Thursday, January 24, 2013

When they play poker, you play chess

The absolute worst part of this career is the negotiation process. In college, no one teaches you the skills you'll need when you enter what I call the "virtual dealership" of the newsroom. That's when the News Director's office can turn into a used car lot and his suit becomes one made of polyester. But in this case, he's trying to sell you on a job for less than its true market value. "So, little lady, what's it gonna take to put you behind the wheel of this newscast?"

But it's different than buying a car, because when you're shopping for an automobile you can always walk off the lot and visit another one. In this case, you're there because you want something, the ND knows it, and the tables are turned.


Most News Directors, especially those who hire rookies, don't think too far ahead when it comes to negotiations. They'll use a sledgehammer, with a phrase like, "If you don't take this job right now, I'll give it to someone else tomorrow." They like to go "all in" and shove their chips to the middle of the table to see if you'll blink.

In poker, the ability to bluff is key. In chess, you need to think three moves ahead.

And to do that, you need to do your homework.

Before your interview, you need to know a lot about both the station and the company. Knowing the salaries of the average reporter or anchor will certainly help. Another key point is to find out the company policy on contracts and out clauses. So when you hear, "all contracts are three years" or "this company doesn't give outs" you'll know if he's bluffing or telling the truth. If you know for a fact there are people in the newsroom with shorter contracts and outs, you suddenly have more to play with.

He goes all in, you take his queen.

Remember, the word "check" means one thing in poker and another in chess.

Just like a car lot, everything's negotiable. The first offer is always the worst one. A News Director doesn't want to leave himself without any wiggle room. And, if he sweetens the pot, it makes him look like a good guy in your eyes. In reality, he's had that best offer in his pocket the whole time. He was just hoping not to use it.

When heading to an interview, strategy is important. Taking the time to do some research could mean the difference of several thousand dollars, a much shorter contract, and the out clause you want.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reporter on the ledge

Recently the police called and told me there was a reporter on the ledge of a tall building who was ready to jump into another career. She was depressed and ready to set fire to her dreams. Could I come and talk her down?

Sure, why not. I do it all the time.

I arrived and took in the scene.

I recognized the reporter, an attractive young woman who had a ton of talent. I'd seen her stories; she had a personality that jumped off the screen and turned excellent packages even though she didn't work in a big market. Why she was on the ledge was a mystery. She stood there, lower lip quivering, looking down at a street filled with traditional nine-to-five careers that would bore her to death.

And yet she was about to jump and leave something she loved behind.

 "Hey," I said. She turned to face me and said nothing, her eyes filled with tears and hurt. The cops said I had to be very tactful and not spook her, that I needed to be gentle and soft spoken.

"What the hell are you doing on that ledge? Get off there!"

She wiped her eyes and furrowed her brow. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me," I said, moving closer to the ledge. I reached it, about ten feet from her, and looked over the edge. "You wanna jump into that?"

"It's safe," she said. "No more resume tapes, no more contracts, no more crazy managers."

I pointed over the edge at the undead heading for their jobs. "Look at them. Same thing every day for the next forty years. Watching the clock. Nothing to look forward to. No dream."

"I'm tired of waiting," she said. "Suppose I never get a better job?"

"You'll get one."

"I've been sending out tapes forever. Everyone says they like me, but it's always a hiring freeze, or the timing isn't right, or the economy stinks."

"The stars have to align."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I've read your blog. You always say that."

"Because it's true. Timing is everything, but eventually talent finds a good home."

"I'm not sure I want to wait for those stars." She turned and looked back over the ledge. "At least down there I wouldn't have to worry about anything."

"Don't you care that you'll be bored out of your mind?"

"I do, but I think I could deal with it."

"You think you could make a difference down there?"

She paused a moment, leaned back and looked at me. "Why do I need to make a difference?"

"Because you can," I said. "Your stories can inspire, save lives, help people make ends meet, educate. You can change the world in a small way. You remember how it feels when you've done a story and it makes a difference?"

She nodded and smiled, took a step back from the ledge. "Yeah. That is pretty nice."

"Success isn't defined by market size."

She shook her head. "Damn you and your logic. I hate when you do that."

"So, why don't you go back to your career, make a difference, and let the opportunities come to you instead of chasing them so hard? Why not live in the present?"

She leaned over the edge, took a look at the zombies below, and stepped back onto the roof. "Okay. I guess I can do that a little while longer."