Friday, September 16, 2011

Mailbag: Welcome to the real world of "news"


I just graduated and got my first job. It seems that all we do is chase the scanner. Then I see car chases on various networks. It appears everything I learned in J-school isn't true. I thought we're supposed to look for real stories, but instead we just cover what I consider garbage. Or is this stuff real news?

Nope, it's not news. People die in wrecks every day. Police chase bad guys every day. Some stations are airing this stuff to appeal to the lowest common denominator (people who have no life, those who live and die with reality shows) in the hopes of boosting ratings. In reality, they simply chase away intelligent viewers, those that advertisers dearly love. And so the death spiral of local news continues.

I'm glad that you figured this out at such a young age. Now go find a real story and pitch it in the morning meeting.

Hey Grape,

I hear horror stories about News Directors but mine is a really nice guy, never yells, and gives me feedback. Is this that unusual?

To be honest, yeah. But count your blessings, and if you're in a place you like, you should consider staying. Meanwhile, bust your tail for this guy... if he moves on, you may want to go with him. Finding a News Director who is supportive and trusts you to do your job without being a helicopter manager is not easy. But there are plenty of decent human beings in this business. The demons are just the ones who get all the press.

By the way, you can usually find plenty of dirt on the NDs who are jerks, and nothing on those who are nice.

Dear Grape,

My News Director just told me I don't belong in this business. This is my first job and I'm really beginning to have doubts about my talent. Should I cut my losses and try something else?

Geez, I've heard this story way too many times. From people who turned out to be very successful.

One opinion means nothing. If you believe in yourself, you owe it to yourself to follow your dream. If you suddenly turn 30 and you're not on your way to where you want to be, then try something else.

There are plenty of late bloomers in this business, and sometimes it takes a year for the reporting light bulb to go on. There are also News Directors who love cutting people down and don't have a clue when it comes to spotting talent. A good ND is patient with a rookie.

Hang in there and focus on your goal. Only you can kill your dream. No one else has that power.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Top 10 things you can do to improve your chances of getting a job that have absolutely nothing to do with your resume tape or the ability to read this run-on sentence without taking a breath

We spend a lot of time talking about resume tapes on this site. When I was a reporter I spent too much time worrying about mine.

In this case, I'm going to put you in the News Director's shoes. Shopping for a reporter or anchor is a lot like shopping for a car. Plenty of vehicles can get you from point A to point B. Lots of cars offer good gas mileage. But very often the difference between one car and another are the little things. The heated seats in a cold climate, the built-in GPS for men who don't ask for directions, the glove compartment that keeps your beverages cold. Little stuff, sure. But all other things being equal, little things can make the decision a no-brainer.

With that in mind, you all have the standard engine, transmission, radio and heater. Time to focus on those options to make yourself seem like a top-of-the-line model.

(Okay, I'm done with the car analogy. I know, it took awhile, but hope you got the point.)

So here are some intangibles that can give you an edge:

1. Read as much as you possibly can. News Directors love smart reporters, but they really love smart reporters who know a little about everything. If you can discuss the debt ceiling, how to collect frequent flyer miles with a credit card and why the show Terra Nova will bomb this fall, you'll impress someone. Know as much as you can about the important stories, and be able to have a conversation on just about any topic.

2. Dress for success, especially on an interview. Just because you might be working in a small market or Palookaville and everyone else gets dressed in the dark doesn't mean you have to. The latest trend, even among network reporters, is casual. You'll stand out if you're impeccably dressed.

3. Have a ton of energy on the phone. Lots of stations are doing phone interviews instead of flying people in, and many do preliminary phone interviews before buying someone a plane ticket. Let a News Director hear your smile and enthusiasm.

4. Don't rip your current company or boss to a prospective employer. You may work in a newsroom run by Lord Voldemort on steroids, but you still have to appear grateful for the opportunity to work there. You're just ready to move on, if anyone asks.

5. Be nice to everyone and don't gossip. This business is incredibly small, and people who are drama queens or toxic to a newsroom get a reputation. Create an impeccable work reputation. Never phone it in, always volunteer to pitch in, help your co-workers when you can. Managers love employees they don't have to worry about. And one of those people you help might be in a position to help you down the road.

6. If you're young, don't act your age. Act older. Immaturity is a major problem in many newsrooms. News Directors love people who are mature. You may have been a wild child in college, but those days are over. Welcome to the real world.

7. Keep your Internet footprint clean. No pictures of you getting hammered at a party or in various stages of undress. No tales of drug use, wild times in college or very personal information available to the public. News Directors routinely Google people they're considering, and many stations do background checks. Do an Internet search on yourself and make sure there's nothing that makes you look bad out there. If you've got a social networking page, keep things basic and professional.

8. Keep a Rolodex of people who are nice to you, who offer a helping hand, or who show an interest in your talents. The business is an incredibly small world, and you often run into the same people more than once. Networking existed long before Facebook and Twitter.

9. Send a hand-written thank you note after every interview. Old school but classy, and makes the impression that you were not raised by wolves.

10. Be ethical and unbiased. Doesn't cost you a thing to keep your opinions to yourself, but it's Journalism 101 and in short supply these days.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Packages need a beginning and an end

For whatever reason young reporters always seem to have problems starting a package and finishing it. I see lots of pieces that flow nicely thru the middle, but often have an awkward beginning and an abrupt ending. A package should grab the viewer, but not be jarring.

