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.)

Is Enterprising Stories A News Philosophy?

Source Building, Survival Kit Comments Off on Is Enterprising Stories A News Philosophy?
Apr 162014

Recently I addressed the importance of defining your news philosophy to end up in a station where you can really flourish.  When I ask journalists to define their philosophy the most common answer I get is “enterprising stories.”  Let’s consider that for a minute.

Enterprising stories is not a philosophy.  It is the result of source building.  However, it is what you should be doing anyway as a news reporter.  Again, “enterprising stories” is not a news philosophy.  A news philosophy defines how you present information to the community to inform, empower and educate.  It includes writing style, graphics presentation, and topic selection.  It delves into which of the 5 W’s and 1 H you focus on the most.

Stations may emphasize unique stories as a key part of coverage.  It can be part of a news philosophy.  But it is not the whole of a news philosophy.  Remember, part of serving the public is covering the issues and events of the day.  You cannot always enterprise every element.  You can look for impact elements others do not have, but the basic facts must still be present in order to serve the public effectively.

Here’s one more thing to think about: Nearly all newsrooms aspire to have some sort of “enterprise” unit no matter their stated philosophy.  (Conan recently reminded us how rare it really is.) Aspire to break this mold.  Delve deeper into issues to find the unique elements.  Source build so you can learn what the reality of a situation really is, and use those skills to define your philosophy.  Think of “enterprising stories” as a means to the end, which is, your news philosophy.

 

LinkedIn: How to guide to finding sources and exclusives.

Social Awareness, Source Building Comments Off on LinkedIn: How to guide to finding sources and exclusives.
Sep 122013

For years, LinkedIn has just been an online placeholder for my résumé. I didn’t really think about it much and rarely went on there.

However, two things recently happened to change my view of the site.

The first was when my news director assigned me to do an investigation into privacy concerns regarding drones and Ohio leaders’ efforts to snag one of the nation’s coveted slots for a drone testing program.

Although GE’s jet engine subsidiary is headquartered in Cincinnati, aerospace is not something that gets a lot of coverage in my market. So when it came to looking for sources in the drone industry (its executives prefer to call them “unmanned aerial vehicles”), I was starting from zero. One day, I thought, “I wonder if I can find someone to interview by searching LinkedIn?”

Within seconds, I found an executive at TechSolve, a company that does consulting for the aerospace industry. I e-mailed her asking if someone there was doing any work on drones. She said her CEO would love to do an interview. It turns out, he’s one of the major players behind-the-scenes who’s trying to bring a drone-testing program here.

The other thing that made me start respecting LinkedIn more was a conversation with software developer Dave Hatter.

We were doing an on-camera show-and-tell one day for my morning show consumer segment and he had LinkedIn up on his laptop. I couldn’t believe how he was going on and on about it. So I asked him why he likes it so much. He showed me how LinkedIn isn’t just for your résumé anymore. He calls it a very powerful search engine for finding people and connecting with them. He even lands clients and speaking gigs this way.

“One of the key facets I think most people really overlook is the incredible power of the search engine in LinkedIn,” is how he put it to me recently when I asked him to do an entire segment with me about how LinkedIn can help those who are still unemployed find work.

The thing is, his insights are also great for broadcast journalists looking to make connections to move up the market ladder or, as I demonstrated through dumb luck, finding a great source for a story.

The key, he says, is using what LinkedIn calls its “Advanced People Search.”

For instance, in trying to find someone to interview in the aerospace industry, you could type “aerospace” into the keyword box and your station’s zip code in another box further down the left-hand side of the page.

I just re-enacted my search as I’m writing this. The executive I found earlier came up again. And I just discovered that if you click “similar” below her name, other aerospace industry executives and workers come up on another page. This will be really helpful when you get that dreaded “I’m on vacation” out-of-office reply from your first contact.

But say you’re not working on a story. You’re trying to build your personal brand. Hatter uses LinkedIn for that, too.

“There are over a million groups on LinkedIn,” he said. “Some groups have literally hundreds of thousands of members in them. By joining the group, you now have opt-in permission to share with that group.”

Don’t spam them, he warns. Instead, pass along articles or video links that would appeal to other broadcast journalists or television executives.

Hatter says LinkedIn limits you to 50 groups. That’s probably more than enough for most of us, though there are some LinkedIn power users who sound pretty upset about the cap.

You also want to post on your home page on LinkedIn. If you haven’t been to your account in a while, log-in and take a look. LinkedIn has basically created a professional version of Facebook. After getting Hatter’s advice, I try to post at least once a day on there and allow LinkedIn to send the message to my Twitter followers, too.

Finally, be careful with the recommendations you give others — and especially the recommendations you choose to publish on your profile.

Hatter is also a hiring manager and says it takes an authentic, from-the-heart recommendation on a candidate’s LinkedIn profile to make him take it seriously.

“If I go in and I give you a recommendation, you are going to show-up in front of my entire network as a recommendation from Dave,” he said. “Everyone in your network is going to see that I recommended you. But if I say something like, ‘Matt is an awesome guy,’ does that really carry any weight? And I think a lot of recommendations are pretty shallow and pretty hollow like that.”

