Friday, May 25, 2012

Mailbag: What goes first?

Dear Grape/Mr. Grape (not sure which you prefer),

I've been working as a reporter in a small market for nearly two years and have just started putting together a tape.

I'm sure you've received and answered this question plenty of times, but in what order should I put my packages???

The answer seems obvious. Put your best work first. But what if my best work is a feature on an old man who has dementia, but can still remember his high school football days? Or a short but sweet story an old train depot that needs repairs? Do I lead with those? Or do I put my coverage of a murder trial that has a trt of 1:41 first, followed by my story on an alleged drug addict who was stabbed to death?

Do you go with the hard news or the features? Because even stations that allot the time for features in their daily newscasts still have hard crime pkgs all over their website homepage. So, what do the News Directors want??

"What do News Directors want?" is actually the third most asked question in the universe, right after "What do women want?" and "Why didn't he call?"

All kidding aside, the old rule of "put your best work first" must always be considered, though sometimes you have to tailor your tape to the station. For instance, if the station to which you're applying is a flash-and-trash scanner chaser, you might pick a story that fits that format. One that does real stories? Something that shows your enterprise skills.

But I get the feeling you're confusing what might have been an important story in your market with a resume tape story. That murder story may have been the lead on a particular night, but consider this: murders happen all the time, and courtoom stories provide little video or the chance to show off your reporting skills. You're basically recapping what happened.

Second, many of you don't understand the true meaning of "hard news." Political stories fall under that category. So do economic, medical and consumer pieces. Hard news is more than just death and destruction. Did you catch the fact that every network led with the Facebook stock offering this week? No one died, no tragedy, but it turned out to be a big scandal. If someone found a cure for cancer today, that would be tonight's lead. If the government revealed they've got an alien in Area 51, (even though we all know that they do), that's a big time lead story.

Back to your original question: find a story that has all the elements that show off both your personality and your skills. Something with good video and nat sound, something that shows your ability to dig, something that shows a clever standup or a great live shot, something that shows you can turn a phrase.

I had a client a while back who did mostly features but was hired as the lead story reporter because he had the above elements in his features. The ability to put a good story together while being comfortable on camera is what most News Directors are looking for. Not all, but most.

So go through the stories you've saved in your desk. You might find something else that fits.

Finally, as for what salutation I prefer, "Yo, Grape" will do just fine.



Doug said...

What can students do during their college career to prepare for a job in television news (or as a multimedia reporter) as graduation approaches? What do we need to master before starting our careers, especially during our student media experience and internships?

-The Grape said...

In a nutshell, you have to learn everything you can during your internship. Spend time with anchors, reporters, producers, etc. even if you just want an on-camera career. And these days, spend time with a photog learning to shoot.

If you don't have an internship on your resume, you will be way behind the curve.

(Blatant sales pitch) There's a whole chapter on such things in my book, along with tips on putting packages together and live shots. There's a link to it on the right hand side at the top of the blog.