Monday, August 26, 2013

There's no crying in news; or, why rookies need to grow a backbone and become a Vulcan

(In this scene the News Director has just chastised his rookie reporter for nothing in particular since he loves keeping the upper hand. As expected, the tears begin to flow, pleasing the ND to no end.)

ND: Are you... crying?"
Reporter: (Trying in vain to hold back tears) No. No.
ND: Are those.... tears?
Reporter: No.
ND: There's no crying in news! Did Walter Cronkite cry? No! Did Edward R. Murrow cry? Nooooo! Because there's no crying in news!

Unfortunately, these days there seems to be a lot of crying in news. This year I've had more phone calls from reporters in tears than ever before. For whatever reason, managers seem to take perverse pleasure in ripping their new employees, when they should be doing just the opposite. While a News Director doesn't need to treat rookies like the bubblewrapped kids we often see in this country, he doesn't need to make the new kid walk on eggshells.

Let's face it, some NDs really get off on the power trip, and that's why many of them are stuck in small markets or working for lousy companies. But we've covered that ground before.

So it's time to channel your inner Vulcan. You must become Mister Spock, and check your emotions at the door.

You must grow a backbone. I'm not telling you to be insubordinate, but until you show managers that they can't get under your skin, they'll keep hammering you. You must keep in mind that it is simply management manipulation to make you feel less confident about your abilities, and therefore, less confident when it comes to job hunting.

But this isn't about them, it's about you.

Learn to sort constructive criticism from the comments that are simply mean spirited. Always consider the source of the comment. Just because someone carries a title of ND or Executive Producer doesn't make that person an authority on anything. There are hordes of crash test dummies working in positions of power.

Grow the backbone. Be the Vulcan and don't show your emotions. Raise your shields. As soon as you brush off nasty comments, they'll stop. The best defense is to be cheerful right after you've gotten hammered. Go back to the newsroom, tell a joke, laugh. Let them know they're not pushing your buttons.

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The secret interview test

(Okay, I saw the bat signal last night that told me you guys need help and knew I hadn't posted in awhile, so here goes.)

Most job interviews are pretty standard, and they fall into simple categories. There's the courtesy interview, in which you get maybe a half hour of the News Director's time. Then there's the serious interview, which might include a plane ticket, a hotel room, lunch, dinner, and several hours at the station.

It usually includes something very subtle designed to find out how you'd fit in.

Look, if you're going to spend the better part of the day at a station, you're not going to be sitting in the ND's office all the time. He's got other things to do. So after your interview, a meeting with the GM, a tour, lunch, and maybe a current events or writing test, you'll be subjected to a very important part of the interview process.

You'll be dropped in the newsroom for a few hours.

Generally the ND will say he's got things to do, so would you mind hanging out for awhile. He'll go off to do whatever after dropping you at an empty desk, and all of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of a bunch of strangers. You have no idea if they know who you are or why you're there. (Trust me, they know.)

How you react to this "test" can make or break a job offer.

I've seen job applicants react in two ways. Some sit at the desk and read, surf the net on the computer, and kill time until the ND comes back.

What the ND hopes you'll do is wander around the newsroom and talk to everyone you can.

Because after you're gone, he's gonna ask members of the staff what they thought of you. Was she friendly? Did she fit in? Does she seem smart, driven? Does she really want to be a journalist or simply "be on TV?"

In this situation, you must keep in mind that you're still on your interview, even though it's informal. Anything you do during that time you're dropped in the newsroom will more than likely get back to the ND and be factored into his decision. So it behooves you to be as friendly and interesting as possible.

While your tape got your foot in the door, it's important that you fit in with the rest of the staff. The ND would rather have someone with a little less talent that fits rather than someone with more talent who doesn't.

A successful news team is like a family. Make sure you act like you want to be a part of it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Jedi Mind Tricks: Due to cutbacks, the old "good cop, bad cop" tactic is now performed by one person

Stop me if you've heard this before on a date:

"You're really attractive, have a great personality, and I've enjoyed spending time with you. I'm sure you'll make someone a wonderful husband/wife."


Yes, that's the old "good cop, bad cop" dating version. You build the person up before dumping them to soften the blow, sort of like offering a condemned prisoner anything for a last meal before throwing the switch on the electric chair and frying said prisoner.

Back in the day the newsroom version of this was a skill set employed by the News Director and either his Assistant or the Executive Producer. Whoever was playing the good cop would build you up, usually just before a contract negotiation, and then the other would drop the hammer. Or, the bad cop character would lay the groundwork for a lousy offer by repeatedly focusing on your shortcomings, so when the good cop came by with an offer you were glad to sign.

Alas, lots of stations have done away with some of these positions, so the ND gets to play a dual role, and we're not talkin' Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday.

Depending on the News Director, you can get one of two scripts. The ND can lead off with the good cop, but the end result will be an offer you're not too pleased with. Or he can start with the bad cop, which results in a lousy offer that you'll be thrilled to accept.

Scenario Number One: "You've done some really great work here the past few years, and you're a valuable member of the team. I know I can always count on you to go the extra mile, you're a positive influence on the newsroom and I'd really like you to stay. We've got some long term plans for you if you can make a commitment."

(At this point you're pumped, smiling, sitting up straight, and waiting for the offer that will change your lifestyle. You're already picking out the color for your new car. Now stand by for the "but" part of this script.)

"But.... as you know the economy is not great and we've had to tighten our belt. (ND shifts in chair as he realizes he's sitting on the keys to his Mercedes.) I really wish I could offer you a lot more since you are soooooo valuable to the newsroom. Anyway, I hope you'll consider this offer as it's the absolute best we can do." (ND has fingers crossed behind his back, and the words "go to confession" are written on his desk calendar for Saturday.)

At this point the ND hands you a contract which is as convoluted as the health care bill. You quickly scan it for numbers and see that the proposed increase in pay will allow you to buy the ramen noodles with the little shrimp instead of the plain ones.

Scenario Number Two: "Well, I know this job has been a struggle for you and I appreciate the effort. I was hoping you would have made more progress at this point, and every time you seem to be taking your work to the next level you do something that makes me wonder if your head's in the game. It's basically two steps forward, two steps back with you."

At this point you're beginning to break out in a cold sweat. Uh-oh, I'd better get more resume tapes out. When is my last day here? How long can I pay my rent before I have to pack up and move into Mom's basement? And just when you've heard enough from the bad cop to make you think you're outta here, the good cop gallops in on a white horse and hands you a contract. Surprise!

"But, I still believe in your potential and would like to see you fulfill that potential. So we've decided to offer you an extension. Of course, I'll expect you to work harder to avoid all those little things that have been setting you back."

You exhale your tension as you flip through the contract, searching for those numbers. There they are! A three year deal with no outs! And a salary increase that will allow you to buy an extra soda each week from the break room vending machine! Sweet! And a few minutes ago you thought you were out the door. Whew, what a relief! Gimme a pen, where do I sign?

You must be aware that in any contract negotiation, mind games will be played. Also keep in mind that the first offer is almost always the lowest one because part of a News Director's job is staying under budget. There's almost always room for polite negotiation, and I must emphasize the word polite. Play hardball and take a firm tone, and the bad cop could escort you out the door.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Too. Much. Information. Or, why you people obsessed with social media need a serious filter.

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to free speech. It says nothing about protecting you from the consequences of your words.

And for a generation raised on the assumption that actions do not have consequences, it often seems surprising when words come back to bite you. Yes, you can lose your job for saying the wrong things. You can wreck a career for posting things on the Internet. (See: Weiner, Anthony.) And you can make yourself unhireable if you go public with thoughts about your employer, politics, religion, sex, or the general public.

People of my generation really don't "get" why young people feel compelled to share their most personal details or strong opinions. It frankly boggles my mind as to why social networking aficionados think that posting their innermost feelings for the world to see is something that's no big deal. Well, here's a news flash: despite what your parents told you, you're not the center of the universe, and most people don't care about the intimate details of your personal life.

Unless you cross the line.

What ever happened to privacy? Dignity, anyone? Class?

Those of you who work on air need a filter. Big time.

Back in the day we guarded our privacy fiercely. The women were particularly careful, often wearing fake engagement rings or having guys record their answering machine messages. I not only had an unlisted phone number, but one under a phony name I made up. If a viewer called wanting personal information, the most you'd share is where you got your hair cut.

Now, of course, it's in vogue to share everything. Your sex life, your brutally honest thoughts (and who cares if you offend anyone), photos that are borderline suggestive. Yep, you are entitled to post whatever you want on the Internet thanks to the First Amendment. Knock yourself out.

An employer also has the right to kick you out the door if it finds your expressions are damaging to its reputation and business. Or not hire you at all.

