How to Approach Someone Who is Grieving

Rusty Ray is the morning anchor at WBTW in Myrtle Beach, SC. He’s been in the market more than a decade.

It’s likely the worst part of our job—to try to interview someone who has lost something or someone that is special, meaningful, and close to him or her. He or she is devastated. He or she does not want to share anything with someone strange, and does not want to be on TV anytime—especially now.

But we have to ask.

That’s what we do.

It’s not sensationalism. It’s coverage of events that matter to the community, and loss is something that matters.

I believe our job is to provide information that should ultimately help our viewers make decisions about their own lives. So if we are to talk to someone who has experienced great loss, and that person can impart wisdom that only comes from that pain, then we are doing our job.

How do we approach this? How do we even begin to act like we are something important for that person who is grieving to consider?

I have adopted the following approach, and, though it’s been a good long while since I’ve been in the position to cold-call someone who is experiencing extreme grief, I have met with some success (of course, a relative term in these circumstances, but you know what I mean) in the past.

First, I leave the camera in the car.

Well, let me back up. Literally and figuratively.

I don’t call. I go.

Yes, the face-to-face encounter, cold and unannounced, increases the chances that you will get a door slammed in your face, or told where exactly you can stick that microphone (words used exactly in one case for me), but I think it also may show genuine care and professionalism. There is no masking what it is we do. There is no way to sweet-talk ourselves through someone’s door without standing in front of that door first.

So, leave the camera in the car.

I knock on the door, and the first words out of my mouth after “Hello, I’m Rusty Ray with News13” are “I apologize for bothering you during this difficult time, and I am very sorry for your loss.”

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it, though. You HAVE to mean it.

Then, if the door is still open, gently explain what it is your doing. Not what you want, but what you’re

“I’m working on a story about so-and-so and what happened. I have talked to the police/firefighters/military/investigators about what happened…but I was hoping to talk to someone here about so-and-so, to tell his/her story. Would that be a possibility?”

That’s the key. We’re not here to unravel how he/she died. We’re here to introduce him/her to the world and tell the community about someone special who is no longer here.

That’s it.

It works. Sometimes.

Sometimes, it doesn’t.

But transparency, care, compassion, and honesty go a long way to accomplishing our goal. Our goal should always be to tell and share stories that make people care, and help them with their lives.

It’s ok if someone doesn’t like you

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I am often asked by new journalists what they need to know before venturing from college into the real world. These aspiring journalists want “tips”or “secrets” to success in a newsroom.

Here’s one thing I’ve had to learn along the way that will greatly benefit you in your journey: You will not be liked by everyone in the newsroom and that is OK!

This may be hard to hear. Why would someone “not like” you? You are nice. You try to make friends. You try to be fair. The simple answer is that it may not even be your fault.

I know this will come as a shock to you, but newsrooms are FILLED with egos. There are people who have been around forever. There are young people who are trying to move up. Sometimes your simple presence as another person to compete with will cause dislike among your peers.

I have seen people judged, before even entering a newsroom, as someone who was hired for “their looks,””their race,” “their gender,” “their agent,” “their ability to speak Spanish,” “their blonde hair.” You name the gripe about a new hire, I’ve heard it. ASSUME someone will have an issue with you before you walk in the door.

This isn’t a slight against people who work in newsrooms. It is sadly human nature and the whole “being on TV” thing simply makes it a tad worse.

So what can you do about this?

1- Work hard. That’s it. Come in on day one and work your ass off. It is harder (not impossible mind you) to dislike someone who comes to work to work.

2- Smile. Smile in the hallway. Smile in the edit bay. Smile when giving a mic check. Appear to be friendly and positive. It is the old “kill ’em with kindness” method. It works…sometimes.

3- Don’t gossip. I know this is HARD. You are trying to fit in in a new newsroom and it’s often hard to find common ground other than work. It is super easy to laugh along with people who are talking about others. Resist this as much as you can. Assume whatever you are saying, or laughing about, will be passed to others in the newsroom. People who want to make you look bad, for whatever reason, will seize the opportunity.

Some people will never ever warm up to you. Some people simply have bitterness and anger they can’t seem to part with and they are blaming people like “you.” They are upset about all of the “young” hires or the “cheap” hires. They are upset about “technology changing the business” or “having to focus on social media.”

It is not personal even when it feels personal. So work hard, smile and try hard not to gossip. After that, let it go. It’s totally ok if someone doesn’t like you.

By:Mandy Mitchell

 

Merry Christmas!

Just want to say Merry Christmas to everyone! Hopefully you are getting some time to spend with friends and family during the next few weeks. I will be spending my Christmas Day in the newsroom! Is there any better place? 🙂

I actually don’t mind at all because I truly love my job and my work family.

This is the only post for the week as we take a little break. Enjoy some of the posts you may have missed and we will see you soon!