Hatter also explains, in an extended clip we put on our station’s website, how to jazz-up your “headline” and profile info to stand-out from the crowd. The headline is really important because it’s what hiring managers see first in their search results, along with your profile photo. And please have a profile photo! I can’t believe how many people in broadcasting don’t put their photo up on LinkedIn.

Hatter told me having no photo is a quick way to get overlooked when a television executive is doing her own “advanced people search” in an effort to fill a job quickly.

In such a competitive industry, we need all the help we can get. So why not put more effort into LinkedIn? After all, it’s free. (Hatter advises against paying for the premium version.)

You can bet the other 90 TV anchor/reporters in America who look just like you will be using LinkedIn. So you’d better, too.

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You can connect with Matthew Nordin on LinkedIn and Twitter. He’s an investigative reporter at WXIX-TV in Cincinnati.  And if you want to learn more about how to use this site, check out the group LinkedIn for Journalists (http://www.linkedin.com/groups/LinkedIn-Journalists-3753151), which offers free tutorials.

Do Journalists Need To Be Entrepreneurs Or Just Really Good At Building Sources?

Source Building, Survival Kit Comments Off on Do Journalists Need To Be Entrepreneurs Or Just Really Good At Building Sources?
Sep 052013

This year and last, the Knight Foundation has brought up the idea of using the “teaching hospital” model in j-schools to properly prepare journalists.  Last year, an“Open Letter to American University Presidents” called for a “teaching hospital” style curriculum. This year, a study is out questioning whether this teaching style really is the right move for j-schools.

In the past I asked journalists what’s lacking in training for TV news, then summarized those ideas.  Now this new study says J-schools need to encourage newbie journalists to take an “entrepreneurial approach” even while earning a degree. In other words, they want part of the curriculum to center on creating new ways to deliver the news in addition to learning how to present the news. Professors would be encouraged to also think up and test out new ideas.

I see the point.  I get where the researchers are going.  But I want to ask this:  If you do not even know how to draw, can you then make something look 2 or 3d?  The biggest criticism today, is TV news lacks depth.  Journalists skip steps or do not know to take steps to ensure information is accurate.  There are few checks and balances.  This happens when people are overwhelmed.  Lack of training and understanding, or knowledge of the existence of station policies, can cause embarrassing gaffs.  Now with increased pressure to get something on TV and break stories on social media, this lack of training and organization is really being exposed.  This is a dirty secret most veteran journalists have been painfully aware of for decades.

The medium really is secondary.  The core issue hurting TV news and journalism in general is this:  Too few entities demand source building and proper fact checking.  Many journalists will admit they do not know how to source build.  No clue where to even start.  This is one of the most requested article topics I receive.  How do you source build?  I cannot take people to lunch, so will I ever be able to develop sources?  Is it bad that my sources are all PIO’s?

So I am going to go out on a limb and saying that this whole idea of encouraging creativity and entrepreneurs in J-school is missing the point.  The biggest problem with J-schools today, is very few employ journalists who have actually worked in a newsroom in recent times.  Most schools demand masters and Ph.D.’s but do not emphasize real world experience.

J-schools may seem irrelevant, or out of touch or needing an overhaul because of this simple issue.  Hence the push for a teaching hospital style of program and entrepreneurial approaches.

J-schools can provide opportunities to step out of the box and create new ways to tell stories, utilize social media and even redefine the role of TV news in society.  BUT the ideas will not truly be relevant until they can clearly prove that the implementation will increase accuracy in reporting.  Let’s stop skirting the issue, and admit to the problem in clear terms. Journalists are entering the work force, with few clues on how to research and make sure they are accurately disseminating information.  As a result, they stick to what the news release and PIO say, and do not question.  It is the safe route.  It allows you to churn and burn 2 or 3 packages a day.  Teaching hospital or entrepreneurial push?  Neither approach really matters if the basic foundation is not there.  Teach how to gather information, source build and fact check.  Get extremely detailed about it.  Then TV journalists as a whole can move forward.  Stations can stop becoming a testing ground.  Most importantly, we can stop debating the whole “How do we teach journalism to stay relevant?” debate.  Facts are always going to be relevant.  Teach how to find them and get them right!

 

This article idea came from a reporter on Facebook who recently moved to night side.  If you have ever worked this shift, you already know what he asked.  How do you find stories, much less break news, night side when everyone you’re calling wants to just go home for dinner and offices are closed?

No doubt generating solid content can be challenging on a night where there is not a big event planned, a huge story that easily carries through or breaking news.  The biggest key to “owning the night” is recognizing you will need to give up a little of your off time to build sources and set up stories.  When you first begin as a night sider this will be a little time consuming, unless you’ve already worked in the same city for a while and have sources.  But, once you build up some sources (read “Cultivating Sources” if you need help building up sources), it will not take that much time to call and make your checks.  In fact, in some ways, it can be easier to see if a story you are hearing about really is sound, than it is for dayside reporters.  Remember, day siders have to try and figure out if a story is legit when people are eating breakfast, getting the kids to school and running late.  You can make calls as they come back from lunch and are often tying up loose ends and actually have some time to talk.  So, eventually, it will be easier to get the info verified quickly.  You just need to figure out who to call on your beat.

