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.

Take a moment and think about the most colorful characters in the newsroom.  For me there are two groups, photographers and assignment editors.  We’ve decoded some photographer behaviors in “You exist to hold my tripod.”  Bottom line, photojournalists are incredible information gatherers and because they see the facts in a visual way, they make TV news what it is today.

The hardest job inside newsrooms, that all of us love to take for granted is assignment editor.  The people who do it are the “whipping posts” for managing editors, assistant news directors, producers and reporters.  Photographers usually get their assignments this way and love to grumble as well.  Yet, as I look back on my career, I see that the strength of an assignment desk makes or breaks a newsroom.  It truly is the tie that binds.

So why are assignment editors so, well, intimidating (or even irritating)?  Being everyone’s whipping post is one start.  They also tend to really have a grasp on the market and the stations strengths and weaknesses.  Heck, when you think about it, that’s their primary job.  Yet assignment editors are often not really given a voice in crucial decisions.  They actually understand drive times to various places.  They understand that the PIO in city A really hates the station UNLESS you call and say XYZ.  And they also understand that live truck 13 really does suck!  In many cases they try and warn us know it all producer and manager types.  They try and give reporters gentle nudges on how to handle a particularly ornery mayor.  Do we listen?  If the answer is no, then we have a very irritable assignment editor on our hands.  Chances are you are going to be yelled at, have papers thrown around the newsroom and hear curse words in interesting sequences you never would have thought possible!  Think about it.  If you were told to make the ship run smoothly, then saw the iceberg, warned and begged everyone to listen, then watched the boat slam into the iceberg, you would be a tad pissy as well.

A few secrets about assignment editors for you:  If you stink at or just don’t get how to source build yet, befriend a veteran assignment editor.  They source build as well as most investigative reporters.  And they don’t get to leave the station.  Heck, most barely get potty breaks.  Also, be clear reporters, assignment editors are not your personal secretaries.  You need to make the calls to get the information.  If you are behind or overwhelmed talk with an EP first about whether an associate producer can help you out.  And, yes, I am serious.  The assignment editor has you, all the other reporters on your shift, the planning producers, the reporters on the next shift and usually at least one manager asking them to make phone calls.  That’s in addition to calling their contacts and listening to scanners and reading 5 million news releases to make sure the station isn’t missing something important.  And, if the station misses a big story, it is usually the assignment editor that gets reamed for it.

Producers, your assignment editor can help protect your show from technical disasters as well or better than the production team.  He/she knows intimate details about the live trucks, signal strengths, how to get around a lazy person in master control, when to humor an ENG engineer and lots of other very useful stuff.  Beyond that, they know which crews are great at cranking out work and which ones need a constant swift kick.  If you have a story that must make slot, period, make sure the assignment editor is well aware ASAP.  If you see the assignment editor is in the weeds, answer the newsroom phone.  Help out.  There is nothing more excruciating than trying to take down information while hearing phones ringing all around you.  Think about the times when every reporter feels the need to call in for script approval all at once.  All of them need it “RIGHT NOW!” to make slot and you can only read/listen to so much at a time and actually comprehend what’s going on.  That’s what it’s like being an assignment editor for at least half of every workday.  Cut ‘em some slack!

Managers, when an assignment editor walks into your office and shuts the door to discuss a potential issue, stop what you are doing and listen.  Most of the time, this person is saving you from potential disaster.  If they do, throw them a bone once in a while.  Have a favorite meal dropped off for lunch.  Buy them a latte.  Write a thank you note for all he/she does and throw it into his/her mailbox.  Everyone should remember to say thank you once in a while.  The strength of the assignment desk plays a huge role in whether your station is #1, #3 or worse.  It can set the tone for morale in the whole newsroom because the desk has direct contact with all the key players every day.

So, when you get an assignment that just plain sucks, don’t kill the messenger.  The assignment editor is following orders.  When you are told do it and like it, remember that’s the mantra these guys/gals live under every day.  They often take more crap than the rest of us, and then turn it into gold.

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