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.

 

 

 

This is the best advice we ever got.  An EP in a large market where we worked told us to watch and critique our own work consistently.  Sounds nuts, you already saw the package or newscast, right?  Not really.  You will be amazed at what you pick up looking at the work later on.

Practice makes perfect.  In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell explains the 10,000 hour rule.  Researchers have found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to perfect a skill.  So how does this apply to watching yourself?  It’s another chance to practice.  You relive the event and the elements you had available when you critique your own work.

You can also pick up on your own weaknesses, then work around them.  Often you will see phrases or techniques you rely on too heavily, that can make your work seem stale and sometimes even goofy.  You become a viewer and notice things that are not obvious when you are slamming on deadline.  If you are on air talent, you will see hand or facial gestures that are difficult to watch.  Play with your pen on set perhaps?  Slouch during live shots?  Chances are no one around will let you know if you do these things.  Often in news, you can be fired for poor performance without ever being told to change simple fixable things.

Newsrooms are short staffed and disorganized.  Most managers do not sit down and write notes about the newscasts regularly.  Usually they only watch a newscast or reporter consistently just before the annual review writing period.  So you are getting critiques once a year based on very little viewing of your work.  Many shops have given up post-newscast meetings so you don’t get daily critiques of your work.  If you want to get better, you have to do it yourself.  Watching your own work is a great way to do this. 

So what should you look for when watching your own work?  As mentioned above, look for overused phrases, and strange gestures.  If you are a photojournalist, do you mix up shots enough?  Too many cover shots?  Is your pacing good?  Reporters, do you always start nats/copy/bite/bite/copy/nats?  You might notice that you need to mix it up a little.  Producers, are you using the same techniques too often?  Things like plays on words and nat sound in teases so often that they are predictable?  Everyone needs to look at use of nat sound.  Remember, you write for the ear.  Listen to your work with your eyes shut.  Does it make sense?  Anchors, do you read stories the same way all the time?  Do your facial gestures change based on tone of the story?  As you watch for these things you will pick up on other ways to improve your work.

This is where critiquing your work can help you change your career.  Most of us have a dream place where we want to work.  Watch newscasts from that station online, then try and tailor some of your work to that place.  If you can alter your style to fit in with a certain station you can get a leg up when a job comes open.  Remember, you just need enough for a killer video resume.  By self-critiquing, you are able to see how to adjust your style.  You figure out what your best techniques are and then you play them up to your advantage.

 

So you got the big call. The news director throws a few compliments, says he/she needed you there yesterday, then offers so-so money.  How do you react?  Be polite.  Don’t sound excited.  Say you have to think about it.  In other words make the news director sweat just a little bit. Why?  You want to eek out as much money as you can and this is your last chance to see if there is any wiggle room.  Remember if you don’t get the money when you first walk in the door, the odds are about as good as playing the lottery that you will ever “see the money” in that shop.  Eek out as much as you can immediately.  The other reason to not jump for joy is to see how the news director acts towards you.  Remember, be polite.  Say you feel complimented.  Just don’t say yes right away.  Play a little hard to get.  If the news director starts firing off that 10 other people are dying to be in your shoes right now and you better make up your mind fast, you know this person is will be hard to deal with and you should probably turn the job down.  If the news director says take some time and think about it (usually that’s a day, maybe two) he/she knows this is a big decision, the odds are higher you really will be working for someone reasonable.

Then, before you decide to take the job, research two things:  The management team and the cost of living where you might move.

Do Google searches and find out where this news director worked before.  You want to find out as much as possible about the news director and assistant news director.  Cold call old TV stations if you must and ask for people who worked under these managers.  If you are told the person is amazing, demand to know the bad things.  You need to figure out if you can handle this person’s quirks.  News directors and A.N.D.’s can quickly make or break you.  Don’t trust that they checked you out and know you will click.  He/she is overworked, overstressed and mostly interested in getting through each day without being eaten alive.  Your personality means little to nothing.  Filling the job means one less headache for management.

