Friday, May 11, 2012

Too many journalism grads and not enough jobs: the new grad's guide to surviving the recession

You've all seen the stories on the network. Those depressing packages that offer statistics which send fear through the hearts of those about to put on a cap and gown. High unemployment among recent college grads. Low salaries that won't make a dent in a student loan. The stories almost seem to say, "Welcome to the real world, kid. Here's a key to your mother's basement."

But recessions are nothing new, and neither is supply outpacing demand. In our 24/7 news society, it just seems like the end of the world.

It also seemed that way in 1976 when I graduated.

We had 36 guys on the 4th floor of our dorm, and by April we were getting worried. Only one guy had a job lined up. One other had a possible. Few of us even had any interviews. The job placement service was a joke. There were no jobs. Didn't matter what your chosen field was, the economy was awful. The one big difference between now and then was that no one had a student loan. My four years cost a total of $5,200. Yes, you read that right. Fifty-two hundred bucks. That included tuition, room, board, books, etc. It was easy to work summers and pay your way through school.

So what did I do? I managed to stick my nose in the business and kept it there.

I heard about a part time newspaper job, took my clips from the college newspaper, and was hired. Two days a week for 65 bucks. Obviously not enough to live on, so I swallowed my pride and went back to Dad's deli and made sandwiches when I wasn't hitting a typewriter.

One day one of our regular customers came in and asked if I'd graduated. I told her I had, and she asked if I had any job prospects. Little did I know she owned a radio station. She invited me to stop by. The News Director was a kind veteran (incredibly, he had been Dick Clark's co-anchor when Clark worked in news) who unfortunately had no openings, but offered me the chance to hang around and learn. The staff was filled with veterans who taught me a lot and I even made a few bucks selling stories to the radio network.

So now I had three jobs: one paying nothing, one paying a little, and one surrounded by cold cuts. But the point was, two of my jobs were "in the business."

The radio experience lead to a full time radio gig (goodbye, deli) and that eventually led to television.

Yes, I know, that was a long time ago when gas was 29 cents a gallon and I didn't owe the government six figures for an education.

Still, nothing has really changed. Your philosophy today needs to be the same if you want a career in this business. And since you've just spent four years targeting that, you can't simply give up because the economy's stars aren't aligning for you.

-Send your tapes everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.

-While you're looking for a job, see if you can pick up some work in a media related field. Doesn't matter if you're a part-time receptionist at an advertising agency. You'll at least be rubbing elbows with people in a creative field.

-Don't worry if your job search takes time, and don't worry that a News Director will think poorly of you if you haven't found a job several months after graduation. All managers know how tough things are out there.

-If your search bears no results after several months and no nibbles, might be time to put together a new tape. Hire a local photog and update things. It's bound to look better than what you did in college.

-Don't dismiss journalism jobs that aren't in television. Plenty of people have started in radio and newspapers. And these days, you might find a gig writing for the Internet.

-Don't be afraid to wait tables or do whatever to pay the bills until the real job comes along. Lots of people have done the same.

-Consider working in a political campaign. It is an election year, and campaigns are loaded with media types. (FYI... you might find you like the politics game... and there's some serious money to be made getting people elected.)

Bottom line, start somewhere. Even if you find something part time in media, you'll know there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will keep you from getting depressed.

More important, it will keep you from giving up.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mailbag: biggest mistakes


I'm in my first job and picking up new things as I go. I try to learn from my mistakes and not make them again. While I know mistakes are inevitable,  I would rather not make any more mistakes than I have to, I was wondering if you'd share your thoughts on the biggest and most common mistakes that young people make, and how you can avoid them.

Ah, what a thoughtful question. You got about an hour? (Kidding.)

