Does Market Size Matter?

Honing Skills, Survival Kit Comments Off on Does Market Size Matter?
Jun 252015

One thing about TV people… they love numbers: May ratings were up .5 at 6pm in the P25-54 demo. We’re number 2 at 6am, but just .1 behind station X. Year 2 of my contract begins in 2 months and I’m getting a 3% raise. I can’t believe my co-anchor makes $3,000 more than I do (yes, news directors, everybody knows what everybody else makes… they all talk). And oh, I want to make at least a 25-market jump in my next move.

And there it is—the TV market number obsession. For people who aren’t very good at math (let’s face it… you didn’t go into TV to solve advanced engineering math problems), we sure do know those Nielsen DMA numbers pretty well! Here’s the list, by the way:

http://www.tvb.org/media/file/Nielsen_2014-2015_DMA_Ranks.pdf

Of course, everyone in TV news wants to advance their career, make more money and have more viewers see their work. But as you climb the media ladder, ask yourself this question: does market size matter? While the answer may be “yes” most of the time, you’d be surprised how many veteran broadcasting people would answer “no.” We’ll take a look at why in a minute. We’ll also look at how quickly you can move up if that’s your goal, and what’s a reasonable market jump.

First, it all depends on where you are in your career. If you’re coming right out of college into your first jobs, chances are you’re going to start in a very small market making an equally small salary. And that’s ok. Your foot is in the door. But it also depends on what job you’re looking for. Talent jobs are tougher than producing or AP jobs. We have students graduating from Penn State (disclosure: I teach here at PSU and I’m the Director of Student Television) who are quickly getting reporting or anchoring jobs in places like Elmira NY (market 175), Binghamton NY (market 159), Bangor Maine (market 156), Altoona/Johnstown PA (market 104) and Plattsburgh NY (market 98). But we also have new grads getting off-air jobs at ABC network in NYC, ESPN and Miami (market 16). There’s a huge need for producers, so if you go that route, your chances of starting in a bigger market and moving up faster are better. Bottom line is this: if your dream is to be on-air, then go be on air! It doesn’t matter where you start. You’ll only be there a year or two, you’ll gain valuable experience, learn, grow, and then move on to a bigger market. Don’t turn your back on Eureka (market 195), Twin Falls (market 192) or Bend (market 193). Those are great places to start and yes, make mistakes. You’d rather make a mistake there than in a top 50 market where it’s a LOT more visible.

How quickly can you move up to larger markets? These days, VERY quickly. Back when I started in TV 30 years ago, you did your time in a small market, then after a few years, moved up to a slightly larger market, spent a few more years there, and then moved again. That was before FOX stations added a fourth affiliate in many markets, before regional cable TV news operations and other new media outlets were around. There’s so much more opportunity now that places are always hiring, and that’s good for you.

What are good market jumps these days? You name it! Just in the past month I’ve seen reporters/anchors making moves like these: Bangor Maine (156) to Greensboro NC (46),
Elmira NY (175) to Buffalo (52), Altoona (104) to Buffalo (52) and someone in a 150+ market going to Charlotte (24). These are major moves in some cases of more than 100 markets. Just be sure if you’re making big jumps, you’re seeing the money to go along with the move. Negotiate a good deal yourself or get help from an agent to advocate for you. As you move into larger, top 20 markets, there are other benefits you should be asking for too. Those stations are big enough to help you with significant moving expenses, and if you’re an anchor, a decent clothing allowance. But above all else, make sure you’re ready for the move from an experience standpoint. You don’t want to be in over your head in a major market—the stakes are far too high for you and your boss.

Some people have resumes that show a quick and steady progression to larger markets every few years. And that’s fine—if that’s your goal, go for it. But for others, it’s not all about the market size… it’s also about lifestyle. You want to LIKE where you live and work. Detroit is market 12, but it’s not for everybody. LA is market 2 but some people have no desire to live in the crowded sprawl of Southern California. My personal path in my career is one of moving to larger markets but also places I LOVED living. I really enjoyed Providence RI (New England Summers are great), then spent years in Tampa (awesome beaches on the Gulf coast and my two kids were born there!). Sacramento was great (sunny and dry weather and hey, an hour from Napa Valley!). And Seattle was fantastic… a stunning and beautiful place. I don’t have any regrets about the places I’ve lived, because I chose wisely—good TV markets that are also good places to live.

