at the network. Bear in mind I'm really not in my body until noon. So I dialed the main number and got a very cheerful woman who answered the phone.

"Hi, I need to speak to (name of producer)"

"Certainly, I'll be happy to connect you. And have a magical day."

Well, sure didn't expect to hear that, especially before the sun came up. It made me feel a little better. Obviously it's a Disney thing, but it was polite, classy and old school. And you guys know I love old school. But it illustrates the importance of phone etiquette, something that is sadly lacking in most newsrooms today.

I would guess that most of the time I have to call a local station, I get a lifeless, "Newsroom" from whoever answers the phone.

I'd much rather be told to have a magical day.

Imagine you're a viewer calling a station. You're a bit intimidated calling people you see on television, and then you're greeted with the same enthusiasm you'd get at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Callers need to "hear your smile." When you answer a call, you need to sound both cheerful and interested.

"Eyewitness News, this is John."

"Thank you for calling Action News, this is Mary."

And so on.

Make sure that you state your name when answering the phone, instead of just being an anonymous bored voice. The caller needs to feel welcome, to feel your interest. There may be a huge story tip on the other end of the call, and the person who shows the most interest is the most likely to make the caller feel at ease.

It takes about three seconds to offer a cheerful, warm greeting. The benefits can be great.

You can be cheerful for three seconds, right?

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