Emails…brief please.

hands-coffee-cup-apple.jpg

By: Mandy Mitchell

We live in a Twitter age where short and sweet has become the way to go. I have a bit of advice for you when it comes to work e-mails: keep it short!

I don’t know about you, but I get a zillion e-mails a day. Press releases…newscast excellence reports…ratings…did I mention press releases? Tucked into that mess are things I actually NEED to read. When you are sending an e-mail to someone, you should probably consider all of this.

Sending a note to producers about your story? This doesn’t need to be a novel. Give a few bullet points and tease angles. No one wants to read 4 paragraphs about how you had an interview set up, but that fell through and now you have a call to another guy who probably won’t go on camera, but you think you will have an interview in an hour that will work out.

Keep it simple. Producers have a lot going on and, believe it or not, you are not the only story in the newscast.

Sending a note to your boss? Keep in mind your boss deals with a bunch of B.S. daily. Make it like Twitter and get your point across quickly. If more needs to be said, send the note simple requesting a meeting to discuss (gasp) in person!

I see far too many e-mails in the newsroom that seem to be written by people who are trying to prove they are doing work. They want everyone to see they are doing work and they “over-explain.”

The busiest people don’t have time for all of that. Please get to the point. If you are doing the work you claim to be doing we will all be able to tell come news time.

Enthusiasm is huge

pexels-photo-422220.jpeg

Dogs have boundless enthusiasm but no sense of shame. I should have a dog as a life coach. -Moby

By: Mandy Mitchell

I was giving a talk to a high school journalism class recently when I got a question from one of the students. The young lady asked “what makes someone stand out in the TV news business? I don’t mean talent. I mean what makes someone different?”

Good question! I thought.

We’ve all been taught to focus on our resume reel and how the first ten seconds mean everything.

I thought about telling the girl how standing out early in your career is about “looking the part” and “having confidence.” (This is important, by the way, but that’s not how I answered)

After all of that went through my head, I answered “enthusiasm.” I kind of surprised myself with the answer, but the more I have thought about it, the more I believe it to be true.

You will eventually get a call from a news director who, not only liked your first ten seconds, but liked your entire reel.

You will get hired and you will go through the first few days of “training.” After that you will either blend in or you will bring enthusiasm and truly stand out.

It is very very easy to blend in in a busy newsroom. It’s easy to come in and produce your newscast without typos or fact errors. It’s easy to get a story in the morning meeting, go out and shoot it, do your live shots and go home.

What truly makes one stand out is enthusiasm. The people who do well are the ones constantly bringing ideas on how to improve the product.

The producers I have seen move up the quickest are the ones who are always looking for great cold opens. They are getting things pre-produced and looking for custom graphics. They are moving anchors around.

Reporters who get the best assignments are the ones who have a constant flow of story ideas.

They want to do live shots. They want to be on the big stories. They pitch sweeps piece after sweeps piece.

The truly good ones are the people who never fall victim to the negativity of the newsroom. A newsroom has a funny way of sucking the enthusiasm out of anyone.

We all have bad days and even bad weeks. When you are going through those times find a way, even if it’s small, to spark your enthusiasm.

People tend to notice.

 

Post is originally from 2016

Great advice

By: Mandy Mitchell

I came across this article in “Sports Business Daily” about NBC’s Chuck Todd. He gives his advice to young people just starting out in journalism.

A couple of bullet points for you, but you should really take the time to read it….

  • Move to where the action is. It’s no longer about starting in small market local media.
  • Specialize. Don’t major in journalism. Become an expert in something.
  • Say yes to everything.

 

Simple ways to earn respect in the newsroom

By: Mandy Mitchell

pexels-photo-684387.jpeg
I meet a lot of young people in the business who are hoping to make a good impression in a new newsroom. They are often worried about how they dress and how they perform in the specifics of the job whether that be on the air or behind the scenes. All of that is very important, but there are some simple things you can do to stand out.

1- Be early.

If the morning meeting starts at 9, don’t be out of breath trying to hold your coffee in one hand and your keys in the other while trying to dig out your phone to see the notes you made about the story ideas you have. Pretend the meeting starts at 8:50 and be in your seat with your notebook out and ready at 8:55.

I am amazed at how many people in our business are always “running late” or “a bit behind today.”

Make it a habit to show up 5 minutes early to everything you do. I promise you will stand out as a rare person who values the time of others.

2- Say thank you.

It’s still OK to write handwritten notes for people to thank them for doing something nice for you. Someone help you in your first few days in town? Maybe helped with an apartment? Maybe asked you to share a meal? Give them a note.

Maybe someone has been a mentor to you. The holidays are a great time to show appreciation. A nice card will do the trick. It’s usually unexpected and shows you are thoughtful. That’s something missing in an e-mail driven world.

3- Take responsibility for mistakes.

I’ve found young people in this business can be very very defensive if a mistake happens on air. The best in this business are willing, and eager, to step up and say “that was my fault.”

Don’t get in the habit of over-explaining a mistake. We all make errors and we all have another newscast to prepare for. Take responsibility, say you will fix it and do better in the next newscast.