Next, if you haven’t already, research the heck out of the cost of living in this particular city.  Check out various cost of living calculators online, like the one at Monster.com (http://monster.salary.com/costoflivingwizard/layoutscripts/coll_start.asp).  Better yet, get online and read the local newspaper.  Find out the average cost of renting an apartment by looking at the classifieds and take a look at the grocery store flyers to try and gauge the cost of food.  It can vary wildly and may make a huge difference to your bottom line.  Also, call your car insurance company and find out what rates would be like in that city.  You need to make sure that raise you think you are getting will really be there once you factor in these things.  If you live in the south and are considering heading north, check out tax rates.  One place we lived had state income taxes, county income taxes and city income taxes.  A nearly 30 thousand dollar jump didn’t look so glamorous after that was factored in.  You can use this information to try and eek out more money.  Even if you end up getting only a little more, every bit helps.

 

 

This can be hard to admit, but it happens to everyone.  Cold sweats, waking up dreaming of your live shot or newscast crashing are all part of the gig.  Getting chewed because you cannot complete all of your work happens, especially with more stations lumping on extra packages or making people one man band.

Now let’s talk survival skills.  First, understand there is little to no training in newsrooms anymore.  It simply does not happen in the majority of cases.  Every shop is understaffed and half the workers are also in over their heads.  Many managers are drowning and lost too.  By the way, this is supposed to make you feel better.  That’s because these journalists are surviving and so will you.

Here’s what to do.  Find the go to person who gets the work done every day with little trouble and become a buddy.  Find out how the person does it and figure out how to do it yourself.  If you don’t feel comfortable simply asking, then hook up with others in the know.  For example, if it’s a reporter who you’re trying to figure out, request to work with that person’s favorite photographer. Then pick the photog’s brain.  Look online at the reporter’s past stories and look for patterns.  If a producer is your target, ask the newscast director what this person does to make script printing deadline or create killer teases.  Let’s say your writing stinks.  Don’t worry, this is common.  Figure out who the best writer is in the shop.  It’s easy to do.  Just listen to the anchors dish with each other, you will learn who it is quickly.  Once you do, start printing out this person’s scripts and look for common threads.  Then you can mimic the style.

There also is usually a manager that stays very calm in crisis.  That person will often give you advice if you just sit down and ask.  Managers are not all out to get you.  Replacing staff all the time is a pain and most would prefer not to deal with it.  It’s easier for them to do some training.  But you need to ask the right manager.  The news director is next to never the smart choice.  Often it is an executive producer or managing editor.  They are still in the trenches so they can still relate to what you are struggling with.  Once you identify the right person, ask for a critique of your work.  The manager will probably be thrilled you actually want to improve and talk your ear off.  They also tend to dish about their favorites in the shop.  Now you have a new set of names to watch and mimic.  Best of all, you will gain an advocate in management because you are not whining about how hard the job is, you are asking to grow.

 

If you haven’t already, you will eventually work for a “screamer” in television news.  It’s just a simple fact of life in the biz.  But that simplicity of fact does not mean reacting to it is simple.  Screamers are alarming, and not just for the ear.  It means the person loses control in key situations; very troublesome when this is the person who decides your fate.  The good news is that the screamer’s boss probably is aware of the temper tantrums and hopefully takes them and any tirades about staffers with a grain.  The bad news:  The screamer is usually not forced to calm it.  So the verbal abuse keeps on coming.

There is an effective way to protect your ears and your ego.  The more the screamer lets loose, the calmer you need to be.  You need to consistently do this, during public and private tirades.  Screamers expect to unnerve you.  It is a control technique for bullies.  If you want the person off your back, don’t indulge it.  Sit down, look slightly above the screamers head and watch him or her pitch a fit.  Whatever you do, do not speak.  The screamer is not interested in anything you have to say.  The screamer needs to get rid of pent up stress.  Once the screamer is done, say “okay I will keep that in mind.”  Then go back to work.

Sometimes the screamer will follow you and start up again with insults or questions like “did you hear anything I said.” Say “yes” to the question and ignore the insults.  Later, once the screamer is calmer, you might be called into that person’s office.  Hopefully this is when you can get some constructive criticism and explain any extenuating circumstances.  But if the screamer has a particularly insecure ego, you will not hear about the incident again.