First things first, let's start at the beginning. What's the first thing you write when you sit down to knock out your script? Well, if you're looking for the first line of your package, a sound bite, or a piece of nat sound, you've missed the obvious. A package starts with your anchor intro. Often you see an anchor intro a piece and then a reporter repeat the same words in the beginning of the package. That means the anchor lead-in was an afterthought. Remember, the intro is part of the package, like a cover on a book.

So, always write your anchor intro first. And none of this, "Big news at City Hall today. Joe Reporter has the story." Put some thought into it. A good intro is part information, part tease. You need to hook the viewer. "A big development at City Hall today could cost you some money. Joe Reporter tells us who might have to shell out a few bucks...and why." Okay, so you've gotten a little info in there, teased the viewer, and set up your story. Which you don't have to start by saying, "A big development at city hall today.'

Now, the start of the package. Personally, I love nat sound. It's a smooth way to start a package, it sets the scene, and it gives the director a little wiggle room in case he's late punching up your story. Sound bites are more abrupt. Standups? I really don't like them at the beginning of a package. A bridge shows off your talent and ability to think in the field, and also offers you a chance to shift gears in the middle of the story.

Which brings us to the end of the package. I'll bet 90 percent of rookie packages end with a sound bite and a sig-out, as if the reporter can't even think of one more line to wrap up the package. And that's what you need at the end if you don't have a standup. Something to tie it all together. Going from a sound bite directly to a sig-out is just too abrupt, like that ending of The Sopranos where they just cut to black. (Don't get me started on that.)

So make sure your package has a definite beginning and end, and don't just slam something together because you have to. Very often your beginning sets the tone for the story, while the end ties everything up neatly for the viewer.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: Ten years later, the media has forgotten how to remember

You always remember where you were and what you were doing on certain important days in history.

In the case of 9/11, we should remember what we felt in the days after. Because ten years later, America seems to have forgotten.

And the fault lies with the media.

The country was united right after the attack. We had a common enemy, Congress had put aside partisan politics.

Reporters and anchors wore their hearts on their sleeves, occasionally tearing up, not worrying about how it looked. Because if the story didn't affect you emotionally, you simply weren't human.

We were all New Yorkers back then. I was working in the South at the time, and even the Yankee jokes stopped. People who knew where I was from asked if I'd lost any family or friends. Thankfully I hadn't, but I, like most Americans, felt like I had.

My mom tells me the country felt the same way during World War Two. United against an enemy, pulling together. Though we were at war back then, she says it was one of the best times in this country. People helped one another. Colors and religion and opinions disappeared. Americans were just Americans.

That's how it felt right after 9/11. We didn't see people as liberals or conservatives, Christians or atheists, Republicans or Democrats. When Mike Piazza hit his famous home run for the Mets to defeat the hated rival Braves in the first game after the attack, the Braves had transformed from despised rivals to Americans who just happened to play baseball in Georgia. When the New York Giants played their first game in Kansas City, they received a standing ovation. They were no longer those arrogant, impatient, rude people from the Big Apple, but just Americans who lived in New York.

The country seemed to be turning a corner back to America's best days. Those three thousand souls that had been taken had given us a wake-up call.

A short time after the attack I was attending a seminar for television news managers. One day we were all talking about how our stations had covered the event. Some anchors wore flag pins. I wore a ribbon on my lapel during a live shot. One station draped a giant flag across the set.

And then someone said, "That's offensive." I thought, "Well, here we go. Back to normal. It was nice while it lasted."

Ten years later, the country is more divided than ever, with people looking for ways to be offended so they'll end up on television. Because that's our job now, to put angry people on the tube.

Everything is Republican versus Democrat, flaming liberal versus Bible-thumper. People aren't people anymore: the media instantly labels someone by what they believe, as if political affiliation is the most important thing about a person. You could be as giving as Mother Theresa, but if you voted the wrong way you're gonna get hammered by some network somewhere.

And everyone who doesn't agree with what you think is an idiot. They have to be. The people on television told you so.

I think back ten years to a dinner party we had at our home. I had invited our best friends, not even considering where their political affiliations lie. On this occasion my extremely liberal friend ended up talking to my very conservative friend. They got along great. A couple of nice guys with wives and children. Politics and religion never entered the conversation. They're both great people, great friends of mine, and I could care less how they vote. Either would help the other in time of need, not thinking about the other's opinion.

Of course, that was then. This is now. According to some people on television, we're supposed to hate anyone who doesn't think a certain way. Check the labels on people when you meet them. If they're a certain religion, belong to a certain party, voted for a certain person, simply dismiss them as morons.

Because we're smarter and you should listen to us. After all, we're on television.

We have forgotten how to remember. What we felt during those days after 9/11. How we wanted to help in any way possible, even if we were miles away from New York City. How we learned the guys at the other station were no longer the enemy, but the competition.

As journalists we have great influence, though lately the public has seen through the often transparent attempts to change minds. We are supposed to serve the public trust, yet the public no longer trusts us.

Today, three thousand souls are trying to tell us something. Again. It's time we listened to them as we once did.

It's time to remember. Remember the souls who were lost. And while you're at it, remember that your job is to tell people what you know, not what you think.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano