A book you should read

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By: Mandy Mitchell

Over the past 6 months I have become really interested in mindful meditation. I have been a sponge about the subject and have been reading and listening to everything I can about how it works and its benefits.

I also started practicing meditation. I got an app on my phone and I try to give it at least 5 to ten minutes a day. I can tell you it does make a difference. I am learning how to better control my thoughts and understand how the mind works. THAT is not what this post is about, though.

I was searching for a book to read about the subject and I came across this one. It was recommended to me in a blogpost about meditation so I had no idea it was written by news anchor Dan Harris.

This book is about how Harris broke into the business, his ego, his temper and how he became depressed after spending time in war zones. He started using drugs and then went to therapy. He writes about the anxiety of this business and the times he would worry about how it may all fall apart. (who among us hasn’t had that worry?) He even talks about what it was like to work with Peter Jennings and what it feels like to be left out of coverage of big events.

Anyway, I went into the book wanting to learn more about meditation and came away from it thinking everyone in TV news should read it. Yes, he does talk a great deal about meditation and even his time going to a retreat, but it is much more than that.

Because he is a reporter he approaches the subject as a reporter. He interviews experts and talks about his process of learning. He also notes how his opinion on things change as he continues to learn from experts. This is useful to any reporter who is diving deep on any subject.

I truly appreciate Dan for being completely open, honest and funny. I can see how the book is helpful to anyone in any profession, but it REALLY spoke to me as a TV news journalist. If you have spent time in a newsroom you will be able to relate to the many stories he tells!

Take some “you” time

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By: Mandy Mitchell

TV news tends to be the kind of business that is all-consuming. You can easily go from college to your first TV station and then your second TV station without ever unpacking a box at your apartment. Those of us who really love our work (the ones who love it enough to read a blog about it) are generally pretty obsessive about it. I don’t mean obsessed in a bad way, but I mean the work is always on your mind. You want to do great work so you don’t want to let a story idea slip by. You don’t want to let a big assignment go to someone else. You are constantly checking your e-mail and your news alerts. I get it. I do that too.

In order to do that really great work over a long period of time, you have to have an outlet. You have to find a place where you don’t bring your cell phone and where you are not thinking about the news. It’s very important to find a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with anything else you do on a daily basis.

For me, that hobby is fitness. In my first market I really didn’t see the benefit of this as a “hobby.” I would go to the gym, but I would fit that gym visit into my day between assignments. I would shoot a story in the morning and force a gym visit before shooting a minor league baseball game at night. Working out was a chore. I didn’t use it as an escape. As I have gotten more experienced I have learned to make my workouts “my time.” I can’t tell you how much this has truly helped me in my job.

For one, it is the one thing I have complete and total control of every single day. I don’t control breaking news. I don’t control my coworkers work ethic or if my boss is in a bad mood. I do control how far I run or hard I work when I am at the gym.

Having control, even if it’s for a brief period of time every day, is important.

I am a big fan of audible and I listen to audio books while working out. It allows me to completely escape the news and it helps me to focus on something and not let my brain wander into thinking about work. When I am done with my workout, whether that be a run, the gym, a bike ride or a long hike, I am much more focused and ready for my day.

If I don’t take the time to “get away” on any given day, I can tell. I am tired. I get burned out and work stops being fun.

It may not feel like you have time for a hobby. It may feel like work needs to be all- consuming in order to “get ahead.” I encourage you to make the time for yourself. Find time to read a novel (not the news). Take time to watch a episode of a show on Netflix.

A daily mental escape is very important to doing this job and doing it well for a long period of time.

This post was originally from 2016

Learn to Troubleshoot

utilities-1238686By: Mandy Mitchell

Let’s talk about problems we all see throughout our days…

Gear breaks.

We can’t find a phone number we need.

We didn’t ask that guy we interviewed for his name and spelling.

A reporter was supposed to leave a script for you and you can’t find it.

I could continue, but you get it. You will see problems on a daily basis. What I have become amazed by…let’s just say it ANNOYED WITH…is the number of people who can not simply solve the problem. Instead, the person starts panicking, starts blaming someone else and starts wasting the precious time that could be used to solve the problem before the inventible deadline.

The best in this business are often the best at troubleshooting. Often times you just have to take the few seconds to think when a problem comes up.

Cameras rarely just die. If it won’t turn on, take the time change the battery and to jiggle the battery. Is something loose? Can you fix it? Is there another way to shoot this story if it is in fact broken? Panicking and calling the assignment desk is not a good option. Can you shoot on your cell phone? A GoPro? Is there another photog/mmj within a few minutes you can call to  bail you out?

This is the process of thought you should be going through. Be the person who wants to solve the problem. Don’t be the person who wants to b*tch about the “terrible gear.”

If you don’t know the name of the person you interviewed is there a way to find out without crying into your coffee? Does anyone else you interviewed say his/her name? Can you call the person’s company? Just think. Try to solve it.

This goes for all things in the newsroom from not being able to find a script, to the teleprompter breaking 3 minutes before air, to the editor crashing, to the printer jamming.

WHAT can I do to fix it?

Learning to troubleshoot will make you better at your job. It will also make you more likable in the newsroom.

Listening leads to better stories

By: Mandy Mitchell

How many times have you been interviewing someone when you have no earthly idea what the person just said?

You are busy thinking of your next question. Or maybe there are complicated facts you are going over in your head to make sure you don’t look silly. Maybe you are one-man-banding and the cloud just covered up the sun AGAIN and you have to adjust the iris AGAIN and you didn’t hear what the person you are interviewing just said.

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That is stuff we all do and it’s stuff that gets in the way of truly listening. It’s the kind of stuff that can not only make you less effective as an interviewer, but can also cause you to miss out on something really great.

Quick story…

I was covering the College World Series at my last job and the coach surprised us all by naming a relief pitcher the starter for the next game. It may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, this was BIG news in Columbia, SC. It would be of great interest to our viewers and it was cause for many questions from the assembled press.

As we threw question after question at the coach, Ray Tanner, he mentioned the team’s trip to the local children’s hospital and casually noted that it was great to see an “old friend” who just happened to be a young man with cancer. No one was listening when he said that. Everyone was busy with this big story.

Luckily, I was listening.

I hung around after the other reporters had left and asked coach Tanner about the boy. He smiled and told me all about how Charlie was a bat boy for the team years earlier and how they had kept in touch. “Charlie will be at the game tomorrow,” he said. “You should meet him!”

Long story short, this ended up being an incredible story.

When the story aired another reporter came to me and said “how the heck did you find out about that?”

I told him how he had been there when Tanner mentioned it. “Oh…I didn’t hear that.”

This isn’t the only time this has happened. I have found many a story by simply listening during the interview process. I am also certain I have missed out on stories by not truly listening. It is very easy to focus on the 97 other things in your brain and that looming deadline.

Next time you are doing an interview, make a real effort to listen. Don’t worry about your next question. If you are listening, you will know what to ask. This practice will not only lead to great stories, it can also lead to better questions.

Post is originally from 2015

Resume reel mistakes

By: Mandy Mitchell

Like most people who have been in this business a while, I get asked to look at a lot of resume reels. One thing you should absolutely understand is that I am no expert on resume reels. I don’t think anyone is, really. What gets you a job with one shop could be thrown out in 6 seconds at another.

I can tell you a few things that ALWAYS stand out to me as looking “small market.” These are things I see in reel after reel. Yes, they are coming from folks in small markets, but these folks are trying to move up. It’s time to start looking big market if you want to be big market!

**I can only speak about on-air reels here**

1- Poorly framed interviews

I can’t tell you how many times I see interviews in PKGs on reporter’s tapes that are not framed well. Your interview should look like this:

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There should be head room and room in front of the person and he shouldn’t be looking at the camera, but looking at you.

This is an example of stuff I see often:

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2- Interviews shot against a wall

Please DON’T DO THIS! You want to have some depth in your shot. Let’s say you are shooting in a classroom and want some books in the background. You’ll want to seat your subject several feet in front of the books…not right in front of the books. The idea is to get the books to be a bit out of focus.