Holidays in the Newsroom

What do you do all day?

Pick better soundbites

Are you Suited for TV News?

Team Panic

What I wish I knew

 

TV News while traveling

I’m on vacation this week and I’ll just go ahead and admit it… I like to watch local TV when I am in another city. If I talk about this in other forums I get looked at with a strange raised eyebrow. I am guessing anyone reading this has likely done the same thing.

It has gotten to the point where if we are traveling my husband will tell me the time and say “we can be back at the hotel by 11 if you’d like.” Is this bad? Ha!

The thing is, I’ve learned so much by doing this. Yes, you can see a lot of news online now, but I really like to watch a full newscast. I like to see how a station writes teases. I like to see how long reporters get for PKGs.  Being a sports anchor, I will switch back and forth between stations to see who is leading with what and of course I will have an opinion.

Sometimes we laugh at what stations are doing and other times I pick up things I may work into my own stories.

If you don’t currently do this, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s a chance to see how others are doing it. You can actually watch the news like a viewer would and learn what you like and what doesn’t really work.

It is also a chance to see the differences between stations. Some stations are all about fast-paced stories. Some stations cover more crime. Some stations value storytelling. As you travel, write down stations you like and try to figure out why. That will give you a better idea of who you are as a journalist and what kind of newsroom you would fit best in.

I am hoping to create more interaction on this site as we move foward into the new year. Here is my question for you. Do you find yourself doing this when you are on the road? Please leave your answer in the comment section.
Written by Mandy Mitchell

Producer-Reporter: The Most Important Relationship in the Newsroom

Kianey Carter is a producer with nearly a decade of experience. She’s worked in newsrooms in Fresno, Raleigh and now Phoenix while working just about every newscast possible. 

There are many schools of thought on this topic, I believe the relationship a producer has with her reporter is the most important one in a newsroom. Don’t get me wrong, as a producer you need to get along and have good relationships with everyone, from the assignment desk to the studio crew but without your reporter, your newscast just won’t be as good. Let me explain myself.

After the stories are pitched and reporters are given their assignments, the producer goes back to her desk and begins to craft her daily masterpiece. What do you need for this masterpiece? A dynamic lead, a great second story and an extremely teasable quarter hour. For many of us, these come from the reporters. VOs, VOSOTs and weather will fill the other bits, but reporters are what gives our newscasts meat.

As you’re sitting at your desk trying to figure out how this masterpiece is going to come together, you need to go and have a conversation with your reporter. You have the gist of their story from your morning meeting, now you need to figure out how you’re going to set the table for them and then figure out what they need from you. This might be the most important, and sometimes only, conversation you will have with your reporter. Make sure to take notes! Once you’ve had this conversation, go ahead and write the toss. If you try and wait until later, it will escape you. I PROMISE your toss later will never be as good as the ideas that were swirling around your head after this meeting.

After you’ve talked to everyone about what they’re going after and what they need from you, understand your job isn’t over. I don’t suggest you call or email your reporter every hour to see how they’re story is coming along but you should email or call or chat with them once they get back in house, just to check and see if anything has changed. During this meeting, you’ll usually find out if they have any good soundbites for teases or if you need to rearrange some things in your rundown.

This might sound tedious or very amateurish but have your reporter read everything you’ve written! I’m talking teases, tosses, headlines. This way they know what you’ve written and if something is incorrect, they can fix it. In my nearly 10 years of producing, I’ve never been ashamed to ask someone else to read what I wrote and to change whatever is wrong. Our job is to be accurate and factual. It sucks to have a reporter correct your anchor on air because you didn’t have the right information in a toss or hear your reporter complaining in IFB about how the tease was written poorly and not right. I just shudder thinking about it.

While all of these mechanics and “official” things are great, you also need to just talk to your reporter, not about their story but about their life. Find some time before meetings, in between meetings, while walking into the building or to the coffee machine and just chat. What’s their life like outside of your windowless newsroom? Do they have kids? What’d they do over the weekend? Get to know the people that you are constantly calling, emailing or just plain bugging. I bet they have pretty interesting lives plus they’ve see everything you haven’t. Reporters and photographers are the ones hitting the streets and meeting all the characters you see in their stories. They’ve got some wild stories, believe me!

In my time, I’ve had some really good relationships with reporters and have become good friends with many. What I have really noticed is once I make the effort to help them, they’re more likely to help me. Think of the times when you’re in a jam, short on time and still have four teases to write. I’ve definitely turned to a reporter and said, “Can you write a tease on your story for me?” While they might curse me under their breath or in their mind, they’ve helped. Being the keeper of the time, reporters have definitely come to me and said “Hey, my story is longer than a 1:20. Can I get an extra :15 or :20?” While I curse them for coming to me late with this request, I usually oblige or we negotiate a compromise. Not because they’re my friend but because I know and understand how hard they work and that they’re not just trying to hear or see more of themselves on tv.

