Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mailbag: Rip 'n' read 2.0

Hi Grape,

Last week Conan O'Brien showed a montage of local anchors "putting their own spin" on a same-sex marriage he was going to perform on his show. However, every anchor said the same lead, almost verbatim, about how Conan may be about to "push the envelope on late night television." The anchors were the brunt of the joke, showing how lazy we can be. Not to mention it adds another ding to local news. Oh and I was one of those anchors. Personal ding.

This touches on the tendency for anchor/producers to rip-and-read. You rip the copy you've been sent from the network and read it on air instead of doing a slight creative edit on your own. A lot of mornings we're pressed for time. You know how it goes. So I just don't know how to be creative in a quick manner. Do you have any pointers on speeding up your creativity? Especially for teases and leads? Does it just come from experience? How are you so creative under deadline pressure, Grape?

Ah, the old rip and read monster rears its ugly head again.

Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth I'd gotten my first radio job and the News Director told me, "We don't rip and read here. EVERYTHING must be re-written."

For those of you who don't know where the term came from, well, back in the day we had these huge wire machines that were very loud and continuously spit out paper as it was typed. Usually the low man on the totem pole was assigned to "strip the wire" which meant you had to gather up the paper, flip down the wire machine's plexiglass cover, and rip the paper using the straightedge. Meanwhile, whoever had built the station had taken a two-by-four, hammered a bunch of nails into it, and hung it near the wire machine with the nails facing out. Over each nail were signs reading "news" "sports" "features" "weather" etc. You would then spike the copy onto the appropriate nail, (and yes, plenty of news people have been impaled over the years in this process.) So whoever was reading the news knew that the copy that had most recently been spiked was the newest stuff.

Nowadays rip and read has morphed into "cut and paste" since newsrooms now operate on computers.

Okay, end of history lesson. Back to the original question, and you're not going to like my answer.

You can't teach creativity. You either have it or you don't.

What can help, however, is time management. It's harder to use the creativity you have under pressure, so when you're laying out your newscast, the first thing you should do is write your teases and leads. And if you're spending the early part of your shift sending emails, talking on the phone and playing with social networking, stop. You can do that stuff off the clock.

You should also identify the person on staff who has that creative knack for turning a phrase, and use that person for a clever line. I used to work with a producer who would get stuck on occasion, and ask me if I could come up with something fun for a tease. Every station has a few of these people. Figure out who is the most creative person working on any particular newscast and assign that person the teases and leads.

The main problem, though, is that computers have made it so easy to cut and paste that people take the path of least resistance. Back in the day you had to re-type everything onto these carbon paper sets for the teleprompter, and since you had to re-type it anyway you figured you may as well re-write it.

Hope that helps.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Welcome to Palookaville, and if you don't like it here, get the hell out

Let's face it, the people in the television news business make up one massive fish-out-of-water story. You rarely get to work in your hometown, and very often find yourself moving to places you last mentioned in fifth grade geography class.

That first job can be an emotional killer. You might be a five hour plane flight from home, don't know a soul, dealing with weather you've never experienced, and a general public that seems foreign. The things you took for granted, the style of life, doesn't exist anymore.

Welcome to Palookaville.

Oh, and don't think I'm generalizing by saying all small markets are in Palookaville. The concept of Palookaville is different things to different people. To people who grew up in small towns, big cities can be as distasteful as small towns are to big city people.

Fish out of water. Doesn't matter where the fish is from, or the size of the pond. If you're out of your element, you're stressed.

I've often said that reporters who grew up in big cities have an advantage coming out of college, since they've grown up watching the best people. But in this fish story, it's the people who grew up in that one-traffic-light town who get the upper hand.

Why? Because it is harder for a big city person to slow down than a small town person to speed up.

Example: Grocery store in a big city. You put your stuff on the conveyor belt, cashier scans it, says nothing. You swipe your card, say nothing, and wheel your cart outta there.

Grocery store in a small town. You put your stuff on the conveyor belt, then begin to read the Hollywood tabloids because either the cashier has to have an extended conversation with the customer in front of you about Lindsay Lohan, or the customer in front of you fails to grasp the concept that she will have to actually pay for groceries. You know what I mean. Cashier rings up the total; then, and only then, does said customer open her purse, fumble through it, pull out a checkbook, ask if she can write a check for an extra twenty bucks, waits till the cashier gets approval from the manager. She couldn't have that checkbook ready when the cashier hit the total button? Noooooooo. Meanwhile, your Haagen-Dazs has now turned into a very expensive milkshake and you're heading to the pharmacy aisle looking for the equivalent of over-the-counter valium.

But reverse the process, and the small town person probably just thinks the cashier who said nothing is having a bad day and politely goes on his way.

Meanwhile, there's the stuff that's available. A big city person who can't get a sandwich after eight p.m. will go nuts while a small town person will marvel at the fact that you can roll out of bed at three in the morning and order a lobster.

Finally, the biggest factor of all. The people who live in your new home. If you don't have an accent that matches the locals, you're either an outsider who will never be accepted, or a novelty that invites attention. And every town is different. Some accept everyone, some hate all outsiders. (And all you have to do is mispronounce one local town and you've got the outsider label.)

Learning and polishing reporting skills is one thing, but dealing with a new environment can be the toughest aspect of this career. Just realize that if you're feeling lost and hopelessly out of place, you're not alone. The best thing you can do is adopt a "When in Rome" policy, get involved with a local charity, and think of it as a stop along the road trip of life.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Another side of the story

Interesting piece of reporting from a newspaper on the Occupy story. Shows a different angle of the story when the cameras are not around: