Friday, February 1, 2013

It's "no official sound bite February"

Okay, I've had it.

With sound bites from officials.

Last year I was traveling and I flipped on the hotel TV to check out the local talent. Some reporter was doing a piece on a job fair. Hundreds of people had turned out. A long line out the door. And the reporter interviewed:

-the person running the job fair
-someone from the labor department

Was there a single sound bite from someone looking for a job? Nah, there were only a few hundred of those people. Why talk to them?

This isn't anything new. I see this from people in all markets, big and small. Anchor reads intro, story sounds interesting. Package runs, filled with sound bites from officials. Not one real person.

You know, if aliens landed and started watching local news, they would assume every single person on the planet worked for the government.

If you're one of those people who has a habit of going to the official, here's all you need to do. Ask yourself one simple question:

"Who does this story affect?"

Answer that question and you'll have a better story.

You can get your info from the official, but your piece should focus on real people. The average guy. Joe and Mabel Sixpack. Bill Lunchbucket. Jane the working mom.

Most officials, especially politicians, will tell you what you want to hear because it's their job, or, in the case of politicians, it will help them keep their jobs. Take the info they give you and find someone affected by it. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes you have to dig.

But trust me, your stories will be a lot more interesting.

And if that doesn't get you to change, consider this: resume tapes loaded with official sound bites don't stand out.

Okay, it's sweeps. Good time to make a change. By March, you'll be amazed at how much your stories have improved.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Forget me not

The most common question I've had for reporters over the years goes like this: "Why didn't you do a standup?"

The most common answer: "I forgot."

How reporters can forget to do a standup is beyond me, but it happens a lot. Lots of other things fall through the cracks, and given your additional duties these days updating websites, dealing with social networking and endless live shots, it's inevitable that you'll forget something.

So I've put together a checklist. Actually three. One for reporters, one for anchors, one for producers. It's a pretty detailed list of things you should be doing on a daily basis. I think you'll find the suggestions helpful, and they'll get you into the habit of making sure you've done everything possible to make your work the best it can be. Review it a few times each day and you'll get a reminder of what you might have missed, how you can make things better, etc. It's digital, so you can keep it on your phone, tablet or laptop. And I've kept it under five bucks. Here's the Amazon version (you don't need a Kindle, as you can download to pretty much any device.)

And the Smashwords version, if you prefer (also available to any device):

And in case you're wondering, the photography version is coming soon. (And no, I'm not writing that one. I'm not a photog, remember?) So you one-man-bands out there stand by.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Getting some of the stress out of your life

"Pressure comes from lack of preparation."
-Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers Quarterback

I saw that quote this morning and loved it. Loved it for its simplicity, loved it for its common sense. Here's a guy who's started a handful of games in the NFL, is about to start the Super Bowl, and he doesn't feel pressure because he's busy preparing.

In television news, pressure comes from all directions. You might have too many deadlines in a day, a lunatic for a boss, and lousy equipment. But if you step back and think about it, a lot of the pressure you feel is under your control. It all goes to the lack of preparation.

Let's look at two scenarios we all go through every day:

-You get up in the morning and are getting ready to head to the station. You have no story ideas, no idea what you'll be doing. Will the ND assign you a clunker of a story? Will you have to scramble to find one? Your blood pressure spikes a bit, you get agita from breakfast, and all of a sudden you're feeling pressure even before you walk into the newsroom.

-You get up in the morning and are getting ready to head to the station. You've already either set up your story or have three kick-ass story ideas in your pocket that you know the ND will love. You eat a leisurely breakfast, take a nice drive to the station, and stroll into the newsroom knowing the day will be a breeze.

The only difference between these two scenarios is preparation. Those who wing it through life will be stressed, those who do not will be more relaxed.

Same deal after you start your day at work. Those who come back to the station and immediately set about putting their stories together will be on cruise control. Those who come back to the station, fool around with personal calls and social networking and then race like hell to get their story done will feel pressure.

Take charge of the things you can control and your life will be a lot easier.