When I started out in the biz, I was one of the youngest producers ever hired at the station where I worked. I was so young, my anchors were close to my parents age. So were many of the reporters and photojournalists, not to mention much of the production crew.
During the interviews leading up to this job a news director from another station told me, “You are impressive, but how will you manage anchors who make three times what you do, and are old enough to be your parents? How will you make them respect you?” Truth is, that question was much easier to answer in an interview, than to live out each day in a newsroom.
That is not to say that if you are young and driven you should not go for big opportunities. But you do need to have a small arsenal of techniques to handle the hazing headed your way. Keep the following in mind:
- Respect is earned
- Set expectations
- Focus on team
- Avoid running to the bosses
The first thing you need to understand as a newbie, is that you are not respected just because you were hired for a particular job. Respect is earned. News people are incredibly harsh critiquers. Our brains are wired to find weaknesses and anomalies. You will be picked apart, especially if you are young. Many stations are hiring people before they are ready for a particular job, because it can be hard to find someone at all. This is especially true of producers and writers. So you are going to have to come in, be professional and work your butt off. You have to earn respect by consistently doing good work, visibly pushing yourself to be better each day, and respecting those around you.
Which leads to my next point. Set expectations. Set them for yourself, and those around you. If you are a reporter, talk through your thoughts on how to handle a story with your photographer (if you are lucky enough to have one). Explain to your producer when you will call in and when you need script approval to ensure you can get your pkg in by deadline. Producers: You need to tell your anchors what you need them to do in terms of writing and/or copy editing the newscast. You need to sit down with the production crew when you get the job, and see what you need to provide when, and explain your goals for the newscast.
You also need to remember that you are part of a team and focus on that. This can be a really good thing for a newbie producer. You do not have to go it alone. You do not have to have all the answers. You just need to always clearly explain that you want to be part of the solution for any issue that comes up. For example, check in with your anchors regularly and ask if they are getting what they need. Listen to their feedback and take it to heart. That shows professionalism and maturity that will earn you respect quickly. If you are a reporter or photojournalist, ask your counterpart what they need from you to thrive at their jobs. Again, you will gain so much respect. The best part, you will have stronger allies when you do make mistakes, and, you will make them. You want a support system around you to help pick yourself up, dust off and heal the bruises. This is a hard biz, you need all the support you can get.
This also is a very small business. So, do not go running to the bosses and report issues unless it is dire. By dire, I mean you are about to put the station in serious jeopardy because of a fact error. If you tell “Mr. 20 years at the same station” to tag out with “13 News for You” instead of “News 13,” and he tells you to screw off, that doesn’t count. Write down what you told him and when. Then, it’s up to him to step in line. Often, newbie journalists panic when a veteran tells them no. The fear is they are questioning your authority and will get you in trouble. That is sometimes true. But, if you do what you are supposed to and deliver a message from management asking for that new out cue or for something to be included in a live shot or pkg script and the veteran blows you off, the veteran will eventually pay the price. Let that person hang him or herself, by him or herself. Write down when you told the person, then let that person sink or swim on their own. You cannot control that person if he/she is defiant. Focus on what you can control, and be ready if you are asked about the situation with clear documentation in hand. Then show what you did and ask what more can you do in the future to handle the situation better. That is not running to the boss, that is managing.
So hang in there newbie newsies. The hazing can be tough at times. But it does get easier. In fact, the person you thought was enemy number one, can and often does become your greatest advocate. You just have to earn your stripes.