News Directors get all the attention traditionally when it comes to job interviews and station identity.  They set the agenda for the station and have the most connections to help you in the future right?  Not always.  Over the years I have learned that getting along with the assistant news director can be even more important for several reasons.

First it’s a simple matter of exposure.  You will barely see the news director. That person is just too busy any given day.  That means when it comes to review time the person who will weigh in most heavily about you is the assistant news director.  Also, this is the person you will go to first when you want time off, a different shift, have an ethical dilemma, personality conflict issue with a staffer, or are considering asking for a promotion.   If you don’t see eye to eye with the assistant news director your stress level will easily double on the job.

Now, because you spend more time with the assistant news director, you must remember this person is the key influencer about you to the news director.  The AND’s opinion carries a lot of weight.  Yes, news directors can and sometimes do disagree with the AND’s view.  But why risk a potential personality clash with a person that plays such a key role in determining your reputation?

Remember an AND’s reach goes way beyond the newsroom.  Since assistant news directors spend a lot of time recruiting potential employees they are the true networkers for the station.  They are constantly talking with people you want to impress in other markets nationwide.

Assistant news directors are also “in training” most of the time to become NDs.  Very few are happy just to sit in the number two position.  Most are waiting for their big chance to take control of a newsroom.  If you get along with a real up and comer, this person could catapult both of your careers, as much or more than the ND him/herself.

So now that you know what’s at stake, here are some techniques to figure out if you and the assistant ND will get along.

  • Talk news philosophy
  • Ask for the AND’s role models
  • Do a background check

When you interview at a station you always need to figure out the news philosophy.  It is key, and must happen.  (See “Interview the Station” for ways to do this.)   But when you ask questions about news philosophy, you need to really quiz the assistant news director.  Here’s why:  Just because the news director wants a station to go in a certain direction doesn’t mean the assistant news director agrees.  This can be especially true in chronic 2nd, 3rd and 4th place stations.  Often there are philosophical debates raging all the time about what the station’s news philosophy should be.  The assistant news director is usually much more hands on in the day-to-day coverage decisions than the news director.  Time and again I sat in newsrooms where the news director clearly stated one news philosophy, and the assistant news director executed a different news philosophy.  I know that sounds crazy, but it happens A LOT.  You need to make sure you can roll with both news philosophies if that’s the case.  Sometimes you have to try and placate both the ND’s and AND’s expectations on a story.  If the ND starts taking a more hands on approach you need to be able to change your work to reflect that news philosophy.  Same is true if the AND expects a different news philosophy.  If the two of them differ greatly, you need to decide whether you want to walk into a situation where you are constantly caught in the middle and being asked whose side you are on.  You will end up in battles of will between the top two newsroom managers.  You will feel like you cannot win, no matter what you do on any given day.  If you get in this situation, it can be better to execute the AND’s news philosophy because he/she runs day-to-day operations in the newsroom.  You cannot execute that if you don’t know what the AND wants.

Another way to make sure you and the assistant news director will jibe is to talk about your favorite news people during the interview.  Ask who the AND’s mentors are and why.  You will learn a lot about how this person ticks.  Ask if the AND knows some of your favorite journalists and see what the reaction is to those names.  You want a shared connection to start building a relationship if you decide to work with that particular AND.

If you have mutual acquaintances call those people to get more perspective.  Just remember the AND will call also.  Be on your p’s and q’s.  You do not want the mutual acquaintance to say you thought the AND was a jerk, but you are trying to be sure.  If you do not have mutual acquaintances then you really need to contact staffers at the AND’s former stations.  We explain how to do this in The Station Called. The Job’s Yours. Now What?

Remember the AND will be the most influential in your day-to-day existence in a given newsroom.  If you are like oil and water, it will mean you either lose a job or get an ulcer waiting for that AND to move on to greener pastures.

 

A very talented anchor friend of mine recently asked me this question: How do you shop yourself, when you are six months or so out from your contract end date, without ticking off the ND and/or GM?  Is posting my stuff on Collective Talent okay?  Or, is it likely to make the boss start looking for my replacement?

