The Demo Reel Dilemma

Job Interviewing, Picking A Shop, Reporting Comments Off on The Demo Reel Dilemma
Jul 232014

Two seconds. That’s my personal news director record for the least amount of time viewing a reporter applicant’s demo reel. “That’s not fair,” you say! Well, trust me, the guy had NO business applying for any TV job, let alone a reporting spot in a top 15 market.

Then there was the reporter candidate who decided to start his resume reel with a boring 3-minute package. Seriously, what was he thinking? Didn’t anyone tell these people a news director has the attention span of a 5th grader? Didn’t someone warn them that a TV boss gets hundreds of demo reels for one reporting or anchoring job?

That brings me to my point: getting someone to click, then watch, then be impressed with your demo reel is not easy. It’s tougher than ever. Too many emails. Not enough hours in the day. Too many people sending bad material. So the reel, I mean real, dilemma is this: what can you do to up your odds?

I can’t speak for all news directors, but for me (and many that I know) the best advice would be don’t overthink this! You need to showcase your best work, and do it quickly. Start with a montage of your best standups, live shots and anchor clips. About a minute-long montage is fine. Anything longer than about 1:30 starts getting very repetitive. And some talent think they have to show an entire standup. That’s wrong! You want your montage to be fast-paced. Let the ND see you in different situations—on the desk (if you anchor), in an active live shot, doing a creative standup, answering a question from an anchor, etc. Quick clips. Some may be full standups, others may be chopped for time. Also try to include a variety of stories—hard news balanced with some lighter moments so we can see your smile or hear your laugh. The key is to put your very best material at the top of that montage. If a news director sees marginal quality at the top (including bad lighting or audio), he or she will click the stop button within 30 seconds.

After your montage, pick a great package or two to show. But again, make it your best work—is it an example of excellent breaking news coverage? An enterprise piece you did? A very good sweeps story? If it’s a pkg on the shooting-of-the-day with a cop bite and a neighbor who looks like he’s on dope, don’t include it! Be highly critical of what you’re including on your reel. Check everything—spellings on your supers, lighting, audio, editing.

And finally, wrap up your reel with other content. For example, you could show more of your anchoring with longer clips. Or a full live shot if it’s something you’re really proud of. Or maybe you want to end with that 3 minute sweeps story you did. Just remember, most NDs won’t watch more than a few minutes of your reel unless you’ve caught their attention at the top, they like what they see so far, and they want to check out more of your work in-depth. Total time for your reel? 5-8 minutes is plenty.

Lots of anchors and reporters also ask whether they should have one reel or two, if they do double duty (such as weekend weather anchor who reports 3 days a week). There’s no black and white answer—I’d like to see one reel where you show me how versatile you are (multi-skilled = more chances in today’s TV job world). “Wow, she reports and anchors and even does weather!” But you may also want to create separate reels so you can apply for specific jobs. A weather reel for weather-only jobs and a combo reel for other opportunities.

Do what feels right to you, but remember, YOU have to be your toughest critic. Watch your edited reel and pick it apart, then have a trusted TV co-worker or friend watch it and give you honest advice. Make sure the top of that resume reel is your best stuff. The goal is for that news director to watch the first 30 seconds and then say “Hmm, I like this person… let’s watch a little more.”

Steve Kraycik is a Talent Agent with MediaStars. He has 29 years of TV news experience and spent a decade as a news director in top 20 markets. He’s also the Dir. Of Student Television at Penn State University. You can follow him on Twitter @TV_Agent_Steve.

“Technical Difficulties”: A Sideways Live Shot Survival Guide

Honing Skills, Reporting, Survival Kit Comments Off on “Technical Difficulties”: A Sideways Live Shot Survival Guide
Jun 122014

Recently a reporter emailed “Survive” for advice on how to learn to ad lib while in the field. The main concern, how to get around technical problems.  So I asked a veteran reporter for advice.  Here goes…

History is filled with quotes about the importance of preparation from very brilliant, very famous people. One of my favorites comes from a B or maybe even C-level actor named Richard Kline. (Best known as “Larry” the neighbor on “Three’s Company”) Kline says, “Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.” I like this one because it is perfect for live shots. If you are prepared, you should and will be confident. If there is one constant in live shots (as in much of life) it’s that something will inevitably get sideways at the worst possible moment. That moment is simply beyond your control so don’t sweat it. Just be as prepared as possible and chances are pretty good you will be able to get through it when something goes squirrelly.

