Friday, June 17, 2011

In the political arena, both sides need to play nice

In the past month we have seen two examples of people "getting even" in the news business.

Anthony Weiner's farewell news conference was about the strangest one I've ever seen. Oh, I've seen angry citizens yelling during town meetings and the like, but nothing like the heckling that went on yesterday.

Which brings up the topic of a few columns I've seen about Weiner. That the media was "piling on" with relentless coverage. But this was simply getting even with a man who had been rude and condescending to the media, while committing the cardinal sin. Lying to our faces.

You do that, and do it with arrogance and disdain, and our gloves will come off. The blood is in the water, and our great white shark DNA moves to the forefront.

On the other side of the coin is Sarah Palin's bus tour. I heard several members of the media grumbling that she wasn't putting out an itinerary, that reporters had no idea where they were going or when they'd be done.

Regardless of what you think of Palin's politics, I thought her message was obvious. I don't think she was in any mood to be helpful to a bunch of people who had put her through the wringer.

Both stories illustrate the hostility that has developed between politicians and the media.

Back in the day you were expected to be aggressive, but polite. You could throw hardball questions as long as you did it with respect.

And politicians respected reporters who were fair, even if they were tough.

You want more exclusives as a political reporter? Be fair to everyone. Be aggressive but respectful. You don't have to get in someone's face to ask a tough question. And never, ever, let anyone know where your personal political beliefs lie.

And here's a memo to politicians: stop lying to us. We're gonna find out anyway, and you're only making it worse. When you display arrogance, we know there's something more beneath the surface, and we've got an unlimited supply of shovels.

Yes, politicians leak stuff to reporters who are in their pockets all the time. But if you're in someone's pocket, you're only getting stuff from one side. Be fair, and chances are you'll hear from both sides. And if you get the reputation as an objective reporter, you'll get real stories with substance rather than just propaganda.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mailbag: Oh, those official applications

Hi Grape,

I just got out of college and have been sending out tapes all over the place. I've gotten a few responses in the form of a job application. Does this mean they're interested when this happens?

Maybe yes, maybe no. In many cases companies have policies that require them to send out official applications to every single person that applies. So getting an application might not mean a thing.

But some companies only send them to people in whom they're interested.

So there's no way of knowing. Sorry that doesn't really answer your question. All you can do is fill out the applications and send them back.


New college grad here. I had what I thought was a good tape until I saw a few other rookie tapes online, and now I'm worried. My tape was shot with equipment that wasn't the best, and the lighting on our college set wasn't great either. Should I be worried?

Absolutely not. News Directors who hire entry level people are hiring potential. They are considering the content of your tape, and know that most college stations don't have state of the art gear. While great lighting can make you look a lot better, NDs understand the constraints you were under.

Dear Grape,

We have an open anchor position and I'd really like a shot at it, but I've heard my ND thinks I'm too valuable on the street as a reporter. I almost always get the lead story and have broken a lot of exclusives. Don't you think that merits a shot at the anchor desk?

Ah, you are the victim of your own competence. I've heard that argument before, and very often a News Director doesn't want to leave himself short in the field by putting all his talent on the desk. So even though you deserve a shot at the anchor desk, it might not make sense for the overall news product.

It would be like Peyton Manning going to his head coach and demanding to kick field goals. He may have earned the chance, but it wouldn't make sense.


How's the job market this summer? Better than in year's past?

Well, I've had a couple of clients get jobs this month and others about to go on interviews, so it does seem as things are moving along. As I've stated before, I think the business bottomed out two years ago and is making a comeback.

Meanwhile, those politicians running for President will start spending a ton of money soon on TV ads, and that will pump a lot of dough into stations. If only we had a big election every year.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sometimes you need to look back before looking forward: What you can learn from a raw rookie

Those of us who have spent any amount of time in the business have been there.

There are days when a career you should love becomes a job you hate. Days when a manager who would have trouble spelling "IQ" tries to tell you what you're doing wrong. Days when you drive home through Podunk and wonder what the hell you're doing in the middle of nowhere.

On those days, you don't look up the ladder, you look down. Not forward, but back.

Even major market newsrooms have a few rookies right out of school, even if they're just running the prompter. Check them out sometime. The starry-eyed look, the ever-present smile, the energy level that is chomping at the bit to take the world by storm.

Yeah, we all used to be that way.

Think back to your first day in the business. You had just gotten a glamour job. You were on television, with the power to reach thousands and the chance to make the world a better place. You didn't have to work for a living like your college friends who were stuck in an office watching the clock.

You weren't jaded. You believed the world was a nice place, that politicians you supported were actually telling the truth. You had rose colored glasses in designer frames.

Remember those days? How you couldn't wait to get to work? Couldn't wait to tell your friends about your day?

Several years ago we hired a young reporter who fit the above description. She was going to be the ultimate team player, even saying she would never complain as she was incredibly grateful to have a job.

Two months later she was the source of all the drama and negativity in the newsroom.

It's hard to retain the raw energy and excitement you have during those first days in the business, but you have to try. These days, it might be the only thing that can get you through the rough patches we all endure.

Look back before you look forward. Remember why you got into the business and how you felt when you did. Then maybe your day might be a little better and you can get out and change the world as you originally intended.

Make today another "first day" of your career.


Monday, June 13, 2011

So many sound bites, so little time

There is a disturbing trend I'm seeing these days. No, I'm not talking about one-man-bands or the fact that there are more news directors than ever who have never been out on a story.

The problem lies with sound bites. In particular, talking heads.

If you look at last week's posts about being a storyteller, you'll see there are different kinds of sound bites. There's the traditional, stand-here-and-look-at-me-not-the-camera version. That's a talking head. And then there's the "nat sound bite" which entails interviewing somebody while they're doing something. That's not a talking head.

The problem is packages are being crammed with too many talking heads. Not enough b-roll, not enough nat sound breaks, not enough reporter voiceover. It's almost like half the reporters out there want to delegate the storytelling duties to the talking heads.

And don't get me started on single-source sound bites, where reporters interview only one person and chop up the interview into half a dozen talking heads.

When you're interviewing someone, the most boring way to do it is to have the person stand there and do nothing. What you want is a walk-and-talk.

So clip a mike on your subject, and have the person do something that relates to the story. Are you talking to a farmer about his fields being flooded? Don't stand in front of the barn, walk with him out in the field and show how close the water isyou interview him. Are you asking a doctor about the latest virus sweeping through town? Talk to him while he's examining a patient. Are you needing a bite with a teacher who does something unique in the classroom? Put your camera over her shoulder and talk to her while she does that special something.

Most of you only have ninety seconds to tell a story. You don't want to waste any of those precious seconds on talking heads if you can avoid them.

It's your story. Don't give it to someone else. The people you interview can help you tell that story, but the principles of show-and-tell apply to people, not just b-roll.