No doubt you have to tread lightly when deciding to shop yourself, especially if you do not have an agent.  My gut instinct was to put your stuff on Collective Talent, MediaLine or MyAirCheck type websites, only if you are pretty sure you are about to be “on the beach.”  But I wanted to be sure, so I contacted former news director turned agent, Micah Johnson with Media Stars Worldwide.  There’s good news job seekers!  His take is:  Your ND and/or GM expects to see you “putting your work out there.”  Why wouldn’t you want to better your situation?  It’s all about leverage.  Two things Micah said to keep in mind before posting on these type of sites though:

1) If your ND wants to keep you, this will speed up the negotiation process.  You will only get 60 to 90 days to hunt for a new job. Then either sign with the current station, or know you will be let go and must find another gig.

2) If you really like your job, and where you are, you will quickly find out if the station likes you as much as you like the station.  If you post and there’s no push to negotiate, management may not be as eager to keep you around as you hoped.  Keep in mind the ND will see your work on these sites.  They routinely check to see who at the station is potentially looking and who’s on the sites from competing stations.

Not doing anything guarantees your ND is going to try and get you at a bargain.  This is important to keep in mind as well.  When your contract is coming up, if you possibly can, you want leverage.  If you do not have an agent, this is riskier.  It is still doable, but you might want to start networking well before the last 6 month mark on your contract.

So how do you network without an agent when you are considering a move?  For starters, head back to Collective Talent, MediaLine and MyAirCheck.  Check where the people with postings are from.  Chances are this talent is at least casually looking, so their job could come open in a place where you would like to live.  Might be a good time to send the ND at that station a link to your work and an email or letter and disc introducing yourself and letting him or her know when you will be available if a job came open.  Do not write that you saw anchor so and so on Collective Talent and you want that job.  That doesn’t look good. Keep it more general.  Wait a couple of weeks, then follow up with an email asking if you can keep in touch and occasionally send links to some of your current work.  Now earlier I referenced sending a disc and letter.  It’s not because I am a dinosaur.  Email is a great route as well, but I like sending hard copies because ND’s get flooded with email.  It can be easy to miss yours.  An assistant will hand deliver that letter.  Sending a letter, then following up with an email gives you the best of both worlds.  Be sure to include a copy of your resume and link to your work when you do the follow up email, just in case the ND did not get the letter.

If you have a dream market, make sure you make multiple connections with those stations.  Do not limit yourself to the ND’s.  Tweet with producers, reporters and anchors in the market.  Like them on Facebook and check in once in a while.  If these people end up feeling connected with you and can mention you to the boss, it makes you both look good.

Now let’s address the idea of job hunting without ticking the current boss off.  Without an agent, this is obviously a more slippery slope. Again, if you really like where you are the key is to be subtle.  You are playing a leverage game.  But agent Micah Johnson told me something else that really stuck in my head.  When I repeatedly asked what to do, in order to not tick off the ND, he said, “I’m shocked you believe it’s an issue.”  He kept repeating that ND’s expect talent to look.  They usually don’t hold it against you.  If you seem to be getting nibbles, this is actually flattering to the ND’s.  It validates their own feelings about your talent and potential.  If the ND or GM is vindictive about it, you probably don’t want to work for this person long term anyway.

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Thank you Micah Johnson for your insight on job searches.  For more of his views on the TV news biz, follow him on Twitter at @TV_Agent.  His agency is Media Stars Worldwide at www.MediaStars.tv.

 

No doubt about it, news directors are often characters.  They are charismatic, intense and usually intimidating.  That means it can be hard to know what you are walking into when it’s time to interview.

When I meet someone in the business, it’s inevitable the conversation will come around to: Who I worked for and what some of the job interviews with those people were like.  In fact, I had a conversation like this just the other day.  These stories are often humorous, sometimes shocking, and always enlightening about news director’s and general manager’s personality types.  So let’s delve into some of these personality types, so you don’t suddenly think you have entered the twilight zone.

