Friday, May 6, 2011

Vapor Lock


You used the term "vapor lock" the other day. What exactly does that mean?

Well, it's actually a term that applies to gasoline engines. I'm not a mechanic so I can't really explain the principles behind it, but it makes your car stall and hard to start.

As far as creativity goes, same deal. It makes you stall and hard to get started.

In a perfect world with a nice News Director, a great photog and time to do your story, your muse should be happily skipping through a flowery field while the sun shines brightly. When you have no outside stress, you do your best work as you are totally focused on the task at hand.

But when your mind is occupied with something else, your muse checks out of the hotel and leaves you to your own designs, which generally results in a "by the book" story that doesn't include your "voice." You revert back to the basic principles you learned in school; correct grammar without conversational language, uninspired editing, and ordinary package construction. Half the time when you're in vapor lock you can't even think of a standup.

Your mind might be distracted by tension in the newsroom, a ND on your back, problems at home, a bad relationship, the fact that you haven't had a date in months, money problems, etc. Hard to keep the personal stuff out of your head, especially if you get into those "life discussions" with a photog, as so often happens in a news car. (I guess you one-man-bands simply talk to yourselves.)

The biggest cause of vapor lock really has nothing to do with you. I've seen in happen a dozen times. Another person gets a great job and the rest of the staff panics, wondering, "Will I ever get out of here?" The anxiety sends the muse packing for a two week vacation, and ironically you find yourself farther away from your goal.

Dealing with vapor lock is like golf. Swing too hard and you'll hit a bad shot. Relax and stay fluid, and the ball will usually do what you want it to.

Tough to do, I know, but you have to shove everything to the back burner when you're on the clock or you'll never reach your full potential.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sometimes, they're talking litarally

True story. (And honestly, you can't make up stuff this good.)

The interview had gone well. They had flown me in, put me up in a nice hotel, taken me out to dinner. The ND offered the job, we negotiated for about five minutes, and I accepted.

One of the things we had talked about was relocation. I simply asked what most people would. "So, can you put me up for a couple of weeks while I search for an apartment?"

"Sure, we'll put you up,'" said the ND.

Unfortunately for me, I didn't use the words "in a hotel" in my question.

So a few weeks later I arrive for my new job late in the afternoon. After the 6pm newscast the ND tells me to follow him in my car so I won't get lost. So I'm following the guy and thinking, "Geez, this is a weird neighborhood for a hotel."

Do we drive to a hotel? Nope. We drive to his apartment.

I get out of my car with a puzzled look. "Oh, you're staying with me," he says.

Out comes the sleeper sofa. And not a nice one either, it's like the one Elaine slept on in that episode of Seinfeld where she and Jerry visit his parents in Florida. The kind with the bar that runs across your spine.

So the next morning I arrive at the station for my first day on the job, walking like a hunchback, feeling 80 even though I'm 30. That sleeper sofa was a great motivator to find an apartment quick.

Moral of the story? Be very, very specific when negotiating, and get everything in writing if you can.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

That barn door has sailed

The neat thing about newspapers is that you can pick them up years later and read an old article.

But with television, unless you've taped every story you've ever done, they're out there somewhere in the airwaves, bouncing around, headed out to space to be monitored by aliens.

As the old saying goes, once you've broadcast a story, it's "Gone to Pluto."

Young reporters tend to dwell on every story, every live shot, every trip on the anchor desk as a life and death situation. And if you screw up one little thing, it seems to outweigh the 99 things out of 100 that you did right.

Some points:

-You are the worst judge of your own work. It is never as great as you think or as bad as you think. Most times it's somewhere in the middle. And most times you think it's awful, it's really not. Funny thing, most people who really are awful have no clue how bad they are.

-Most people don't notice the little things you think are glaring errors. You're a perfectionist when it comes to your work, and dwell on the tiny stuff that didn't go quite right. Trust me, the viewers didn't notice and most managers didn't either.

-The slate is wiped clean the minute you're done. Just like a baseball player who goes 0-for-4 and starts fresh the next day, so do you. Every day is an opportunity.

-You cannot change the past, despite the numerous time travel movies you've seen. (Believe me, I've tried.)

So basically we're combining two premises here since TV people need something more than the rest of the population: locking the barn door after the horse is stolen, and the proverbial ship that has sailed. Yes, that barn door has sailed, and there's nothing you can do to change it...

Except do a great job today.

Dwelling on past mistakes, especially the ones no one notices, will send you into vapor lock. So bury it, move on, and start each day with the attitude that it's an opportunity to do some great work.

Not every day goes perfectly and not every story turns out the way you envision it. But as long as you move forward instead of looking back, you'll get better.


Monday, May 2, 2011

There's a difference between closure and justice...and relief

Many of you will be assigned to do a 9/11 story today.

Please leave the word "closure" out of your copy.

Closure, in the case of 9/11, doesn't exist. It never will.

Justice is a both a legal and emotional term, what is doled out by courts and what we feel when a wrong is somehow righted. But trading thousands of lives for one doesn't feel like justice.

Relief may be the proper term for this day. For those who lost loved ones, for those who love their country and feel as though it will never be the same, relief may be the proper word. Not because events have magically transported us back to the way things were before 9/11, but because we're a little less afraid that it might happen again.

Nothing can ever bring back those lost on 9/11 and those who fought for freedom in the middle east. So there is no closure for those who lost loved ones. Some measure of justice, and a good deal of relief, maybe.