When Job Hunting Tactics Go Horribly Wrong. Strange But True Stories.

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Aug 192013

Sometimes, the best way to describe how to do something, is to show the opposite.  Here are some examples of ways, real, aspiring journalists have really shot themselves in the proverbial foot when job hunting.  We are poking some fun, but please know it is to help prevent more of these scenarios.

One ND I worked for describes getting a pizza box from a young reporter wanting a gig.  Inside the box was a tape, resume and cover letter saying the reporter knew how to “deliver” on a story.  The trouble was, the call letters for the station were wrong on the letter and the reporter misspelled the manager’s name.  This ND’s quote, “so much for delivery.”

Many ND’s and AND’s love to share stories about the “idiots” who get their names wrong.  I mean, they get the names VERY wrong, then are put off and send fiery emails when the ND doesn’t give them an interview.

Speaking of fiery responses, I once had an anchor candidate call and bless me out (I was  an EP) because my station never called to interview him.  One of my producers told me about him and I agreed only to hand the ND the anchor’s information.  This anchor then thought he had an “in” with me and kept calling asking for status updates.  When he read that we hired someone else, he called and told me what a crap station we were and that we all sucked.  Yes, I still remember.  And, no, I will never help you again.

Then there’s the reporter who sent a manager I know a resume and reel and actually put checkboxes at the end of the email, so the manager could check if he was interested or not, right then and there.  His question, why wasn’t there a “could have been, had you not done this” option?

My last interesting scenario, a reporter who sent a long email explaining why a station’s decision not to hire them was a horrible mistake.  This was like a manifesto.  You would be surprised how many managers get emails like this, where the person has to justify to you that you are messed up, that the person knows he/she is wonderful at their profession.  Just remember email, like the internet, never truly disappears.

Oh and keep in mind, if you cannot get a manager’s name and the station’s call letters right, you will not get a call back, no matter how “brilliant” you are. Strange, but true!

 

Do I Need An Agent?

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Jun 252013

(FYI, the founder of survivetvnewsjobs.com, who is now an agent, did not solicit this article. Matthew Nordin -a regular contributor to the website – submitted  this article all on his own.)

It’s the question young television reporters and anchors — and now even producers — often ask me. Having been in commercial TV for more than a decade, they wonder aloud, “Do I need an agent?”

“It depends” is an answer I personally hate to receive. But it’s apt here. I usually ask them about their current career situation, whether they have a long-term partner or spouse, and what their goals are.

I can’t do that with everyone who reads Survive TV News Jobs. So I thought I would give you my thoughts on what goes into my decision to hire an agent for myself and whether to recommend one to friends and colleagues.

Where are you in your career? I got lucky. The late Conrad Shadlen, who represented some real heavyweights in his day, took an interest in me for some reason after seeing stories I’d done while an intern for then-CNN correspondent Brooks Jackson and at Southern Illinois University’s WSIU-TV. Rad signed me right out of college. The credibility of being represented by his New York agency helped me months later get my first paid television reporting job at WSPA-TV in Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was then the 35th largest market in the country. I was able to rent a nice apartment and buy food. Hey, that was an achievement. I had no idea at the time, but I have since learned that some of my colleagues have been forced to go on government assistance because their first TV station paid them so little.

If your college’s broadcast journalism program did not produce a live, professional-looking newscast every night that allowed you to build a respectable reel then it’s probably a waste of time and money to hire an agent right out of school. They aren’t going to be able to get you a job in a Top 50 market. Plus, they’re going to be taking 5-10% of your gross salary. That’s not what you bring home in your paycheck. We’re talking about 5-10% of your income before taxes. Can you afford that?

What are your goals? When I was in my 20’s, I put my career ahead of everything. I was single. I just wanted to “get to the network” as quickly as possible. Then two things happened: 9/11 and Mark Sanford’s election as governor of South Carolina. 9/11 changed everything. People my age or a little older who were making tons of money on Wall Street prior to that morning were suddenly calling their significant others, leaving the most beautiful, heart-wrenching voicemails I’ve ever heard. Something clicked for a lot of my friends and me. God, the Universe, whatever label you wish to use, didn’t send us to Earth to make money and spend our lives in newsroom cubicles and live trucks.