In order to learn to tap dance your way through a sideways live shot, you first have to have the basics of doing a live shot down pat. I still remember the first time I knew I was going to do a live shot at my first real reporting job. I went to an experienced friend in the newsroom and asked for some advice. The advice they gave me was very basic and perfect! Best advice I’ve ever been given in my career actually. Do not script your live shot word-for-word. Let me say that again: Do NOT script out your live shots. If you script your live shot you will have to memorize it. This is a recipe for disaster! Ask anyone who’s done any acting what happens when you miss just one word in your lines. The answer: It generally throws everything off from that point on. Additionally, when you memorize a bunch of lines they are just that: A bunch of lines. You do not have near as much comprehension of what they mean. It’s just a bunch of words floating around in your brain waiting to come streaming out. Once they are out, so are the meanings behind them. More on retaining meaning in a moment.

First, here’s the key to basic live shots. Rather than memorizing a script, write bullet points. Each one should have a word or three for each key thought you’re going to present. Each of those bullet points acts as a memory trigger for the information you are imparting in your shot. You can then glance down at each bullet point and be easily guided through. You will also find that your comprehension of the subject matter increases too. You will not only have smoother live shots but also retain the meaning more.

Start trying the bullet point trick today. Do it every time you are out live. It will quickly become a natural way to do your shots. Eventually, you will depend on those bullet points less and less. Your live shots will also get smoother and smoother.

No matter how smooth you become on your basic live shots, at some point something will go wrong that you cannot control. A package will not run correctly; the wrong package will run; the video server will crash. If it can happen, it will. So how do you “prepare” for this? Try making some extra bullet points that sum up the package. Keep it on the next page in your reporter’s notebook after your life shot bullet points. Don’t try to quote the sound bites in the package though. Use your bullet points to help you paraphrase one or two of those bites. Do this and then if something goes wrong you have somewhere to go. Just pause briefly then look up at the camera and cooly say something like: “We’re having a little trouble with that story. But here’s what you need to know.” Then run through a few of those bullet points, sig out and toss back to your anchors. Don’t make it overly complicated. Keep it simple and smooth. Better to keep it short and clean than try to get everything in that was in your package and muck it up. Most of the time when something like this happens, viewers know something went wrong technically. They do understand and will forgive as long as you don’t compound the problem by stammering on and looking unprepared.

One quick aside. When something goes wrong do not refer to your story as a “package” or a “VO/SOT” or talk about “sound bites.” These are the terms WE use in the industry. Viewers do not talk like this and do not know what these terms mean. It will confuse them and then you have lost the battle.

Legendary writer Ernest Hemingway once said: “Courage is grace under pressure.” Use these tips to sharpen your basic live shot skills, then when the pressure is really on, you will come off looking courageous indeed!

For more advice on how to ad-lib read “Art of Ad-lib” written by veteran anchor, Cameron Harper.

Wait, you want me to story tell when I cover what?

Know Your Newsroom, Reporting Comments Off on Wait, you want me to story tell when I cover what?
Mar 262014

Roman poet Phaedrus once said: “Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many.”  So why am I quoting a man who was born in 15 BC in an article about 21st century TV news?  Because the central idea of the quote often plays a part in what we are asked to do.

How many times have you heard a news manager lament that reporters need to do more storytelling with the packages they produce?  And then how times have you heard those same managers send crews on stories that are not “TV friendly” and seem to have no opportunity for storytelling.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  These are the stories that have zero visuals, zero interesting nat sound and seemingly zero opportunity to “story tell.”  Most of us hate them.  But by the same token, most of us have to cover them from time to time.  So what do you do?  Do you just curse those managers who send you on these stories and then “mail it in” by turning a TV news “report” rather than a piece of storytelling?  I certainly hope not for a couple of reasons.  First, you should always have more personal pride in the work you put your name on than to do that.  Second, you can almost always do some storytelling no matter what kind of dog of a story you are assigned.