This post is originally from 2016

What if it doesn’t happen?

pexels-photo-313690.jpeg

By: Mandy Mitchell

There will be a time in your career where you really get your hopes up. You may get your hopes up about a new job. You may get excited about a promotion or a raise. You may have every reason in the world to think things are going to happen.

Your boss told you you would be in line for that next anchor opening. The news director at that station you’ve dreamed of working at says he loves your tape and you are going to get a call for an interview.

Then…all of a sudden…nothing happens.

If this hasn’t happened to you yet, I’m afraid to tell you it will. You will, in one form or another, have to deal with disappointment when it comes to this business.

So here’s some advice for preparing yourself for these moments.

  • Always take everything or are told with a grain of salt. Realize that nothing is ever final until it actually is. Someone could have the very best intentions in telling you you will be the 6pm producer when that spot opens up. Then all of a sudden the GM comes in with other ideas. A news director could really truly mean it when he says he will call next week for an interview. Then the company goes into a hiring freeze. It’s ok to be proud of your accomplishment if this kind of thing happens. Just don’t set yourself up for disappointment by thinking it’s done before it really is.

 

  • Hold off on telling others until it is concrete. The worst thing you can do is call your mom when you are told you may an interview in Dallas next week. Unless you have a plane ticket, I’d hold off on that phone call. Sometimes our disappointment gets worse when we feel like we are disappointing others…or we feel embarrassed by having to explain why it didn’t work it. If you must tell someone, make sure you tell them how it’s not certain yet, but you are hoping it works out.

 

  • Truly think about how you will act if it doesn’t work out. This is especially helpful for promotions. You don’t want to get bitter or come off the wrong way with your current boss, so you have to be prepared with your reaction if you are told you won’t actually be getting that job you thought was promised. I’m not saying you don’t have the right to be ticked. You can respectfully explain how you are disappointed and you hope you will be considered for a similar opening down the line. I’ve seen some very experienced people come out of a news director’s office crying when something like this happens. I have had to hold back tears when something like this happened to me. It’s best to fully be prepared for the disappointment so you can react accordingly.

The stories we tell ourselves

 

pexels-photo-261909.jpeg

By: Mandy Mitchell

Being a good storyteller is a great trait to have if you are working in TV news. We all need to be able to tell stories to succeed in this business. The one thing we can’t do is tell stories to ourselves.

Most of us have an inner commentary about our lives that is constantly playing out in our minds. The stories can be pretty simple.

You can have a story in your head about how the news director doesn’t like you. Your story could be about how other anchors are favored and given more reads and relevant assignments. You may have a story about why you are stuck on the weekends when others keep jumping ahead of you to Monday-Friday shifts. We all do this and many of us don’t realize it.

The problem with these mental stories is they are not often backed up by actual facts and they can affect your happiness.

Does your news director really dislike you or is it just a matter of her not paying you enough attention? I’ve seen reporters go into a complete tailspin when a news director failed to compliment a story.

Do you think she didn’t like it? What if I never get another good assignment? What if I never get another good assignment and then never move to a bigger market? Is my career over?! My career is probably over!!!

The reporter is taking a story and running with it without the basic facts. I assure you, if the ND didn’t say anything about your story, that’s because it was fine and it met expectations. Or she didn’t even see it because she was stuck in a budget meeting and wasn’t watching the newscast. If you knew these facts you would likely feel foolish about the massive story you’ve been telling yourself.

The key is to recognize when you get lost in what is truly storytelling in your brain. When you recognize it you should try to identify the actual facts. You are a journalist, so presumably you can tell the difference between fact and fiction…I hope!

Once you recognize the facts, it’s easier to stop the story.

 

“Nothing fools you better than the lie you tell yourself.”
-Teller, Magician

 

Most of the time when you stop the story, you can relax. If you can’t relax then you should try to explore the facts. Ask your news director for a meeting to discuss the PKG she didn’t seem to notice. This meeting will be a lot more productive than if you start crying 4 months later and ask your ND why she “hates you.”

If you are stuck on weekends, explore the facts. Is it because your boss thinks you like weekends and you seem happy? Is it because your boss thinks you need to improve? Is it because the person who jumped to a M-F gig actually makes less money and is not as valuable? Ask questions to get facts instead of coming up with your own story about what is probably happening.

This is a hard skill to learn but it’s helpful. Try to get a better grasp of what is going on in your brain and save the storytelling for the newscast.

 

Become a better photographer

By: Mandy Mitchell

pexels-photo-67654.jpeg

If you are an MMJ or a one-man-band or whatever we are calling that position in this business these days, you are going to have to shoot your own video. If you are someone who wants to be a reporter, you likely don’t really want to shoot your own video. I do understand you are  more focused on writing and how you look on camera than how good your shooting is. Problem is, you will want to have good video for your stories and you are the only source for that video. It’s best to know a few basics so you can have the best video possible.