The one takeaway from all of this: make the effort. It will usually net your great things. We are in the communication business and if you don’t communicate, your goals will never be met.

Where the (Blank) did you learn to edit?!

I got my first paying job in TV news when I was 17 and a senior in high school. I had been interning in the sports department for two years when I got a chance to move over to editing to be a newscast editor. This was in the era of network feeds “coming down” at a certain time of the day and reporters calling in their PKGs via the Nextel. (I understand this may sound like Greek to anyone under 30)

Anyway, I got my first real lesson in what it feels like to be yelled at in the middle of the newsroom on my first week on the job.

I was the “11pm editor” at the time. I would leave school a little early and get in around 3:00pm to help out with reporter PKGs and the like. On this particular day I was assigned to edit a franchise peice for one of the more tenured anchors. I, being 17, tended to look for easier ways to do things, so I decided I would edit the story quicker if I simply didn’t bother with NAT sound. “WHY was I the first to think of this?!” “I’m so smart and resourceful!”…Ugh.

So I did this. Track-bite-track-bite-outcue…and then I just threw some video (No Audio) over the top and PRESTO! PKG.

Let’s just say the anchor was not pleased when this story aired. She came back to editing and found me and asked me “WHERE THE (BLANK) I HAD LEARNED TO EDIT AND WHAT (BLANK) JOURNALISM SCHOOL GAVE ME A (BLANK) DEGREE!?”

I wanted to cry. I remember just staring at her and not knowing what to do or say or how to react.

I had a few people stick up for me, telling her it was mean to yell because I was “just a kid.” That’s when it hit me. It didn’t matter how old or experienced I was, I was expectd to do the job and I should’ve done it correctly.

I went back into the newsroom and apologized to the anchor and told her it wouldn’t happen again. It never did.

The moral of the story is this: It’s never wise to use age or experience level as an excuse for an error. You don’t want to create a giant sign over your head that says, well, you are OVER YOUR HEAD!

Own the mistake and move on.

I’m Looking at the Man in the Mirror

Jenn Bates has been the morning anchor at KWCH since November 2014 and was a sports anchor/reporter for 8.5 years in Wichita and Tri-Cities, WA before that.  Jenn studied telecommunications-news at the University of Florida from 2002-2006.  

No I’m not talking about checking your hair or makeup (although that is a necessary evil of this job).  I’m talking about looking at yourself while you read a script!  Sounds a little weird, right?  I promise I have a good reason for it.

I grew up doing a lot of theater.  Straight plays, musicals and improv were all a huge part of my youth and through college.  I credit a lot of my ability in this broadcast business to the skills I learned while acting.  We all know that cadence, inflection and pitch are all important.  Some of you may also realize the importance of how you breathe!  In theater, especially musical theater, you learn to use your diaphragm and breathe through that to sustain your voice and have a better tone.  Learning how to breathe is so important and learning when to take a breath is also key especially when you’re doing sports highlights or ad-libbing a script.

One of the absolute BEST things I learned in theater, however, is to read my lines while looking at myself in the mirror.  It sounds narcissistic, right?  Trust me, it serves a great purpose.

I worked with one guy who was so fantastic when it came to researching stats and his writing was so creative and fun but the thing holding him back the most was the faces he would make while he was on the air!  Seriously, he made the strangest faces while he was talking and he never realized it.  That’s where the mirror trick comes in.  Do you know what you look like while you’re reading?  Sure you can go back and look at air checks of yourself and see what’s happening.  I remember watching myself and saying ‘man I sure blink a lot!’  But how do you fix it?  Looking in the mirror and seeing your muscle movements while you’re reading will help you learn and feel what your face is doing while you’re reading.  It sounds strange but it’s just another form of muscle memory.  You can train yourself out of funky facial expressions!

Give it a try and you might be surprised to see what you look like!

Reporter’s Christmas List

It is the time of year where you will be asked by your family members what you would like for Christmas…or Hanukkah…or your birthday, if you have the awful luck of having a December birthday. Here are a few things you may want to consider getting the family to pay for so you don’t have to buy them on your awful salary.

