Saturday, October 27, 2012

When producing a local newscast, you don't have to follow the network's lead

I don't have too many posts for producers, but this one is necessary. In addition, many anchors are now producing their own shows.

This has to do with local newscasts that include national and international news.

There has always been a tendency to look at what the network is leading with, and following suit. That rule has now gone out the window, thanks to bias.

The prime example this week is the Libya situation, or scandal, or coverup, or whatever you want to call it. Two networks are devoting serious coverage to it. Two are totally ignoring it.

This should not have any effect on your local newscast.

Just because someone at the network level thinks a story is big doesn't mean you have to think the same way. Just because a network producer thinks this story should be ignored, doesn't mean you have to ignore it.

As always, put yourself in the shoes of the viewers. Your personal opinion means nothing. Is this a story the local viewers want to know about, or not? And remember, not covering a story you don't personally like is bias by omission.

You don't have to be a bunch of sheep. It's okay to stray from the herd.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Mailbag: The care and feeding of photogs

Hi Grape,

I'm a rookie just starting my first job. My question is simple: what's the best way to get in the good graces of the photogs? Many of them are veterans and I know they're suspicious of young people. Thanks.

Well, this is an easy one:

-Treat photogs as part of a team on every story. On the way to the story, ask for their ideas on how to cover it. Ask for advice.

-On the way back from any story, ask them about what shots they got that might be "money shots" or provide great nat sound.

-Pick up the check for lunch on a day when the photog has really gone the extra mile for you. Buy a cold drink for him on a really hot day and a coffee on a cold one.

-Say thank you after a good story, and make sure the newsroom knows who shot it.

-Keep your hands off the car radio, lest you pull back a bloody stump.


Just curious on your take regarding the bias in our business. Is it worse this election cycle than in 2008?

Well, sad to say but I think the bias has gone over the top this year.  What's amazing is that it's more obvious than it was four years ago and the viewing public is wise to it.

I find it odd that one network's lead story isn't even covered on another network.

You'll find this interesting: you can't find a certain cable network in hotels in red states and can't find the opposite network in hotels in blue states.

In my opinion the polarization in this country can be traced directly to bias in the news business.

Dear Grape,

I'll be covering my first election and wondering if you have any tips.

Oh, I've got bunches:

-Wear a poker face. You can't appear happy if a certain candidate wins or sad if that candidate loses.

-If you've been assigned to cover a certain race, make sure you find time to personally introduce yourself to the candidates in the days before election day.

-If you're anchoring, you'll need index cards with info on each candidate. These should contain background info, maybe some interesting tidbits about the candidate. Make sure you know how to pronounce all the names. Election night really separates the great anchors from the ones who can't do anything without a prompter.

-Understand the issues. If you don't know what sequestration means, or what happens if the electoral college ends up in a tie, look it up now.

-Get an absentee ballot, as you might not have a chance to vote on election day.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The News Director liked you but you didn't get the job. Now what?

At some point you'll probably find yourself on a short list. You may have been brought in for an interview, the ND liked you, he was very encouraging. You liked the company and the station.

And then he hired someone else.

Just because you didn't get the job this time doesn't mean you're out of the running.

Huh? But the job was filled. How can I possibly still be a contender?

Ah, grasshopper, because there will be other openings down the road at that station. Because that News Director will at some point move to another station and need people there.

Because he liked you once, and he can like you again.

But here's the important thing you have to do. You must remain in the back of his mind.

You all need a separate rolodex (forgive me, old school) of managers who have given you positive responses.

In the case of the job you just missed, you need to do two things. First, if you haven't already, send a thank you note for being considered. Second, you must continue to send tapes once in awhile to keep your name in his head.

Sending a new tape every two months is a good idea. Doesn't matter if there's an opening, you just need to let the guy know you're still out there turning out (hopefully) better work. Then when he has another opening or moves to another station, he's more likely to remember the reporter who sends a tape periodically.

Remember the old saying, "out of sight, out of mind." It also applies to resume tapes. If they don't see one from you every so often, they'll forget you.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The stall

Occasionally you'll have a very nice problem: more than one job offer. Maybe one station is pressing you for a decision, maybe both. Maybe one has an offer on the table and you're hoping for an offer from a station you like better.

You need time, but News Directors are pressing you for a quick answer. (This is ironic since they usually move at the speed somewhere between continental drift and Jim Lehrer.)

This is when you employ some sports strategies. The stall. Killing the clock.

Let's say you get a job offer today and the ND wants a quick answer. (First, note that any ND that does a car salesman type full court press is usually trying to hide something.) The very first thing you do is ask the ND to send you a copy of the contract so that you and your lawyer can look at it. Since we all know lawyers move at the speed somewhere between glaciers and Jim Lehrer, this will give you a few days to let things play out.

You can use the ND's speed, or lack thereof, against him. You can ask for a simple change in a contract, a few more dollars, perks, whatever. This now buys you more time as he has to take the contract to the GM, corporate, the beancounters, or whoever. That'll kill a few more days.

The stall is a very subtle tactic, and you cannot overplay it and stretch things out forever. But when you need a few days for other factors to play out, you can always buy a little time with some sensible requests.