When I was in management I, like almost all managers, checked a reference you didn't put on your resume. I googled applicants. I checked their social networking sites and blogs. On more than one occasion I found something that made me cross an applicant off the short list. I found applicants who had posted suggestive photos, wild opinionated rants, tales of doing drugs, and fond memories of getting hammered. Sorry, kid, you're outta here. You're a newsroom accident waiting to happen.

And you never even knew you were in contention. But you took yourself out of the running. You may have had the best resume tape I'd seen, but I knew there would be trouble down the road.

Just about every employer does this. It is well publicized that the NFL looks into the personal lives of college players before the draft. Numerous articles have been written about managers doing their own background checks of stuff you've posted on the Internet. Some have claimed that this is an invasion of privacy. Well, guess what? You gave up your privacy when you posted on the Internet.

Put yourself in a manager's shoes. (I know... for some of you this is like saying, "I wonder what Lord Voldemort is up to this afternoon?") You're trying to attract viewers. Do you want an employee who publicly announces in writing he hates his boss, thinks the company is cheap, complains about the equipment, slams his co-workers, makes unflattering comments about the newscast, or casts viewers in an unflattering light? Or someone who has a personal life that the public would consider a turn-off? You wouldn't hire someone like that.

It's time to seriously filter what you post online. I've talked about cleaning up your Internet footprint before. You can rip your boss, company, viewers, or quality of the newscast all you want to your friends or co-workers. You can talk about your strong views on politics or religion, as that is your right. But when you do it in writing on the Net, you're asking for trouble.

And the Internet is forever.

You can't hit "undo" if you put something stupid on the Internet. You can literally kill your own career with your words.

It's fine to share some parts of your life. If you want to tell the public about your favorite sports teams or what music you listen to, fine. Keep things simple without revealing too much about yourself. But the really personal stuff and opinions need to be kept to yourself.

Forget the First Amendment. You guys need Miranda. Because anything you say on the Internet can and will be used against you.

You also have the right to remain silent. That may be as valuable as the First Amendment when it comes to the Internet.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I'm going on semi-hiatus...

If you've been a regular visitor here for the past few years you may have noticed the posts have not been as frequent of late. Some of this is due to a two week vacation in June, but most of it is because of a very big change in my career.

I've been writing novels for the past few years, and I've mentioned this a few times here. Well, a while ago I was offered a three-book deal by HarperCollins, known as one of the "Big Six" publishers. This is the kind of thing authors dream about... getting a major publisher to believe in your work and promote it. While television news has been my career, writing has always been my passion.

The key here is "three-book deal" which means I have to devote much more time to writing fiction... and a little less time here.

This does not mean I'm going to stop posting. There are still plenty of things you guys need to know, the industry is always changing, and I keep hearing of new Jedi Mind Tricks being played on unsuspecting journalists by those ne'er-do-wells in management. So though the posts will be less frequent, they'll still be there. Since I'm a quality vs. quantity guy anyway, this makes sense.

Besides, there are seven years worth of posts that you can read (the current count is 1,320) so there's plenty of useful information if you care to wander through the archives.

If you're a client, fear not, as I'll still take care of you and give you as much time and help as you need. Absolutely nothing will change.

If you send an email with a question, it might take a little longer to answer it.

As for my fiction, the first book is scheduled for release in August, and I hope you'll support it by either picking up a copy, telling your friends, or both.

In the meantime know that I'll still be looking out for you guys. Hell, somebody has to.

Meanwhile, here's my new author blog if you'd like to check it out...


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sharknado copy

It occurs to me that with all the talk about the scientific possibility of a "sharknado" that stations need copy should this phenomenon occur. If you're gonna run a crawl about this, you can't simply wing it.

So here's a template you can use should the skies start raining sharks. And remember, there's a difference between a sharknado watch and a sharknado warning. A watch means conditions are favorable for a sharknado, while a warning means that flying hammerheads have been spotted in your area.


The National Sharknado Service has issued a sharknado watch for the following counties. (Insert counties and duration of watch here.) Sharknadoes can produce heavy rain, thumping music with gradually increasing speed, and flying sharks which may or may not include great whites. Should a sharknado occur you are advised to take cover, stay indoors and throw any raw steaks back in the freezer. If you are on the water in something less than a twenty foot watercraft, you're gonna need a bigger boat.


The National Sharknado Service has issued a sharknado warning for the following counties. (Insert counties and duration of watch here.) A sharknado has been spotted in (location) and is currently moving (speed and direction.) Sharknadoes produce heavy rain, flying sharks, cheesy movies, and Discovery Channel photographers busy collecting b-roll for Shark Week. During the first moments of any sharknado, a teenage bimbo will be eaten. During the middle of the sharknado, a push-the-envelope reporter stupid enough to stand on the beach will be swallowed during a live shot and Tweet from the shark's stomach. During the final moments of any sharknado, the biggest, baddest shark will either explode or be electrocuted.


Viewers can get immediate warning that a sharknado is imminent by signing up for an alert. When a sharknado watch or warning is issued we will send a thirty second clip of the theme from Jaws to your cell phone. If you don't take cover by the end of the clip you're already dead. Viewers who already use this as their ring tone will be doomed.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Another accident waiting to happen: reporters running their own live trucks

Every year I've run a warning about pushing the envelope during hurricane or storm coverage. A lot of people don't listen. Perhaps the sad fact that three storm chasers died recently might make managers and field crews put safety ahead of sensational coverage.

But there's another accident waiting to happen on the horizon. It's the disturbing trend of having reporters run their own live trucks. As if those who are one man bands don't have enough to do already, this will add another item to the list of duties. The problem is that this job requirement isn't an editorial one, but a technical one. And of all the dangerous things to do in this business, driving and operating a live truck is right near the top.

I was riding in a live truck many years ago when our mast clipped an underpass. Though bolted to the floor of the truck, it ripped those bolts right out of the floor and flew up between me and the photog so fast that we didn't realize what happened. Had either of our seats been directly in front of the mast, which was the case in our other truck, one of us would have been killed.

I worked with another photog who inadvertently put his mast up into a power line and was severely burned.

Driving live trucks is another story. I had to do it on many occasions, and always hated it because it was an unstable top-heavy vehicle. I had too many things to worry about while thinking about my story; don't drive through the tunnel because the clearance is too low, don't take turns too fast, don't go fast, period. While I never had to actually run a live truck, I know what goes into it. It's somewhat of an art, and, if you don't know what you're doing, it could be a deadly one.

So the beancounters out there who have come up with this crazy idea need to re-think it. Sure, you can save a salary by turning two man crews into one man bands, but you are putting way too much on a reporter's plate when you add live truck duties into the mix. I really hope I'm wrong, but I think it's only a matter of time before a reporter running his own truck gets seriously injured. While you're thinking about your story, what you'll say in your live shot, writing something for the web, Facebook, Twitter... your full attention cannot possibly be on operating something that absolutely requires your full attention.

If you're at a station that uses this practice, send out your tapes and get outta there. 

And if you're one of the people instituting this insane practice... you'd better be able to look yourself in the mirror when someone gets hurt. Or worse.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Top ten reasons your confidence is shot

Sometimes I think I should have taken a few psychology courses in college, since many questions these days have to do with the mindset of those working in newsrooms. Back in the day the young reporters were of the take-no-prisoners type, wannabe Woodward and Bernsteins who thought nothing was impossible and shrugged off criticism that wasn't valid.

Ah, but many of you are from the "everybody gets a trophy" generation, and if that's the case, you've recently discovered that you are not the center of the universe. You don't get a paycheck or a better job just for trying.

Look, I'm not Doctor Phil, but I've seen enough and heard enough to know what's causing such a lack of confidence that permeates the industry. When type A guys turn into the geeks on The Big Bang Theory or traffic-stopping women who could cut a man in half with a barroom death stare are reduced to shuddering lumps, there's a reason.

Guess what, much of it isn't your fault. (That should make those of you from the blameless society feel better.) Well, I said much of it. Part of it is your fault if you let outside factors chip away at your confidence.

So if you're feeling worthless lately, check this list and you might find the reason why.

1. Your News Director is a jerk. (Sure, there are more colorful terms I could use, and have used.) No matter what you do, you've done something wrong. Or your work is never good enough. Recognize this as an old ploy to keep your confidence down, make you afraid to send out resume tapes, and make an insecure News Director feel more superior. It might also make you feel you're not good enough to leave, and therefore sign another contract out of desperation.

2. You dwell on the past. You might have knocked out ten great packages in a row but that stumble during a live shot is making your forget all the good stuff you've done. (And if your ND is the type to harp on said mistakes, that takes your anxiety up a notch.)