The next year, WSPA-TV assigned me to cover this recent congressman from Charleston named Mark Sanford. This was long before he went “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” He was taking South Carolina’s Republican Party by storm, making real connections with voters, beating some big GOP names for the gubernatorial nomination. From the primary campaign through Sanford’s general election victory party at a Sticky Fingers BBQ restaurant in November 2002, I was on the campaign trail. Just like network news journalists, my photographer and I traveled all over the state covering Sanford and his opponents, rendezvousing with our satellite truck late in the afternoon, staying in hotel rooms at night, joking that paying rent in Greenville was a waste because we were never in our apartments. Then it was over. The adrenaline vanished. I was back in my Greenville apartment. And I was all alone.

It has taken me years to take these lessons and create the life and career I want — a life and career I continue to tweak — but I realized the life of a network news correspondent was not what I wanted. When NBC News axed a slew of veteran correspondents in 2008, one of them said that for the first time he’d be able to drive his family to dinner. When he was on-staff at NBC, he’d always driven separately and with a bag packed in the back. He was inevitably getting called away to cover something happening somewhere in the world.

I realized I needed stability. I wanted a dog, a spouse, two children — the works.

In the meantime, Conrad Shadlen’s agency had vanished near the end of his life. I didn’t renew with the agency that bought him out because I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. If I went off and freelanced somewhere, that 10% hit to my limited income might have been unsustainable.

So ask yourself: Does an agent really fit into my life plan? Or do I just want the caché of being able to say I have an agent?

Is your significant other willing to move? Once you’re in a relationship, someone’s career has to come first. You both might decide at this point in your lives it makes more sense to put your TV career first. However, if you become involved with a doctor or lawyer who’s already planted the seeds of a nice little practice, it’s going to be hard for him or her to move. In their world, they may have to start from zero and build-up their practice all over again if you both move.

I highly recommend reading Mika Brzezinski’s book All Things at Once. Whether you’re just out of college and the previous paragraph is the furthest thing from your mind or if you’re mid-career and a sizzling pang of recognition just hit your belly, Mika’s negotiation of her career and her husband’s career (she’s married to WABC-TV investigative reporter Jim Hoffer) along with trying to raise two daughters will hit you at an emotional level that is nearly unparalleled in autobiographies of this type. Remember, Mika hasn’t always been this successful. Before reaching star status with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, she had been fired by CBS News. I will say no more. No spoilers here.

If you’re not willing to move, you may not need an agent. In fact, you may be an agent’s worst nightmare because they want to send your tape all over the country to give you the best shot at a great new job.

If you and your significant other don’t want to move, surely you can get to know all of the news directors in town on your own. Then again, if you’re already working in a major market, you may need to keep your agent to negotiate your next deal at the station or to get a meeting at another station across town if you’re let go. (As you can see, we’re back to “it depends.”)

Ready to hire an agent? Do your due diligence. Just like you would vet a source on a news story, do some checking around on this person who wants to be your representative to the broadcast news world. Interview them. Skype with them. Fly out and meet them if you can afford it. Ask them what they like about you. Ask them how they plan to market you. Ask them how they’ll work with you to improve your skills and marketability for the next job search two or three years from now.

The goal is to find someone who wants to represent YOU, not just another anchor/reporter. And the goal is to only hire an agent if he or she truly fits in with your life plan.

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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.

 

What Mergers Really Mean For “Joe TV Journalist”

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Jun 192013

The recent Gannett-Belo merger announcement was definitely an attention getter.  Many wonder how in the world it will work, what it will mean for the industry and what does it mean for TV journalism?  There are several great articles already tackling some of these issues. (See Dallas Morning news for more on how the deal will work.  And this  New York Times article explains the financial reasons for the merger)

In this article, we are going to look at what average “Joe TV Journalist” needs to consider.  Much of it is common sense but, it bears reminding.

