Beating Reporter Deadlines With Your Own EOC

Honing Skills, Reporting, Survival Kit Comments Off on Beating Reporter Deadlines With Your Own EOC
Jan 222014

One of the toughest learning curves for young reporters can be hitting your deadlines. You know how it goes—you knock out a noon live shot and as soon as you’re done, the EP or Assignment Desk is calling, to say you’re now on a completely different story for 5pm… and you’re live in another town… and don’t miss slot!

So how can you do good work and at the same time keep management off your back so you’re not “the problem child” on the reporting staff?

Well, it starts, and ends, with 3 keys—think of this as your own personal EOC (Emergency Operations Center … for reporters).

Efficiency

The old saying goes: “Get off your ass, get out of the building!” And it’s true. You can save a lot of time by simply being efficient with your time. Let’s say you’re assigned a story in the morning meeting. Depending on how your newsroom works, maybe you don’t have to sit through the remaining 45 minutes of that meeting. Get your story and ask if you can take off. Grab your photog and go. You’ll be thankful for those 45 minutes as you hit crunch time before the newscast.

You can make lots of calls, but remember: it’s easier for someone to blow you off by phone than in person. So if may be more efficient to just show up at that police PIO’s office and ask for a quick interview or a copy of that arrest report than making 6 calls throughout the day.

Plan out your stops to save time— so you’ll go talk with the mayor first because he’s available now. You’ll call the city council member on your way to the mayor’s office (saves time vs. you staying in the newsroom and making calls from your desk) to see if you can interview her right after the mayor. Then you can head to the next stop for B-roll and other material.  Then you’ll end up at your live location.

Quickly research story background and contacts,  and remember you can do that in the car from your phone if your photog is driving.

Make notes as you record your interview so you don’t waste time when logging and getting ready to write.

If you have a photog (won’t work if you’re an solo MMJ), you log and write while he or she sets up the live shot.  Better yet, you write your basic script while the photog is driving to the next location.

If you know you need help from the Assignment Desk, be efficient there too Let them know early if you need something researched or a call made. Assignment editors are insanely busy people and the last thing they need is a last-minute call from you asking for 3 calls to be made on your story.

Efficiency also can mean not biting off more than you can chew.  If you’re assigned to breaking news just before airtime, don’t stress too much over whether it’s a pkg. Viewers don’t care about the format, and a good management team won’t either, as long as you do a solid, compelling breaking news live shot. So be confident, get on scene and let your newsroom know what you can provide: “I’ll have a live VO at the top of the show… possibly a live interview if I can track someone down.”

Organization

Keep a list of key contacts from your previous news stories. That way, you’re not re-researching potential interviewees every time you do a story.

Make sure you have the addresses you need and GPS your route so you’re not wasting time getting lost.

Don’t overshoot your stories. No need to shoot an hour of material for a basic pkg on a crash or fire or school board meeting. Make sure you have enough, but the more organized you are with shooting, the less you have to log for your script.

Don’t try to re-invent the wheel every time. Here’s a good example—

I worked with a veteran reporter in Tampa who was a master of working fast and efficiently.  Knowing that reporters tend to cover many of the same types of stories over and over (fires, crashes, protests, budget meetings, elections), he basically had templates of these stories in his computer and in his head. If he was assigned a story about an election campaign stop by a candidate, he’d do some quick research on the race/candidate, then sketch out his script even before leaving the station. Why? Because he knew where the story was likely to go when he got there. So all he had to do is get his sounds bites and fill in the blanks. Now, the obvious danger in that plan is: what happens if the story takes a different turn? Well, then he’d just change it as needed. But the point is, he didn’t wait until the 4pm event ended and then scrambled to write the story for 5pm. He pre-wrote a skeleton script and then plugged in the holes.

Clear Communication

Be in touch with your Producer, EP and Desk frequently (at least every few hours or whenever you change locations). Be clear about what elements you have and what else you need. That avoids the dreaded angry EP conversation because she thought you were dong angle X for your story and you have angle Y.