Be sure you do the same. My best advice is that it doesn’t really matter where you start. Just get that experience on your resume and grow as a producer, reporter, anchor, director or whatever you do. Then make smart and careful choices as you move up the market ladder. Big TV markets are great—the news quality is better and you’ll make more money and have more station resources. But remember, there are bigger hassles too. More people micro-managing your work, lots more ratings and performance pressure, big city traffic and a higher cost of living. That’s why some people find a place they love and they stay there. Some of those middle markets can be great places to settle down for years. The news quality is good, you make decent money and you can live comfortably if you’re in the right job.

There are plenty of opportunities in TV and you can make bigger market jumps than ever. Just think before you jump!

Steve Kraycik is a Talent Agent with MediaStars. He has 29 years of TV news experience and spent a decade as a news director in top 20 markets. He’s also the Dir. Of Student Television at Penn State University. You can follow him on Twitter @TV_Agent_Steve.

What happened to verbs?

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Jun 032015

I have been emailing back and forth with a former TV journalist, who noticed a trend. I am guessing you will notice the same trend once I bring it up here. Verbs have largely disappeared from news copy. Now, I know many of you will dog me for this and go off on conversational writing. “People speak in phrases.” But do they really? And do they as often as you hear it in news copy?

I am going to make the argument that leaving out key verbs is not done to make copy conversational. It happens for two other reasons more often:

1) To avoid using past or passive tense
2) Because you cannot answer a key part of the fact being presented and are doing a work around.

We delved pretty heavily into the first reason, avoiding using past tense in an article on faking the present.

Some examples sent by this former journalist include: “Today investigators trying to piece together what happened.” and “Hurricane Bob approaching the coast tonight.” Both of these are avoiding “to be.” The reason likely is that the information is not new. The other reason, is to avoid passive tense. We delve into how to get around that in our ultimate writing challenge.

But one thing we haven’t delved into quite as much is the whole, I don’t really know the facts issue. Sadly, this is all too common, especially because journalists are facing huge increases in workload, with little to no support. The former journalist I have been emailing with mentioned that “the most challenging part of writing in active tense was knowing who or what was the “subject” of a subject-verb-object sentence should be. If, for example, a writer knows that a person was accused of something but the writer does not know (and is perhaps too time-pressed or lazy to find out) who did the accusing, writing in active tense is difficult.” So true! And as a journalist who was asked to crank out insane amounts of copy with little to no help, repeatedly, I cannot completely fault writers for this. I understand the “Too time pressed” argument. Leaving these elements out of the story until you get them cleared up isn’t always possible. But there can be a couple of work arounds to help you in this time of fact checking need. Have an assignment editor or manager you trust read over that particular story and ask what they can do to help you fix that fact. Have an anchor do the same. And then tell your EP that the following stories could be written stronger but you don’t have all the facts you need. Yes, share the pain and burden with others. If they blow it off and the copy stays passive, you did all you could. If they just take out the “is”-“ing” combo and dump a verb, at least it wasn’t you. You tried to get all the facts. But keep asking. Hopefully at some point the assignment manager and/or EP will start to see that there is a hole in the system. Too much is getting by with too little information being confirmed. Then, who knows, you might get more support.

Do I think that I will hear more verbs soon? No. The trend is likely here to stay. But I do think that many journalists really want to write things concisely, clearly and knowing they have all the facts. That is why I have to challenge you to demand more. Pick one or two stories a day you call on, to clear up the confusion. It will make you a better writer, better journalist and give you a sense of accomplishment that sometimes is lacking in the daily grind. You cannot fact check all the stories as a producer. There’s not enough time. But you can and should point out the ones you feel could be stronger. After all, your goal is to provide the most information the best way possible. The anchors deserve that. They want to be the most able to explain the information. The newsroom deserves that. It will be noticed for its ability to clearly explain stories the other stations “cheat” on. Most of all, the viewers deserve that. They count on you to have the facts. They make or break your success, so spoil them rotten. Give them more sentences with verbs, in active voice! Don’t take the easy way. Do it the right way. Everyone wins.

Is That Really Breaking?

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May 182015

With another sweeps period ending, this is a good time to talk about branding coverage with the all too often touted claim of “Breaking News.”

This term is used so loosely industry wide that it is a common brunt of jokes. Even if you think the jokes are funny, there’s a lesson behind the laughs. The phrase “breaking” is losing its meaning. Stations are showcasing with bold graphics, strong phrasing and 16 boxes in which they are happy to manipulate time in order to fit the station brand. Harsh? Not when numbers of viewers continue to decline. Making everything “Breaking News” is one of the reasons viewers are looking away.

