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.


The smallest market that Nielsen ranks is Glendive, Montana, #210. It is among the more beautiful places you’ll probably never see. The Yellowstone River flows through the middle of town, according to the chamber of commerce, and you can see a triceratops skull found in 1991 and attend Buzzard Day, no date given.

Glendive is one of those places people would rather visit than live in, though. That’s probably why it only has 4,000 TV-viewing homes. I’m sure there have been some wonderful journalists who’ve gotten their start there. But being that Buzzard Day is listed among the top attractions, I’m thinking it was a lonely start.

So what do you do? You’ve gone to college for four years and made your parents proud. Someone has actually hired you based on a reel you’ll replay in ten years and cringe. And now it’s time to move to someplace like Glendive and become a full-fledged, paid journalist.

Most of us have been there. But the shock was much worse for the young woman who wrote to me recently, whom we featured in last week’s article. She actually had a job in one of the nation’s top markets doing “fun stories and the traffic.” Yes, she’s beautiful. But that didn’t keep her from getting laid-off. She’s managed to find a job way down the ladder. Not in Glendive. But way down the ladder.

“I am not only burnt out but discouraged,” she said during one of our e-mail exchanges, which she is allowing to quote.

See, she not only worked in that big market but it was also her hometown. The natural support network of friends and family isn’t there anymore.

On top of that, she’s come to the realization that she’s not a journalist. Among other reasons, she just doesn’t have the fire in the belly that’s required to persevere through all the indignities heaped upon you in that first TV news job.

“Yes I should be thick skinned and not let this run me down, but in reality I think my mental health is more important than keeping up a fake smile to get through this,” she said.

Early on in our e-mail conversation, she told me that hosting is actually what she’s meant to do, not reporting TV news or anchoring. I was actually relieved. Would you want a doctor or an attorney whom you could tell really wasn’t into their profession? It’s a recipe for malpractice. However, this young woman was being honest that she didn’t feel the calling to be a journalist. She isn’t going to pollute TV newsroom after TV newsroom with mediocre work just to have her face on television, all the while secretly yearning to host a talk show.

You may fill in the blank with the name of the colleague in your newsroom who meets that description here: ___________________. Extra points if you think TV news was originally just going to be a part of his or her five-year plan.

So I told her to go for it. God bless her for admitting she’s not journalist material. Plus, with media companies clamoring to create their own syndicated shows outside the Hollywood system and adding local talk shows adjacent to their morning or afternoon newscasts, there is a growing need for hosts with the skills to pull them off. This has the potential to be the best time for on-camera talent to work in local television since the days when stations produced their own children’s programming and hired a host to introduce movies.

In this young woman’s case, though, she’s under contract. I know how much she wants to leave and get on the host track immediately. But I urged her to either stick it out in her current reporting job or try to come to some mutual agreement with station management. Broadcast news is a small world. Word gets around. You don’t want to be known as the person who skips out on contract commitments.

However, fate ended-up coming to her rescue. Another company is about to buy her station. The ownership change, she says, is offering her an “escape.” She turned-in her resignation letter last week and hopes to return home soon.

Best of luck to her, wherever she’s reading this now.


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

Why reporters need to be great tease writers too.

Reporting, Survival Kit, Tease Writing Comments Off on Why reporters need to be great tease writers too.
Jan 282013

When talking about tease challenges recently on FB, a newsie mentioned it is hard to tease a story “not knowing what the reporter is ACTUALLY working on.”  This is a common scenario in most newsrooms.  I said the producer should ask for a tease line when the reporter calls in with elements.  Now let’s talk about why the reporter should want to call in a tease line, or better yet, offer to write a tease.  Reporters need to be great tease writers too, because it not only helps them curry favor with management, it also helps them write better stories.

A big key to great story telling and great tease writing is truly understanding what impact the story will have on the audience.  This is the WIFM and sell combined.  So by challenging yourself to become a great tease writer, you are kicking your story telling skills up a notch.

Great tease writers are also experts at using sound and video to capture the viewer’s attention, key elements in great storytelling.  Think about it, most teases that really knock your socks off, leave an image or sound in your mind.  Most people are visual or auditory learners.  It is important to play on that fact.

Tight, powerful writing is also key to great tease writing and great storytelling.  You can’t boil it down if you don’t understand the story.  Powerful writing makes for many memorable moments as well.

So reporters, challenge yourself.  Offer to call in a tease line with your elements each day.  Look for the sound and video that really sells your story and offer it up. You will not only become the producer’s favorite, your own stories will improve.

That term is suspect: When to use the word and when to avoid.

Producing, Survival Kit, Writing Help Comments Off on That term is suspect: When to use the word and when to avoid.
Dec 122012

By now most of you know we have a cliché list of words and phrases you just should not use.  “Allegedly” is one of the very worst, and we explained how to get around it.  Now let’s talk about another very overused, and obviously misunderstood term: “suspect.”