Ego maniac

First, the ego maniac.  These are the ND’s that everyone seems to have heard of, and has an opinion, about in the biz.  Many are GM’s who had been legendary ND’s.  One thing is for sure, you will sit during the interview and hear a bunch of stories about how awesome this person is and all the amazing things he/she has done in the business.  You start to feel like maybe the ND or GM is convincing you that you should work for him/her.  There are several things to keep in mind when you are interviewing with this personality type.

  • Stay engaged
  • Do not appear overly impressed
  • Do not interrupt stories with how you are like this person

Because these interviews come with a million “I remember when” stories, it can be easy to drift off into la la land or start to panic and think: “I can’t compare to some of this stuff.”  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be on the same level.  You just have to really listen and throw in a question or two when the interviewer comes up for air.  This person is trying to see how passionate you are about the business and if you find him/her engaging.  So stay engaged.

Do not go on and on about how amazing these stories are.  Smile a lot and occasionally say “wow,” or “impressive.” Gushing about how amazing the ego maniac is actually hurts you. This is the kind of person you want to keep slightly off guard, so he/she feels compelled to try and figure you out.  Like we said in “Interview the station,” it is good to play a little hard to get in interviews.  You want to remain a little mysterious, by not seeming overly impressed with all the stories.

Do not interrupt the stories to showcase how you are like this person.  This is really hard to do because the stories can drone on and on.  This doesn’t mean that you should not tell your own stories and engage in conversation.  It does mean you need to wait until the ND or GM is done with his or her story.  Then if you have an interesting story to keep the conversation going, tell it.  If you don’t have a story, ask a question about the ND or GM’s news philosophy and try and mine some valuable information for you to judge the person before the next “I am so great because” story begins.  The key point here is to not interrupt the ego maniac.  The person will be very offended, which will ruin it for you.  And remember, some ego maniacs are brilliant and worth working for.  Just know they can be tough to deal with.  Expectations are often very high.  You have to live up to their ego.

The loyalty tester

Now let’s talk about the ND with loyalty issues.  These managers can come across as combative and rude in interviews. But, if you prove your loyalty they can be real gems to work with.  It is ideal to know if the ND or GM has loyalty issues before the interview.  That requires doing your homework ( Read “The station called”) which frankly you should always do anyway.  First this personality type will bring up stories where someone was loyal and when someone was not loyal.  Listen closely. These are a warning.  If you cannot be loyal and be a real team player, this is not someone you want to work for.  Do not say anything negative about anyplace you worked, or anyone you worked with.  If you don’t like someone the ND brings up, just smile and say: “Yes I know so and so.”  This is why:  The ND or GM could suddenly call the person you both know, right then, right in front of you to talk about you.  If you just trashed the person, you will be sweating buckets.  The key here is to stay calm and not worry what the other person says.  This is a tactic to see if you ever appear disloyal.  The ND may secretly think the person he/she is calling is a moron.  Remember, loyalty has a high cost.  If you take a job with this person, no standing in the parking lot with coworkers trashing the ND for a dumb decision, even if you got royally screwed!   No coming into the ND or GM’s office furious about a tight spot you were put in.  By working for this person, you are agreeing to be the loyal soldier no matter what.  I had one ND put me in absolutely horrible positions, including one where half the newsroom thought I was spying on and documenting incidents I didn’t even know about.  I had every right to really pitch a fit and demand an apology.  I took several hard hits for the team and won a very loyal ally in my ND.  He did show me great respect later.  I know this person will always go to bat for me because I showed respect for him and the news business.

