Thursday, July 14, 2011

When to stick

What's the worst thing about a career in broadcast news? News Directors who channel Lord Voldemort? Schlepping your own gear in the heat or cold? Long hours and low pay?


The answer can be found in my cell phone bill.

99 percent of the calls to my friends are out of state. My closest friend lives two hours away.

For most people in the business, it's the life of a nomad. You put your life on hold until you reach your goal. Meet a great guy or gal? Sorry, not in this market. Work in a great place to live? Nah, it's a small market and the money's not great. Got a great work environment and a boss who loves you? Not far enough up the ladder.

Life rarely goes as we plan. And, as they say in baseball, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make.

Sometimes you get lucky and land on a very nice rung on the ladder. Might not be the top rung but it's comfortable. The ND is a human being who isn't going anywhere. The company is solid and actually cares about employees. The town is nice. The people in the newsroom are competent and have become your friends. The photogs are world class.

And yet you're still sending out resume tapes.

Sometimes you need to step back. Sometimes you need to stick.

Nothing wrong with making a solid yet unspectacular career in a nice place with decent money and little stress. You might be trading a good situation for everything you hate.

Market size won't keep you warm at night. Neither will a paycheck.

If you land on a comfortable rung, think about staying. Imagine life without sending resume tapes, checking job listings every single day. Imagine life without packing boxes in the attic. Imagine being comfortable.

If you have that, think about sticking. It might actually be the top rung in the ladder, but you just don't know it.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

High School Musical Chairs

The television news business has so many parallels to high school it's scary.

In high school a boy tells a girl he'll call her then never does. In the news business a News Director tells a reporter he'll call then never does.

In high school the pretty people get what they want. Same is often true in television news.

In high school someone may not want to date you any longer, but that person doesn't want you to date anyone else.

Which brings us to today's lesson. Ah, grasshopper, you really thought life would be different after that diploma, didn't you?

Today's "wax on, wax off" moment deals with our third example, and translated to the news business it becomes a News Director who won't give you any opportunities, but doesn't want you to leave. I know, that doesn't seem to make sense, but read on. Here are a few traits or red flags to look for:

-Resume tape sniffing dogs. Anyone caught making a resume tape will be severely chastised. How dare you try to improve your own life!

-The electronic door printout. Got one of those electronic key cards to get in the building? There's a reason for it. It tells the powers that be who came and went at any given time. If on Mondays you see a manager checking to see who came in off the clock on the weekend, he's looking for those ne'er-do-wells making resume tapes.

-You're hired as a reporter but suddenly find yourself in the producer's chair, with no way to make a tape. "Yeah, let's see you try to find a reporting job now! I've got you where I want you, my pretty!"

-You're assigned the worst stories of the day. Sure, you may bring great story ideas to the table, but those are given to other reporters while you're covering a bake sale. Tough to put a resume tape together what that kind of stuff.

-You're given the overnight reporting shift. Lotsa luck doing a decent package at three in the morning.

Bottom line, your ND doesn't think you're all that great, but doesn't want you to go somewhere else. That means he'll have to run an ad, look at tapes, do a bunch of interviews. Much easier to keep people in place.

And there's the psychology of it all. Some NDs are on a power trip, have jealousy issues, or deep down want to be reporters and anchors, and take it out on the staff. If they can't have the perfect job, neither should you.

Sometimes a ND will focus on one person as a whipping boy. Usually it is one of the nicer people in the newsroom, someone non-confrontational that the ND can manipulate through fear and intimidation.

If any of this applies to you, see it for what it is. Then do your best to rise above it and move on. And start those musical chairs spinning.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Life isn't fair. Broadcasting REALLY isn't fair.

I remember the day clearly. We had a great news team at the time, with just a few exceptions. It was clear the team wouldn't be together long, for all the talent in the room.

And then the news spread through the newsroom in a manner that today would be classified as "viral." One of our reporters had gotten a job in a big market.

It was our weakest reporter.

The looks on the faces of others in the newsroom were filled with puzzlement. A few "you gotta be kidding me's" were heard from various staffers. I just shook my head and wondered what I'd been doing wrong.

The reporter in question had no street smarts, had most packages seriously re-written by management, and wasn't really seen by everyone else in the newsroom as part of the team. And yet someone in a big market obviously saw something this reporter had that the rest of us didn't.

Trust me, this will happen to you. You may think of yourself as one of those people who takes joy in the success of others, but when someone who truly doesn't deserve to head up the ladder leapfrogs over you, it can make your blood boil. You clench your jaw and grudgingly wish that person congratulations, but in your mind you're wondering how this person could possibly get another job.

It all falls into the "life is not fair" category. It's true in all walks of life, but especially in this business. You may be the best reporter on the planet, but not have that square anchorman's jaw or classic model cheekbones. You may have all the qualities News Directors want in a reporter or anchor, but if you're not exactly what a particular ND is looking for at the moment, you're not getting the job.

Luck is a major factor in this business. So is appearance. You can't do much about either.

But luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. The best thing you can do is seize the opportunity you have each day to do a great job, and hope that the next time a ND is hiring, you're exactly what he's looking for.