  • Always always always always always use a tripod when shooting B-roll. It’s really easy to get lazy and just leave the tripod in the car. It’s heavy and all. I get it. But your video is going to look like crap if you don’t use the sticks. Take the extra 3 minutes. Don’t give me the “I just didn’t have time” nonsense. You will waste more time during the editing process trying to find shots that aren’t completely shaky than if you just take the time on the front end to get nice steady shots.
  • Edit in your camera to save time. The new digital cameras we shoot on are even better for this than tape. Get your wide shot and hit stop. Get your medium shot and hit stop. Get your tight shot and hit stop. You will then have a sequence of shots that is super easy to edit when you load the clips. You won’t be hunting around for what shot you need.
  • Don’t overshoot. You are not shooting a documentary. Be mindful of how long it takes your video to load into the editing computer. Be thinking about your story and what shots you need and how you will write to them. Going to a crime scene and shooting 20 minutes of video is a waste of your time.
  • Limit your camera movements. You are probably not a good enough shooter for a pan or a zoom or a tilt. Let’s be real here. I am not a good enough shooter for that and I’ve been shooting for 15 years. Focus on sequences. (Wide, medium, tight)
  • Use a tripod. Did I mention that?

Unplugging as a journalist

pexels-photo-541522.jpeg

By: Mandy Mitchell

You can read about a zillion articles online about how to be more productive with your time. The productivity advice often starts with “limiting your phone time” and “not checking your e-mail until noon.”

I’m pretty interested in increasing my productivity, but that advice often makes me chuckle.

Can you imagine if you…TV Reporter, anchor, producer or assignment editor…didn’t check your e-mail until noon? Even if you are nightside you may miss an e-mail requesting your presence at work an hour earlier. Or you could miss someone asking you about a story from the night before. Try telling your boss that you don’t check e-mail before noon!

So this got me thinking about what we all could do to reduce our addictions to our devices. We can’t neglect our e-mail, but we probably don’t need to check it every five minutes. Raise your hand if you do that. (I used to be in that club!)

Here are a couple of things I have done that have helped:

  • If you use Outlook, make folders.  Make a folder for anything from any of your bosses. Make a folder for interview requests. Make a folder for anything else you absolutely don’t want to or can’t miss.  If you are on the clock that day, you can quickly check these folders when you get up, then you can do other things like work out or get some coffee BEFORE you dive into the 900 other e-mails.
  • Limit your e-mail during time off. If you are not on the clock that day, or you are on vacation, you should really limit  how much you check these folders. Do it each morning or each night. Take a half hour to read and reply, but that’s it! Do not, as I often do, check your e-mail on your day off while in line at the grocery store because you are bored and your fingers just seem to automatically click the e-mail app. Do you know how many days off I have ruined by reading an e-mail that did not require my attention at the time? I assume I am not alone.
  • Move all social media apps off the front page. You know how your fingers just automatically find the e-mail on your phone? They also seem to find Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They find them and then you spend 15 minutes scrolling through the content without often paying attention to what you’re reading. We all need social media for our jobs, but we don’t need the mindless scrolling. Move all of the apps to a page that isn’t on the front of your phone so it takes effort to get there. If you think about needing to check Twitter for breaking news, or simply to know what’s going on, you will be more likely to actually read it if you have to find the Twitter app.
  • Turn off all non-essential alerts. I am a reporter at a top-25 TV station and I have very few alerts on my phone. I have to click the e-mail to get my e-mail. I don’t have sounds that randomly interrupt whatever I am doing to alert me of a new e-mail. The only things that pop up on my phone are breaking news alerts. I subscribe to my station and the competition. I also get stuff from the AP and the New York Times. I promise that’s all you need. If I get a text it just leaves a “1” in my text app. I  don’t need that popping up as I am trying to research a story or if I am on vacation.

These minor changes have really helped me to decrease my phone usage, which was a real problem for a while. The biggest piece of advice I have is to be mindful of your usage. If you pick up your phone try to notice it and have a purpose for it. Yes, we have to be more connected than our friends who are say, teachers, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a constant leash.

Thanksgiving in the newsroom

How many times have you heard “you are going to work holidays” whenever someone tells you about the bad parts of TV news?

Hearing this and actually doing it are two very different things. I always knew I was going to have to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it didn’t truly sink in until my first year in the business. I thought I would be ok until I was staring at ENPS and eating cold turkey at my desk on Thanksgiving night. I can’t remember ever feeling more alone.

That’s the year when I figured something out. You HAVE to embrace your work family. If there is not a newsroom party planned, you make it happen. Get everyone to bring in a favorite dish. Do it up with lots of desserts. Bring in candy and cookies and make yourself sick eating too much good stuff.

Give hugs. Ask your coworkers to talk about Thanksgiving traditions. Talk to people about missing family or what it feels like to miss out. You are all doing it!

I can’t tell you how many great memories I have made on major holidays in a newsroom since that one pretty awful Thanksgiving.

You have to make the best of it and realize it does get better as you spend more years in the biz. I get Holidays off sometimes now! And even when I don’t, I am used to it, so it doesn’t sting as much as those first years.

I appreciate you taking the time to read the stuff we put on this blog. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and make some memories even if you happen to be spending it in a newsroom (or at a mall shooting video of the crazy people)!