I made this mistake many times as a young sports reporter. I thought shooting in a locker room would look “awesome” and “just like ESPN.” So I would put the player on the locker room bench, roughly a foot front of the locker. Didn’t look awful, but you should instead get a chair and get that person as far away from the locker as is logistically possible.

3- A hand holding a mic in a shot

You should be using a lav for any PKG worthy of your resume tape. I don’t want to see your wrist and your ugly mic in the shot. If you don’t have a lav, make sure you frame the mic out of the shot. Most of us have editing equipment with zoom functions now. Use it!

While we are on the subject of lavs and looking “small market,” I don’t want to see  the mic wire hanging from the shirt. Go ahead and take the extra 30 seconds and have your subject hide the wire behind a tie or under the shirt.

4- Jump cuts and too many dissolves

Learn the value of close-ups, and cutaways. If you are an MMJ, learn to shoot those. If you are working with a young photographer, learn to ask for those. Don’t rely on dissolves to get you out of trouble. The best storytellers only use dissolves for impact, not to avoid a jump cut.

5- Clothing that makes you appear young

I can’t stress this enough. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Do not wear trendy clothing. Do not wear shorts in a stand-up. Do not let me see you wearing flip-flops during a live shot. Why am I saying all of this obvious stuff? Because I have seen them all on resume reels.

I am amazed at what young people not only think is ok for on-air attire, but think is ok for a resume reel. This should be a reflection of you at your absolute best. Would you wear a tank top to an interview? How about don’t put that shot on your reel!

6- Music in PKGs

I am sure I will spend an entire post writing about this subject alone at some point. Let me first say I am not against music at all.  I have used music many times.

What I am against, and what makes someone appear “small market,” is simply adding a music bed to a pkg to make it “sadder.”

Doing a story on cancer? Add some sad music! YUCK!!

If you don’t know how to properly add music to your story, please don’t do it. If you like music, I encourage you to watch people who use music well and learn how it works. Until then, I encourage you to rely on NAT sound and writing to make your stories standout.

 

This post is originally from summer 2016

 

 

Give a pat on the back

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By: Mandy Mitchell

TV news is a truly thankless job. In fact, it’s one of those jobs where you are more likely to hear what you did wrong than what you did right on any given day and we all know viewers are happy to e-mail in with helpful suggestions on what to do with you hair the next time you’re on TV!

That’s why it’s important to support your co-workers. If you see a live shot you loved, don’t just think to yourself “wow that was really creative,” go ahead and send her a note and let her know you were watching and appreciated the effort.

If you are in the field and the producer rocked it as far as making sure you stayed informed during breaking news, send him a note and tell him you really felt comfortable and appreciated the information in IFB.

I can remember every single note from a co-worker I’ve gotten in the last decade.

Not too many people take the time to do it. I get that. You are busy with YOUR story and YOUR deadline and you don’t often even see other stories. But you do see some and I guarantee you like some of the stuff you see.

So say it! Take the 30 seconds to say “loved the tie!”…”Great question in that press conference!”…”Wow that standup was great!”….”That story was so well shot!”

Praise from a boss is always nice, but praise from a peer can be even better. It also shows you are engaged in the product and not just focused on yourself. A thumbs up goes a long way!

This post is originally from September 2016

Leaving your comfort zone

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

By: Mandy Mitchell

I haven’t talked about this on the blog much, but I made the decision to leave my job as sports anchor at WRAL back in January. The decision came after a lot of thought about what I want to do in the future and where I want to be. To make a long story short I just wasn’t having fun working in traditional sports anymore. And while I understand it’s a job, and not all aspects of work will always be fun, I wanted to follow my passion for journalism and storytelling and I knew to do that I had to make a major life change.

So I made the jump over to the news department where I am now a reporter focusing on longer term “enterprise” stories. It’s a dream job for me for sure, but that doesn’t mean the transition has been easy.

When you do anything for 14 years, like I did when working in sports, you develop a comfort. There are some tough and challenging days, but it eventually becomes easy. When I made the decision to leave sports I made the decision to leave my comfy little nest of security. I didn’t think that would bother me. I was confident it was all similar work and would be an easy transition, but I was not correct.

I know this isn’t a news flash, but leaving one’s comfort zone is extremely uncomfortable. We all hear that, but to experience it has been eye opening. I’ve been way more anxious and nervous than I ever imagined I would be. I have woken up in the morning feeling sick and feeling a stress I haven’t felt since my first days in the business.

But guess what? It gets easier every day. I learn something new every day and I feel like I am growing. I’m also learning the angst is coming from within and isn’t worth it.

I’m not saying you should jump to some new job at a new station, or to another department at your current station simply to avoid a comfort zone. However, I would encourage you to recognize your comfort zone and make sure you don’t let it keep you from your goals.

We all settle into a “normal” in life and that is totally ok if you are enjoying your work. But if you are not, don’t be scared to take a chance. As uncomfortable as it has been I would not go back and make a different decision.

I am learning to enjoy the discomfort and understand it is what will get me where I want to be.

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You say you want feedback?

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” -Elon Musk

By: Mandy Mitchell

One of the most important things you can do in this business, in life really, is to learn how to take feedback from management. This can be a simple comment from your boss via e-mail or a long sit-down about your performance.

How you handle this makes a big difference.

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Yeah I know…you say you “love” feedback. You say you want to “get better” and the only way to do that is through feedback. You say it, but do you mean it? I think, what you really mean, is you love hearing great things about your work.

Feedback isn’t always going to be great and most of the time it’s going to stink, so here’s a few ways to deal with it.

1- Listen and think

When your boss comes to you with a criticism…say she didn’t like your lead story at 11, accept her criticism. Truly listen to what she is saying and resist the strong and nagging urge to be defensive.

Think about what she is telling you. What can you learn from it? Is there a way you can apply this to future newscasts? Do you completely disagree and want to fight with her about it until midnight?

You have to listen and think before you react so that you react in the best way possible. Getting defensive is not the best way to deal with a superior.

2- React

A lot of how you react depends on your boss.

Look…we all know there are some jerks in news management. There are people who don’t belong in the positions. There are hotheads who love to argue to argue and criticize to criticize. There is probably no need to argue with this person. You are better off, for your own sanity, thanking him for the feedback and moving on.

If you work for a reasonable person you may choose to defend your choice, or whatever he is being critical about.

Note: There is a difference between being defensive and defending your actions.

While doing this, be brief. He’s busy. You need to make your point like you would an elevator pitch. If it’s an e-mail exchange, treat it like a tweet with maximum characters. You simply don’t need to write a novel here. Try to back your defense with facts and confidence. It also doesn’t hurt to start with “I totally see your point, and this is why I made this choice.”

Only do this if you think it’s truly worth fighting for. Choose your battles, so to speak.

If you think your boss actually **gasp**  has a point, continue to resist the urge to defend your move. Just admit you were wrong. Say you will remember this when it comes up again.

This can be painful, but you should probably get used to doing it. We all learn on a daily basis and constructive criticism, while hard to hear sometimes, is good for every single one of us. Consider yourself lucky your boss cares enough to come to you with thoughts on your performance.

3- Put it into practice

I can say one thing with completely certainty: You will be a more valued employee if you are coachable.

Feedback only makes you better if you learn from it. If you have that conversation with your boss, you have to put that feedback in to practice.

A boss of mine once told me to stop using the word “but” in my copy. He said there is usually no reason for “but” and too many anchors (particularly sports anchors) use it too often.

I thought about it. I admitted I probably used it too much and I really made an effort to change the habit. Was this a MAJOR issue? No. Of course not. But I think it made me better.

4- It’s not personal. Remember that.

Your boss isn’t coming to you to criticize you as a person. She is coming to you with, let’s be honest, an opinion.

Don’t let a little feedback ruin your confidence. Understand your boss has a job of being a boss and sometimes that means providing feedback. It can be something little like “but” or something major like you completely missed a major fact in a story. Either way, it’s not personal.

