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.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The "Seinfeld Syndrome" is alive and well when it comes to resume tapes

If you were a fan of the comedy "Seinfeld" you know that Jerry always found some little fault with any woman he was dating. Man hands, low talker, bad lighting girl, you name it. The running joke was that he could never find the perfect woman.

When it comes to hiring someone, a lot of managers channel Seinfeld as they look at tapes. At various times I've taken tapes I liked to upper management, and gotten these comments:

"She's kinda top heavy."

"He's losing his hair."

"Too thin."

"Bad dye job."

"Needs a nose job."

"He looks too young / too old."

"He's already getting a double chin."

Sounds a lot like Jerry, huh? Note that all the above comments have absolutely nothing to do with reporting or anchoring skills. Everything is superficial.

And the thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to the superficial part of this business, everyone has different tastes.

One day in the newsroom someone started a poll as to who the best looking movie star was. The women were mostly going for Brad Pitt, the men were divided between Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Charlize Theron. Then one of the guys chimed in with "Sarah Jessica Parker" and every other guy went, "Huh?"

Like I said, different tastes.

You may be the most qualified reporter, you may have the best anchor tape in the stack, but if you don't fit the taste of management (not just the News Director) then you might not get the job.

As George Costanza would say, "It's not you... it's me."

So if you don't get the gig, it might not be you. It's them.


Monday, May 21, 2012

A good source of unposted job leads at the end of sweeps

Okay, sweeps are just about over for the news business. (As mentioned earlier, the networks bailed a week or two ago, giving us season finales in early May before segueing to reality show garbage.)

Anyway, that means the summer job hunting season officially begins Thursday and runs till the beginning of November sweeps. So most of you will be sending out bushels of tapes and scouring the Internet for job openings.

Here's a news flash: a lot of News Directors are doing the same thing.

A few things happen after sweeps. If the ratings come in and they're not good, the ND might get canned. He might move on before the guillotine that he knows will fall begins to fall. Or he might just want to move up the ladder.

What does this mean to you? Well, most NDs who arrive in a new place often want some new people. Despite the fact that your new News Director will tell you that "nothing is going to change" trust me, some things, and probably staff members, are going to be new.

So why not greet the new guy with a tape just as he arrives and figures out who he wants to replace?

Go to, then scroll down the right side of the page to "News Directors Named." You'll find announcements of new management hires. They might not even be at their jobs yet, but you already know that job postings are inevitable in their future. So send a tape to the new guy.

In part two of this, you also know what station the guy left, so a new ND will be there as well. Send a tape to the new person there.

Remember, you don't have to wait for a posting to send a tape. The resume tape police won't show up at your door and put you in handcuffs. But this is just a way to get a little jump on the rest of the crowd.