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 Interns Are Uprising! But Is It Their Loss?

Political Hotbed, Smart Alliances Comments Off on The Interns Are Uprising! But Is It Their Loss?
Jul 172013

The interns are staging an uprising. And many big media executives are sweating. Charlie Rose has already settled a lawsuit against his production company. FOX Searchlight lost a case and is appealing. Now MSNBC and “Saturday Night Live” may have to go to court. Each is accused of working interns to the bone, having them perform menial tasks that regular employees should perform, and not paying them a dime.

Whoa, Millennials! Way to stick it to Old Media!

Except… I think I’m going to have to side with Old Media on this one.

As TheWrap points-out in a nice piece which puts a face on Hollywood interns, the unpaid internship is the way to get your foot in the door in television, film, and journalism. The real threat of these lawsuits isn’t to the big media companies’ bank accounts. The real threat is to next year’s crop of interns and the ones who would be applying the year after that. You see, in this age of “we make billions but we still only buy that stiff, generic toilet paper for the company’s restrooms because it saves us ten-cents a roll,” we may not see paid internships as a result of these lawsuits. We may just see internships go away. And that would be a shame.

I did it. I should say my mother, father, and I did it. I don’t know how we scraped together enough money for me to intern at Dispatch Broadcast Group’s DC bureau the summer before my senior year in college. But we found nearly $1,000 each month — from somewhere — to pay the rent on an apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was within walking distance of the Metro’s Red Line, which I would take downtown to Dispatch’s suite in the National Press Building.

I held the reflector above the correspondent’s head, my arms aching, as she sweated through standup after standup in the stifling heat that just seems to lay on Washington in the summertime as if trying to literally smother it. I grabbed the camera and tripod and began shooting a news conference one morning when our staff photojournalist got stuck on a Metro train because of some delay in Northern Virginia. Thank goodness he showed-up in the middle of it because I was a horrible photog. I wrote packages and VO/SOTs out the wazoo. Some days I didn’t even get a thank you from the correspondent. But, boy, what a thrill that my words were being read by her or the big time anchors at WTHR in Indianapolis and WBNS in Columbus!

I wasn’t getting paid with money. But that news organization was giving me something I would’ve been willing to buy. Their correspondent and photographer were showing me literally how you get around Capitol Hill as a journalist (this was pre-9/11 but security was already tight and the word “labyrinthine” is never so apt as when it’s used to describe the Hill’s hallways, tunnels, special subway system, and liveshot/news conference locations — each with their own quirky nicknames. You’ve got your “Swamp” and “Triangle.” Plus, there’s no telling who you’ll spot in the Ohio Clock Corridor.)

Just to give you a feel for how big a financial struggle this was for my family, there were many days when I’d wander down to an ATM outside the National Press Building and there would be no money. And I was a college kid, super hungry all the time. I’d call my mom pleading for another 20 or 30 bucks. She’d say she couldn’t believe how expensive Washington was because she’d just given me $100 a few days before. And I’d say, “I know. It’s unbelievable.” And she’d say, “Well, I’ll try.” And somehow she’d scrounge-up some money, run it to a teller at Bank of America in our hometown, and within 24-hours it would be in my account. I must have used credit cards, too, to survive. They practically hand them out as welcome gifts at colleges, after all.

But that wasn’t the end of the scrounging. In the fall, I began my training as a student at the Washington Center for Politics and Journalism, which came with a small stipend but more importantly included an internship at CNN’s Washington bureau.

Talk about doing the job of regular staffers! I was quite literally former CNN economics/political correspondent Brooks Jackson’s researcher, field producer, and tape logger — a job I particularly despise to this day and still have to do. But demand payment? Are you kidding? Brooks was like my father-away-from-home offering me advice about the biz and life in general. He is still a wonderful mentor and friend. Plus, it was through him that I met Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, when Brooks interviewed him in a majestic room inside the Treasury Building. On other days, Brooks would introduce me to some of the smartest people in the world studying this issue or that at the Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution, Cato Institute, or Congressional Budget Office.

Believe me, 90% of it wasn’t glamorous, though. There were hours spent transcribing long interviews and adding asterisks around soundbites that I thought might work for Brooks’ next piece. I would get dizzy searching for b-roll in the bureau’s cavernous video library, where the numbering system never seemed to make sense. Plus, there were lots of long days. When I worked for him, Brooks was reporting for Wolf Blitzer’s show, which at that time didn’t air until 8 p.m.