Get script approval as early as possible.  When I was a news manager, I can’t tell you the number of times 3 reporters called me at virtually the same time… an hour before the show… for script approval.  That gives me very little time to concentrate on your script, make suggestions and have you change it for the better. Write it as early as possible and get it approved. Your managers will love you for it and so will your photog/editor, since they’ll have more time to make it look great.

So keep in mind your EOC to hit your deadlines—be efficient, be organized, and clearly communicate with your newsroom. Since far too many reporters DON’T do these, if you do, you’ll be a hero.  Believe me.

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Steve Kraycik is the Director of Student Television and Online Operations at Penn State University. He has more than 27 years of experience in television news, much of that as a manager.   He also is an agent with MediaStars.  You can reach him at [email protected] and @TV_Agent_Steve.

How To Showcase: Think Chapter Book

Honing Skills, Producing, Survival Kit Comments Off on How To Showcase: Think Chapter Book
Nov 052013

News managers keep looking for show doctors. They keep asking for producers who showcase in their newscasts. But what does that mean? Recently I asked that on the Survive Twitter line, and got interesting comments like “owning the lead”, “big treatment off the top with little treatments throughout the show”, and “eye catching informative way of telling the story in the first 100 seconds.”

All of these are accurate to a point. But my favorite description was “finding that little something- that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.”  When managers ask for showcasing, that is what they really want. And you execute this in the ways listed above: Owning the lead, big treatments off the top with little treatments throughout the show and eye catching elements to tell the story.

When I teach a producer how to showcase, I often describe it as creating mini chapter books. There are several techniques used to showcase, but you need to have the mindset in play first.  So let’s begin with this concept when constructing your lead.  Chapter books have a table of contents, then each chapter has a title, and information that leads to a conclusion.  The biggest thing I see producers forget to do at when showcasing, is spelling out why. That is when we begin to think about how we are making the story relatable to the viewer.  So, when talking the government shutdown, or Syria or that standoff that lead to a crash, you have to come right out, with the table of contents, showing what the viewer will learn with your coverage.

Let’s take Syria as an example. You can create an extra element right out of the gate, with a split box showing video of people hugging and crying in Syria, side by side with American’s protesting. This sets up the hook of why you are covering the story.  People need help, American’s worry it could cause pain and loss for fellow American’s as well.  That is the message the video sends, boldly.  The line: These are the images the President must look at while considering whether to take military action in Syria.

Then you set up your table of contents with some brief summary of the days events. This can be a graphic, or a few simple directly referenced video elements. But never forget to catch the viewer up on the basics, so they are ready to go in depth with you.

You say those brief lines, “Tonight inspectors looked for chemical weapons and your neighbors (assuming you had local protests) protested the idea of military action in Syria.  Now the President has made an announcement about US involvement many expected, and a requirement most did not.” (Congressional approval)

Next you title each element with a super, over the shoulder, monitor graphic, double box for team coverage, or whatever your station uses to brand. As you go to each element, use some sort of graphic element to “label the title” of each chapter so the viewer understands each element has something new for them.

Once your coverage is done, you need a conclusion. Many consultants call this a “button up”. It can be a summary graphic with bullet points. It can be a what’s next graphic, it can be an image that sums up the day’s events.  Many times it is simply a push to the station’s web page for more information. (Just offer a nugget of what kind of extras will be on the web page, just saying for the latest go to our webpage is throwaway. Twitter is an easier way to check for random information on a subject.)

So how does the mini chapter book idea relate to those “little treatments throughout the show”? Well, whether you are dedicating 10 minutes or 45 seconds to a story, if you are showcasing you still need  to clearly define “that little something that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.”  That means you are not going  to just go into the story with  the phrase “and now…”  Say you take a court case, like Jodi Arias, and want to show how different she looked between the verdict and today’s sentencing phase. You can show a split screen image of her, but you must explain why.  That is a table of contents.  Then you break each part down, and have a conclusion line at the end of the vo/s or vo/vo/sot or however you cover the story.  See the pattern? While condensed the chapter book idea still helps you clearly spell out each element so the showcasing makes sense.

