Thursday, January 19, 2012

Six degrees of separation is a good game to play in broadcasting; or, why you should be friends with the crash dummy in your newsroom

If you take nothing else from this post, take this: the person at the next desk is not your competition.

Oh sure, the other reporter sitting next to you is gunning for the same anchor job as you are, but he's not the enemy. In fact, he may be the key to your next job.

You all know that "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game, in which you can connect actors in one way or another to Kevin Bacon by linking them to other actors in other movies. Eventually, everyone is linked. It's a premise used by social networking, but in the case of television news, you need to take it to a personal level.

Example: I have a client who wants to go to Minneapolis. I don't know anyone in Minneapolis, but I have an old News Director who used to work there. I mention that I have a talented client who wants to work there. He tells me he's still good friends with a main anchor there, and he'll be happy to put in a good word for my client. That's several degrees of separation, but just like that my client "knows" someone in Minneapolis that he has never met.

Of course, most of you don't have mentors, agents, or guardian angels looking after you, so you have to play the game from scratch. You start on day one, job one, by being nice and making friends with everyone in the building. Doesn't matter if they're backstabbers or have the intelligence of a crash dummy. The business is unfair, and eventually some of those people will move up the ladder.

So now you wanna move to San Diego. That crash dummy got a job in New Orleans. You keep in touch via email, and mention you want to go to San Diego. The crash dummy mentions that his station just lost an anchor to that market, and he'll be happy to give the guy a call on your behalf.

But none of that happens if you don't befriend the crash dummy.

This business is very small. Sometimes it seems as though everyone knows everyone, especially if you've been in this business awhile. But we're all connected in one way or another. Give me a market and I'll probably find someone who knows someone who knows someone. That's how the game works when you need to "know somebody." You still have to get the job on your own, you still need a great tape, but a helping hand from someone you might not even know can get your tape to the top of the stack. Some anchor in some faraway place could walk into a ND's office and say, "My old News Director says he heard this reporter is really good." And that's all it takes.

And yes, the competition is at the other station, but there's no reason you can't be polite while competing. Making friends with people at the other stations is fine as long as you don't get too close and trade stories. Those people can also help you down the road.

The crash dummy may be the most brainless idiot you've ever met, but the crash dummy may have connections in the future that you can't imagine. Play the six degrees of separation game and improve your chances... just by being nice.


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