 This post is originally from August 2016

Complaining: a newsroom’s favorite pastime

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By: Mandy Mitchell

I have been working in a newsroom on a consistent basis since 1997 when I was an intern at WPEC in West Palm Beach, Florida. I’ve learned two facts about working in newsrooms over the last two decades:

1- they are basically all the same.

2- They are filled with people who LOVE to complain.

I’m not saying every newsroom is equally toxic. I have worked in newsrooms that are better than others. But tv people, if given the chance to complain about something, will complain and will complain often.

I remember the first complaint I heard in a TV newsroom. It was from the sports anchor I was working with and he was explaining how terrible it was that the weekend sports anchor no longer had a producer because of budget cuts. He was distraught. “This business,” he said “is going down.”

If someone said that these days you would get a puzzled look. “What’s a sports producer?”

My how times have changed!

Now the complaints are about social media obligations. There are complaints about stations hiring “young and cheap.” There are too many newscasts now. Too many people being asked to MMJ. Too few media companies owning the stations.

Then there are the personal complaints about schedules, not making any money, not having a social life, not getting any respect, getting taken advantage of. On and on and on…

 

The young eager people will eventually become the bitter veterans. It is a pattern that I have watched personally for 20 years.

My challenge to you is to stop the pattern. We don’t gain anything in a day from complaining. It may be fun and it may be therapeutic at times but it isn’t helping us be better journalists and create better content. It is taking what little energy we have and flushing it.

It is SO easy to be negative about every single thing that comes with the business. If you start to think about holidays missed and your paycheck and how much you are being asked to do, you can find yourself in the gutter quickly.

The next time you start doing that try to think about why you started. There have to be good days where you produce a great newscast and get that high. There have to be moments when you land the exclusive interview and feel the pride.

Focus on that.

If you don’t get any joy from this business and you feel put upon, there are other careers. Go ahead and start looking around and get out because no one benefits from your complaining. You aren’t helping the product. You aren’t helping your coworkers, and you certainly aren’t helping yourself.

I know the enthusiasm still exists.

I’ve been to workshops filled with positive people who love the business and want to make it better. I see Facebook groups where people gather to get better and share ideas. It’s motivating and uplifting to be around people who can see the good.

Let’s bring that kind of energy to the newsroom. It’s just more productive than complaining.

Ways to improve your delivery

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By: Mandy Mitchell

I get two questions more often than most from people just entering the TV News business.

The first, and by far the most common, is: When should I hire an agent?

Ugh. Really? Why is that the most asked question? If you want an answer to that question please read this post . Or you can read this one.

Now that we have gotten that question out of the way I will go to the more practical question I get often: How do I improve my delivery?

Honest and quick answer? Time. Time. Time.

I know you don’t want to hear that. I bet you want some trick that anchors and reporters use to “improve” that aspect of performance. All I can tell you is, after more than a decade of being in front of the camera, the answer is time.

Your delivery develops as you get more comfortable in front of the camera.

There are a couple of tips I can offer as you get these reps.

  • Don’t talk in a news voice. One of the best compliments I can get is if someone tells me I “sound just like you do on tv.” That means I am comfortable on air. It means I am talking in a normal voice to the viewer. It means I am not shouting. You don’t have to have some sort of “news voice” to be taken seriously. Just talk to me. Just tell me a story.
  • Write like you talk! I am stealing this from the book (which we talked about in this podcast.) If you write like you talk, you are not only writing in a way that will avoid “news speak” like blaze, or shots rang out…you are writing in a way that will be easier to read. When you write things that are easier to read you  don’t sound like you are reading.
  • Slow down. Chances are, you read too fast. You likely read too fast on the desk and you likely read too fast in the audio booth. You are reading too fast because that’s what happens when you try to inject ENTHUSIASM! and try to have ENERGY! I assure you that you can have enthusiasm and energy without spitting out a million words a minute. Take a deep breath. Tell me a story.
This post originally ran in December 2016