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.


Anonymous said...

Preach it brother, PREACH!!

Anonymous said...

It's not that tough if it's two packs on the same story- just different versions.

Randy Tatano said...

I'm not talking about a re-cut, which I've done, but doing doing two different stories.

Anonymous said...

What about anchoring the morning show then turning a package? Early grave?

Randy Tatano said...

Yeah, you'll reach room temperature a little earlier than the rest of us.

Working an unnatural shift that disrupts your natural sleep patterns isn't good, even if you aren't turning a package.

And if you don't believe me, read this:

"There is strong evidence that shift work is related to a number of serious health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity." -Frank Scheer PhD, Harvard Medical School

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this is the norm at the station I've been at for the past 2 years. It ends up being a glorified vosot for one story and a halfway decent pkg for the other. The only time I've knocked out something I've been really proud of is the odd time I'm only assigned one story.

Amanda said...

This is the story of my life, and I'm a OMB. Sometimes I even have a 5p and 6p deadline for my two packs, even when I don't get back from shooting until 3p! It definitely takes it's toll on you. I've been so unmotivated to do anything after work and I dread the workload I'll have the minute I wake up in the morning! BUT, I will say this: It has definitely fixed my time management problem, haha.

Randy Tatano said...

Hang in there Amanda. You're basically swinging with a weighted baseball bat. When you get to a "real station" life will be a breeze.

Anonymous said...

Even if you do two pkgs of the same story, it generally means double the interviews, b-roll, two stand ups,etc... You definitely give the viewer a "watered" down version each time and since our shop usually requires your two pkgs to run back to back the second pkg is a quick cut and paste job. We are also required to do topical video, into vo, and headline vo or sots. Busy edit day....