3. You have no support system. This is typical of people in their first jobs. No parents to tell them how wonderful they are, close friends are thousands of miles away, and they're alone in a strange town. If you don't make friends with the people in the newsroom or get an objective veteran mentor, like an anchor, you're going to feel lost. Annnnddddd.... cue the insecurity.

4. News flash: Not all the people in the world are nice. Some are minions of the devil. The sooner you realize this, the better off you'll be. Many entry level people are shocked at how nasty co-workers can be. The smaller the market, the bigger the egos.

5. No response from your resume tapes. That doesn't necessarily mean your work isn't good. You may not have connected with the right ND.

6. You're assigned lousy stories, even though your bring great ideas to the table. (That doesn't mean you have to do a lousy job. If you're assigned a dog, figure out a way to impress people with the way you turned it into a great story.)

7. You're the newsroom whipping boy. Lousy assignments, the worst equipment, nasty remarks. Chances are the ND is hoping you'll quit by making you miserable. And if the ND isn't the one who hired you, this is pretty common.

8. You've been passed over more than once for a promotion. Doesn't mean you weren't the best person, you just weren't the person management wanted. If you're passed over twice, move on, because they'll never promote you.

9. You haven't turned a good package in awhile. And whose fault is that? A dysfunctional newsroom and a nasty ND don't prevent you from doing great work.

10.  You fail to consider the source of any criticism that isn't valid. So, the gal at the next desk who has less experience than you told you that your package was awful. Or your ND who has been fired from his last four jobs says you're worthless. When you accept criticism from people who don't have the credibility to dish it out, you're giving others the power over you.

Bottom line, suck it up and attack your job with a vengeance. Don't let others control your confidence. It comes from inside, not outside.

Monday, July 1, 2013

What's wrong with my resume tape?

 (Excerpt from Broadcast Journalism Street Smarts)

A female anchor once told me, “News Directors are just like single men. They say they’ll call, but they never do.”
Nothing drives on-air people nuts more than wondering what actually happens to their resume tapes after they send them. Did the ND watch my tape? Is it sitting in a giant pile unopened?
 And the big one.
Is my resume tape good enough? There are no definitive answers to any of these, but you have to keep one thing in mind to maintain your sanity.
In many cases, it is not a matter of hiring the best person for the job, but the right person. Here are some of the comments I’ve heard over the years from various managers after watching really good resume tapes. Preface all of these with “great tape, but...”“Too old.”
“Too young.”
“Not another blonde.”
“But we need a male/female.”
“Overqualified/not enough experience.”
“Won’t fit with the current co-anchor.”
“I’d rather hire someone local so we can save moving expenses.”
You get the picture.  It is a lot like that episode of Seinfeld: “It’s not you, it’s me.” In many cases, the stars have to align for you to get the job. Your tape may be just fine, but you are not what the ND is looking for. Or your tape may need some improvement. (More on that later.) But in order to understand how the hiring process works, we need to take a peek inside the News Director’s office.
Let’s start at the beginning. There’s an opening. The ND runs an ad in (He thinks he’ll save himself a few headaches by putting the term “no phone calls” in the ad only to have the phone ring one nanosecond after the opening hits the website.) Then the tapes begin to arrive.(Let me preface the rest of this discussion by saying that when I made the transition from reporter to manager I made myself a promise that I would watch every resume tape as soon as it came in. This promise died a grisly death when we ran an ad for a sports anchor and had 100 tapes show up in a week.)The tapes begin to pile up the next day thanks to the wonders of overnight delivery. The sad thing is, if the job was just posted, the applicant has just wasted fifteen bucks. ND’s don’t think any more of a tape which arrived via Fedex than one that was sent Media Mail. The only time to send a tape overnight is when it is requested, or when you know for a fact the News Director is making a decision tomorrow.
Okay, back to our story. Now there’s a giant pile of tapes in the ND’s office, or if he has an assistant, in the assistant’s office. Every ND has his or her own system. In one case, I as the assistant news director was asked to go through the tapes and only bring the best ones to the ND. Since he and I had the same taste in reporters, this worked well. In another case, the ND watched them all himself, then asked me and the Executive Producer to watch what he considered the finalists. At another station, the ND piled up the tapes and invited the whole news staff to watch them after the 6pm newscast and honestly listened to everyone’s opinion. And finally, I worked as a reporter at a station that changed News Directors. I noticed the new guy watched resume tapes with the sound off. When I asked him why, he said “if they don’t look good, I don’t want them.” (Not being anything close to Robert Redford, I sent out a dozen tapes the next day.)When it is time to watch the tape, here is what generally happens. The envelope is opened and the tape, resume and cover letter are pulled out. The tape goes in the machine while the ND takes a quick glance at the resume to see the person’s name and the current station or university. “Okay, we’ve got Joe from Wichita.” The “play” button is hit, and the show begins.
Okay, your slate has rolled by and your first standup begins. It had better be your best work or the “eject” button will be hit very quickly. At this point you’re asking, “How can this be? This isn’t fair! The ND hasn’t even gotten to my packages yet!” Bud sadly, in most cases, this is true. Most managers are looking for their own style of on-air person. So your first few seconds of tape had better show some personality, creative writing ability, ability to communicate, animation, connection with the viewer. Remember, first impressions count the most. And, yes, this is a very superficial business. Some ND’s are very concerned with how you look. Once again, not fair, but that’s how the business is. So, if you’re lucky your tape is still rolling. If an ND watches a package or two, you’ll make the short list. The tape will be put aside. This is generally when your cover letter is read, and this is a chance for you to shine. A clever, well-written cover letter can set you apart from one filled with grammar and spelling errors.
 So now all the tapes have been viewed and the ND has narrowed it down to maybe six. In most stations, the GM will want to approve on-air hires, and in some cases, approval must come from corporate. The list is narrowed, usually down to three, and the interview process begins. The rest is up to you.
Things to improve your chances:
-A tape that really moves. A nice montage of standups, a great live shot, and three great packages. If you’re an anchor, make sure to include some crosstalk and a good variety of stories. Make sure at some point in the tape we can see your smile. (If you’re a college student, we really don’t expect you to have a live shot.)
-Your personality must come out. The world is full of cookie-cutter people; what makes you different? Don’t tell me, show me.
-Make your first package an enterprise story or something in which you’ve done some digging. Sadly,  many reporters start with a spot news package. Remember, the police do most of the information gathering in spot news, so unless the story is really unique, don’t lead with it. (That’s why most stations let interns cover car wrecks.)
-A story with some kind of emotion or humor. A lot of times managers will be talking about applicants and one will say “she’s the reporter who did that homeless story”  or “he’s the reporter with the waterskiing squirrel feature.” Make an ND laugh or cry and you’ll be more memorable.
-Anchoring in which your energy and personality comes through the screen. Too many anchors send tapes in which they are simply reading. Talk to the viewer.
And here are some things that can work against you:
-Voice. Nothing takes you out of the running faster than a wicked accent. No one wants an anchor who sounds like “The Nanny” or Scarlett O’Hara. (In a bizarre bit of irony, you can’t get to New York if you sound too Noo Yawk.) If you’ve got an accent, get rid of it and make a new tape.
-The work is not your own. News Directors are like Columbo  in spotting little things that don’t add up. A favorite trick of a college intern is to “borrow” a local or network reporter’s package, re-voice it and add his or her own standup. But it is often obvious this is not the applicant’s work. In one such case a young man was well into his package when his “exclusive interview” included a sound bite featuring a hand holding a microphone. The hand had beautifully manicured long red nails and an engagement ring.
-Misspelling the News Director’s name on your cover letter. Why would you hire a reporter who is supposed to have attention to detail if he or she can’t spell your name correctly? If the name is not listed in the ad, call the station and ask for it. (Even if the ad calls for you to submit a tape to Human Resources, you want your cover letter addressed to the ND.) Ask for the correct spelling, and if it is one of those names that can be male or female, like Terry, Kelly, or yeah, Randy, ask if the ND is a he or she. My name is Italian and really isn’t that difficult to spell, but I’ve had mail addressed to “Tonto,” “Toronto,” and my favorite, “Ranno Tanno.” I once had a phone call for “Mr. Tomato.”
-Getting the call letters wrong in your cover letter. We realize job applicants send the same cover letter to everyone, just make sure you match the ND with the station.
-Bars and tone on the tape. For those who don’t know, bars and tone are used by engineers to set broadcast levels and to chase on-air people out of master control. They are not necessary on a tape. You may as well just mail a screaming baby with your application.
-The DVD is blank. Amazingly this happens more often than you would think. Check each tape before mailing.
-Calls to find out if your tape has arrived. ND’s know this is an attempt to get feedback and can find these calls annoying. Just use the US Postal Service delivery confirmation if you want to make sure.
-Beauty pageants listed on your resume. If you’re attractive, it is obvious on your tape. While I know many pageant vets who are competant journalists and nice people, there is a stigma that pageant people are all style and no substance. If you’re going to list a parade of pageant victories on your resume you might as well just tattoo “high maintenance” on your forehead. Enter as many pageants as you want, just leave them off the resume. (I actually worked with one anchor who listed her dress size on her resume.)
-Modeling portfolio photos. Once again, if you’re attractive, it is obvious. Sending photos of yourself in a bikini just labels you as superficial. Sending any kind of still photos is a colossal waste of money.
-Packing peanuts. Not really a mistake, but a good way to get an ND in a bad mood. Proponents of packing peanuts often send their tapes in giant boxes sealed with enough tape to bind Ironman to a chair. The ND struggles to open the box, then endures an explosion of styrofoam. Since most stations no longer have maintenance men, this sends the ND to the Chief Engineer, who presents him with a 1958 Electrolux vacuum cleaner that makes more noise that the generator on the live truck.
Now a word about feedback. Don’t call for it. A good way to get some is to include a self addressed stamped postcard asking for it. You’re bound to get some response. But there are two kinds. Good old-fashioned constructive criticism is always welcome, especially if it points out something of which you might not be aware. Make a note of those NDs, fix the problem, and send a new tape when you do. On the other hand, there are some NDs who seem to enjoy writing feedback that demeans the job applicant. If you get feedback like this, ignore it and be thankful you don’t work for someone who would be that mean spirited.

