Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why politicians make our jobs so damn easy

Many young reporters think covering politics is a difficult business. In reality, it's probably one of the easiest beats in any newsroom.

Why? Three reasons:

-Politicians think they're bullet proof. The laws don't apply to them, they can get away with anything, cheat on wives, steal, cook the books, knock up the maid, or send lewd pictures to women.

-Politicians are egomaniacs who love the sounds of their own voices.

-Every politician has enemies, both in the opposing party and their own.

So, you're a young reporter. All you need to do to cover a political beat is remember the following:

-Always follow the money. There's always a paper trail in any illegal activity.

-Keep a politician talking. Eventually, he'll say something stupid. Or give you a clue that something fishy is going on. If a pol answers a question and you want something more, say nothing. Trust me, they'll keep talking.

-Be friendly with members of both parties. Don't have an agenda. Now you have sources who live to dump dirt on other politicians, and they'll trust you when they need to deliver said dirt. These people know all the backroom deals, and they love to backstab. They need a messenger.

-Arrogance is a dead giveaway that something's amiss. When a politician gets testy if you ask about a certain subject, start digging. And you can start by calling the politician's enemies.

-Bear in mind that not all dirt you receive is the truth. That's where your reporting skills come in. You have to verify which version of political mud is the good stuff.

-Be fair. Believe it or not, politicians respect journalists who don't have an agenda more than they do those who are simply mouthpieces for their own party.

-Don't be swayed by a charming politician with an agenda that fits your own. Bear in mind that the number one priority of every politician isn't health care, foreign affairs, or the economy. It's getting re-elected.

-Keep in mind that there are sleazeballs and crooks in both parties.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Storytellers, part two

Okay, I got a bunch of questions about my last post. Boiled down, the common denominator of said messages is, "What exactly is a storyteller? Can you show us an example?"

I thought you'd never ask.

So I'm going to create two package scripts on the aftermath of a tornado. One will be a "regular" reporter package, the second will be that of a storyteller.

Anchor lead-in: Cleanup continues three days after a twister ripped through town. Joe Goodhair has the story.

nat sound/ chainsaw:

reporter v/o: Cleanup is well underway after what was described as ten minutes of a nightmare.

soundbite/resident: "It sounded like a freight train. Then when we came out of the storm cellar, it looked like a bomb had gone off."

reporter v/o: Residents comforted one another as many sifted through the rubble looking for anything usable. Many have no place to go.

soundbite/resident: "We lost everything. I have no idea where we're going to sleep tonight. We don't have the money to rebuild."

reporter standup: The National Weather Service has confirmed this was an F-5 tornado, with winds around two hundred miles per hour.

reporter v/o: This man had homeowners insurance, but was looking for something special.

soundbite/resident: "We're safe and I can replace my home. We were fully covered by insurance. But I just want to find my wedding pictures."

reporter v/o: Obviously cleanup will take a long time, but for many, their lives will never be put back together. Joe Goodhair, Eye-Missed-it News.

Okay, nothing really wrong with that story. (You've seen that dozens of times in the last month, right?) But while it took care of all the basics, the story wasn't personalized. Since it's day three, the viewers have already seen this stuff. There's nothing new here. This is where the storyteller comes in.

Can you tell which part of the package above would get the storyteller's attention? Let me show you.

Anchor lead: Three days after an F-5 tornado ripped through town, cleanup is well underway. People who have been made homeless have been temporarily housed as families try to put their lives back together. But in some cases you can't put a price on what was lost. Suzie Storyteller has more:

nat sound/ sifting through rubble.

reporter v/o: Jim Homwowner lost his two story house in Monday's tornado but was fully insured.

soundbite Jim: "We can rebuild, no problem. I had full replacement coverage. We're all safe, and that's the important thing. This was just brick and mortar."

reporter v/o: So why is this man on his third day of a treasure hunt if everything can be fully replaced? Turns out no insurance policy can bring back memories.

nat Jim: "They've gotta be here somewhere..."

reporter v/o: Amidst the splintered wood...

nat Jim: "Careful where you walk..."

reporter v/o: And the broken glass...

nat Jim: "I have to really take my time or I'll get cut..."

reporter v/o: Is the one irreplaceable thing that made this house a home.

soundbite Jim: "We packed up and got out of town so fast I'd forgotten our wedding pictures. I have to find them, even if it takes me all week."

reporter standup/ walking through rubble: "Talk about a needle in a haystack. Even if Jim manages to find his wedding album, chances are it's going to be soaking wet and ruined. But even the smallest chance of finding it intact is keeping him going."

nat Jim: "The photo album was white and each photo was in a plastic sleeve. So I'm hoping that protected the pictures."

nat bulldozer coming close/ Jim talking to driver: "Can you work across the street for awhile? I'm looking for something."

reporter v/o: While most want this mess cleaned up, for Jim it might hold the first step toward putting his life back together.

nat Jim spotting something: "Hang on, I think I see something..."

reporter v/o: Buried under the rubble, the corner of a white photo album peeks out.

nat Jim: "Got it!"

reporter v/o: Some of the photos have a little water damage, but most are miraculously intact.

soundbite Jim: "All the important ones are okay. My wife is gonna be thrilled."

reporter: Imagine being thrilled about all this... but then again, a home is so much more than a house. I'm Suzie Storyteller reporting.

In this case we've taken one interesting little facet from the first story and turned it into a full blown story.

If you want your work, and your resume tapes, to really stand out, be different. Don't just report... tell stories.


Monday, June 6, 2011

The latest common denominator of my successful clients

I have this big whiteboard in my office with names of clients, where they work, and where they want to go. I was updating it yesterday as a few people have gotten jobs while new clients have arrived.

While I have always told you guys that everyone's job hunting situation is different, I did notice that the last three clients who got good jobs had something in common. And two current clients who are going on major interviews have the same trait.

They're storytellers.

While all reporters tell stories, not all reporters are storytellers.

Most people fall under the "basic reporter" heading. They get the who, what, when, where, why and how; get both sides of the story; and put a decent package together. That's fine and many people have had great careers doing just that.

But a storyteller takes the journalism basics and turns the story into a miniature movie. The storyteller has the ability to focus on one aspect of a story, to draw the viewer in, and to weave the facts into the piece in such a way that the viewer forgets for a moment that he is watching a newscast. It can be serious, it can be hopeful, but it is a work of art.

The bottom line is this: storytellers find one focal point in a story and run with it. They "personalize" a story. They find that one person, get inside that person's head, and tell the story from that point of view... not the reporter's point of view.

Reporters are trained observers, but when you can describe what you're seeing through the eyes of another person, you've become a storyteller. It's no different than an author creating fictional characters and telling the story through their eyes.

Try walking in different shoes than your own, and you find you might have this gift. And if you do, run with it.

It's very marketable these days.