Friday, January 18, 2013

Even the best of us can get caught by a hoax

As I read this bizarre story about the Notre Dame football player with the non-existent girlfriend, I was not only shaking my head in disbelief but laughing at those who were slamming the media for not checking more thoroughly. If you put yourself in the position of a reporter on this story, what would you have done? I mean, who would make up stuff like this?

It also brought to mind two hoaxes I've run into over the years. These are stories we ran into that sounded so real, so emotional, that they had to be true. They're not quite as elaborate as the Notre Dame tale, but we still got caught with egg on our faces. Well, more like an omelet.

-The missing mom that wasn't: So we get this report that this mother of a few small children has disappeared. The usual search begins, first with police, then the whole community. Posters are made with the woman's photo, and seen everywhere, on every storefront and telephone pole. Dozens of stories are done over several months, emotional stories focusing on the tragedy of a mother ripped from her small children. And what will become of the poor kids who had their mother taken away? Was she dead? Kidnapped but still alive? Would the kids ever see mom again?

Well, they would, because mom was shacked up down the road, alive and well.

-The Christmas Grinch: A few days before Christmas a family is spotted living under an interstate overpass in the cold weather. Stories are done on the family's plight, and the community comes forward with a ton of Christmas spirit. A landlord offers a place to live. Viewers come by and donate a ton of stuff... clothes, furnishings, you name it. And of course plenty of people drop by with cash.

This seemed like a great story to shoot on Christmas morning... the homeless family in a nice warm place, opening presents, enjoying their new home in their new clothes.

Alas, they were long gone. Apparently this was simply a scam designed to prey on the generosity of others.

I dare say there are probably very few reporters who would have dug up the truth on either of these before it came to light. The key to a good hoax is believability, and, apparently, emotion. Sometimes the story sounds so real that it seems impossible that it could be false.... and that's why the hoax works.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Little things you can do to improve your chances when job hunting

Sometimes a News Director gets awfully close to a coin flip when hiring someone. You can get two candidates who are very close in talent, or their strengths in different areas balance each other out.

And sometimes your decision comes down to something small. And, as you know, something small can often tip the scales in life.

That said, here's a list of little things you can do that might tip those scales in your favor someday:

-Thank you notes. Any time you go out on an interview, you should put one in the mail the next day. It should be old fashioned snail mail. An email takes thirty seconds and gets lost in hundreds of others a manager gets on any given day. But when a News Director gets a handwritten card mailed the old fashioned way, it sticks out. All you have to say is something like, "Thanks for your hospitality during my recent interview. I enjoyed visiting your station and am excited by the possibilities."

-Send references with your resume. If there's one annoying thing that should be retired forever, it's that one line at the bottom of a resume that reads, "References on request." Seriously, why should I look at a tape, read a cover letter, check out a resume.... and then have to make a phone call to get references? There is absolutely no reason to withhold these. Any time you can save a ND a phone call, it helps. Remember, make it as easy as possible for him to hire you. (And make sure the reference phone numbers are correct.)

-Dress professionally on your tape. I realize we seem to be enjoying a perpetual casual Friday these days, even on the networks, but classic clothes and old school class still impress. Guys, I'll say it again: wear a damn necktie.

-Follow directions. If it says don't call, don't. If the ad directs you to send tapes to HR, then do so (but address the cover letter to the ND.)

-Spell the ND's name correctly. Get the call letters right.

-Don't blow smoke up his backside with cover letter phrases like, "Your station has a long history of delivering a quality newscast."

-Keep a list of NDs who are nice to you, say encouraging things about your work, etc. They move as often as everyone else, and when they do, it's time to touch base again.

-Have a professional voicemail greeting. The last thing I want to hear when hiring someone out of college is, "Dude, you've reached Joe. You know what to do, man."

-Return all calls and emails promptly.

-Clean up your internet footprint. Get all the bad photos, comments, and especially opinions off your social networking sites. Keep everything online professional, with nothing too personal.

-Let them hear your smile on the phone. Sound excited when you get a call from a prospective employer.

-Write your name & phone number on your DVD. Boxes get lost all the time, and you don't want a ND to have to load the thing to get your contact info off the tape.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Why the "everybody gets a trophy" society leaves you feeling like a failure

There's an incident that occurred in my dad's store that sticks out in my mind as both funny and prophetic. One day a woman came in with a small child, and while I was slicing cold cuts her little darling started to climb into the dairy case. My dad, who didn't subscribe to the customer is always right theory, said, "Miss, please get your son out of the cooler."

The woman was aghast. "He's just expressing himself. I don't want to damage his self-esteem."

My dad. "If you don't get him out of the cooler he'll see some damaged self esteem."

Woman grabs kid and leaves. This may have been more than 30 years ago, but it was a precursor to the theory that everybody gets a trophy.

Flash forward to a seminar I attended in 2001 at the Kneeland project in Austin, Texas. Named for Carole Kneeland, the late news director whose quote sits on the top of this blog. At one point we took a tour of her old station and saw a thing called a "brag board" which was filled with compliments. The theory being that management should share good feedback with the staff, and make compliments public. Great idea, and should be great for morale.

So I implemented this idea, putting up a white board and occasionally writing stuff like "great package" or "excellent video" and adding the name of the person responsible. People liked getting public displays of praise.

Or so I thought. Not having any kids, I'd forgotten that everyone is supposed to get a trophy.

You guessed it. Someone who didn't get one complained. Didn't get a public compliment. Boo-hoo. Long story short, I erased the damn thing and used it for newsroom memos. (This was filed under "no good deed shall go unpunished.")

Flash forward to present day. The most common complaint I hear is one I made when I was a reporter. "I never get any feedback." Back then it meant you were doing okay, and it pretty much means the same thing now. But in many cases, the young generation has been so conditioned to get a ribbon just for participating that when said ribbon isn't presented with fanfare, the result is a feeling of failure.

Or this: "Management sorta likes me but doesn't love me." You want that Sally Field moment at the Academy Awards. "You like me! You really like me!" (Look it up.) And you want it everyday.

A few points:

-News Directors love people they can depend on who aren't a problem. But sometimes they take these people for granted and forget to let them know they're appreciated. It's just like high school; the good students get the good grades while the students who don't behave in class waste the teacher's time. NDs often spend so much time dealing with the staff's problem children that there's nothing left for the good people.

-Many managers are socially awkward and simply don't know how to say thank you.

-Many managers are minions of the devil.

-This is the real world. You get a paycheck. That's your ribbon for participating. You also have a future with a goal. That's the trophy you want. And, sorry to say, not everyone gets one.