Consider this, “Breaking” has a new call to action for viewers now. For arguments’ sake, just think about when you hear there is breaking news. My guess is you the journalist, immediately hop on Twitter to see what people are saying about the story. Then you do a Google search. Guess what? Viewers do the same. And I am going to argue that TV stations using the term “Breaking” now just encourage viewers to check and potentially call your bluff. The natural reaction is to want to know all you can about the story happening right now and hopefully be the first to learn something you can share with others. This is not just a journalist’s desire. Viewers do the same. That is basic human instinct.

So if you want to look slick off the top and throw in the breaking news animation and supers package, but the story really happened an hour or two ago, your viewer will figure it out within the first paragraph of coverage. Busted! Then you potentially look behind the 8 ball. Why is station (call letters here) just now covering this story? Did they miss it when it started? What else did they miss today? Welcome to what viewers say. Or this: Here goes station (call letters here) calling a story “Breaking” when it’s not. What else do they exaggerate about to try and trick me into watching?

Viewers are not as gullible as you might want to think. Especially in this day where everything you want to know is a Siri question or few taps away. Show the respect of calling something breaking only when it truly just started happening. Old timers had an hour or less rule. I think you can get away with that if the standoff is still underway. But if the manhunt is over, the person shot is at the hospital and the scene is being cleared, then no, it’s probably not breaking news.

If you have “breaking developments” they better not be something you saved for the TV part of the three screen equation all day. Again, chances are high you will be outed as fudging the timeline.

For those of you who are shaking your heads saying “We’ve called everything breaking for years, our numbers are solid and we love our slogan” here’s one last thing to consider: “Breaking news” is quickly becoming less crucial to gain viewers. Three screen news gathering means an event that just started is likely going to be seen “live” through social media first. Now TV stations need to focus more on “Breaking” great additional details and separating fact from fiction in these fluid situations. That is where your expertise can be counted on. And, if you lie and tell viewers everything is happening right that second when it’s not, you are no longer an expert, just another person with a camera, and an outlet to share.

What if TV stations got bold, and stepped away from the time crutch associated with “Breaking News.” What if instead they focused on what journalists do best, sort out the truth and explain it easily, so everyone can understand what is happening. Talk about a powerful brand. Talk about “breaking” information. Redefining the term breaking news in a clear way could reenergize TV news. Instead of defining that type of news by timeliness of an event, focus on exclusivity of details. Then those tried and true “Live Local Late Breaking”, “Your Breaking News Station” and even “Where the News Comes First” slogans are legit credible assets to your station. Not the brunt of jokes. Dump the timeline references. Use breaking news they way the old timer’s did. New crucial information about an event. New information. Not a right now event. Then watch the viewers check Twitter, and head to your websites and newscasts in droves. They know the story is happening now, but what’s the truth in it? What news really “broke?” You’ll have the clear answers.

Apparently, Reportedly and Allegedly Are Not Conversational.

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Apr 122015

Recently on the @survivetvjobs Twitter line, there was a rather intense conversation about the words “apparently,” “reportedly” and “allegedly.” A journalist argued that these words are fine to use instead of attribution. In fact he argued they are necessary to be conversational, so the copy will not be boring and make viewers turn away.

This debate symbolized a big reason why I created “Survive.” It signaled a lack of training, and a lack of checks and balances in newsrooms across the country. Bottom line, no journalist would think that way and we would never see these words in copy, if they clearly were banned in newsrooms. But they are not. I hear each of these words more times than I can count when surveying newscasts, nationwide.

I can and have discussed why these words do not protect you. For this article I will simply say that if you really think about it, you do not need “apparently,” “reportedly” or “allegedly” if you know the facts are true. For facts we do not know yet, or have partial information about, you attribute to whomever was the expert or authority who told you the partial information. These words are most commonly used in crime stories. You’ve heard them a million times. The robber apparently broke into the store around 3 AM. Does it matter exactly when? The robber broke in before dawn. The robber broke in before the store was crowded. See how I got around apparently easily, with facts I knew? Apparently, allegedly and reportedly tell the viewer you are unclear and are guessing. If the unclear facts seem relevant and you do not know all the details, just say so. We don’t know how this fire started yet. But when we find out we will let you know. That is conversational.

And speaking of conversational, do you walk up to a buddy and say, “Sue allegedly dumped Bob last night?” Nope. Or how about this, “The track shack is reportedly setting up another race?” I don’t think so. Sometimes someone will say “I hear Sue is dumping Bob” and the other person says “Apparently.” That I will give you. But what does it add? How would that improve news copy and keep it from being boring?