Speaking of beats, act like you have one, even if there is no formal defined beat system in your shop.  By that I mean, figure out what types of stories management bites on at night, and source build around those topics.  (see “How to Pitch and Pull Off Stories in Producer Driven Shops” for more on how to do that)  You just don’t have the time to source build in every section of the DMA on every subject.  Pick a couple of subjects and areas of the DMA and stick to that at first.  It will help you.  Just make sure the veteran night sider hasn’t already built up a rapport with the same agencies and sources, so you are not double calling and confusing the agencies.

Try and work a day ahead if you can.  Forward looking stories about an upcoming hot button issue in town, or a major event, you will probably cover in a day or two can be great “fall backs” on a slow news night.  You can informally set those types of stories up ahead of time.

When I managed PM newscasts, my go to night side reporters, usually called the desk around lunchtime to see if an assignment editor had heard of anything that might pop that night.  Then the reporter would make a few calls and come in with a solid story idea.  I often got calls on my way into work from reporters who had checked with sources to feel out interest on potential stories they could pitch when we got to work.  This was a great help as well.  I could say, “Set it up.” or “Look for something else.” early in the process.  It took all of us just a few minutes, and often paid off in the end.

This may sound obvious, but another station in town used to routinely “break” interesting crime stories a day ahead of us.  We eventually figured out that one of their night side reporters would stop and pick up police reports (now you can usually just check them online) on their way into work.  That person then knew anything that happened after a typical 9 a.m. check by a dayside reporter.  The other stations didn’t check until the next morning either.  So this station ended up with constant “exclusives,” “first on’s” etc. until we figured out the trick.  It’s proof that simple moves can pay off big time for night side content.

My final suggestion is to buddy up with a dayside reporter.  That person may know of three people you can begin to call in the early afternoon to build sources.  Sometimes day siders get tips as they are coming off of their shift.  If that reporter knows you are willing to get calls before you come into work, you might get the tip call instead of it just going to the assignment desk.  But make sure you pay it forward.  If you hear rumblings of something good that might pop in the morning, shoot off a text to that day sider.  Having each other’s back only helps.

Those are some tricks to “own the night.”  If you have more suggestions, please send ‘em so we can all learn.

It’s a new year. You’re feeling all refreshed. And you’re ready to again dig for some great stories.

But what if you don’t know where to start?

Maybe you’re dreading the morning meeting lately because it seems like not much is happening in your market.

Here’s what I suggest: Reconnect with sources you’ve “neglected” a bit over the last six months or so. You’re asking literally everyone you interview for business cards or other contact information, right? You’re keeping that info in a desk drawer or in a file on your computer, right?

Well, spend an hour digging through there looking for the great contacts who may have slipped your mind as you moved on to other pressing news stories.

Give them a call. Tell them you want to catch-up and you’re sorry it’s been so long since he or she has heard from you. Be genuine. Be relaxed with them. Don’t have your crazy I-am-a-news-reporter-and-I-need-a-package-idea-NOW voice on!

Sometimes, enduring the equivalent of writer’s block, I’ll literally flip through business cards trying to come up with the inspiration for a story — or to remind myself about a story I should follow-up on.

I’m kind of old school. I still like business cards. There’s something about seeing that logo next to the name that really refreshes my memory. (Yes, I’m horrible with names if I’ve only interviewed someone once.)

Here’s another tip: As you’re putting those award entries together this month (why must so many of them be due so close to the beginning of the year anyway?) think about follow-ups to these stories that you could be doing.

Every time someone does research on TV news audiences, it seems they find news consumers complaining that we don’t do enough follow-ups. Whatever happened to…? They want to know.

That company that promised 50 new jobs back in November? Have they hired everyone they need? How far along are they before they open-up shop?

Remember that congressman in your district who announced he’s retiring rather than running for re-election? Is he still showing-up for votes in Washington? Or is he out golfing on taxpayer time?

And don’t forget all of those families you focused on over the holidays who are barely scraping by because the mother and father have both lost their jobs. How are they making it now that it’s not the “season of giving” anymore? How are charities in your market doing?

As we were putting this article to bed, Poynter’s Al Tompkins wrote a nice blog post pointing to another great source of story ideas: the people you work with. He shows two examples where tips from colleagues led reporters to win 2012 Alfred duPont Awards.

“The lesson here is clear,” writes Tompkins, “listen to everyone.”

Lastly, you can also get a lot of inspiration from Twitter. As a courtesy to your audience, I recommend following back every person in your viewing area who follows you. It’s the nice thing to do. After all, you make money because they watch you. (Or you get fired if they don’t.)

So scroll through your “all friends” feed on Tweetdeck and see what people in your area are talking about. If they’re talking about it is — at least by one definition — news.

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Matthew Nordin is a morning anchor/investigative reporter at Raycom Media’s NBC affiliate in Myrtle Beach, WMBF News. Feel free to chat with him on Twitter @MatthewNordin.

 

 

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