This does make it harder to learn what “old yeller” wants.  You can still listen to the rants and try and decipher the point.  Just do not lower yourself to the standard of the screamer.  You need to keep your cool.  That can help you if things get really out of hand and you end up in human resources.  You also would prefer the tantrums happen in public even if it is humiliating at the time.   Witnesses can say it was the manager who lost control, not you.

Finally, no matter how tired you are at the end of the day, document the inappropriate conversation with the screamer as well as any follow ups.  Include the time of day and a witness list in your notes.  Remember human resources must have patterns and documentation.  If you end up in trouble, you can use these tantrums to buy time and demand a formal critique of your work in writing.  Your case:  How could you be expected to know what to do with the manager screaming at you incessantly?  There is a case to be made and, again, you have to be able to show a pattern of verbal abuse.

Now the caveat for your efforts:  The screamer will become disarmed at your calm response.  The screamer will end up noticing how out of line he or she is getting.  This will throw the person off and you will take control of the relationship.  After a few attempts at rattling you, the screamer will usually learn that you are tough skinned and probably not someone to mess with.  You will probably be left alone.   In some cases you will even become the screamer’s confidant.  We have seen news managers develop a strange need to then constantly impress and please the employee that cannot be unnerved.  You might even end up with better assignments.  There is always another sucker on staff that will scream back or cry.  The screamer will usually become focused on that person.

 

We have seen some incredible talent get burned by making the wrong choice.  First let’s spell out why human resources really exists.  Headline:  It is not for employees.  Human resources is designed to keep management from being sued.  It oversees hiring, annual reviews and station policies to make sure the company is protected.  This knowledge is key.

If you are being harassed by a co-worker, you need to be able to make a clear case.  If management is after you, human resources is helping the effort.  However, human resources does still give you options.  You just need to play your cards right because the deck is stacked against the individual worker.  If you complain as a group, there can be safety in numbers and strength in message.  This is hard to understand for many workers, however, it is the simple truth.  Also you should never go to human resources before speaking with your direct managers.   This will burn you because you are not going through the chain of command and giving management a chance to fix the problem.  The only exception would be if your reason for seeking help is a problem with the news director.

So when do you go to human resources?  The answer is usually in your employee handbook.  When station policies are clearly being violated you have the right to complain.   This often involves a manager that is out and out ignoring written policies, like approval of vacation time or denying sick time despite having sick notes or other required documentation.  This means you must have a paper trail.  Written proof of one incident is usually not enough.  You must be able to show a pattern.  Again, the best bet is if several people have similar documentation and it’s all turned it in over a short period.

Now let’s say your job is being threatened.  Complaints to human resources might buy you time.  Again though, you must have documentation.  Let’s say management is complaining you don’t always come to work.  If it’s because a manager keeps changing your schedule and doesn’t inform you, that could buy you time.  So, in this example, copies of the schedules and the changes that caused the issue could go a long way toward protecting you.  Also, check your employee handbook.  Usually you must be given written notice of schedule changes.  If you are told there are issues with your job performance, take a look at your annual reviews.  If you have several past reviews that are strong and one that is weak, you may be able to buy some time.  Request that management give you an action plan to improve your performance.  Then follow up with human resources if management fails to give you such a plan.

Human resources can also be a direct link to the general manager.  Weigh this knowledge carefully.  If you just hate a manager and want to bring the person down, a complaint to human resources is a serious gamble.  You need clear cut proof the manager is not following corporate or station policy.  You also need several others who can corroborate your complaint.  If there are clear cut problems though and a group of people are willing to stand up, your chances of getting help are much better.  Notice we said help.  Do not expect a manager to get fired.  What you might see is policy change or disciplinary action.  In one case we saw a news director forced to seek anger management training.  No firing however.  Still it did help calm the waters in the newsroom.  But you must also realize that this process does not always happen in a vacuum.  Here’s one final note to think about:  That particular news director may have actually been told who complained.  So, think hard if you want your boss to know you complained about them later on down the line, when layoffs or other changes are needed.

 

 

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