Friday, August 10, 2012

The new "franchise" reporter: truth tester

They used to be called "franchise" reporters: health, consumer, etc. Reporters with a specialized beat who brought viewers information on a specific topic on a regular basis.

A lot of those have sadly gone by the wayside. (Personally, I don't understand how any station can go without a consumer reporter in this economy.)

But after being bombarded with constant negative ads that make serious accusations, it occurs to me that local stations need a new franchise: the truth reporter.

Since libel and slander laws don't seem to apply to political advertising, the public needs help figuring out what's real and what's just politics. Wanna make a name for yourself this fall? Take the wildest accusations in your local races and dig for the facts. The beauty of this is that you don't have to look for a story; the politicians making the accusations do that for you. Take an ad, break it down, let the viewers know if it's true or not.

The residual effect is that you'll become more adept at old fashioned investigative reporting, something sorely lacking in today's newsrooms. This will teach you how to dig, how to seek paper trails, how to "follow the money" (which is always the best place to start.)  Do a bunch of these stories and you'll get a reputation with management as an old school reporter, while viewers will respect you and your station a lot more.

And you just might end up unearthing a scandal, which could be a terrific story for your resume tape. (Ah, now I've got your attention.)

How do you become a franchise reporter? Walk into the News Director's office and pitch the idea. In this case you won't do a story every day, but you'll have plenty of material as we get closer to November.

Political advertising has deteriorated so much the average viewer can't possibly know what's real and doesn't have the time to find out. That's your job.

Do it well, and you might just find a better one.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mob Week continues: why you should never put anything in writing

Last week AMC offered "Mob Week" during which they aired classic movies about my relatives who leave guns at murder scenes but never forget the cannoli. It was cool to see some old classics in high-def, though once you cut the profanity out of Scarface it ends up with about 42 minutes of dialogue and doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, there's a running theme through Goodfellas: don't write anything down, don't talk to anyone on the phone, because you never know who might be listening. While it's impossible to do the latter in a newsroom, the former is a smart strategy to protect yourself.

I'm talking about communicating by email, which, when you're angry or frustrated, can be the electronic equivalent of road rage.

Example: you get a snide comment in an email from a co-worker or manager. The person doesn't have the guts to say it to your face, or simply wants to get you ticked off. So you fire back, with a lot more anger than if the person were standing in front of you. Then, sometime in the future, you are presented with those emailed comments that have come back to bite you from cyberspace. You can't deny them, because they're in writing. It's evidence that is as rock solid as if you'd said the words on videotape.

Lots of managers use this tactic, sending critical comments about your work in an effort to gather evidence against you. If you get the feeling they're trying to get rid of you, and you suddenly start getting negative feedback electronically, this is an attempt to get stuff from you in writing. Nothing says smoking gun like a nasty email you sent back to a manager.

Next time you get something negative in an email, respond by meeting with the person who sent it face to face. A manager may take notes (and so should you) about what is said, but it's not as damaging as something in writing.

Remember, the Internet, and anything you put on it, is forever. This also includes comments you make on social media.

So forget the written comments, and take the cannoli.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mailbag: the digital age doesn't help your job search


I've sent out lots of tapes this summer but haven't heard anything. Is there a way to know if my tape is "working" and it's just a case of people not hiring right now?

Well, you answered part of your own question... it's August, and News Directors traditionally save money on salaries during the summer. Since the next book after May is the November book and viewership is down in the summer, managers often go short staffed and save a few bucks to hire someone after Labor Day. You want your new people in place by November. Relax, this happens every year.

As for whether your tape is working, sadly you do not have the advantage I did back in the day. When we sent out expensive 3/4 inch tapes, News Directors always sent them back. You could pop them in the machine and see where they stopped watching. If it was always the same place, you'd realize something wasn't working at that point and change things up.

These days, there's no way to know, so there's no harm in changing things and sending a second tape. Remember, the resume tape police won't care if you send multiple tapes and the News Director probably won't notice... unless he already likes your tape and has put it aside. So make sure your new tape has some new stuff rather than just rotating things around.

Dear Grapevine,

I started a new job in April. I've gotten a lot of positive response to my work from my managers but for whatever reason many of my co-workers won't give me the time of day. I've done nothing to offend these people and am always polite. This wasn't a problem at my first job. Am I going to run into this the rest of the way?

Nah, you're just in a dysfunctional newsroom filled with jealous people who are envious of your talent.  A good indicator is how the photogs (if you have them) feel about you. If they're in your corner, don't worry about anything.


Are non-compete clauses enforceable? Seems like they would be illegal.

Good question, and there's really no answer. Depends on the state, the judge, or both. But whether they're enforceable of not, trying to break one will cost you legal fees either way. And some companies will play hardball just for kicks.

Mailbag notice: Lately I've gotten several comments that have links on the end leading to places that are selling goods and services.  That's why I screen all comments. If you want to advertise your product, buy an ad, because you're not getting a free plug here.