What Big Media Buyouts mean to Journalists:

Fewer options

More opportunities to burn bridges

Mind p’s and q’s

More mergers means fewer options in many cases. Newsroom consolidations  are a trend that is even creating enough concern to start a movement. (Check out this map to see how many stations are operating this way.)

This means fewer options in terms of companies for whom you can work. That is significant because this is not a big business anyway.  Pick a journalist you know, and with little to no effort you can come up with three names of people connected to that person.  A little more effort and you will likely come up with at least ten other names.  So think twice if you get a burning desire to tell your ND to “&^%$ off!”

There are more opportunities each day now, to burn bridges. Companies keep human resource files on you.  Count on the fact that ND’s across the country from one another can hit a few computer keys or speed dial and get the full scoop on you in a heartbeat.  If you hate your situation, gripe in private and quietly move on.

That is all part of minding your p’s and q’s.  Keep in mind, sticking it to the “&*^hole” newsroom and walking out or giving a day’s notice will come back to bite you.  The chances of it happening are greater than ever with fewer companies controlling more of the jobs.  Remember, the fewer broadcasting companies that exist, the bigger the bite.  I know a few journalists right now who decided to just walk out (to get a little revenge on “the man!”) and now they are really hurting.  You will be labeled.  You will raise red flags.  You will lose out on top salary options.  And yes, you could be black balled all together.  It really does happen, especially within station groups.  So, if you love being a part of TV news, suck it up.  Find a job quietly, and put in two weeks notice.  You can do it, your career depends on it.

Bottom line, what this means for “Joe TV Journalist” is that the biz is getting even smaller than it was before.  Play nice in the sandbox, and take the high road even when others around you are not.  Your reputation will count for even more than in the past.  If this trend continues there simply will be fewer options for you to get a second chance.

 

The future of TV news, and therefore our own salaries, is something we all wonder about.  Many journalists took paycuts in the last few years just to keep our jobs.  Veteran journalists are being pushed out, because they now cost too much.  Others are considering taking the paycuts they’re offered to make sure they stay put.  There are plenty of studies out there pointing to fewer opportunities and less money for TV news.  Then there’s Bob Papper’s take.  He researches a lot of studies for RTNDA and is a professor and chairs the Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations at Hofstra University.   I recently spoke to him about the RTNDA/Hofstra University 2012 TV and Radio News Staffing and Profitability Survey.  He provided a lot of insight into how he came up with those numbers and what they mean.  We also talked about future trends he sees.

Now keep in mind, this man has contact with every ND in America.  He also calls and checks in with stations that “hire out” their news from other stations.  He even checks in with stations that do not have news, just in case they are in the process of changing their minds.  The trend he sees?  More newscasts are being created in more time slots.  Why is that good news?  One word:  Demand.

Papper says when considering where TV news is heading, do not simply look at staffing.  Other factors come into play, which I will lay out in a minute.  Instead Papper says, “If you want to know (about the future) on a systemic basis in the industry, see how much news they are doing each day.  Stations added news, while cutting employees.  That is not sustainable.  Sooner or later you will have to hire more people.”  Papper is working on the next staffing and profitability survey right now.  He sees more newscasts starting up.  He says quote, “Television is doing really, really well.”

So, why the low salaries?  Plenty of you DM’d me upset that you were not making the median salaries listed in the RTNDA survey.  When I took a closer look, many of the medians measured up to what I made in those market sizes more than a decade ago.  Not good when you consider inflation.  So I asked how we are really doing?  Papper’s answer, “The pay is worse today than 40 years ago.”  Why?  Supply and demand.  Unemployment rates are not helping newsies either.  Stations can get away with paying relatively little.  Papper’s take, “If you are hiring, you are in control right now.”  He says he sees no pressure to raise salaries any time soon, because the rest of the economy is still not doing well.