By definition “suspect” means: “to think (a person) guilty without having proof.”  It is a term police, lawyers and judges use.  Viewers get the essence of it, quite possibly more than most newsies.  I say that because when you watch an a-block in most newsrooms around the country, you hear “suspect” being used, in a way it should not, constantly.

Here’s a common example, when describing a convenience store robbery with surveillance video. “Here you see the masked suspects approaching the counter with guns and demanding cash from the register.” Um, no.  “Here you see the robbers pointing guns at the cashier.”  The people with the guns, who then take handfuls of cash from the register are not “suspects.” They are the people who did it.  Police may not know their names yet but, you can see in the video, they are the “robbers.” The people in the video are guilty, the video shows proof. You see them committing the criminal act.

Now here’s what to do, if the person is not wearing a mask.  As we explained in “Getting around allegedly” if you see the person doing it and police confirm that’s what happened, simply attribute it.  “Police say you are watching a man rob this store.”  “Suspect” is not going to help you here. The man is seen holding the gun.  State the facts.  Attribute to police.

Inexperienced writers, if you are unsure, exercise caution.  These concepts take a while to grasp.  Remember, you must attribute.  Words like “suspect” do not really protect you.  Saying for example, “Police call Joe Schmo a suspect.” can still create problems.  You can say police have identified a suspect and not show a face or say a name.  Remember, unless the person is a public figure, the name is less important to viewers than the fact investigators are moving forward and possibly solving the crime.  The safest bet, is to wait to say a name until there are charges.  Once a person is arrested, they are no longer simply a suspect.  So saying “Suspect Joe Schmo is charged with.” is not a protection.  The term suspect, has to be used clearly, not as a crutch phrase.

The idea of cranking out more with less doesn’t seem to be going away.  Turning more than one story, on more than one subject, in more than one city is not easy.  Just keeping the facts straight and providing perspective on multiple stories is challenging.  Then come the relentless deadlines.  Sometimes the packages air 10 minutes or less apart.  One of them, includes a live hit.  Wow, just writing about all that leaves me breathless!

So how do you effectively crank out multiple stories?  Veteran reporters who make these pressures seem like turning a straight vo/sot, say two things:  Organization and time management.  So what does that mean?

  • Think about how you will write the package, while shooting
  • Keep interviews no longer than 5 minutes MAX
  • Log accurate time codes
  • Log and/or write every free minute

First off, think about how you will write your package while you are shooting it.  You want the first part of your package mapped out in your head for two key reasons.  First, it will help you craft a bridge standup that will always fit.  Next, it means you must do enough research before interviewing that you can keep those interviews to 5 minutes maximum.  (You really should try to keep them to about three minutes.)  The reason: the longer your interviews the more you have to log.  (For more on how to keep interviews short read: Developing interview skills on the beat)

Speaking of logging, your time codes need to be accurate.  This is not a courtesy to your photojournalist, this is crucial to make deadline.  It needs to be considered as big a deal as getting your facts straight.  When slamming on deadline, you need to make sure your photojournalist or editor uses exactly what you need, and can easily find it, without having to stop down and ask you.

Finally, every free minute you have should be spent logging and writing.  This means using the view finder of the camera to log if necessary.  I constantly had to battle this idea with reporters.  I’ll log when we get to the live shot location, etc.  Not acceptable!  Log while you are in the car riding.  Log your first story immediately, while driving to your second story.  Log while you are eating lunch, if you get one.  Do not waste a single minute.  You want to get done quickly so you and your photojournalist can take your time when editing.  You want to factor in time for equipment failure too.  You will still get down time, it will just be at the end of your day.

When I recently published the article “New manager, new rules,” several people tweeted they needed that advice a little earlier.  New boss, burned bridge?  There are ways to try and rebuild.

If you really think the two of you are not seeing eye-to-eye, sit down and talk with the boss.  Don’t go in and say we are not seeing eye-to-eye, what should we do?  Sit down and say you wanted your new boss to have a few weeks to get settled and would love to know this new manager’s expectations.  This gives the person a chance to say what he/she wants from you, and what you are, and possibly are not, providing.  It is better to know what the expectation is and take a lump, than keep analyzing and guessing and potentially accumulate several strikes against you.   Listen to the manager’s insight and try and do it.  After a few weeks ask if the work you’ve done is more along the lines of what this manager wants.

Do some research and find out what this boss implemented in other places.  Then try and proactively do some of this.  Let’s say, a manager is known for segmenting out story elements.  Start implementing some of that in your own work.  Face it, if this person has a reputation for some of these techniques, he/she will try them at your station.  You might as well support it.  Showing you embrace new ideas always helps build bridges.

Most of all, understand that this new person is trying to figure out everyone and everything.  All stations run a little differently.  Even if this manager has snapped at you, most realize it is better to work with the people who are already there than try and push them out.  Show you are willing to be a team player and it just might work out, despite a rocky start.

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