This idea even works on memorable moments, which are a very important way to showcase, in a newscast that deserves a mention. Remember even with these moments, you are showcasing a “little something that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.”  So you need to look for chances to have your anchor connect with the viewers.  A fancy graphics package and use of sound, and several reporters covering the lead is great, but if the anchor comes off as just reading, and not involved the viewer will not accept your showcasing.

So when you look for things your anchor can expand on, think table of contents.  Here’s an example using recent video of a  snow skier that was coming down a mountain, crashed and was rescued by an avalanche rescue airbag.  Have a still image of the skier in a monitor graphic next to the anchor. The anchor says, “We are about to show you how a skier escaped an avalanche burying him.  Take a look, see anything special on him?  Because something he is carrying will save his life.”  Take video full. (In this case there was no nat sound only cheesy music) Have the anchor talk the viewer through each frame. Then when the skier is up on his feet again, say.. “did you see the special equipment? You may not because it is quite small.”  Then show a graphic of some types of avalanche airbags.  “Here’s what they look like, easy to carry and easy to find.  These are all images from online stores that sell them.”  Then 2 shot reaction for button up.. There is a set up, a chapter of information, then a conclusion. A mini book.

A final point, by showing you different times to use this concept for showcasing, the goal is to encourage you to think beyond the lead story to showcase.  A true show doctor adds little extras throughout the newscast, so the viewer is constantly reeled back in with information he/she can relate to and talk about with others.  Afterall, a compelling book always creates good conversation after you’ve finished it.

 

Want respect? Pronounce things correctly.

Honing Skills, Survival Kit Comments Off on Want respect? Pronounce things correctly.
Aug 022013

If you work in a community that you love, and are proud to serve the area, do your station a favor, write a list of pronouncers for the region you cover to hand to every new employee that walks in the door.

Many journalists come in to a new community and are cavalier about making sure they can pronounce the names of communities and public figures.  I have even heard some say “well I won’t be here that long.”  If you want to be taken seriously as a journalist, you have to speak the language of your community.  Mispronunciations should be taken as seriously as any other fact error.  Do not assume viewers will say, “he didn’t mean it, he just moved here.”

I don’t care where you are working, most of the people living there and watching the news are glad they live in that community.  They want you to respect them and where they live.  If you are a journalist lucky enough to live in the town you love, take the time to write this list down.  Hand it out to the new members of your team.  Maybe it will save embarrassment and keep them from making foolish mistakes.

If you are moving to a new area, take the veteran journalist in the newsroom out for a meal or drink.  Tell him/her you want to fully invest in the place where you have chosen to live and work, and you would love all the information on the area that he/she is willing to share.  You will earn respect in the newsroom and the community, for the intense desire to get it right the first time.

 

The smallest market that Nielsen ranks is Glendive, Montana, #210. It is among the more beautiful places you’ll probably never see. The Yellowstone River flows through the middle of town, according to the chamber of commerce, and you can see a triceratops skull found in 1991 and attend Buzzard Day, no date given.

Glendive is one of those places people would rather visit than live in, though. That’s probably why it only has 4,000 TV-viewing homes. I’m sure there have been some wonderful journalists who’ve gotten their start there. But being that Buzzard Day is listed among the top attractions, I’m thinking it was a lonely start.

So what do you do? You’ve gone to college for four years and made your parents proud. Someone has actually hired you based on a reel you’ll replay in ten years and cringe. And now it’s time to move to someplace like Glendive and become a full-fledged, paid journalist.

Most of us have been there. But the shock was much worse for the young woman who wrote to me recently, whom we featured in last week’s article. She actually had a job in one of the nation’s top markets doing “fun stories and the traffic.” Yes, she’s beautiful. But that didn’t keep her from getting laid-off. She’s managed to find a job way down the ladder. Not in Glendive. But way down the ladder.

