Saturday, March 3, 2012

Must all tornado stories look the same? My kingdom for a decent sidebar.

Being sent out to do a tornado story is no fun. There's devastation, people without homes, loss of life. Some of the most depressing scenes imaginable.

And yet, probably 99 percent of all severe weather stories look... the same.

This week you can't tell one tornado story from another. (And please, don't stick these on your resume tape.) Sure, you might have the video from the airport that got whacked, and a cell phone shot of a funnel cloud, but for the most part it's the same old story.

Sound bites with people who lost their homes, check.

Shots of rubble (always including a child's toy), check.

Home video of the storm, check.

It's easy to state and show the obvious. Not so easy to make it interesting.

The thing about covering disasters is that it's actually very easy. Everything is laid out for you. You can point a camera in any direction and get compelling video. You can find a victim every ten feet. Raw emotion is everywhere.

That's all fine for day one. But when the story stretches into day six, seven, and eight, you're gonna lose your audience if you do the same thing over and over.

And those are the stories I'm seeing from so many local reporters. The same devastation every day, insert new teary-eyed victim here.

Big story, sure. But how can you handle it to make it different?

-Instead of just talking to someone who lost a home, follow that person to the insurance company if they have one. Not everyone who lost a home is financially devastated. Here's a newsflash...most people have homeowners insurance. But I have yet to see a single story following an insurance adjuster. How long does it take someone to get an insurance check so they can get their lives back? Don't just interview people who are now homeless... tell the viewer what happens to them next. Viewers will wonder, "Well, these people lost their home... where did they go?"

-Spend some time with a utility worker who has to work 24/7 to restore power. Kind of a hazardous job with no sleep, don't ya think?

-Someone benefits from an ill wind. Maybe visit a construction company that now needs to hire more people. Sign companies make big bucks off storms. All that broken glass in business locations? Someone's gotta replace it, and quick.

-Profile someone who is volunteering at a shelter... or find someone who has taken in a family that finds itself homeless.

-No power? Gas pumps don't work. How do people get to work if they can't buy gas?

-Show what the government is doing... or not doing. And by the way, how much do those FEMA trailers cost the taxpayer? You might be surprised to learn they cost a lot more than if you bought one off the lot. Government bureaucracy is always good for a story. Ever wonder who determines whether FEMA rolls on a disaster?

-Where does all the rubble go? They gotta put it somewhere.

-For those employed by businesses that were destroyed, what now? Do they have to move to take another job?

-Cleanup paid for by the government can provide a lot of jobs for people who have been out of work.

-What are the police doing to keep looters away?

Get the picture? You can always set up your story with the basics, but then think outside the box and look for other points of view.

The story will move, and you need to move with it. Back up and look at the big picture.

These are terribly sad stories, but you don't have to tell them all the same way. Look for the sidebar, and keep the story moving forward.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why the biggest egos are often found in small markets

The reporter was being very nice, as he always was. He pulled out a pad and pen, then asked each member of the crew what he wanted for lunch. He dutifully took down every order, down to the condiments on the sandwiches and the preferred brand of soda. Then he went off, picked up lunch at a deli, brought it back and handed it out.

Local reporter? Nope. One of the network household names I work with quite often. He simply knew the crew was dog tired and acted as a team player.

Recently someone who is not in the business asked me what I do as a field producer. I told him, "Sometimes I interview heads of state, sometimes I go for coffee and donuts. Sometimes both." At the network level, you bury the ego and play for the team. And kind gestures go a long way toward making everyone feel important.

It's kind of funny, and it amazed me when I started working with network people, but there don't seem to be very many massive egos running around at the top of the food chain. Oh, I worked with one a few years ago who apparently thought I was a former servant from Buckingham Palace, but she didn't last long. For the most part, the network reporters have reached the top, they know it, and there's no reason to act as if they're better than anyone else.

Contrast that with a few small and medium markets in which I've spent time. Frankly I was blown away at the attitudes of some people who really didn't have a bit of talent. Yet it seemed their mission in life was to act superior to those who had talent and would likely pass them on the ladder.

If you're in your first or second job, you may be running into this. And there is usually one simple reason for this.


If you're the newest member of the staff and already getting ripped by another reporter or anchor who barely knows you, chances are that person is threatened by you. And chances are, they subconsciously realize you have a lot more talent than they do. You will no doubt go far.

So why not take you down a notch by playing mind games with your confidence?

This tactic is so old it doesn't even qualify as a Jedi Mind Trick.

And it's almost like one of those math theorems: The size of the ego is indirectly proportionate to the size of the market.

If you're running into one of these co-workers, simply consider the source. Keep your own ego buried, fly under the radar, and give anyone who criticizes you for no reason the bobblehead. (That's the glazed look and head bob husbands give wives when they're not really listening.) Then act happy the minute you're done.

"The bigger they are, the nicer they are" seems to be true in this business. Be the bigger person and leave the big egos where they belong, on the bottom of the ladder.


Monday, February 27, 2012

The red carpet never ends if you're on camera

Over the years I've worked with a lot of people who were born with the fashion chromosome. Every color coordinated perfectly, every accessory matched, not a hair out of place, no scuffs on shoes. Even on off days, the casual look seemed like something out of a Spiegel catalog. You could run into these people at the grocery store and they'd look nice.

When you're an on-camera person, you're always on the red carpet. But since we've basically become a nation of slobs, that trend seems to have trickled down to the television news industry. Oh, you still see those impeccably dressed people, but not nearly as often.

I've mentioned this a few times in the past, but in light of the Academy Awards it's time to beat the drum again. Too many of you simply look average on your resume tapes. And I'm not talking about the quality of your stories. The wrinkled clothes that seem thrown together, the too-casual look on important stories, the neckties that are knotted so badly they look like my old clip-ons from Catholic school. (That is, if the men are even wearing ties anymore.)

Old school fashion sense will get you noticed, and old school isn't that hard to do. If you're not doing a story on a farm, you owe it to yourself to dress to the nines. Make a fashion statement.

Remember, it's a superficial business and how you look is half the battle. You can't change your face, but you can change your appearance. If you're dressing in a brown paper wrapper, you're selling yourself short.