Treat it Like Grad School

Drew Stewart is a 1997 graduate from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. He spent 19 years working in TV news in South Carolina.  Stewart currently
lives in Columbia, SC, and is a one person video department for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

Unless you’re the only person in the history of broadcasting who came out of the womb knowing how to do this, you’re going to screw up at your first gig.  You may have been the wunderkind at your Journalism school, but now you’re the noob working nights and weekends covering the Podunk Pig festival in rural God-knows-where. In order to help you not piss off the veterans at your station, including the news director who hired you, here are a few things I did wrong at my first job.

You’re not that good.  Sure your mom thinks your reel rocks, your prof said you had the best reel in the graduating class, but you haven’t been on the streets, where it counts. Beginning my junior year at the University of South Carolina, I got a shot shooting news and sports on the weekends.  This station was a blowtorch, it was considered one of the most prestigious stations in the Southeast, so when I took my first full time gig after graduation at a much smaller station in Charleston, SC, I went there thinking I had all the answers and people needed to ask me for advice. Before long, I was pissing people off right and left. But soon, I saw the error of my ways and began to listen to the more experienced people on the staff.   Before I left, I was considered one of the go to guys for getting things done. All it took was a change in attitude and a will to learn from the veterans in the newsroom.  Years later, when I moved on to running the assignment desk, I found the same types of attitudes from the reporters who were on their first jobs.  I’d tell them when they learned to break meaningful stories, then tell me how good you are.

You’re going to make mistakes, learn from them.  There’s a website for photogs called The message boards attracted photogs of all levels of experience.  There was once a thread where the topic was mistakes.  A well-known seasoned shooter remarked, “You name the mistake, I’ve made it.” You’re going to make mistakes on your first job.  Just learn from them and move on. When I was in charge of a station’s high school football show, we’d use interns to ride with the photographers to log the time codes of the important plays.  I once had an intern forget to log a highlight I knew I wanted to use, but he hadn’t written it down.  I simply told him, “Don’t forget it again.” This person, being otherwise reliable didn’t repeat the mistake. Which brings me to my next thought.

Seek the advice of others. TV News is a hard profession. It’s one not easily picked up without practical experience. No one gets it right at the start.  When you settle in to your first job, find out who the go-to people are.  Seek their advice.  Remember, they were once as green as you are.

Own up to your mistakes. During my career in news I wore many hats. I began as a sports photographer, moved to news photographer and eventually to news/sports reporter anchor. During my news photog days I was charged with making sure our fleet of news vehicles were taken care of.  During this time, the station bought a brand new, state of the art, live truck.  Since the stations other trucks were piles of junk, I warned our staff I had better not see so much as a gum wrapper on the floor of that truck or there would be hell to pay. To make a short story longer, I was using the live truck on its maiden voyage and I backed it into a fence leaving a scuff that went all the way through the paint into the bare metal. I knew I had a butt chewing coming, but instead of trying to hide, I approached the station manager myself and showed him the damage. For my honesty, he yelled at me and told me that because he heard it straight from me and I was upfront and honest, I was off the hook unless I made the same mistake again.  Now my fellow photogs never let me hear the end of it.

Most importantly, have fun. Working in small market news is hard, but you’ll have an experience you’ll treasure for your entire life.

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