Beware the bully boss

This is where the whole twilight zone reference in the article title really comes in.  I have been interviewed by many bully bosses.  I’ve been yelled at over an opinion I gave.  I had one GM ask me who I thought I was even walking into his office with “such a crappy resume.”  I remember sitting there thinking: “Why did you fly me to the station then?” Guess what.  That’s what I asked him.  I leaned forward in my chair and threw it right back.  He said: “I’d be crazy to hire you.” I said, “You were crazy enough to fly me here, why are you wasting my time?  What do you your comments tell me about you?”  I got the job and a lot of money to do it.  You have to stand up to a bully, especially during a job interview or you are toast.  In my opinion, I would stand up to a bully even if I was thinking:  “There’s no way in hell I will ever work for this person!”  This is a small business.  Remember the beginning of this article.  When you meet new news people you talk about who you know, who you worked for and who you interviewed with.  This bully will remember you.  Most bullies like moxie.  If you stand up to him/her they often will actually say you would be a good hire, even if you turn him/her down.  As far as working for an obvious bully boss, that is a highly personal decision. In my case this bully provided me an incredible opportunity to grow my skills immeasurably.  But it did take a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

The happy go lucky

These type B seeming ND’s and GM’s can be really hard to see in a true light.  They are charming, witty and you hate it when the interview is over.  You pray this person calls to hire you.  When you interview with this type, enjoy the stories and enjoy feeling on top of the world with this calm person.  But, remember, no one gets high up without some sort of hard edge.  This person can, and does, make tough decisions about layoffs and firings.  This person will have high expectations, despite seeming so laid back.  You are not necessarily any safer working for the happy go lucky than you are the bully.  In fact, the happy go lucky may catch you more off guard if the boom comes, because it can be much harder to see it coming.

The charmer

I worked for several charmers.  Again, they came into the room and you were mesmerized.  People just love working for the charmer. Morale seems high when you walk through the newsroom.  The charmer can be a wonderful boss.  When you interview, do not try and out charm them.  Just enjoy the stories and share a few witty stories of your own. Your stories will be appreciated.  Just know that getting fired or demoted by a charmer can be a real ego buster.  It just hurts more.  You feel like you really let an incredible person down.

Straight Shooter

The straight shooter is all business, all the time.  You try and throw in a joke or a charming story and the ND or GM just stares at you.  You ask philosophy questions and get one line explanations or sometimes blank stares followed by “well how would you handle that if you are hired.” The straight shooter can be unnerving during an interview.  You often leave and wonder: “What the hell just happened?”  Did you impress or let the person down?  Often these interviews are lightning fast.  You feel like you didn’t get to know the ND or GM at all.  In these cases see what you think of the AND and/or EP.  The straight shooter will not spend a lot of time with you during the interview or working for them.  But the straight shooter will be fair and you will likely know where you stand.  If you are looking for a boss to learn from, the AND and/or EP will be more likely candidates.  Judge whether to take the job even more based on them.

Now one final thought.  No matter what you see in a job interview, it may never top this story.  I know a reporter who interviewed with an ND who kept falling asleep.  The reporter obviously felt like he had entered the twilight zone for real.  The reporter didn’t get the job, and for years he thought he bored the ND to sleep!  Turns out the ND had narcolepsy.  When the reporter found out years later he was so relieved.  I reminded myself of this story for years whenever I was headed to an interview.  You just don’t know what you are up against.  A strange interview may have nothing to do with what you said or did, it may just be that you entered the news director twilight zone!

 

We promise this situation will happen to you. It happened to us at several stations, in small to large markets.  General Manager walks into an editorial meeting and says “So what are we doing to cover such and such, ( fill-in the blank, new road widening project,  special session by legislature,  tax incentive package for a new industry in town etc.) since our viewers the tax payers are getting screwed.”  The news director gives a blank look followed by the lifted eyebrow smirk, then stares at you, “So how will you cover that story today?”

If this happens, say you are going to make some calls and get out of the room pronto.  Better yet, grab your photog and get out of the building while you make those calls! Why?  You do not want the GM to start going off on specific players and agendas for the story.  You do not want specifics on how this story should be told, and exactly what the tease will say.  That way, if it is the GM skimming headlines and misinterpreting reality, you won’t end up having to tell him/her.  Without specifics chances are you can find some small nugget to package.

Next, call the newsroom mega brain.  You know, the walking, talking, human factoid! This person can save you hours of stress and research.  Do the necessary ego stroke and get the person to give you background information on this subject.  You need time to work sources for a backup in case the story falls apart.  The “human factoid” usually can at least provide the name and number for a player in town who will give you insight on whether the GM’s “news” really is “news.”

