Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas story for Chicago & Madison, Wisconsin area reporters

Okay, this would be a nice holiday story if it actually happens. Apparently there's a young woman from Madison, Wisconsin who is desperately ill and wants to meet Justin Bieber at a December 15th concert in Rosemont, Illinois.

She's too old for Make-A-Wish, and is trying to extend a hand through social networking and YouTube.

Anyway, nice story if you can make it happen. Publicity on your station would no doubt help.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Reporters Tricks: Getting past the receptionist

Sometimes you need to get in touch with someone for a story and you can't because that someone is avoiding you. Or maybe the receptionist won't put your call through, or won't give you the email address. Maybe you left a message and the call hasn't been returned.

So you give up and put this in your story. "Attempts to contact Joe Sleazeball were not successful."

But maybe if Joe Sleazeball knew what you had, he might give you an interview. But he can't know if you can't contact him.

There's a reason houses have back doors. If your knock on the front isn't answered, walk around and try the back. Same deal applies to reporting.

Phone calls: Let's say Mr. Sleazeball works for the Acme Corporation. (You know, the one that makes anvils for cartoons.) You call 555-1000 and get the receptionist, identify yourself, and she won't put the call through.

You hang up and dial an extension that has a number close to the main one. Perhaps it's 555-1001. Then, when whoever answers, you simply say, "I was trying to call Joe Sleazeball. Guess I dialed the wrong extension." Chances are you'll get the call transferred since the person answering has no idea you've been stonewalled by the receptionist.

Emails: You need Joe's email but they won't give it to you. You note on the company's website that there's a customer service rep named Helen Waite ("You need help? Go to Helen Waite."). Anyway, Helen's email address is Simply take the format of the email, and substitute Joe's Name. More than likely will work. While you can't know if he will read the email, chance are if he does and sees the info you've got, he might want to give you his side of the story.

Snail Mail: The last resort when you've hit nothing but dead ends. Print an envelope with Joe's address, and do not put a return address on it. Then, under the address, in capital letters, add PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL. Trust me, the mailroom boy won't open it, and chances are neither will his personal secretary.

By the way, I wouldn't try this stuff when you're job hunting and trying to get in touch with a ND. These are just tricks you can use when you're wearing your reporter's hat.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Crossing the line in a life or death situation

By now you may have seen the New York Post cover photo of the man about to be run over by a subway train. The incredibly tasteless headline reads, "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die." And under that in big, bold capital letters: "Doomed"

What made this even worse is that so many news organizations either re-printed the photo or broadcast it on a newscast.

Shame on you all.

Have we become so desensitized, so lacking in decency that this horrific moment is shared with the world? This is stuff out of a horror movie, but it's real life.

Of course, after the fact, the photographer who took the shot has written a column about the experience, since he apparently got hammered by readers of the newspaper. In the middle of the column he shares the experience, how he saw what was about to happen and started running, how the camera wasn't even on the right setting and he just started shooting as he ran.

Really. Amazing how the photo was perfectly framed and in focus.

So put yourself in his position. You see someone about to die. Do you drop the camera and stop to help, even if it might be in vain, or do you keep shooting and bring it back to the newsroom for a lead story?

If you answered the latter, you have no business in this business. You're a vulture.

The photog in question may have been too far away to help. But he might have yelled for someone closer to offer assistance, might have dropped his gear and waved frantically in an attempt to get the motorman's attention. Maybe someone would have rescued the man, maybe the train could have stopped.

We'll never know. Meanwhile, the victim's family not only has to go through the grief of losing someone who died a horrible death, but they have to endure the fact that someone profited from it. And that so many news organizations are sharing the moment.

Put yourself in the victim's place. Someone just shoved you in front of a train. And you look up and see someone about to take your picture.

If you run this photo, you're no different than the man who shot it.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Quitting on live TV: or, why you should have your desk cleaned out before giving notice

Recently a pair of Maine co-anchors decided to quit during a live newscast. The video made the rounds and got a lot of attention, probably because the anchors decided to rip management while the little red light was still on.

First, I don't know any of the parties involved or anyone at that station. But there is a definite trickle down effect that affects everyone in the business.

Over the years this is nothing new. People have occasionally gone rogue on their last day and decided to lob a grenade at the boss on the way out the door. While this may or may not be career suicide, it is at least the equivalent of a consultation with the broadcasting version of Doctor Kevorkian. But the result is that other  managers see this, and in the back of their minds think, "This could happen to me." (Of course, if you guys weren't such big meanies you wouldn't have to worry.)

Anyway, the result is that anchors who give notice may be suddenly pulled off the air and turned into reporters for two weeks. Reporters may never see the live truck again. Or you may be unceremoniously shown the door as your two-week notice turns into a two minute notice.

This has happened to me and to a lot of people I know. And it illustrates the importance of an exit strategy when you know you're heading out of town. If you think you might have two weeks to dub off all your good stories, you might find yourself in a tough situation if you can't get into the building.

So, before giving notice, just in case:

-Make dubs of anything you want to keep
-Print out or forward to yourself any emails you might need
-Make sure you have a copy of your list of contacts and phone numbers
-Take anything valuable out of your desk and bring it home

While this might sound paranoid, trust me, I get calls all the time from people who suddenly find themselves locked out with no way to get dubs of their best work. Management can get awfully spiteful when people leave, so make sure you're prepared when you do.

And if you want to go live and have the last word, remember, it might be the last word you ever say on television.