“I am not only burnt out but discouraged,” she said during one of our e-mail exchanges, which she is allowing SurviveTVNewsJobs.com to quote.

See, she not only worked in that big market but it was also her hometown. The natural support network of friends and family isn’t there anymore.

On top of that, she’s come to the realization that she’s not a journalist. Among other reasons, she just doesn’t have the fire in the belly that’s required to persevere through all the indignities heaped upon you in that first TV news job.

“Yes I should be thick skinned and not let this run me down, but in reality I think my mental health is more important than keeping up a fake smile to get through this,” she said.

Early on in our e-mail conversation, she told me that hosting is actually what she’s meant to do, not reporting TV news or anchoring. I was actually relieved. Would you want a doctor or an attorney whom you could tell really wasn’t into their profession? It’s a recipe for malpractice. However, this young woman was being honest that she didn’t feel the calling to be a journalist. She isn’t going to pollute TV newsroom after TV newsroom with mediocre work just to have her face on television, all the while secretly yearning to host a talk show.

You may fill in the blank with the name of the colleague in your newsroom who meets that description here: ___________________. Extra points if you think TV news was originally just going to be a part of his or her five-year plan.

So I told her to go for it. God bless her for admitting she’s not journalist material. Plus, with media companies clamoring to create their own syndicated shows outside the Hollywood system and adding local talk shows adjacent to their morning or afternoon newscasts, there is a growing need for hosts with the skills to pull them off. This has the potential to be the best time for on-camera talent to work in local television since the days when stations produced their own children’s programming and hired a host to introduce movies.

In this young woman’s case, though, she’s under contract. I know how much she wants to leave and get on the host track immediately. But I urged her to either stick it out in her current reporting job or try to come to some mutual agreement with station management. Broadcast news is a small world. Word gets around. You don’t want to be known as the person who skips out on contract commitments.

However, fate ended-up coming to her rescue. Another company is about to buy her station. The ownership change, she says, is offering her an “escape.” She turned-in her resignation letter last week and hopes to return home soon.

Best of luck to her, wherever she’s reading this now.

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Matthew Nordin is an investigative reporter at WXIX-TV in Cincinnati. Join him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @FOX19Matthew

When to wipe between stories.

Honing Skills, Producing, Survival Kit Comments Off on When to wipe between stories.
May 062013

With the constant push for more and more content, I am seeing producers use wipes between stories to keep up the pace.  This can be a highly effective technique to showcase stories.  It also can be very uncomfortable to watch if misused.

So when should you wipe between stories?  There are three common rules:

  1. If stories have the same type of subject with a common link (i.e. – three crime stories that happened overnight, three parades on a holiday etc.)
  2. To showcase different elements of the same story (i.e. – “Here is what the fire looked like when it first started.”, then a wipe to more fire crews arriving on scene, wipe to helicopter dumping water, then a sot from a worried neighbor.)
  3. To showcase a section of news (like national headlines, local headlines, craziest vids of the day etc.)

When you veer from these rules, you can put anchors in some interesting situations.  For example, it does not work if you have a taped interview on a serious political issue, then wipe to vo of a charity event.  A wipe needs the stories to be related somehow.  Morning show or weekend producers, with one anchor, often use wipes to get around a pre-recorded interview.  That is, they wipe out of the interview to avoid making it obvious that the interview is pre-recorded.  But that is not the best technique.  So what do you do?  Well, you can have the editor end the taped subject on an image that does not show the anchor.  That way you can show the anchor back on the set to do a transition line without sweating it.  Or, you can wipe to a story that is related.  For example, in the case of the pre-recorded political interview, wipe to a quick followup about a political story.  Then show the charity event, with the first line on camera.

Bottom line: Wipes are effective when the stories have a common link of some sort. They do not help you pick up the pace if the stories have nothing to do with each other. In that case you confuse and slow the viewer’s reaction down.

