Thursday, January 26, 2012

In today's newsroom, you need a "cut man" in your corner

The alarm clock goes off, and the reporter slams the snooze button, fighting for every last minute in the safe cocoon of his bed. He used to throw back the covers and jump into the shower, ready to seize the day and tell the world a story. But now the career has turned into a job, one that has become increasingly painful. Not because he hates reporting. On the contrary, he loves being a journalist.

It's because he's taken too many shots at work. All of them psychological.

He finally drags himself out of bed, walking like an old man of 70, and later feels his blood pressure rise steadily as he pulls into the station parking lot. He feels like a quarterback who's gonna get sacked, and most of the shots he'll take will come from the blind side.

Not from management. From other members of the staff.

Every boxer takes a lot of hits, hence, the need for a "cut man" who can patch things up between rounds. The most famous would be Mickey from the Rocky movies, a guy who could not only repair physical damage but rebuild confidence after shots to the psyche.

Newsrooms can be a lot like a boxing ring, if you're in a dysfunctional shop. And many times said dysfunction has absolutely nothing to do with the News Director. Co-workers can be the most vicious people you'll encounter along the way. They might be jealous, afraid you're trying to take their jobs, hate the fact that you were born good looking, or just resent the lack of dues you've paid. Doesn't matter.

They love to blitz from the blind side, hitting you with a cutting remark that will ruin your day, stick in your craw, and gnaw at your confidence.

If this happens to you on a regular basis, you need a cut man.

As creative souls we are wired differently than the rest of the world. Most of us can be very sensitive when it comes to our work. We might have all sorts of awards and make a great salary in a nice market, but we still cringe when someone says something nasty. And we'll often take that comment home and let it ruin the rest of the day.

That's when you call in your cut man. Someone who can build you up and remind you you're talented. Someone honest enough to give you constructive criticism when you need it, while also telling you that you knocked out a great story when it happens. Someone you can talk with about anything, someone who always has a shoulder to cry on, someone who knows what makes you tick.

I'm not talking about Mom or Dad. They think their kid should be at the network from day one.

Your cut man might be a close friend, or another co-worker who values your work and friendship.

And by the way, you can be a cut man yourself. If you see someone getting psychologically beaten up day after day, step in, fix the cut, and shove them back in the ring with more confidence that what they had when they left.

Sometimes life in a newsroom can be a breeze, and sometimes it can feel like a street fight. You may think you can survive on your own, but you really can't. A good friend is your strongest defense against those things that can bring you down.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What you can learn from the Oscar nominations: or, what you think the public needs to know isn't necessarily what they want to know

While at my very first job we got into a newsroom discussion about stories from the Middle East. Some people in the newsroom thought the stories were very important, and should be considered lead stories. Others, while agreeing this was the case, made the point that the viewers, for the most part, wanted local news and didn't care much about a war that had been going on since the beginning of time.

Finally, someone made the point (okay, that someone was me) that we could take any network feed on the Middle East from the past year, run it, and no one would know the difference. In other words, the story was always the same. It had become video wallpaper.

Which brings us to today's Oscar nominations. (I know, you're wondering how I can tie in war coverage from the 1980s to the Academy Awards. Patience, grasshopper.)

So I look at the nominees for Best Picture, and I've seen a grand total of one movie and five minutes of another. You guessed it, I saw Moneyball. As for the others, I hadn't even heard of half, and had no desire to see the rest.

Hollywood, in case you didn't know, had a bad year in 2012. They raked it in with Harry Potter, Bridesmaids and the Hangover sequel, but had a down year overall. One of the problems with Hollywood is that they put out too many "lecture movies." In other words, movies that are trying to make a point. Hollywood, is, of course, very political, so they often try to sneak in some jabs at a certain political party. Which, of course, turns off half the country. Few of the movies on the Best Picture list made a lot of money. Doesn't mean they weren't good movies, it's just that people didn't have much desire to see them.

Anyway, back to the list of movies. One is called The Descendants. When it first came out with rave reviews, I went online to look up the plot. Basically it's about a guy who has a wife in a coma, finds out she was having an affair and decides to look up her lover while reconnecting with his daughters. Yeah, that's something I wanna plunk down ten bucks to see. Might be a really good movie, might even have a good message, but I'll never see it. I much prefer Harry vs. Voldemort, the Bridesmaids having a wickedly bad reaction to Mexican food, or the Hangover guys waking up in a drunken stupor. Call me shallow, but I want to be entertained for my money.

All of this brings us to news. You may have knocked out an award winning story, but if it's on a topic that no one cares about, it will be the video version of the proverbial tree that falls in the forest. As a producer you may stuff your newscast with every scanner tale you can find, but if you did it yesterday and the day before and the day before that it's nothing different than that 1980s Middle East war video.

When looking for stories, or when putting together your newscast, consider the viewpoint of the viewers. You may think a story is important, that the public needs to know it, but in many cases the public doesn't care. Most viewers have a limited amount of time for news, and if you waste it on things that don't really concern them or don't appeal, you're gonna lose them. If your newscast is filled with nothing but bad news, if it's as depressing as some of the plots of those nominated movies, why would anyone want to watch?

Make your stories count, make them appeal to the average viewer. At the end of the day, a viewer wants to watch stories that are interesting. You may think viewers "need to know" certain stories, but in many cases they don't necessarily want to know.