Many TV stations, like many football programs are constantly changing the “coach.” If the ratings don’t go up quickly the news director is gone. That means a new chance to be fired, since the new boss will want to make an impact right away. First impressions truly can make or break your future at that station. So let’s talk star power.
All managers have one thing in common. They want staffers that do not whine. They want people that can change and adapt quickly. To prove you can do this, research the new ND and see what type of news philosophy was implemented at their last station. Did the place do a lot of consumer news? Did the station cover a lot of breaking news? What was the turnover like? Calling and asking for an long time reporter or photojournalist to dig a bit will be helpful. You want to ask what the ND liked to see from the staff. What kind of story ideas got the ND excited. Try and find out if your new ND is a big football fan or has kids or a dog. Now you have a leg up.
Listen to the ND during the first few story meetings. See if the ND is getting excited over the type of stories you heard he/she will like. The ND will give you clues about where the place is going next pretty quickly with offhanded comments. Most people don’t listen. They should and you will. Next, adapt story ideas or input about newscasts to the trends you notice from the ND. After a few weeks try and catch the ND for a minute and request a critique. Don’t say “hey did you watch my show/package. etc. that day.” Just say: “I am checking in to see if you have any critique for me on what you’ve seen so far. I am looking forward to taking my work to the next level with you.” The ND will probably say he/she needs a few weeks. That’s fine. You just want the early impression to be that you are hardworking and eager to adapt to this person’s style.
Now let’s talk personal connection. Remember you have intel on the ND’s personal interests. Use it to make a human connection. Let’s say the ND is a big football fan. When you see ND in the hall or at the end of a meeting ask what person thinks of some headline, “How about that new recruit? What about that last play in the last game?” You get the idea. Don’t linger. Listen to the response and walk away. You don’t want to force it.
You also need to make deadline and not complain about anything for the first several months; even if you are getting screwed on vacation time. Stay out of the office and let other people seem difficult. The ND is overwhelmed the first few months and doesn’t need to deal with any “little” issues. Fair or not, your vacation time qualifies as little.
If you are in a meeting with the ND do not be the first person to run out of the room at the end. Organize your papers, take one more sip of coffee, do what you need to linger a minute in case the ND starts small talking. This is a subtle way to start building a connection without seeming obvious.
Remember ND’s are looking for employees who are loyal and willing to work hard. So when you are asked to cover an extra shift or work late, do it without complaining. You will get a chance to occasionally say no after the ND has been there awhile. This is a way ND’s test to see if you are a diva or a battle tested, nose to the ground journalist. We watched it time and again. Staffers turned down shifts or complained about working late and the ND made a quick judgment call that the person was lazy and didn’t appreciate the job. It was usually downhill from there.
The key in all of this is being subtle. This is like dating. Give the ND a taste of who you are, express some interest, but do not overdo it. The people constantly in the office putting out will end up being the ones the ND takes advantage of and overworks long term. The hard workers that stay out trouble survive and end up with some time to breathe. You will keep the ND interested in seeing more. That’s what you want.