Monday, June 24, 2013

If you're working in the heat, shooting your own video, or both, it's time to shoot your standup early

The most common complaint I hear is that reporters pretty much hate shooting their own video. The most common sidebar to that complaint is that the reporter ends up with wrinkled or dirty clothes, looks like an unmade bed by the time the standup is shot, or both.

Movie companies routinely shoot scenes out of order. And, when you think about it, we do the same thing when shooting a story. The most usual order is sound bites, b-roll, and finally, a standup.

Time to move the standup to the front of the line.

I'm seeing too many rumpled outfits, too many outfits with that tell-tale mark on the right shoulder. So, a few things to make you look better in your standups:

-If you're a one man band, carry a hand towel with your gear. Before you pick up your camera, place the towel over your right shoulder. Then when you shoulder your camera it won't leave a mark.

-Shoot your standup before you start shooting b-roll. This might actually require you to think a little earlier about what you want to say, but in reality, it's not a big deal. If you're gonna get all rumpled shooting b-roll, do it after you're done putting yourself on camera.

-Guys, if it's hot as hell, leave the jacket and tie in the car until you're ready to shoot your standup. Put 'em on, shoot your standup, and you're done with them for the day.

-Carry a mirror. You always want to look your best on camera, so take a quick look before you shoot it.

-Finally, play back your standup and make sure you're happy with it before you move on to something else.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Things to avoid in your cover letter

While resume tapes count for about 90 percent of your job application, a good cover letter can tip the scales if a News Director has you on the short list. Yet 90 percent of those cover letters all look the same.

Your packages tell stories, and your cover letter should tell a story about you; what makes you unique? What drives you, makes you passionate to work in the business? How did you first get interested in broadcasting?

Instead we get a parade of the following (News Director's thoughts are in italics):

"I'm a hard worker and team player." Really? Sez who? You?

"Your station has a long history of providing quality programming." This from a kid who lives a thousand miles away and has never seen our newscast.

"I'm ready to work for you and make a difference." And you'll do this... how?

"I recently covered the President's visit to our city." Along with about 100 other reporters.

"I spent two weeks covering Superstorm Sandy." Covering the aftermath of a disaster is one of the easiest assignments.

"I'm passionate about my work." And I'm passionate about Nicole Kidman.

Get the picture? You're offering your opinions of yourself. Those don't matter, and the ND will get those from your references. The ND wants you to show that you're a hard worker by watching a tape showing the legwork you put into a story.

But the cover letter is another indicator of how well you tell a story, how you can hook the viewer, how you can turn a phrase. So tell a story about yourself but leave the ego out of it. Hook the ND with something that rises above the norm. Something different about you, your family, your past.

"My father drove a UPS truck and during Christmas break I loved riding with him, seeing the smiles as he delivered packages. I hope viewers eagerly await the stories I deliver into their homes."

"Mom read bedtime stories to me as a small child, but when I got too old for Dr. Seuss I asked her to read interesting stories from the newspaper. I loved how she put so much animation into her face and voice, making even the dullest stories sound fascinating, and try to do the same when I anchor the six o'clock news."

"My sister plays the violin as part of the orchestra at Carnegie Hall.  I loved the sweet sounds of that instrument when she was a teenager practicing at home. Now she's one element of many, helping to bring something special together. It taught me that a story has many elements; nat sound, great b-roll, clever writing, and solid reporting. I love organizing the parts like a conductor, bringing them together into a story."

So if your cover letter is filled with your own opinions about yourself, toss it, because you'll get a big time eye roll from a News Director. Show the ND you can hook someone with a story, and you'll give yourself an edge.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Adding some age in the era of high def

When you're young, you wanna look old. When you're old, you'll do anything to look younger. The latter is especially true with the advent of high def.

But this is for those who have just graduated or still in their early twenties. And I speak from experience, because I looked so young I was stuck in radio until I was 28. I routinely got carded well into my thirties. (Now if someone offers a senior discount I get seriously ticked off.)

It's hard for people who look very young to have credibility, so early in your career you need to add a little age wherever you can.

Men: Wearing polo shirts or shirts with open collars only makes you look like you're still in college. Neckties are a must, and dark suits will make you look older than light colored ones. Old school stuff like cuff links and pocket squares can also add a bit of age.

Women: Stick with business attire; suits, jackets, professional outfits. Forget things like sleeveless blouses or dresses or stuff that's too trendy. Hemlines should hit the knee. And nothing says old school more than a simple strand of pearls. (They don't even have to be real.)

When you get older, looking young will be a nice problem to have. But for now, age and credibility go hand in hand, and you need all the age you can get.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rush to judgment

Okay, back from a very long vacation (miss me?) after which I returned to an exploding email inbox and a very angry cat who is seriously ticked off at me. ("So, you go away for weeks and then expect me to jump into your lap and purr when you call? Fuhgeddaboudit.")

We've heard the term "dog days of August" but in television news June may as well be known as the "month of mistakes." That's because it's the beginning of the longest job hunting season of the year, situated right after May sweeps. No more sweeps till November, so there's plenty of time for the revolving door to spin.

The mistakes I'm referring to are the ones made when accepting a new job, and, in many cases, that first job. In the case of new grads, this is particularly true.

Tell me if you've felt this way. You're either stuck in the ninth circle of television news hell or just got that diploma and cannot wait to get your life started. You're ready to jump at the first offer and don't care what it is.

News Directors know this.

More people get stuck in bad situations with bad contracts during the summer because they're simply too eager to take the leap. NDs prey on new grads in particular because they're still wearing rose colored glasses and naive enough to think everyone in the real world is a nice person with only their best interests at heart. They know the last thing a new grad wants to do is move back home and hang out in mom's basement for months waiting to cash that first paycheck while the student loan lurks nearby. So they throw the worst possible offer out there, knowing you'll take it.

This is the time for patience.

When you get an offer, any offer, you must take the time to step back and take a good look at it. If there's a contract, get a lawyer to read it. Talk to the people who used to work at the station. Do your research on the News Director and the company.

It's just like dating. It's better to be in no relationship than a bad one.

When you rush to judgment, you often make mistakes. Nothing feels better than getting that first job or a better job, but nothing feels worse than the realization that you've made a huge mistake and are stuck for two years.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Reporter's contracts: a stupid idea that really needs to go away

I'll bet most of you who aren't in management never realized that a reporter's contract can backfire on a News Director. As much as you wanna get out of your current deal, there are plenty of NDs who are counting the days until certain contracts run out.

You need only look at major league baseball to understand this. The Yankees are stuck with A-Rod for several more years, owing more than $100 million to a broken down player who the fans hate. But hey, let's get that ten year contract done and lock him up so he can't go anywhere else.

Trust me, there's an A-Rod in every newsroom that a News Director can't wait to cut loose. But he can't since there's a contract involved. Yep, that contract he was so desperate to impose has now come back to bite him  on the ass.