Let’s just be straight with each other. “Apparently,” “reportedly” and “allegedly” are not put into news copy to be conversational. They are used as crutches to couch that you do not understand something in the story, or just do not have the information. The use of these words says you are guessing. Educated guess or not, it just sounds sloppy. It’s not conversational. Conversational writing is clear. There is no room for a guess.

Just because you can get away with these words in your copy in your newsroom does not mean you should. Be better than that. You deserve it. Your viewers really deserve it. Attribute or say, we don’t know everything about the story yet. But as we learn new facts, we will tell them to you. Viewers like when the story is still ongoing. They like feeling they are the “first to know” about things that are happening right then. You do not have to know all of the story. But what you do tell, you need to be clear on. Dump the catch phrases, and be direct. Your writing will rock and your viewership will too.

The Best Job Security A Reporter Can Have

Reporting, Source Building, Survival Kit Comments Off on The Best Job Security A Reporter Can Have
Feb 222015

The best job security a reporter can have comes down to one word. Sources. Time and time again I hear about the “untouchable” reporter in a newsroom who can’t ad lib, can’t write, can’t dress, can’t get along with people, yet cannot be fired. The reason, sources. The reporter has so many contacts and so many ways to get relevant information on a dime, that they away with murder day-to-day.

Now, if you are the person with the great sources, hear this: I am NOT suggesting that you act like a jerk in the newsroom. Even the most “untouchable” person can go too far and pay a hefty price. But if you love where you live and want to stay for the long haul, do not underestimate the power of a strong source list.

Simply put, too many people think their looks or on-air abilities are enough to keep them around. These traits are easier to find in the biz, than a die hard reporter with a true pulse of what’s happening in the community and who’s behind the power struggles, conflicts and movements. Your looks can fade or a station can change it’s mind about on-air presentation styles. No matter what, all stations and all news philosophies in all markets need journalists who can call on a hunch, turn a lead story and do it consistently.

So next time you think you are too tired to make that follow-up call, or reach out on a new lead for a potential source, remember, giving that extra effort could make you an invaluable resource. It is worth it. (If you don’t know how to source build check out Cultivating Sources and How to Generate Story Ideas.)

Why You Should Always Have Extra Stories In Your Rundown

Honing Skills, Producing, Survival Kit Comments Off on Why You Should Always Have Extra Stories In Your Rundown
Jan 072015

One of the most challenging parts of producing is making your meter points.
Some stations even penalize if you go over or under time by as little as 15 to 20 seconds, per block. Even if your station is not that picky, you have to make time at the end of your newscast.

The problem is, between chat, reporters turning in packages late or providing the wrong TRT and adding live shots and breaking news, it can be hard to time. That’s why you need escape routes for each meter point/news block.

So here’s a secret veteran producers know, that helps make sure they hit those key times, every time, no matter what. It all begins with putting extra stories in your rundown. You ideally want to put in 2 or 3 vo’s, some vo/sots and even a pkg just in case. Different producers do this different ways. But, I find, the easiest is to put them at the bottom of the rundown with the times zeroed out in your timing program. Then make sure they are edited right along with the rest of the newscast and ready to go.

Before you say “that’s just extra work and I do enough already” consider this. I did not say NEW stories. These can be alternate versions of stories in the newscast. Just make sure there is at least one “go to” option per block to add or shorten time. Veteran producers often add a line or two or a sidebar type story that gives depth to at least one story per block for showcasing opportunities. If you get heavy, that can go. Some write a vo/sot version of a vo in a block, so they can just sub out the longer version if they are suddenly really short during their newscast. Frankly, you are already going over the material, so writing a second version is fast and pretty painless.

These can also be stories from earlier newscasts that you flirted with putting in the newscast, but ran out of time or decided something else was more relevant. Every producer has those stories you initially will run, that get pushed out for something else. Just keep them at the bottom of the newscast, and zero the time out. Sometimes these don’t even mean more editing. They can be real life savers.

In terms of a backup package, this is something on the feeds that makes sense to put in your rundown lower down or at the end of a block. This precaution is great if you suddenly cannot get a live shot or a big breaker falls through. Always have vos and vo/sots first. This is a good last resort option if you are really light. But it can save you on and off and is worth striving for daily.

Just remember, time block-by-block. Have backups for each block to shorten or lengthen the segment. A little extra work, creating different versions of a few stories is totally worth it. Hitting meter points and timing your newscast correctly is expected and highly doable, you just need to do a little pre-planning.

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