Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three success stories that nuke the market size myth down to the molecular level

Stop me if you've heard any of these before:

"You have to start in a tiny market, spend two or three years there, then maybe move up 30 or 40 markets."

"You need several years experience to get a job in a medium market."

"Don't even bother applying to a top 20 market unless you have ten years experience."

Sound familiar? You've probably heard one or all of these from a college professor, crusty old reporter, or News Director.

And they're all true. Check that, they were all true in 1980.

But that was then and this is now. And "now" being what it is, the rules have gone out the window. There are no rules. Nada. Bupkes. Oogatz.

Many people of my generation are freelancers or have left the business entirely. Bottom line, most old reporters aren't gonna pick up a camera. That has created a ton of openings in big markets for young people.

Some of you are saying, "Hell, Grape, you've been saying this for years. Where's the proof?"

Well, in the past month, I've had three clients make huge market jumps. Submitted for your approval, three success stories that dispel the market size myth once and for all:

-Catherine Ross, reporter, moving from KXMC in Minot, North Dakota, to KXAS in Dallas.

I started working with Catherine right after Christmas. We hit it off since she grew up a few blocks from my high school and is a rabid Mets fan.

When she told me she was a reporter in Minot, the town was familiar to me. Not because I've been to North Dakota (I haven't) but because Minot used to be THE smallest market in the country. Thanks to an oil boom, it no longer has that distinction, as Minot is now rated as market 157.

Anyway, Catherine was a reporter, and despite working in freezing conditions in the middle of nowhere, she was lucky enough to be working with really good photogs. She also had a knack for finding very interesting enterprise stories, and her writing skills were off the charts. She really used nat sound well, wrote to her video and sound. I could see right away she wouldn't need much help moving on up the ladder.

She also had a great personality on the phone, which is important these days as stations often do phone interviews as a preliminary to a face-to-face talk. She was a smart perfectionist, always asking what could have made her stories a little better.

What set her apart was her ability to find different sides to stories, telling tales from the third and fourth points of view. We fine-tuned her tape, searching for those perfect stories that stick in a News Director's brain.

She started getting calls this summer and was recently hired as a reporter at KXAS, the NBC owned-and-operated station in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Minot (157) to Dallas (5) market jump: 152

-Beau Berman, investigative reporter, moving from KOSA in Odessa, Texas to WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut

If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you already know Beau's work as I've posted links to his stories before. He's the guy who did the terrific series on the fact that local cops were driving around with expired fire extinguishers. When a young girl died in a fire after a cop showed up only to find his extinguisher wouldn't function, Beau dug deeper into the story. He's an old fashioned reporter who believes in legwork, and it showed in his series. He's a serious young man who takes his job seriously.

When I saw the series I knew he was a classic investigative reporter, and you just don't see that skill set in young people anymore. The series later won an AP award and the Edward R. Murrow award. In addition, it got the laws changed regulating the checking of fire extinguishers in police cars. Not only did his series open eyes, it no doubt will save lives in the future. (If you ever do a story that has results like this and changes the world, you'll feel like you won the lottery.)

Beau was getting job offers in big markets, but wanted to be an I-reporter and was hopeful of getting back to the Northeast. I told him he needed to be patient. He understood that not many local stations have investigative reporters anymore, but waited until the right offer came from Hartford. So now he's getting to do investigative stories close to home.

Not bad... change the world for the better and get the job you want.

Odessa (151) to Hartford (30) market jump: 121

Hilary Whittier, reporter, moving from KNDU in Kennewick, Washington to WPIX in New York City (Fuhgeddaboudit!)

So about a year and a half ago I get an email from this young lady asking a simple question about the business. I respond, then she writes back saying she'd be "honored" if I watched one of her stories. Being a sucker for a compliment, I watched and was blown away. The first thing I thought was, "This gal belongs in a big city." Her comfort level on live shots was terrific. Her packages were good, but needed help incorporating nat sound and finding different angles.

I later discovered she had been in the business only six months, which amazed me. I had never seen any rookie look so at home on camera.

During a phone conversation she told me her goal was to get to New York City and was willing to spend a lifetime chasing that dream. When I told her she had the raw talent to make it there, she didn't believe me. She had 18 months to go on her contract, so we worked on her package construction and anchoring. The live shot delivery was something I didn't want to touch, like a baseball coach who doesn't want to mess with a pitcher's delivery. We just worked on more show-and-tell. I met her earlier this year when I was on the West Coast, and I knew she'd be a good interview.

I also told her over and over that she should send tapes to New York. Now. She still thought I was nuts.

Until she got an offer from a New York station.

Kennewick (126) to New York (1) market jump: 125

All of these people are in their mid-twenties. None are former beauty queens, minorities or have any trait that might be perceived as an advantage. There's no nepotism involved; they're not sons or daughters of big wheels in the business. They're simply talented people who had the guts to dismiss the market size myth.

Maybe now you'll believe me. As I kiddingly said to Hilary when she got her job, "Why do you continue to question me? I'm always right."

Can this happen to you? Why the hell not?

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