Just off the top of my head, here are some of the more common errors I spot among young reporters:

-Single source sound bites (taking one interview and chopping it up into several sound bites without interviewing anyone else)

-One sided stories

-No standups in packages

-Packages that do not "show and tell" but simply "tell"

-Not understanding how politics works (confusing a State Senator with a US Senator)

-Packages without nat sound and/or b-roll that adds nothing to the story

-Not writing to the video or nat sound

As for the "how can you avoid them" part of your question, the answer is more psychological than mechanical. The key is to ask for advice. Seek out the veterans on the staff. If you work with a photog, by all means ask for his input on every story. If you're on a big story and rub elbows with people in big markets or on the network, talk to them. (We won't bite.) Watch newscasts from networks and other markets and pay attention to what other reporters and anchors are doing.

You have to be a sponge and soak up everything you can.

One of the biggest problems with many young people is that they come out of college acting as if they know everything, when in reality, they know very little. Just admitting you have a lot to learn is a big first step.

Hey Grape,

I'm about to start my job search as soon as sweeps end. Can you tell me what most people are looking for these days when it comes to moving up the ladder?

Not sure what you're looking for specifically, but I would guess 99 percent of all my clients who are one-man-bands want a job in which they don't have to shoot anymore. It tops a salary increase by a long shot.

The other thing on the wish list is a News Director who is a human being.


I'm about to graduate and I'm scared I won't find a job. I've done the internships, I think I have a decent tape, but I know there are tons of people out there just like me who will be sending out bushels of tapes. Any advice to help set me apart from the pack?

Sure, kid. The two best things you can do are:

-Send tapes anywhere, and I do mean anywhere. Lots of grads will be afraid to send tapes to medium or large markets because it has been drilled into their heads that they absolutely must start in a tiny market. Let everyone else descend on Palookaville.

-Do a road trip. Send emails and call ahead, telling News Directors you'll be traveling thru the area and asking if you can stop by, say hello, and drop off a tape. You'd be amazed how many interviews you'll get, and how many people get hired that way.


Monday, May 7, 2012

It sure would be nice if the networks gave us some help in prime time during sweeps

As someone who enjoys scripted television shows, May sweeps always brings a sense of both fun and frustration to me. Fun because you get to enjoy all those season finales. Frustration because for some inexplicable reason, the networks run said season finales in the first or second weeks of sweeps. And then waste the rest of the book with reruns or reality junk.

News departments use every last minute of sweeps periods, and many savvy News Directors start their sweeps pieces early and keep them going a few days past the end of the book. (Here's a news flash: viewers don't generally start watching newscasts on a Thursday and completely stop on a Wednesday.)

When I was a kid, most prime time shows had 39 brand new episodes per season. When summer rolled around, you got some fun summer replacement shows. This was, of course, before the networks loaded up the summer with reality garbage and sent us running over to the FX and USA and AMC networks for entertainment. Now you're lucky if you get 20 new episodes for your favorite shows. Maybe it's too expensive to produce more shows, but couldn't they at least fill up sweeps months and give our late newscasts a helping hand?

This also illustrates why news departments are more "on their own" than ever before. Why it's imperative to come up with great stories on a regular basis, because you can't expect a great lead-in from the latest of an endless parade of musical talent reality shows. (I keep waiting for them to combine a weight loss show with a dating show and a singing show. Just imagine a single woman dropping a hundred pounds and turning into a beautiful swan while trying out for Broadway musicals and having her choice of bachelors. Call it "Swan Song Bachelorette.")

Bottom line, you may have a great story for the late newscast but your promo in prime time may only be viewed by people whose lips move when they read. So those teases in the earlier newscasts and during the daytime are even more crucial.

And since the networks aren't giving you much, you need to put your promotions hat on. You may think promotion is something the promotions department should deal with, but remember, you're putting the story together. Even though you've got enough plates to keep spinning with live shots, two packs a day and maybe one-man-banding, you should take a minute to let the promo person know a little bit about your story. Where to find the money shot, the great sound bite, etc. I know it's not your job, but it will help you keep the one you have. When more people watch your stories, when your stories become watercooler tales,  you become more valuable to the station. And helping the promotions department labels you as a true team player.