I understand the necessity of putting anchors under contract. I've never seen the need with reporters. I've had this view both as a reporter and a manager. When I was a rookie I once asked a consultant if viewers cared about the reporting staff, and he said, "Viewers make their choices primarily because of the anchors."

So why the obsession with contracts, especially with rookies... the ones most likely to become an A-Rod?

A few reasons.

-Many NDs are lazy when it comes to finding talent and consider the hiring process a pain. If people can't leave, there's less hiring to do.

-It's either company policy, or the GM insists on it.

-It adds stability to the newsroom. (In reality, it adds stress, as people obsess about their contracts and often feel like they're stuck in a bad relationship.)

-There's the notion that people will spin the revolving door if there aren't contracts.

So it's time for the "virtual contract." One that benefits both sides. One that says, "I hope you'll stay here awhile, and I'm going to make this a nice place to work so that you won't want to leave." One that doesn't charge you thousands to leave a job. (Is there any other industry that uses this insane tactic?)

Nothing stresses out a young reporter more than a contract that hangs around his neck like a noose, one that threatens serious legal action or heavy buyout fines if he leaves. Remove that, and you'll have a reporter whose attention can be focused where it matters: getting good stories.

This may surprise you: there are people in major markets working without contracts. Because NDs there are smarter and know that if they leave, there will be hundreds of qualified people lining up to take their place.

It should be the same everywhere.

I think back to that gal I knew from Texas who had all these quaint little sayings. One was, "You ride a horse longer with loose reins."

Get rid of the contracts, keep your newsroom happy and make it a fun place to work, and no one will want to leave. No contract can ever top that.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Welcome to the beginning of the summer job hunting season

So the hits for this site are off the charts today. I'm gonna take a wild stab and guess that since sweeps just ended and people just graduated most of you are enjoying the long weekend putting together resume tapes.

Welcome to the party, pal. Yippie-ki-yay.

Memorial Day: Thanks, vets!

Don't forget to thank a current member of the military or a vet this weekend. Thanks to them, we have the freedom to do what we do.

And please, if you don't know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, look it up.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Graduation Day book sale

Okay, here's a break for you new college grads who are heading out into the real world with student loans totalling more than my mortgage. Of course, you don't have to be a new grad to take advantage of this.

Electronic book distributor Smashwords is offering 25 percent off my 2013 textbook (that's five bucks for those of you who are math challenged.)

Here's the link:

Then use this coupon code at checkout:

Smashwords enables you to download to any electronic device, including Kindle, Nook, Apple devices, and many more.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A two pack a day habit will kill you; and we're not talkin' about cigarettes

I've written numerous posts about the red flags you should look for when job hunting. They range from the typical (whack-job News Directors) to the financial (companies that throw nickels around like manhole covers) to the psychological (newsrooms in which employees look as though they're currently in the Bataan death march.)

But lately there's something subtle that has been sneaking into our business, sort of like Congress clandestinely earmarking funds for a museum honoring racoons into a bill designed for NASA.

It's the two package a day habit. Yes, even more deadly than the one-man-band trend, this daily requirement is doing more to suck the quality out of a news product than anything.

As a reporter I always worked with a photographer and luckily never had to shoot my own video. In most places I was required to do one package each day, and pick up a few vo/sots or vo's.  But there was a time when we had a new News Director who had the blood of a beancounter running through his veins, thinking that more was better. He noticed I was usually done by four o'clock with my package of the day, and thought I was killing time at my desk on the phone. In reality, I was trying to set up stories for the next day, since the Assignment Editor would usually hand out a steaming pile of manure to anyone who didn't have a story set up.

So I started to get two packages a day. Why? The answer from management was because I could do it. (Ironically, my ability to write fast and manage time came back to bite me.) Thoughts of quality headed headfirst into the dumper, as I was now racing the clock every day, slamming stories together with little thought to the style I had always brought to the table. Many times I'd be driving home thinking one of those two stories could have been great... if only I'd had the time to make it so.

Over the years I always saved the best packages that I turned. I have lots of tapes in the closet. But I never saved a single package from the time period when I was required to do two packages per day. None of them were up to my standards. Sure, they were acceptable, but they lacked the special elements that would take them to the next level.

So, how can you prevent yourself from ending up in this position?

Well, if you go through a ND change like I did, you're stuck until you can move on. But if you're looking for another gig, it's imperative to find out if management requires two packages each day. (And if it's two packages a day in a one-man-band shop, run like hell.) Trust me, the quality of your work will go down if you end up knocking out multiple packages. And if you're a rookie, you're not going to learn much. In both cases the following is true: you can't do good work if you don't have time to think. Creativity cannot be rushed. Your muse doesn't punch a clock, and if you ask her to do so she'll get ticked off, fold her arms and sulk, then go into vapor lock. A muse is a high maintenance creature.

Some stations have more red flags than a Russian May Day parade. Some are huge, some not such a big deal.

This is a big deal. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

When looking for a job you should avoid any station that requires its reporters to do two packages each day.

And one more thing... if you're a News Director reading this, and you're one of those people requiring two packages from your reporters, you're doing three things: pushing quality people out the door, not attracting the best reporter candidates... and, oh yeah, chasing away your viewers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Top lies heard by recent graduates

Time once again for our annual warning to those leaving the hallowed halls of higher education for the world of broadcasting. You can get your life started! Keep those rose colored glasses on because everyone is wonderful and decent and your first station will provide Disney bluebirds to do your laundry. And surely those people offering jobs wouldn't lie, would they?

Sorry, but when hiring entry level people many News Directors turn into married men at a singles bar. Nothing is off the table when it comes to the con job they'll pull on trusting young people. Some make politicians look like amateurs.

I'm not trying to scare you kids, but simply warn you that you're about to enter a minefield filled with people who, should they ever go to confession, will rack up enough Hail Marys as penance to keep them tied up praying for a week. Sorry, but not everyone has your best interests at heart.

Luckily I'm here to expose the tricks of these ne'er-do-wells and hopefully spare you from two years of agony.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the greatest lies told to new graduates.

-"We'll start you out as a producer and eventually move you into reporting." This one's right up there with, "My wife doesn't understand me and I'm getting ready to divorce her so we can run away together."

This is the classic bait and switch designed to fill holes in the staff. The most common are the "producer to reporter" track and the "reporter to anchor" track. Trust me, if you start as a producer, you'll likely never see a day as a reporter. And then, how do you make a reporting tape to get out?

-"You don't need to have a lawyer read that contract." Which of course means you sure as hell do need to have a lawyer read that contract. If a manager tries to talk you out of legal advice, that's because there's something bad in the contract that a lawyer would find.

-"You have to sign right now or I'll give the job to someone else." Any decent manager out there will give someone time to sleep on an offer. Any manager who doesn't isn't decent.

-"Our company doesn't give outs." Do a little research,  and chances are you'll find someone in the company who has an out clause.

-"We don't need to put that in writing." Selective memory is a common disease among managers. Six months down the road you'll remind him that he promised to make you an anchor and for some reason he can't seem to remember doing that.

-"You might have to pick up a camera once in awhile." Look around the newsroom. If there are seven reporters and one photog, chances are "once in awhile" will be every day.

-"We have big plans for you." (See married men in singles bar technique above.)

-"We only do three year contracts." Too bad, because you only sign two year deals. No rookie needs to sign a three year deal. And chances are there are people in the company who have two year deals.

There are of course other lies regarding moving expense, makeup and hair allowances, and putting you up while you find a place to live. Just keep in mind that you're entering the real world, and sadly, there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of you.

As Bruce Willis would say, "Welcome to the party, pal."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Exit strategy: Can you leave the business?

Lately a lot of young people I know are leaving the business for private industry. Many are going into public relations or some sort of marketing position.

Of course this happened with my generation as well, but usually when people were in their forties and simply tired of the grind. These days it seems to be different. People are tired of the ridiculous workload, shooting their own video, managers who are jerks (the most common reason), and low wages. It is sad when I get calls from people in their twenties already giving up on their dreams; not because they don't love journalism, but because the business has become too painful to endure.

Regardless of the reason, the big question many face is this: Can I survive without a journalism career? For many of us it's a narcotic; a big story or killer live shot can give you a rush like no nine-to-five job can ever provide. So what happens when you trade a newsroom gig for one in the "normal" world?

And here's the other big question: If I don't like the normal world, can I get back into the news business?

First, let's talk about what happens to people who leave the business for the private sector. (And yes, I've done this, so I've had the experience.)