I can hear the groans and grumbles right now!  Stop cursing at your computer (i.e. – me!) for just a minute and open your mind and I will show you how to do it.  It’s pretty simple really.  One little word is all you need to remember: Writing  Yep, it’s all in **how** you write that package.  Earlier I threw out the term TV news “report.”  A “report” is a bunch of facts and words put into a package with little or no cohesive narrative and no relation to the video on screen.  It’s boring television and should never be what you aspire to produce.  “Storytelling” on the other hand is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s telling a “story.”  Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.  They also have characters.  In TV news a “story” also, ideally, has great visuals and nat sound.  (Remember, the beauty of TV news is in blending visuals, sound and words in a way that makes the viewer feel as if they as “there” where the story is happening.)  Sometimes those elements are all there, sometimes they are not.

So, what do you do when they are not there?  Let’s talk about it.  One of the most common retorts I get when I say “You can story tell with just about any assignment you get.” is “What about when we get sent to a boring meeting?”  Again, it’s all in the writing.  Suppose you are told to package a government council or commission meeting where they are going to be talking about some sort of tax hike.  You get there and it’s immediately apparent that there are not going to be any fireworks from the assembled crowd… but you still have to package it.  You can still tell a “story.”  First, figure out who the main person involved in the tax hike issue is gonna be.  Make that person your first “character” and center the piece around them.  If there is someone, anyone, there that has an opposing view, make them the “antagonist” in your piece.  Voila!  You now have the beginnings of a true “story.”

Ask the videographer you are working with if they could please get a little extra b-roll of your protagonist and antagonist.  When you interview them, don’t ask questions about the facts.  That’s what your reporter track should do.  Ask questions that get at the emotion behind their support for or opposition against the issue.  Hopefully, going at the interview this way will get you some marginally less dry sound than you would’ve otherwise gotten.  It does not always work though.  But don’t fret.

Now it’s time to write.  Don’t just set the boring scene and put the boring video over it:

“EXAMPLE COUNTY COUNCIL IS TALKING TAXES THIS NIGHT… BLAH… BLAH… BLAH.”

Instead, use your characters:

[VERY SHORT NAT BITE (3-SECONDS OR LESS!!!)]

“JOHN COUNCILMAN NEVER THOUGHT EXAMPLE COUNTY’S SEWER SERVICES HAD THE PROPER FUNDING AND IT REALLY STEAMS HIS SHORTS.”

[SUPPORTING BITE WITH JOE]

“JANE COMMISSIONER ADMITS THE SEWER SITUATION STINKS.”

“BUT SHE BELIEVES IN HER HEART… THERE’S A BETTER WAY TO FLUSH THE PROBLEM BESIDES A TAX HIKE.”

[SUPPORTING BITE WITH JANE]

Bam!  You are now producing a “story” rather than a “report.”  And, even if you don’t have any compelling visuals or nat sound, your “story” will be more compelling to watch than your competition’s “report” any day of the week.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it would’ve been had you just mailed it in and it does not really take much more effort if any at all.  Plus, you prove old Phaedrus right yet again and justify why we continue quoting him all these eons later.

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This article is written by a veteran reporter who has worked in small, medium and large markets and has won multiple awards for storytelling.

The One Criticism You Never Want To Be Told

Getting Along With Peers, Political Hotbed Comments Off on The One Criticism You Never Want To Be Told
Feb 132014
It’s a fact of life, in news, that your work will be criticized a lot.  It can be hard to take, but you must if you want to succeed in the business.  However, there is one criticism you never want to be told:  That you blame others for your mistakes.  If you do, you will quickly be labeled a  complainer, trouble maker and bad at your job.  You cannot afford to have this label.
So what do you do to get around?  For starters check out our recent “Take Ownership” article.  Next, do not complain, about how the newsroom runs, to other staff members.  I recognize this is a tough one, because news people are infamous for their after hours gripe sessions.  It is VERY hard not to engage in the complaining and you may even feel alienated at first.  But believe me, it is worth it to not get involved.  Remember a key staffer will be at the gripe sessions:  the newsroom snitch.  Any complaints you make will be reported, and if you directly complain about how others are doing their jobs, and that it’s keeping you from doing yours, I guarantee that it doesn’t matter whether you have a valid point.  You will be labeled a complainer who passes the buck.  Also, there are many times your coworker is not your friend, says a few more generic complaints to get you rolling, then uses your words against you later in front of management.  End result:  You look like a complainer.
Blamers do not get as much leeway.  They do not get a benefit of the doubt.  If you are known for passing the buck, management will build a file on you quickly and work to get you fired or banished to the one shift no one wants, so that you hopefully just go away.
The final thing you can do to avoid this horrible label is this:  When you have a complaint in your mind, think of proactive solutions you can help implement.  That way if you get cornered at the station party or management backs you into a corner with an intense line of questioning, you can try and deviate the attention away from you and toward a solution that builds team.  If my EP just disappeared when I had to make key decisions, and I got called on the carpet, instead of saying “Joe EP is never around to ask.”  I would say, “I think I need to go over potential pitfalls in my rundown a little earlier when Joe EP is less busy.”  This raises the issue that Joe EP is not around, without me calling the person out as slacking off.  If management asks “Where is Joe EP?” say “Not sure, at that time of day. I just try to execute what I am asked as best I can.”  Let the managers duke it out.  Meantime you look like a solution finder instead of the dreaded blamer.
If you sense you are already labeled the complainer, stop your gripes immediately and have a clear the air session with your immediate supervisor.  Look that person in the eye and say, “I am here to help this newsroom by doing my best each day.  I want you to know I am glad I am here and will do all I can to help.”  Then do what you are asked and keep your mouth shut.  You can turn this reputation around as long as you do not let it linger long.  It is worth the extra effort, remember being labeled a “complainer” can be a career killer in this ever competitive business.