So is there a light at the end of the tunnel for journalists, grinding out more content, with less help and less pay?  Papper says yes, because those extra newscasts starting up are putting a strain on more than just you.  Stations are feeling the pinch, and will have to plug the holes, because cutting staff while adding newscasts is not a long term solution.  So where are the “relief” hires?  “That’s exactly what took place in 2011, and (is) substantially taking place in 2012,” according to Papper.  Stations are starting to hire more.  So what can you do to make yourself especially marketable in the meantime?  Keep dabbling in new media.  That will make you stand out, and possibly help you command more cash.  Papper’s closing thought for you and me?  “New media skills, really can help you stay employed.  Part of keeping your job is to move with time.”

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Thank you to Bob Papper. He has put together the salary survey for 19 years.  He is a professor, and chairs the Department of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations at Hofstra University.  He also is a former producer and news manager.

This summer I have had both experienced journalists and soon to be grads asking how to prepare for a job interview.  As great as we journalists are about researching issues, we sometimes fall short when it comes to job interviews.  In fact, several times when I was asked to interview people, I was struck by how little information they seemed to know about the prospective city and the station.  You have to do your homework!  You are providing a first impression of what kind of skills you will provide the station.  If you come across as thinking, “I’m here and my work on my reel stands for itself.” you are letting management know you are not dedicated to research.  Why does this matter?  It makes you look sloppy, self indulgent and therefore a potential liability.  You want to let your potential new bosses know that you are genuinely interested in the area you may soon call home.

So how do you this?  For starters you must catch up on current events in the city where you will interview.  The internet and Twitter are great places to see what’s happening.  Next, watch the station’s newscasts online.  Get a feel for the news philosophy and what skills you might be able to bring to the shows.  If you are a producer, look for ways you could improve the show you are interviewing for.  If you are a reporter, look for the type of perspective that might be missing in the newscasts that you can then offer.  This will also entail researching the news director and Assistant News Director to see what their news philosophies are.  ( See “When the interview really counts” and “Interview the station” for more on how to do that.)  Have some ideas on how you would help cover a local event at the station where you are interviewing.  Be prepared for the question, “So what would you bring to this story today if you worked here.”

It is not uncommon to be given a pop quiz on the movers and shakers in the city where you will interview.  I was given tests like this many times.  Stay current on where you are living also.  ND’s gave me pop quizzes on stories from where I currently lived to make sure I stayed on top of issues even when out of town.

You can also give a sort of pop quiz to the ND.  ND’s especially like to tell you “war stories” while in an interview.  They like to check out your reactions and they are trying to see if they relate to you.  A great way to facilitate a connection is to research the ND and bring up a story he/she once covered and ask for more details.  This also helps you get a moment to catch your breath, while the ND tells you all about covering that event.

Another interesting question you should prepare for:  “What are you reading right now?”  This is trickier than it may seem.  The ND probably doesn’t want to hear about a trashy romance novel.  A super highbrow book may not actually impress either.  Again, the ND wants to see how curious you are as a person.  (Read “Reality check” for more on the reasoning behind this.)  Do you research things besides news?  What subjects are you passionate about?  This not only helps the ND get a feel for you as a person, it also helps him/her figure out if there’s a “beat” available that fits you well.

Finally, be prepared to get a little personal.  I had many deep conversations about “life” with prospective ND’s and GM’s.  They might go there and ask you if your spouse is ok with a move or if you can find a church to get fulfillment.  We’ve talked kids, insecurities that drove us and also about bad decisions made that motivated us to be better.  Covering news is voyeuristic.  It can be intensely personal.  There are a lot of issues that need rational minds to really delve into.  Your ND will do whatever she/he can to see if you are a good fit.  Get ready to get real.  Stay true to who you are.  After all, many journalists give a piece of themselves in every story:  Might as well in the job interview too.

 

There are few things more discouraging than applying for jobs in TV news. You’ve spent the last four years of your college career dreaming of this time. You’ve interned (you better have interned), you’ve watched the news religiously, you’ve practiced reading in front of the mirror. You’re ready to work.