The biggest change is the pace. You might go from two packages and a live shot each day to a PR job in which you're required to write one press release in a week. What the hell do people do with the rest of their time? (This also happens to soldiers coming back from war, by the way.) Suddenly you're sitting at a desk with no chance of leaving the building. You're watching the clock. You're given one week to do an assignment what would take five minutes. You like the new paycheck but you're bored out of your mind. How do you deal with it? Some can't and go back to news. Some manage to downshift and come up with new ideas for their new jobs. (Imagine going to your boss and asking for more stuff to do.)

The other big change is the lack of creativity. Suddenly you're not turning a phrase in your copy or trying to think of a clever standup. Now you're looking at pie charts and making mailing lists. Your muse is about to drive you nuts; she wants you to do something, anything, with a blank page but you have no assignment.

The key here is to find a creative outlet. Write fiction (it's what I do when I have down time), do some articles or a column for a newspaper, make pottery, paint. Create something. If you do nothing creative from nine-to-five, it's imperative that you do something on your time off.

Finally, the biggest change is the type of people you're surrounded with. The free-wheeling personalities of the newsroom and sarcasm are gone. The wicked, dark humor we use to deal with all the bad news we cover is nowhere to be found. The relationships are more businesslike, not as close as those in a newsroom. You go to an office party and you're not the least bit interested in what people are talking about, and, hardly anyone is keeping up with current events. The unique camaraderie you had in the newsroom doesn't exist.

Now, let's get to the re-entry question. Many people assume that once you leave a news job you can't get back into the business.


I've done it, plenty of others have done it. If you're talented, that talent doesn't vanish because you took some time away from a newsroom. Just make sure you save all your tapes. You make think you're done with this business forever when you walk out the door, but if it runs through your veins you may someday want back in.

Monday, May 6, 2013

200 sports openings

This is from Sports Illustrated's website today:

"Fox Sports 1 is expected to make around 200 hires."

Sports jobs are hard enough to get, so this is a real bonanza.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Stranger than fiction, or, how to fake your own death for eleven years

Every once in awhile I get an assignment that is truly bizarre. In this case, I've been working for Inside Edition on a story about that Pennsylvania woman who disappeared eleven years ago and was presumed dead until she turned up in Florida.

Turns out going off the grid is as easy as writing a novel.

In this case, Brenda Heist (and you gotta love the irony of the last name) simply re-invented herself as a cleaning woman in Pensacola, Florida. Yesterday we spent a lot of time with one of her clients, a kind-hearted woman named Sondra who took her in when she said she needed to get out of an abusive relationship. She said her name was Lovie Smith (yeah, same name as the Chicago Bears coach, but Sondra didn't follow football.) She paid everything in cash, bought cars with cash, covered her tracks, developed trust with clients in the community. Even though she left a husband and children behind she told Sondra she was a widow and had no kids. Sondra became close friends with her and had no inkling she was being conned.

This is a wild story and if you get a chance check it out on Thursday's episode of Inside Edition. I'll post the link here after it airs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Entry level job hunting is a lot like the NFL draft

While I'm a NFL junkie and go into my fall Sunday coma with the NFL Sunday Ticket, I don't watch college football at all. So when the draft rolls around, I'll watch even though I have no idea which players might be good. I want to see who the Giants pick and enjoy the high comedy that is the New York Jets, who are the football version of a dysfunctional newsroom.

The analysts discuss all sorts of positives and negatives. Can a quarterback throw deep? Is the receiver shy about going over the middle? Is the person a team player? You'll hear them talk about a player with a good work ethic, or one who has a "motor" which means he never quits or takes a play off.

Then there are those "red flags" that can send players dropping off a cliff. Drug use, arrests, and, in the case of a certain Notre Dame linebacker, nonexistent dead girlfriends. (By the way, I don't buy it that anyone could be that gullible.)

Every summer after May sweeps, News Directors who hire entry level people have their own version of the draft. They're looking mostly for potential, because work done in college rarely simulates that done in a real newsroom. But they also look for the following:

-Experience: Has the applicant done an internship, or worked in a college station? Or simply learned journalism theory out of a book?

-Industry knowledge: Does the person know how to edit, how to put a story together?

-Versatility: Can the applicant do more than one thing, such as news and sports, or news and weather?

-Attitude: How does the applicant interview? Willing to learn, or already knows everything there is to know?

-References: What do people say about the applicant, especially those who worked with the person during an internship?

-Red flags: Does the person's social media sites indicate any alcohol or drug problems? Are there very opinionated or offensive comments on the Internet? (Trust me, every ND will check your electronic footprint, and most will do a background check.)

So how would you rank? First round draft choice? Middle of the pack? Undrafted free agent?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Unless you have the power to read minds or contact the dead, speculation makes you look stupid

Over the past two weeks the news business has apparently acquired a whole bunch of reporters with paranormal powers. Incredibly, these people are not only able to see into the mind of the captured Boston bomber, but are able to act as mediums and contact the dead one as well. These supernatural skill sets allow them to tell the general public exactly what the bombers were thinking, what their mindset was, and what they were or were not planning to do next.

They were going to New York. No, they weren't. They acted alone. Nope, they had help.

I continue to be amazed at journalists who simply spout these theories as if they are facts. And let's face it, they're theories. Just because they've interrogated the captured bomber doesn't mean he told the truth. (Why would he lie? Uh, I don't know... he just killed and maimed a bunch of people, so let's trust him.) Just because they've looked into the history of the dead bomber doesn't mean they had any idea what made him set off bombs or what he planned to do next.

We've already seen some incredibly embarrassing, and yes, amateurish coverage during the week of the bombing. How bad was it? The President had this line over the weekend:

"I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, but the fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of the story just in case one of them happens to be accurate."

A funny joke, but a sad commentary on what the news business has become.

Meanwhile, now that corrections have been issued, it's apparently time to speculate.

And of course, let's speculate by injecting some political bias into the argument.

There's an old newsroom joke that goes like this: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

It's not a joke anymore. It's fact.

Unless you have hard facts, don't speculate. It makes you look stupid. And it makes me change the channel.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Am I attractive enough for a television job?

If you've asked yourself this question and aren't sure, this should prove how subjective appearance is...

People Magazine has named Gwyneth Paltrow as the most beautiful woman on the planet.

(Yeah, I know. Words fail me too.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Am I good enough for a network job?

If you've asked yourself this question and aren't sure, this might clear things up...

Monday, April 22, 2013

In times like these, it's okay to be an American on the air

I went to a seminar about two weeks after 9/11. The topic of patriotism came up, as many stations (including mine) had either put up flags on the set or decorated them in red, white and blue. Some had on-air staff members wear flag pins or ribbons. Our station never received a single complaint. No one had a problem with the show of patriotism.

Well, almost.

One person at the seminar said she found such displays of patriotism "offensive." Most of us couldn't believe anyone could make such a statement.

So here we are again, twelve years later.

Of course, we now have an unwritten "policy" that people in the sports department can wear flag pins, patriotic ties, or whatever. But for some reason it's considered "inappropriate" for someone in the news department to do so, because it might constitute "bias."

Oh, please.

Let me get this straight... the news business has become incredibly biased in the last ten  years, so much so that our trust level has reached that of used car salesmen and lawyers, yet we would appear "biased" if we literally wore our patriotism on our sleeves? How hypocritical is that?

If I were a News Director today I'd be fine with anyone who wanted to wear an American Flag pin. And if any viewer was somehow offended, I'd remind them what country they're living in.

Political correctness has done a ton of damage to this country. We don't need to make it any worse by denying our patriotism.

Because that's one thing that doesn't demand objectivity.

Friday, April 19, 2013

If your source isn't credible, shut the hell up

The movie "All the President's Men" should be required viewing for anyone in the news business. (Or, what a concept, read the book.) It shows how information needs to be backed up; if not by someone who will go on the record, but by sources who are rock solid. Even then, sources might have their own agenda.

This week we've gotten a re-run of the Newtown shooting story in Boston. During the past few days the misinformation has gotten out of hand. At first thirteen people died. Apparently ten miraculously rose from the dead since Monday. Police made an arrest, then they didn't. It got so bad that the FBI, it what was seemingly an unprecedented move, actually called out the media for irresponsible reporting in this statement:

"Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting."

Once again, the race to be first rather than right left the business with an omelet on its face. But this time it got so bad that the feds actually had to call reporters to the principal's office.

Like any reporter, I've used unnamed sources in stories. But I only relied on those that were rock solid. Often sources might have an agenda, might want to send you down the wrong path, or simply don't like you and want to make you look stupid.

In the case of this story, many reporters are relying on sources they met ten minutes ago.

The key phrase in the FBI statement is the one regarding "unintended consequences." Here's what that means: If you released a story that said the bombers had been arrested, some guy felt safe and went outside, and was killed by the suspects who were still at large, that would be the result of your incompetent reporting.