How To Deal With Conflicting Messages.

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on How To Deal With Conflicting Messages.
Jan 082014

Unfortunately many newsrooms struggle with clearly defining their news philosophy.  This can be very confusing and frustrating for the journalists in the trenches.  So how do you survive when your ND, AND and EP all have different philosophies?

The first step is looking at who has the most hands-on influence on your work each day.  If your EP is next to you in the trenches all day, and the AND and ND only sometimes step in, do what the EP asks.  If you call in to the AND for script approval each day, do what that person expects.  This will not protect you every newscast, every shift, but it will lessen your being in the middle of conflict.

If you are executing what that main manager asks and another manager steps in and asks you to change it, it is ok to say “I can do that, but (EP/AND/ND) asked me to do this. Which should I do?”  If the person now asking you to do something opposite outranks the other manager, do what he/she decides.  But you should mention to the lower ranking manager that you changed it specifically at the other manager’s request.  Most of the time, the lower ranking manager will acquiesce.  If you are told to change it back, tell that manager that you need management to come to a consensus on this issue.  You really do not have a choice.  If the manager just storms off, do what the highest ranking manager asks.  Make sure you document what happened in case you are asked later.

If you are called in to the news director’s office and asked why your reports or newscasts are not meshing with the stations news philosophy, do not lose your temper and yell that everyone needs to get on the same page.  (Yes, it is true, but remember from the “Taking Ownership” article, you still have to be a team player and leader even when you are put in extremely unfair situations.)  Instead, say “Can you please define that philosophy for me in a sentence or two, to make sure I am clear on it.”  Often the ND will then say what the philosophy is.  Say “thank you for clarifying.  That will help me bring up specific coverage questions as we design our coverage each day.”  Then try and get the hell out of the office.  If you cannot get out, and are asked “Now I want to know why you did not understand that?” simply say that there are some conflicting messages but you will do all you can to be true to the news philosophy just defined to you. Again, try and get the hell out of the office.

The one thing you must do no matter what is document when you are told to execute different things.  Try and show a pattern.  That way if you get a bad review and truly feel you are in danger you can use this information to try and show that you are getting conflicting messages and need clarification so you can fully do your job.  A response to a review that includes documentation like this does get serious notice.

If you are brought in to the AND’s office and you and the EP are grilled about why you are not executing certain things, stay quiet as much as possible and let the EP handle it.  After all, this issue is really between the managers.  You can only do so much.  If you are pushed by them, it is o.k. to say  “I want to give you all 110 each day.  I need a consistent message to do that.”  Then, leave and let them have it out.

The biggest thing to keep in mind, as frustrating as dealing with these mixed messages can be, is that you can survive it.  Most of the time, managers are more at risk in a “confused” newsroom than staff.  If your EP is rebelling against the AND and ND, a time will come that the EP pays for that.  Same with an AND who wants to work against the ND.  Just do the best you can and try and let your frustration go, with the knowledge that the odds are in your favor and that you will end up best off.

 

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

Getting Along With Peers, Political Hotbed Comments Off on One of the youngest on staff: How to hang with the veterans and gain their respect.
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.

 

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