Do your thing, work it and try to find an interesting character or bit of video to showcase so you can get by.  If there’s just nothing to the story give the basics, then try and include a little subtle perspective in your anchor intro or  tag.  Managers tend to play in that copy more anyway.  This way, if the story is taken out of context and the GM gets a call, it will more likely become management’s problem instead of the reporter’s failing.

If you cannot find a nugget to package, and there’s simply nothing to the story, offer to write a vo or vo/sot and let your manager know early.  That gives management time to derail the GM situation well before the newscast airs.  It helps if you can offer an interesting alternative story the manager can have you churn out instead.  Sometimes management will then take the GM “news” burden off of you and have an anchor front it somewhere cool on set. You are off the hook, and the GM still feels heard without the station blowing a weak story out of proportion.

If you are told to package a story and say certain things in a tease you don’t like, try and do a subtle rewrite.  Also, know this happens to everyone from time to time.  Chances are your credibility is not ruined.  Those in the know in town realize you got stuck “being the good soldier.”

 

Newsrooms are notorious for hazing.  It happens often in larger markets, but we’ve seen it in small markets too.  You have to prove to coworkers that you deserve the job.  You don’t truly have friends in the workplace. Everyone is out for themselves.  Why?  Because so many people are quitting the biz, less experienced people are being hired.  Some veterans in the newsroom, find this tiring and insulting.  I started in a large market right away and quickly wound up in another big city.  The hazing was awful.  I was asked if I slept with the news director to get my job.  I had reporters and anchors purposely rewrite copy to insert factual and grammatical errors to try and get rid of me.  One anchor even told me and several other producers it was his “God given right” to torture and make me cry.  He had the cry test and graded you on how long it took before you broke down.  People hide your gear, steal your rolodex, sit on the set during commercials and laugh at your news copy.  Coworkers don’t want to carry dead weight.  Many times fellow journalists will decide you are a moron unless you prove your worth, and quickly.  So do it.  Here’s how.

The number 1 rule:  Don’t involve management.  Management doesn’t care.  Period.  There are too many other things they have to take care of.

However, you should take the reigns and show the hazers you are not the patsy they think you are.  That starts with exposing dirty tricks.  The best place to start is befriending the IT person in the newsroom.  You know, the person who knows all the ins and outs of the computer system you use each day.  This person can save you.  News programs like AP Newscenter, ENPS and iNews have ways to call up past scripts and show who wrote each and every version.  This will give you a chance to document and show proof  if an anchor or associate producer is rewriting copy and putting in fact errors which they blame on you.   In some systems you even can lock a script so no one else can rewrite and put in fact errors or change the context of the story once your executive producer copy edits it.  Ask for this ability and you may receive.  Chances are your executive producer will play ball because you will then have documentation the EP can use to get some staffers to shape up.

You can also often find instant messages from all the computers every day.  Yep, all those annoying, petty and smarmy comments binging and dinging around you can be a click or two away.  Print them and hand them over to management.  This can get tricky because management won’t like you digging through the system.  But if it is in a forum where everyone could potentially have access they can yell at you and send a fiery memo saying don’t go there, but you won’t be fired.  Once the nasty top lines are exposed many newsroom bullies shut up or at least save it for the parking lot after work.  How’s that for investigative journalism?  Even more fun:  dump copies of the nasty top lines under the news director’s door anonymously so even he/she has to wonder who’s watching.

Also remember, many staffers who bully love to dish in the studio.  They think it’s a secret hideout.  Newsflash:  Mics are everywhere.  It’s easy to “accidentally” turn one on, hear and record the petty comments.  The studio is the one place where there truly should never be any expectation of privacy.  That’s not what the room is for.   The picked on should wander through the studio to “plot out a section of the rundown” right when a gossip session is underway.  Then, smile as if you are going to dish it all.   Another move is to “accidentally”  have the mics kept live during a commercial break when there’s an anchor who loves to trash everyone in those breaks.   Normally, when the nasty hazers get caught once or twice, they’ll back off.