I realize many of you are under pressure to get the facts out on social media before they hit the air, but please be careful. When using a source... consider the source.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mailbag: Don't tell, unless they ask

Should we market our MMJ experience to get into big markets? Is it worth it to MMJ in big markets? Will we ever just be reporters again, haha? 

First, consider the top request of nearly every one of my clients: "I don't want to shoot my own video anymore." (And yes, there are still plenty of quality shops out there that have photogs.)

As for your question, let's put it this way... you don't always need to be an open book. If you mention to a News Director that you can produce, guess what? At some point in the future, you'll get stuck producing a newscast. That said, you're a reporter first, and a photog second. If you tell a ND you're a great shooter, then he'll have no reason to ever assign you a photog.

Should you be asked if you can shoot, be honest. But if you want to be a reporter and avoid shooting your own stuff, don't put MMJ on your resume. Your job description is "reporter" and that's it. You don't put the fact that you write your own packages on your resume, why let people know you shoot them as well? When a ND first looks at a tape, he has no idea who shot the video.

There are big markets using one man bands, and it can be a foot in the door. But if you absolutely don't want a job that forces you to shoot, don't take one. Remember, the quality of your work will improve if you work with a real photog.

As for part two of your question, significant research is underway to find out how to send reporters out as holograms and cameras out as hovering drones in order to eliminate news cars. The latter would entail attaching lipstick cameras to trained hummingbirds. If that doesn't work, you'll see reporters like the ones in Star Trek Generations, in which Captain Kirk was interviewed by reporters wearing cameras strapped to their heads. Beam me the hell out of that beancounter reality.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The biggest mistake people make on their resume tapes

The President was in your market and you covered it. You broke the story, right?

A school shooting took place in your market. You broke the story, right?

The oil spill coated beaches with oil and you work on the Gulf Coast. You broke the story, right?

Chances are the answers to these questions would be a resounding "no" but chances are very good you've put a story like this right up front on your resume tape. Because you think an important story or a national story makes you seem like a better reporter.

Uh, no it doesn't.

If you take anything from this post, take this: just because a story is national, or the lead story on your newscast, doesn't mean it's a resume tape story. Because it doesn't take anything special to cover a story that's already there.

Several years ago it seems like half the reporters looking for jobs started their tapes off with a Hurricane Katrina story, even if they lived in Montana. This year every reporter in the northeast will probably have a school shooting story. Next year it will be something else.

News Directors don't want reporters who can show up when everything is right in front of you. They want reporters who can come up with enterprise stories, who can dig for information and not have it handed to them by officials. They want people who can turn memorable stories that are unique, that the other stations won't have.

The best story you've ever done may have ended up in the second block of your local newscast, but no one cares where it aired. NDs only care what you did with the story and how you put it together.  They don't care that you once rubbed elbows with the President. They want to see what you can come up with on a day when absolutely nothing is happening.

Show off your reporting skills, not the fact that you happened to be in the middle of a big story because it took place in your neighborhood.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hide the buttons

Sometimes I wonder if there's some secret seminar evil managers attend to learn how to push the emotional buttons of their staff members.  Some of these people have raised it to an art form, not only throwing the knife but twisting it and adding salt before washing it with alchohol.

Creative people are a sensitive lot. As you get older, you begin to see through the mind games people play. But when you're young and unsure of your talent or future, one pointed comment can send your muse into vapor lock. Most of the time you can simply brush it off by considering the source; the manager might be an idiot, a cylon, or just a sick, twisted person who gets perverse joy out of demeaning others.

Trust me, everyone has buttons and they will get pushed at one time or another. How you react is what's important to your career. If you react correctly, you can effectively hide the butttons.

Here are the two most common old standbys that work for just about any young person in the business:

-"You're not ready for this market." (Usually from a ND who hasn't been able to rise out of it.)

-"You might not belong in this business." (Ironically, this often comes from someone who really doesn't belong in this business.)

How you react when your buttons are pushed is crucial. If the manager sees you turn into a quivering lump and your eyes begin to well up, he's gonna keep pushing that button like he's playing Whack-a-Mole at Chuckie Cheese. If, however, you don't show any emotional reaction, chances are he won't hit that button again.

The best thing to do when your emotional buttons are pushed is to head back to the newsroom and start joking around with co-workers. This tells the manager he can't get into your head and takes the air out of his mind games. You may be that quivering mess inside, but you can't show it.

So hide your buttons and keep your game face on. If a manager doesn't know where your buttons are, he can't push them.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Got an offer? Don't forget this stuff

It's natural to get excited when you get a job offer. You're tempted to simply accept it on the spot, but you're not thinking clearly when you're excited. And remember, the minute you accept an offer, the negotiation is over.

Then, all of a sudden, stuff you wished you'd asked about pops into your head. But it's too late. You can't go back after you signed and say, "Hey, can I have a few bucks for this?"

So, here's a list of stuff to ask about before you sign on the dotted line or accept an offer:

-When does health insurance kick in? In some stations, it starts on day one. In others, there's a three month waiting period. Paying for health insurance for a few months isn't cheap.

-Will the station pay moving expenses or offer a moving allowance?

-Relocation: Will the station put you up in a hotel while you find a place to live? Or pay for a house hunting trip before you start?

-Does the station pay/trade for hair, clothing and makeup?

-Do you get overtime and/or comp time?

-Do you have an out clause in your contract, and, if so, when does it kick in?

Finally, don't forget to have a lawyer look over any contract. If a News Director says, "It's standard, you really don't have to check it out. Just sign," then you should run.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The biggest Jedi Mind Trick of all: market size

Last week I had a couple of clients get jobs in big markets. They're both in their mid-twenties. Both very talented. And here's the key: both not afraid to send tapes to big markets.

I don't know who continues to perpetuate the market size myth out there, but I have a good idea. I'll bet half comes from college professors who either haven't worked in the business or did so back in the dinosaur era. And the other half comes from veterans of my generation or people who have been stuck in Palookaville so long they think everyone else should pay the same sort of dues.

So for those of you about to graduate, (and a bunch of you who've been out of school awhile) let's get one thing straight right now. Well, several things:

-You do not have to start in a market between 100 and 210.

-You do not have to sign a three year contract, as you do not need to spend that much time in a first job.

-It does not take ten years of experience to move up to a major market. Sometimes it only takes two.

-People have gotten entry level jobs in major markets.

-You can send tapes anywhere.

-Do not listen to people who say it can't be done when it comes to job hunting. Tell me you're too young to get a great job in a big market, and I'll hit you with a ton of examples of people who have done it.

-The rules of my generation have changed drastically. In fact, they're gone.

-Do not assume that because one market is bigger than another, that the bigger market has a better quality newscast, or more talented people.

-Do not assume that because a station is number one in the market that it is a quality shop. Do not assume that because a station is not number one that there's something wrong with it.

-Bells and whistles don't make a station great, and have little effect on your career. A place with a whole bunch of flatscreens might have a horrible newscast, while the place with equipment that's not state of the art might be the best place for you to learn.

-No one cares what your GPA is. (Except your parents.)

Bottom line, I have talented people call me up all the time thinking they'll be making a huge jump if they can crack market 50. And then I look at their tapes and tell them they can send them out to major markets. Guess what, there are a ton of entry level people in 50s markets. There's nothing special about that level.

Perhaps you guys need to go online and watch some newscasts in markets of varying sizes. You might be shocked to find the following:

-Big markets have a lot of young people.
-Medium markets have a lot of bad people.
-Sometimes there's not much difference between a small market and a medium market.

So forget everything you've heard about paying dues and the market jumps you have to make. Your talent is unique, and so is your career. What other people have done or are doing has absolutely no effect on you.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Getting over the fear of sending tapes

I'm not sure if this is a generational thing, but I suspect it is. Back in the day we didn't hesitate to send tapes anywhere. Job open at the network? Take a shot. Major market? Off to the post office. News Director is a legend? Fuhgeddaboudit. Send the tape.

These days I hear the following:

"What will they think of me if they don't like me?"

"I'm sure my tape is not good enough."

"If they don't like my current tape, I'll lose any chance of ever getting in that market."

"News Directors will talk about me if they hate my tape."

The result is that you don't send the tape. The aggressive attitude you have as a reporter or anchor flat out disappears when it comes to a job search. You crawl back into your little hole, comfortable in the fact that your current station likes you. You play it safe.

(Oh, hang on. I hear sirens. They're getting closer. Uh-oh. There's a knock at the door. It's the resume tape police and I have to answer the door. It's a big burly cop holding up a DVD. He wants to know if I know the whereabouts of the sender. "No officer, I have no idea where you can  find the person who sent me this tape. Yes, I understand there's a manhunt and the reporter will be thrown in jail, flogged, and made to watch reality television for ten years. Yes, I know that the penalty for sending out a tape that a News Director doesn't like is banishment from the industry."