Keep in mind, Brooks was working even harder than I was. He was logging, researching, and corralling interview subjects before I got to his office in the morning and was staying much later than I was at night. He also always wrote his own package scripts. So maybe some of this passion for a good ol’ fight against The Man comes from interns who worked for network divas who expect producers and interns to do everything for them.

However, to sue Old Media or New Media because you weren’t paid for the time you toiled away preparing interview materials for Charlie Rose or because you were asked to help book guests for MSNBC seems to me to be the height of ungratefulness.

Do you realize what a chance these broadcasters are taking even letting someone as unqualified as a college student, like I was, in the door? Do you realize the damage you could do to a world class news organization with one screw-up that gets on-air? But even without having had any qualifications — and even with all the real world education you got and the contacts you made through that opportunity — you’re going to turn around later and demand that they pay you?

Excuse me, but unless there was some egregious treatment by these media companies that I’m not aware of, the former interns behind these lawsuits will not be receiving any sympathy from me.

And to current and future interns: If you’re not getting anything out of your internship, quit. Otherwise, suck it up and take in all you can take in. At the end of it, if you didn’t have the time of your life, it’s not an attorney you need to consult. You need to go see your college’s career counselor because apparently this one’s not for you.

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For more information on the federal rules governing internships and whether your station/network might be at risk of a lawsuit alleging that interns should’ve been paid, the U.S. Dept. of Labor has created this fact sheet. In addition, you’ll want to consult your company’s attorneys to make sure your current and future internship programs meet the guidelines.

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

 

One of the youngest on staff: How to hang with the veterans and gain their respect.

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May 212013

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.

 

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

Small Market, USA — No matter how many hours you’ve spent watching Diane Sawyer over the years and dreamed of anchoring Good Morning America or World News, for some people getting that first TV reporting gig results in a revelation: I wasn’t cut-out for this.

I recently got an e-mail from a young woman who was frank that journalism isn’t the part of the TV business she feels passionate about. Not only that, she worries she’s not doing a good job.

“I went to school, yes, but there’s things they don’t teach there,” she said in her first e- mail to me.

SurviveTVNewsJobs.com has agreed not to reveal the woman’s name or current market, which is small, in order to protect the relationship with her news director and allow her to be completely honest about her feelings in our e-mail exchanges.

“This is my first job outside my hometown,” she said. “I worked in (a large market) and loved it there…I did fun stories and the traffic. Well, I got laid-off and now I’m in (this small market) trying to keep-up my resume, but I’m finding that I’m starting to really dislike this job.”

Judging by how she ended that first e-mail (“you can be blunt with me,” she said), she was expecting the sort of tart-tongued tirade Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News would’ve delivered. She didn’t get that from me, though. I actually feel a lot of compassion for her. As I like to tell high school classes, journalism is like the priesthood. It’s a calling. If you don’t feel the insatiable need to be a journalist — if doing something else with your life would literally leave you depressed, thinking less of yourself, or feeling some other variety of intense and sincere mental anxiety — then this is not the career for you. Ok, I’m being dramatic. But you know what I mean.

So first, I had to make sure this young woman didn’t want to be a news anchor. If her desire is to go back to her big market hometown someday and deliver the news to millions of people, then reporting stories out in the field for years is the apprenticeship she’s just going to have to endure. When you’re an anchor, you have to know, based on your own experiences out in the field, which questions are and are not appropriate to ask your reporters in a breaking news situation.

For instance, in the first couple of hours of the Boston Marathon bombing coverage, I didn’t hear a single network or Boston anchor ask a reporter on the scene, “Was this a terrorist act?” That would’ve been irresponsible. We could all see the video. We could see that there were two explosions very close together and that white smoke rose from both. We could see that a lot of people were injured badly. But in those first crucial minutes on the air, your reporter hasn’t had a chance to talk with police. The officers who know anything are too busy to answer your questions and the PIO’s are likely in the dark, too.

What local Boston TV reporters did, which I thought was very good journalism, was describe the scene. I’ll never forget one of them saying in the early-going that he had seen victims who’d lost limbs and that we should prepare ourselves for fatalities. He told us what he saw. He didn’t speculate that this was a terrorist act. Are we bomb experts? Explosion experts? Most likely, no. Who’s to say that if x, y, and z go wrong underground that a utility explosion might not cause similar destruction?