What if the hazer likes to get in your face and yell at you in the middle of the newsroom?  This one is easy.  Just ignore the person.  Sit back in your chair, with your hands behind your head, gaze up at the lunatic putting on the show and wait until they either explode into pieces before your eyes or finally shut up.  Then as the hazer stares at you indignantly, simply ask: “Are you done?”  Then just  go back to work like nothing happened.  This will drive the bully nuts.  If that hazer really pushes it, follow up with, “You can say what you want about me because bottom line, I’m not the one who just had an unholy hissy fit in the middle of the newsroom.  You can’t expect your actions to prove you have anything worthy to say to anyone.”  Then get back to your work.

Lastly, sometimes you just have to fight fire with fire and stand up to the hazer. I once told an anchor who said I was “too young to write for her” that it’s not my fault she couldn’t handle that someone so much younger was just as capable of working in the same city and on the same shift as her.  She told me she’d have me fired.  I told her I had proof that she was purposely rewriting copy with errors and printing them to try and prove me incompetent.  I asked her if she would like to come with me to turn those documents into the news director so she could try and explain it, or would she prefer the news director to mull the evidence over before calling her in for a chat.  She backed off.  Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you stand up to a hazer as well.

 

We told you how to interview the station.  Now let’s lay out how to identify a truly cool shop.  Here are some clear ways to discover if the place you’re considering is a place where you would want to work.

Sit in the newsroom and watch how the staff interacts with each other.  Are people smiling?  Do you see some good natured joking around?  You should look for a management team that encourages staffers to work together instead of competing against each other.  Another way to tell if everyone’s there to work together is to attend a debrief after a show.  Do people take ownership of any mistakes and work through the issues together?

Most good shops give you a writing test or quiz you on ethical situations in a conversational way.  Then the manager lays out situations for you to problem solve together.

The best shop we ever worked in had a system in place to train and help everyone get better.  When we say “train”, we’re not talking about about giving newbies a chance to sit with a veteran reporter, photog, or producer for a day.   Mentoring systems were in place for all skill levels.  Veterans were sent to workshops to build skills for future jobs, like management.  There also was a review system that was used more than 1 time a year to help you goal set,  both short and long term, so the job was not monotonous.   There also tends to be a certain progression.  Staffers start on weekend or morning shifts but move up to other day parts.  Find out if this is the case in the shop you’re checking out.

A huge sign that this is an awesome shop:  the same management team has been in place for years and at least one of those managers worked up from a regular staff position.  Again, this shows teamwork is fostered and that people can grow as much as they want without having to move to a new city every few years for another opportunity.  Usually, in awesome newsrooms, you will meet a staffer that left the station and then came back.  That person will talk about how he/she learned that there were more opportunities at the shop and then returned there.

During your interview managers will ask you what you think of the place.  What would you like to do to be part of the staff?  How can management help you get wins at your job each day?  These are signs the managers get it and will do what they can to help you succeed and grow.  Happy employees who grow in their jobs are a key part of a successful newsroom.

Awesome shops often set up lunches with staff members on the shift on which you would work.  This shows that the station strongly believes in teamwork and is looking to see if your personality fits the group.  Often staffers are then called in to give their opinion of you.  You want this situation.  It increases your chances of finding that great fit we all dream about.

Often, really good shops are known regionally and sometimes even nationally for being coveted places to work.  Others in the business will know of these stations.   If you get a call from one of these stations, jump on it even if the work hours are not ideal.  Others will be eager to take your place and it could be worth making the sacrifice and working your way up.

Another interesting trend we found, one of the star anchors at the station will at least seem very down to earth and do some mentoring.  That person really leads by example and sets the tone for the newsroom even when management does have to come down hard.

Lastly, most of these stations are long time, powerhouse number ones in the ratings.  Notice we said most of the time.  With the introduction of people meters this is changing a bit.  So, if the station has a long standing good reputation, but numbers have fallen a bit in recent years, still give the place a chance to impress you in an interview.  This could be a small hiccup and the place is still worth your time.

 

 

 

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