Okay, they're gone. But you guys better lay low, 'cause they're out there looking for you.)

Back to our discussion. Let's blow up each of the statements:

"What will they think of me if they don't like me?"
Answer: They won't think anything, because they won't remember you. News Directors watch thousands of tapes each year. They remember the ones they like, not the ones they don't. They eject those in fifteen seconds. If I made you watch fifteen seconds of 1,000 tapes, how many names could you remember?

"I'm sure my tape is not good enough."
Answer: This one's right up there with, "I'm not sure if she'll go out with me," or "I'm not sure this college will accept me." So, let me get this straight. You're unsure as to the quality of your tape, so you're going to answer this question by... wait for it... leaving it in your desk drawer. The only way you'll know if your tape is good enough is by sending it out. A lot. No response after 50 tapes? Then start thinking about changing it.

"If they don't like my current tape, I'll lose any chance of getting in that market."
Answer: That's right, because you'll never, ever improve. You'll have the same quality tape five years from now as you do today. They may hit the eject button this time, but next time they might like you. There's nothing that says you get only one chance for any job. You can always apply again.

"News Directors will talk about me if they hate my tape."
Answer: (Oh, sorry, phone's ringing. I see it's a News Director friend of mine and I need to take this. "Hello?"
"Hey, Randy, I've got that list of names of eighty-five bad resume tapes I watched this week. You got something to write with? And if you've got time I'd like to discuss each one with you.")

Please guys, get over your fear. This is real life and not everyone gets a trophy for participating. But if you don't participate, you have zero chance of getting the trophy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Life imitates blog

In the previous post, I wondered aloud, "Who in hell would watch this?" referring to the new reality show "Splash" in which has-beens dive into a pool.

Ratings for the second episode: 6.66 million viewers. Talk about appropriate numbers.

Apparently those banished to hell are sentenced to an eternity of watching reality television.

Friday, March 22, 2013


I recently discovered a wonderful new acronym that fits our business perfectly. It describes many of the people we interview, a certain demographic, and a few people who work in our stations.

Before revealing the meaning of said acronym, we must first make a stop at the theater, specifically, a horror movie. If you've ever seen "Scream" you know the rule: every horror movie has some gorgeous babe who's gonna get sliced and diced because she's simply an idiot. She wanders into the dark basement where we know the killer is lurking, some woman in the theater yells, "Don't go down there!" or "He's right behind you!" and before you know it she's been hacked up with a machete. Invariably, someone in the theater will mutter, "She deserved to die. She's an idiot."

Take that concept to romance novels, the source of the acronym. Apparently those who read this particular genre have a term for a character who's a lot like the girl in the slasher flick. Despite all the warning signs, the heroine will ignore them and still run head first into a disaster. One that is deserved because she is.... wait for it....

Too stupid to live.


Sadly, many of these people are appearing on television, night after night. Even sadder, people are tuning in to watch them.

Earlier in the week I was bombarded with promos for a show called "Splash" in which "celebrities" (actually a bunch of has-beens, with a hot babe thrown into the mix) would dive into a pool. I'm thinking, "Who the hell would watch this?" I felt certain this would be a ratings bomb.

Nope. It did very well. The general public apparently wants to watch people whose fifteen minutes of fame expired years ago swan dive into a swimming pool.

Then I noted that the hottest cable show features a bunch of ZZ Top lookalikes living in a neighborhood in which banjo music would seemingly accompany any canoe ride. Again, "Who the hell would watch this?"

Which brings us to the news business. I hate to admit it, but the consultants may have been on to something twenty years ago when they told me, "You need to write for a seventh grade level."

People often ask me, "Why do you network people always interview some toothless idiot who hasn't had a bath since the Bush administration?"

Because those who are TSTL always want to be on television.

I admit I've put my share of crash test dummies on the air over the years, but lately it's getting worse.  And maybe that's why ratings for local news have swan dived. We put more idiots on the air, who appeal to idiots. Morons may be good for comic relief, but if we want to cultivate an intelligent audience, we need to put more smarts into our product. The man in the street who can't spell IQ might be entertaining, but the long term result is that newscasts are turning into reality shows.

And most intelligent people can't stand reality shows.

Advertisers love the demographic that features well-educated people with good salaries. That's why some "intelligent" shows without spectacular ratings often command top dollar for ad space.  Smart people who make lots of money are a good target audience.

So the next time you get a ridiculous sound bite from someone TSTL, think twice about including it in your newscast. It might provide a laugh, but in the end you won't be laughing when the news business turns into full time reality television.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Success defined: A year ago it was the job you desperately wanted; now you can't wait to get the hell out

If you look up the word "success" in the dictionary, one of the definitions goes something like this: the attainment of goals.

If you ask someone in the television news business if he or she is successful, the answer you get might depend on the day.

I've seen this scenario dozens of times: Person begs for a job, wants it desperately. A few months later that same person has turned into a newsroom grouch, sending out tapes by the bushel, desperate to get out. You get the mental picture of the guy hitchhiking by the side of the road, holding a sign that reads, "Anywhere but here."

So what changed? That person's definition of success.

When you're just out of college, getting that first job makes you feel successful. A year later, when you're watching others in the newsroom move on, you feel like a failure. Same person, same job, but your mindset has pulled a 180.

Or does this sound familiar? Reporter working in small market wins all sorts of awards, does a kick-ass job. But because those awards and good work are done in Palookaville, the success is the proverbial tree falling in the forest. The reporter feels like a failure, even though she's doing wonderful work. The stars haven't aligned for her, and they no doubt will, but at this moment in time success feels like it's a million miles away.

How about this one: Reporter has good job in a decent market. Likes the station, the ND likes him. Lives in a nice place. Feels good about himself. Hits 25th birthday and all of a sudden he feels like a failure because he hasn't reached a certain rung in the ladder by this landmark birthday while others have moved up. Yesterday a success, today a failure.

And then there's one of my best clients. Due to a quirky contract situation, this incredibly talented individual is between jobs. This reporter's work is stellar, off the charts great, and his tape has resulted in many interviews at big stations. I have absolutely no doubt he will have a wonderful career and some ND will snap him up shortly, because this guy is everything you want in a reporter. But because the timing hasn't been quite right this reporter is doubting his abilities. A month ago he was knocking out world class packages. Today he's waiting for the phone to ring. A month ago, feeling successful; today not. Same person, same talent. The phone will ring shortly, he'll be back on the street and feeling like he has the world by the tail. But right now I want to reach through the phone and tell him he's the same guy I talked to a month ago, a very successful reporter with an incredibly bright future.

Everyone has a different definition of success, and it often changes as we get older. And along the way we all hit bumps in the road. It doesn't change who we are. If your talent is still there, so is your future. Just because destiny's timeline doesn't coincide with your own doesn't mean you're not a success.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Game face

I've likened the process of negotiation to a car dealership, a poker table and a chess game. The absolute worst thing about this career is the part where you have to sit down and hammer out a deal. They don't teach you this stuff in college, and, let's face it, creative types aren't well versed in the Jedi Mind Tricks of salesmen. Because that's what a lot of News Directors really are.

But let's get back to poker. You all know the term "tell" when it comes to playing cards. It's a little twitch, a narrowing of the eyes, a hand running through the hair that tells your opponent what you're thinking and what your hole cards are.

The "tells" in negotiating a job in broadcasting aren't that subtle. In fact, for young people, they're often so over-the-top it makes the News Director push all his chips toward the pot before the cards are even dealt.

Example: I remember one young lady who had just graduated and had dropped in for an interview. She wanted a job, any job, and would do anything if hired. She'd sweep floors, take out the trash, make coffee runs, whatever. So pumped during the interview she reminded me of a puppy so excited it wets on the rug. I liked her, so I offered her a job and she practically jumped over the desk to give me a hug.

I didn't even tell her the salary. At that point, I could have offered minimum wage. (I didn't, but that's besides the point.) She played all of her cards the minute she sat down at the table. I could have said, "You'll have to pay me to work here," and she would have said, "Where do I sign?"

While you have to show genuine interest in any job for which you've applied, you must maintain a game face. Be excited, yes, and let the ND know you're genuinely interested in the possibilities. But don't come off as so desperate he'll know you'll take anything for a salary and do anything to get the job.

The same goes for any phone interviews. Let the ND hear your smile, but don't get all gushy like a girl being asked to the prom.

If a News Director knows you'll take anything, he'll lowball you with an offer. If he can't completely read you, you've still got cards to play.