The only real rule these days is that all the “rules” that existed, don’t apply anymore. When the “How To Get A Job In TV News” book was written, social media wasn’t prevalent. E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. have changed the landscape of the job search. Today, I “know” people solely through Twitter. I stay connected to people from my internships through Facebook. My resume and demo was submitted (for both of my jobs so far) via e-mail. Things are much different now than they were even just five years ago, and they’ll continue to change.

There are no rules anymore, but there are some guidelines that may help you, the wide-eyed fresh graduate, navigate the vaguely-charted waters of getting a TV news job in 2012.

One mistake fresh grads often make (I made it), is we apply too early. I sent out dozens of DVDs and resumes months before graduation. I’m a planner. I’m futuristic. I was antsy to bypass my last few months of school and jump into my first job. When people asked me, “What are your plans after you graduate?”, I wanted to tell them about a job I’d secured. I’m no expert, but what I have noticed is that when my station has openings, we wanted to fill them yesterday. If you send in your materials, but haven’t graduated yet, you’re not what we’re looking for right now. This isn’t to say you won’t be thrown into a pile, to consider later; but whatever job you’re applying for during March is not the job you’ll be considered for after you graduate in May.

Another mistake, we apply places we don’t want to live. Bottom line, you work less than half of the day. You will have afternoons and/or evenings, and weekends in your new city. Don’t make it the last place you want to be. If you’re miserable in your personal life, you’ll be miserable at work, and it will seep into your work. You’ll become lazy, complacent, and spend half of your day sifting through job openings. Obviously, your first job will not be your final stop. But if you loathe the Midwest, don’t apply there. Yes, this job is a stepping stone; but if you treat your time there as a temporary inconvenience, you will be miserable. Apply in places you’d like to live, and enjoy your time there. Use this as an opportunity to experience something new, and soak it in. On the flip side, don’t limit your job search to just one region or state. Be open minded, and flexible. If you’re neither open minded, nor flexible, you should probably start looking for a new major. TV news isn’t for you.

Mistake number three is one I made at an internship, so I was able to course correct before it came time for my first job. However, since I’ve been working, we’ve had interns and job applicants who’ve made this same mistake as I did.

Q: Why do you want to get into TV news?

A: I want to be an anchor. I’d also love to host my own talk show.

WRONG ANSWER.  Here’s your new script: “I want to be a reporter.”

Most reporters want to be anchors. Granted, there are some reporters that love reporting, and would turn down an anchor job for a chance to be out in the field, but those reporters are extremely rare. Fact is, most reporters want to be anchors. They like to be seen, which is why they’ve chosen TV as opposed to radio; there’s nothing wrong with that. Chances are good that if you truly want to be an anchor, you’ll have an opportunity at some point, in some capacity during your career. Once you’ve secured a job, you’ll be able to fill in on a weekend, a holiday, or while an anchor takes maternity leave. If you’re good, you’ll be considered for an anchor role when a position opens up. Those opportunities are rare, but they do happen.  Be patient, be available, be willing to work the “bitch shifts” and you’ll get your shot. And don’t assume that because you anchored on Christmas, management automatically know you’re interested in the job. Fill out an internal application, and make it known to your boss that you would like to be considered for the vacant anchor job.

Lastly, don’t get discouraged. If you’re meant to work in TV, you’ll find work. If you’re willing to work (for CHEEEEEAAAAAAP!), willing to learn, and a fast learner you’ll find a job eventually. There are lots of burnt-out people in the business, and energetic, eager blood is always a nice change of pace.

So, get those DVDs burned, make sure your Facebook/Twitter accounts are future employer-friendly, and send out your stuff.

Good luck.

Oh, and please wear a suit during your job interview (sounds basic, but you’d be surprised….)

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Kenny King is a morning anchor for ABC 6 News in the Rochester, Minn. market. He joined the ABC 6 News team in December 2011, following a stint at KSAX Eyewitness News in Alexandria, Minn.
Follow Kenny on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KennyKing4
Friend Kenny on Facebook: www.facebook.com/KennyKingABC6

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