 

"Welcome to the Big Leagues kid." A reporter's perspective.

Honing Skills, Reporting, Survival Kit Comments Off on “Welcome to the Big Leagues kid.” A reporter’s perspective.
Apr 172013

 

You’d think that standing on 5th Avenue, just yards from the Empire State Building, with police, tourists and business people swarming everywhere, would drive home the reality that I was finally reporting on the nation’s biggest stage.

But none of that had really sunk in until I started my 10th or 11th straight live shot of the afternoon and a big New York City garbage truck pulled up about three feet from my left hand.  As I began recounting the story of a deranged man killing a former coworker outside the city’s most recognizable landmark for an NBC client in Australia, a guy jumped off the back of the truck, walked nonchalantly between me and the camera, grabbed a sidewalk trash can, walked back to the truck, slammed the can loudly on the deck, and crossed back in front of me to put the can back on the sidewalk.

As I tried to maintain a straight face, all I could think was, “welcome to the Big Leagues, kid.”

A year ago, I never imagined I would be reporting for NBC’s affiliate service alongside consummate professionals like Jay Gray, Michelle Franzen, and Brian Mooar.  In fact, there was a good chance my journalism career was over.

In December 2011, I left my job as Senior News Reporter and fill-in sports anchor/reporter at the NBC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama.

I had been there 11 years.  I was getting married and moving to New York to be with my wife, Sunday, with no job and no real prospects.

For most of my tenure at WVTM, it was an NBC O&O.  So from time-to-time, I was fortunate to do some work for Newschannel: a hurricane here, or a tornado there.  I worked with some phenomenal producers and editors over the years and kept in touch with a lot of them.

I guess I impressed enough people because last May I got the call:  go to 30 Rock and package the Facebook IPO for NBC affiliates around the country.

As I pecked away at my script in the newsroom on the 7th floor, I’d occasionally peer to my left… in the same row of desks: Robert Bazell, Anne Thompson, Michelle Franzen, Ron Allen… and Chris Pollone.

Unreal.

I went to voice my first script and the booth was occupied.  When the door opened, out walked WNBC anchor legend Chuck Scarborough.  He gave me a hearty, “Hey there!”

The booth smelled of integrity and excellence.

Sitting on my couch that night reflecting on my day, it hit me that there are two things that separate the major markets from the “lower rungs”: eyeballs and toys.

At the end of the day, the work I do for NBC is the same work I did at WBNG in Binghamton, at WCCM in Lawrence, Mass., at WJTV in Jackson, and WVTM in Birmingham.  Yes, the stakes in New York or at the network level are higher, and the margin for error is tighter, but the work is no more important than what journalists do in every market around the world.

There are a lot more viewers at this level, and we might have producers, runners, shooters, and bookers by the dozens, and the best lights, cameras and microphones on the market, but those toys mean nothing without strong, compelling storytelling.

So what’s different here?

Oversight.

When I left WVTM, I had earned enough trust that generally no one reviewed my scripts before they aired.

Now, I work very closely with my on-site producer, the managing producer in Charlotte, and sometimes the top levels of NBC Newschannel management to make sure my scripts are accurate, concise and compelling.

The script development process is also a lot more collaborative.

On some stories, I actually conduct interviews and do original reporting.

On others, my producer will email me a list of shots and logged sound bites, and I write the story without interacting with any of the newsmakers at all.

In the hours following the Newtown school shooting, I started doing live reports for our U.S. NBC affiliates, MSNBC, CNBC, and our clients in Asia, Australia, Canada, and England.

I did nearly 80 live shots from 2PM to 2AM, and every bit of information I shared with the world was being fed to me through my IFB from Charlotte and emailed to my iPad because our field producer had not yet arrived on scene.

I never actually attended a press conference or interviewed victims and townspeople until the day after the shooting.

Some days, I never leave my living room.

