Friday, May 20, 2011

Playing out of position

The Mets have an excellent shortstop named Jose Reyes. A few years ago they got the bonehead idea to sign another free agent shortstop named Kaz Matsui. Even those of you who aren't baseball fans know you can't play two shortstops at the same time. So the Mets moved Reyes to second base, making him play out of position. Matsui was a disaster at short, the experiment flopped, and Reyes eventually moved back to short, where he is now.

In Hollywood they cast the movie "Guys and Dolls" and signed Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando as the leads. Did they give Sinatra the singing part? Nope.

If you want an excellent example of "playing out of position" rent that movie and watch Marlon Brando try to sing.

In my case, I enjoyed being a reporter and fill-in anchor. But every time someone approached me about doing something on a morning show, I turned down the offer. I knew I'd be playing out of position, as the last thing people need when waking up is a sarcastic guy telling them to go back to bed and wondering aloud what the hell people are doing up at this hour.

Which brings us to Katie.

First, let me say it's easy to have 20/20 hindsight. When I first heard she'd gotten the anchor job, my very first thought was that she would be playing out of position. I wasn't sure if someone who dressed up as Sponge Bob on a Halloween broadcast would have the gravitas needed to carry the evening news.

And when you think about it, the "Today Show" is called a "show" for a reason. The Evening News title speaks for itself.

I know several people who have made drastic position changes, some successful, some not. I do know that if a particular job is not in your genetic makeup, a drastic position change is probably not going to work for you.

Sometimes you get desperate when looking for a job, and end up applying for positions that really aren't a good fit. Chances are you can do the job, but if the job description doesn't match your personality, playing out of position is not a good idea.

There's a reason NDs call me on occasion looking for a "morning show personality." Not everyone has that upbeat perky attitude you want for that shift. And not every "morning show personality" works on an evening newscast. A "five o'clock personality" is another job description.... someone credible enough to handle hard news while having enough personality to take care of light interviews.

Personality is a huge factor in your success. Make sure the job you apply for fits the one you have.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Top ten best things about broadcasting

Okay, we've gotten a little sarcastic of late, so time for the other side of the coin to explore why we do what we do.

In no particular order, here are the absolute best things about working in television news:

1. The "front row ticket" to life. You get to rub elbows with celebrities, people who run the country, the most interesting people on the planet. You have a lifelong backstage pass while others pay big bucks for front row seats.

2. Working weekends. Your friends will feel sorry for you, but if you've never done it, you've missed the pure joy of a mostly empty building with no managers around. You can relax, turn the scanner down from an ear-splitting level, throw a frisbee around the newsroom or a football around the parking lot. You only have to dress from the waist up if you're an anchor, as the "weekend anchor collection" might include a suit jacket, tie, cut-offs and docksiders with no socks.

3. Photogs. 90 percent artists, 10 percent psychologists, these guys should wear a cape as they seem to have superpowers. They can fix a viewfinder or a carburetor, find anything without a GPS, and know what you're thinking before you know it. They have the most pride of any group in the news business, are the most loyal, and weren't born with the backstabbing gene. They can become true friends for life.

4. Newsroom camaraderie. If you're in a great newsroom with nice people, your life can be like an episode of Friends every day. It's like having a second family.

5. Orphan Holidays: When Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around and you're a thousand miles from home, you can feel depressed. But the holiday orphans always get together to celebrate and create some of the more memorable holidays ever.

6. Working with creative, smart people. The news business does feature some dim bulbs, but for the most part you're working with the smartest people on the planet. All with a seriously warped sense of humor.

7. You never watch the clock. How many people in other fields can say that? Your day goes by so fast it doesn't feel like work.

8. You make a living, and this isn't even a real job. Seriously, you tell stories for a paycheck!

9. Breaking a big story. The pulse goes up and suddenly you're a kid on Christmas morning.

10. Changing the world with a story. Imagine, showing up for work not knowing what your day holds and going home knowing you've saved or changed a life dramatically. Doctors do it all the time, but we can do it with words and pictures instead of a scalpel. Nothing, and I mean nothing, feels better than this.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Commencement address

Okay, so this broadcasting school (which shall remain anonymous) has asked me to deliver the commencement address. So I've been working on this, trying to say just the right things to send the starry-eyed graduates off into the real world. Check it out and let me know if I've missed anything...

Good afternoon, graduates! It is wonderful to see a group of fresh young faces about to head out into the broadcasting industry and make your mark. I know that all of you cannot wait to hit the ground running and change the world.

You've been through a long, and expensive journey. I note all the parents nodding with a look of relief, as they've probably spent more than one hundred thousand dollars to put your through college. And I know they will be happy to see you leave the house as you start that first job with a salary between fifteen and twenty grand.

(At this point in the address I will pause, as several parents will no doubt do a header into the campus coy pond. I have already arranged for a nearby nursing school to stand by with defibrillators and oxygen.)

In light of that economic fact, each of you will find some very useful items in the goodie bag I've provided. A pair of scissors to clip coupons, a siphon hose (better known as a broadcasting credit card), and a list of agencies to which you may sell your blood.

But, alas, you can't put a price on a fulfilling career. You'll be working with some of the most creative people in the world. I want you to look around at your classmates, because many of them who have been your friends...

Will be trampling you in the effort to climb up the ladder. Yes, this is an industry where you have to watch your back.

Most of you envision a working environment that looks like a movie set. You'll have your own office, field producer, photog and audio man, makeup artist, and hair stylist. Ah, now I see those parents smiling. But in reality you'll be spending your day working out of a building that could be used as b-roll for an Iraq story. You'll comb your own hair, many will shoot your own video, and if you want something done right, you'll do it yourself.

This is an industry in which we seek the truth at all costs, yet those who work in it will continually lie to one another. You may be able to trust your first boss, but you may not. As journalists you must learn to dig beneath the surface, not only when working on your stories, but in dealing with your co-workers.

I'm sorry if I've cracked your rose colored glasses on what should be a happy day, but I'm just playing Dad here, trying to prepare you for the real world. I want you all to avoid the mistakes that can set you back, and to look out for number one from day one.

So, in closing, a few words of advice to take with you on your journey:

-No one should sign a three-year contract for an entry level job.

-Have a lawyer look at any contract before signing it.

-Ask for help when you need it. Even though you are leaving here with a degree, you will find that you know very little and have much to learn.

-Photogs are your best friends.

-Stay out of the police blotter. Never, ever, drink and drive.

-Never be afraid to send a tape anywhere. You are not in a position to judge your own talent.

Finally, you should leave here knowing you have the power to change the world and make it a better place. Do so when you can.

And know that in the real world, you no longer get a ribbon just for trying. If you want a ribbon, go to a fabric store.