Monday, September 17, 2012

If you don't ask, we can't tell

If you're a Harry Potter fan, you know that old Hogwarts rule about help being given to those who ask for it.

The same rule applies to most television newsrooms and most of the people who work in them.

If there's a common denominator among people who work in this business it's this: we're not shy when we're holding a microphone or a camera. But back in the newsroom it's often a different story, especially among young people. We might take no prisoners in the field, but turn into shy wallflowers back at the station.

You see this quite often with interns and rookies. There's always a gentle tap on the door or visit to your desk followed by, "I hope I'm not bothering you." When the kids have a question, they're often afraid to ask.

And if you don't ask, we can't tell you anything.

As my first News Director said, "The only stupid questions are the ones that aren't asked."

We don't expect you to know what IFB means, how chromakey walls work, how to put a reflector back in the sack, or why pointing a microwave at someone can do interesting things to that person's family tree. What we do expect is that you not go out into the field with knowing the answers to the questions you want to ask.

If you don't know how something works, ask. Don't try to figure things out yourself out in the field and have things go haywire. Trust me, most of the people in this business are happy to spend time with young people and help them understand how the business works. Most of us dinosaurs are flattered when some kid asks for help or advice.

I'm often amazed at the emails I get with questions prefaced by, "I know you're busy and hope I'm not wasting your time." Uh, the reason for this blog is to answer questions. Don't be shy, fire away.

I remember one intern who was trying to fax a document. She had never used a fax machine but didn't ask for help. Finally the recipient called the station and told us he was receiving a bunch of blank faxes. She had been putting the page in face up instead of face down. All she had to do was ask, "How does this fax machine work?" but she was afraid of looking dumb. Instead, she looked dumb for not asking.

Don't worry about looking stupid if you ask what you think is s stupid question. You'll look stupid if you try to do something without asking.



Anonymous said...

time to ask! The station I work at wants me to do puff pieces for the morning show on a full time basis. You know, local fairs, small concerts, new store in town! Stuff like that. Mostly I do live interviews or show and tell. How in the world am I going to get a tape together? I have thought about going into entertainment reporting - would this experience at least help with that? 2 yr contract by the way.

-The Grape said...

Yikes. Morning show reporter is the worst job in the business, especially if you're not in a very big market. Often you get stuck chasing the scanner... I know one morning show reporter who did not do a single package in two years.

If you want to be an entertainment reporter, consider whether you have enough entertainment stories in your market. I would assume those jobs are extremely hard to get... and let's be honest, you have to be incredibly good looking to get one.

If you want to be a regular reporter, you'll have a really hard time getting any decent packages for your tape.

Then there's the shift... killer hours, sleep problems, no social life.

I occasionally hear from someone who likes this gig, but keep in mind it will be very, very hard for you to move on. In my opinion.