When Newschannel is short on correspondents and needs a package put together for the affiliate video-on-demand service, I get a list of elements from a producer, I write the package on my couch, and record voice track on my iPhone with a $50 Tascam microphone.

Working with Newschannel, there is a lot of travel and a lot of decisions made on a split-second notice.  The day the new Pope was to be announced, I flew to Boston, ate dinner, and flew back to New York just in case Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley was named the new Pope.

There are long hours and not a lot of sleep.

During the Jerry Sandusky trial, I started my days at 3:30 AM and did live shots and packages through 3PM.  My producer and I would grab an early dinner and then I’d sleep until about 8PM when I’d wake up to write and voice my morning package.

On that story, we had the benefit of a morning correspondent (me) and an evening correspondent (Brian Mooar).

On some stories, like the NCAA sanctions against Penn State, I was a one-man show.  We started at 3:30 AM and did live shots through 9PM.  One-day stories usually get this type of treatment.

At this point, I have no illusions that I have “made it”.

As a freelancer, the work comes and goes.  Sometimes I’m working several days a month, or even weeks at a time.  And then other times, I’ll go several weeks without an assignment.

I supplement my news income with various endeavors for PR firms in New York and Boston.  Ideally, I’d like to move to full-time or
“perma-lance” with Newschannel, or even do some work for WNBC between Newschannel gigs.

I can’t overstate the importance of networking.

It’s the top lesson I teach when mentoring young journalists or speaking in broadcast journalism classes.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be nice and work hard in every situation no matter how difficult the circumstances.

You’d be stunned at how much doing everything that’s asked of you quickly, correctly and with a smile will win you future assignments.

I’ve been blessed to have some great coworkers and friends who believe in me.

Newschannel’s main correspondent, Jay Gray, has been a great friend and advisor, as well as Chicago-based producer, JoEllen Ruvoli, and Charlotte desk supervisor, Bill Riss, but there’s no chance I’d spend one day at Newschannel without the backing and support from my friend Jodie Jennings.  She’s an absolute rock star producer and is “so” NBC, she’s part peacock.

When you’re trying to make “the leap” to a major market or network, it’s crucial to have great contacts like these who like you and believe in you.

Coming to New York, I had won AP, Emmy, and Murrow awards.  I covered Hurricane Katrina, major tornado outbreaks, federal, state and local scandals and corruption, and 3 BCS National Championships.  I had confidence in my experience and abilities.  I had performed every newsroom job over the span of 16 years.

When I first moved here, I met with a local News Director.  She was very nice, but exhibited that hackneyed cynicism that basically says, “New York is the only place that does news, and everyone else in the other 209 markets are just a bunch of circus clowns.”

I HATE that.

If anything, I firmly believe the smaller the market, the harder you work.  You have fewer resources, fewer toys, less money and just as important stories as the big markets.

This news director said she didn’t generally hire reporters from “that small a market” (Birmingham is market 42) and that her reporters exhibited a certain type of “sophistication”.  As she said that, I could see one of her “sophisticated” reporters on the monitor behind her doing a story on an armed robbery.

Yawn.  We’ve all done that 150 times.

I wished she had just come out and said she didn’t like my nose, or my (lack of) hair, or whatever, instead of belittling my experience, my former coworkers, and my home of 11 years.

Whatever.

I’m here to tell you, whether you’re in North Platte, Nebraska, or in the North Bronx, the process of doing good journalism is the same.

To get a shot in the “majors”, you have to be a great writer, digger, and a rock star on live shots.

Don’t believe the people who tell you how great you are, and don’t, for a second, believe the people who say you aren’t good enough.

If you have the experience, the drive, the talent, and have made some good friends and contacts over the years, it’s likely you, too, can make the “leap” to the big leagues.

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Chris Pollone lives in Manhattan.  He’s on Twitter: @ChrisPollone and Facebook: facebook.com/cpollone.  Questions?  Email him at [email protected].

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