My point is, when you’re sitting on a news set and guiding your station’s live coverage — and by the way, the teleprompter is blank — you’ve got to know what questions are inappropriate. Plus, as soon as persons of interest (yeah, I hate that phrase, too, but it’s a legal term of art we sometimes have to use) or suspects are named, you have to know on-the-spot as you’re ad-libbing which statements about them are fair in light of the on-going news story and which statements could get you and your station sued for defamation if you and the police are wrong. (See: Richard Jewell/Atlanta Olympics bombing coverage.)

The young woman hating her small market TV reporting experience never wants to be an anchor, though.

“Being an anchor, I never much cared for it,” she said in her second e-mail.

I told her not to feel bad, that I think a lot of people force themselves into the TV reporter box just so they can be on television. I really appreciated her honesty. I am also convinced her TV career isn’t over.

Next week, I’ll write about my advice to her about what she should do next. Based on that, she’s made a big decision that I’ll fill you in on, too.

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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 a producer sent me an email about this issue, I had to shake my head a little.  Been there a couple of times.  I could just see the anchor that used to count the number of stories lecturing me again.  I also could see the anchor that used to count how much time reading she got versus her co-anchor handing me a list that tracked a one week period.  She was shocked when I stared at her in disbelief.  In a week’s time, the cumulative amount differed by less than a minute.  Seriously?  This is what she worried about?

Here’s the deal.  Anchor reads will never be completely even.  It just isn’t possible.  There are tricks to get them pretty darn close though.  I will explain those in a minute.  First I want to talk about this “read counting” mentality.  Read counters, who base their worth on how often they are on the air, versus their co-anchor create all kinds of problems.  The biggest negative impacts: Themselves and other anchors.  Here’s why.  When a producer sees that you spend your time counting the seconds to make sure you get your face time, you are telling that producer that all you care about is being on TV.  That is simply the truth. In fact, my read counter actually said to me, “My audience needs to see me more than my co-anchor.  They count on seeing me.  I just know I am a bigger draw than her.  You must want her to be the draw and not me.”  How does a producer, who cares about getting crucial information out to the viewer place confidence in that mentality?  It made it very hard to trust that if I gave him breaking news, he would use due diligence to make sure the information was correct.  He also was the only anchor in the shop to pitch a fit if he actually had to go “in the field” to turn a story unless he deemed it glamorous.  This example is not unique.  Producers talk.  We love to tell each other who the read counter is.  That’s the person you never hand the big breaker.  That’s the person you avoid at all costs.  That’s the anchor whose critiques often fall on deaf ears.  Fair or not, that’s what happens.  The stigma is there.  You only care about face time, not being a thorough and complete journalist.

Now, let’s address the time counter.  The producer who emailed me gave the example of an anchor saying “ My co-anchor had 1:15 in reads, I had :50 seconds.”  This simply screams, “I love my face time. I need all the face time.  Look at me I’m on TV!”  Look, obviously all anchors like a little face time.  If you hated it, you would not be on TV.  But again, this sends the message that you care more about being recognized out and about town than being a solid journalist.  Not the reputation you want in a newsroom, period.  Time counters are considered petty, arrogant and superficial.  It just makes you look bad.

Now the kicker, for all the other anchors who are solid journalists.  Because of read and time counters, producers often get defensive about reads.  So when there is a legitimate issue, like one anchor being written out of 7 minutes in the a-block, that anchor may not raise a red flag for fear of being labeled “high maintenance.”  There are times, when there are legitimate issues with reads.  Newbie producers often make this mistake until they get enough of a handle on designing the rundown, timing it correctly and making deadlines.  That’s a long wait for the anchors who just don’t want to disappear for big chunks of news blocks.

So here’s the solution.  First, producers should trade off who leads the newscast, and each block.  For example, let’s take Joe and Amy.  On Monday, Joe leads the a-block, Amy the b-block and on down the line.  If you have an hour long show, have Joe lead the a-block Monday, then Amy leads the 30 block.  Switch on Tuesday.  Repeat.  This only takes a second to do, and really helps make the reads appear even.  The second part to creating even reads is to try and make sure the anchor reads change every two minutes or so.  If you have a package that is 2:30, the anchor who introduced it should read the tag.  If it is a long tag, do it on a two shot to re-establish team as long as the next story is not a rough transition.  If you have a rough transition before the two minute time is up, switch then and get back to the other anchor within two minutes.  Of course, you can’t make it every two minutes on the nose, but it is a good approximate time to keep in mind.

So there you have it. That’s why read counters do what they do.  That’s what it means and how to stave it off.  If you are a read counter, and your producer switches block leads and tries to change reads every two minutes or so, stop complaining.  Your reputation depends on it.

 

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