  • Nice professional clothing. Guys? Ask for a really nice suit. White dress shirts. Good ties. Ladies? You can’t go wrong with a nice suit either. Classy dresses are also very in for anchors. Drag the parents to Nordstrom or Nordstrom Rack and get good stuff to wear on TV. Bright colors. Nice material. This is the time to stock up on things that can be mixed and matched.
  • Good makeup. You should be wearing MAC or better if you are a TV professional. I spent the first two years I was in TV wearing Cover Girl. BAD IDEA! Ask for gift certificates to buy some of the good stuff. Ask for this yearly until you can afford it.
  • A good blow dryer. This is mostly for the ladies of course. You have no idea what a difference a good blow dryer makes until you have had a good blow dryer. I am not talking about the kind you can get at Walgreens. You need some watts to get that hair looking fabulous. I am a big fan of this one. I’ve had several Babyliss products and they’ve all been pretty good.
  • A good haircut. I did a short little poll and found out many of the colleagues spend anywhere between $80-110 on a haircut. I am not talking color. Just a cut. Get the family to spring for a nice one for you as you get ready to job hunt. The cut makes a much bigger difference than you may think.
  • Rain boots and a good rain jacket. If you are a reporter it’s never a bad idea to have these items in a bag in your car. Floods/tornadoes/hurricanes/covering a story about a sewage spill (ew!) can all call for some rubber boots. And you will love what a solid rain jacket can do to keep you dry. The cheap ones don’t do the job.
  • Gift cards to grocery stores or gas cards. This doesn’t need an explanation. You know what you make. How nice would it be to get Aunt Wilma to pay for your gas for a week?

Don’t be Lazy with your Edits

 

Um…You know…You will have the chance to be super lazy in anything you do it TV news, and there is one habit that drives me ABSOLUTELY crazy when I hear it while watching a newscast or a resume reel.

Don’t leave “ums” and “you knows” and “buts” and all other extraneous crap in your soundbites. There is simply no excuse for that in the age of non-linear editing. Here I am going “back in the day again”…but “back in the day,” you had to work to “pot up” the audio at the right time to make sure you didn’t start a bite with “um.” Now you can just look at the audio waves and take that part down.

Below is an example of a good edit and a bad edit from a recent Mike Krzyzewski press conference after a Duke game I covered. I see the bad edit done far too often.

Take the time to make a good edit and don’t even think about wasting a second of your viewers’ time on words that are not needed. Editing the other way makes you look sloppy and I assure you the veterans in the business will notice.

Biz Q&A: with a news director

This is a Q&A with KAIT news director Josh White. KAIT is the NBC/ABC in Jonesboro, Arkansas which is market 181.

Q: What was your first job in the business?

A: I was an intern at WLEX-TV in Lexington, KY. My main thing was to put countdowns on tapes they’d be using for that days sportscast. I also rode along as they shot VO’s and VOSOT’s, and shot a little along the way. The first paying gig – was a PT sports photographer at WKYT-TV in Lexington, KY thanks for the recommendation of those at WLEX. I shot mainly on Friday nights and weekends because of my college schedule.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a news director?

A: At first, I wanted to be a chief photog in my career – that’s all I wanted. Once I did that, I then thought – hey I think I could make better decisions that such-n-such – and the dream was born. I sat in on all the morning and afternoon meetings I could, studied why they made the decisions they did, and just became a sponge for how to try & run a shop. I’ve had some great teachers along the way, and some pretty bad ones…which also taught me a lot as well. If they were bad, then I learned what not to do, how not to say something, how not to treat people & stored it in my head.

Q: What is your biggest daily challenge?

A: My biggest challenge honestly is keeping an eye on the product. So many times, there are other things that pull ND’s away from the product to the point where they have no idea what went in the shows. I won’t lie, there are days like that and those are insanely frustrating. That’s where having a strong AND (assistant News Director) comes into the mix – otherwise it goes downhill pretty quick. The challenge is not to get so involved in the meetings, the projects, the consoling of some of the team members, that you lose focus of what is our product doing – are they following strategic planning, are they writing tight, are they showcasing, does the product look good (Being a former photog, that will always stay close) are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing & how can we make it better in the next newscast. Armchair quarterbacking is a pain, but also a necessity in this business. If we can’t look back on our product and find a way to do it better, or cleaner, or faster – then you’re not being truthful to yourself or to your team.

Q: What is the one thing you wish members of your staff understood about your job?

The overall picture. Far too often we all get caught up in, “My story, my issue, my thing,” is the most important thing, and it should be your top priority. I refer to the newsroom & the relationship of the AND & ND as this – it’s all a big playpen. The AND is atop the tower watching over the kids, making sure they’re playing fair, not playing rough, making sure we don’t get sued, tending to “Little Johnny,” who got hurt on the “monkey bars,” and making sure everyone is doing what they need to do inside the playpen. The ND’s job is to watch over the AND, and then look for areas where we can expand the playpen. Where can we branch out “Little Susie,” because she’s getting good & needs to expand a bit more on what she can do – how do we get “Little Johnny,” to do the same, when can I introduce the “new toy,” into the playpen without utter chaos, when and how can I introduce the new person into the mix, and make sure they’re all playing nice together, etc. When the AND has to get into the playpen and write web copy, or write a story, or help ‘Little Johnny,” showcase his story properly, he has to get into the playpen – which then means the ND has to step down, and watch over – then no one is looking for the expansion, growing, and excelling. In a nutshell – the overall picture of where we’re going, why we’re going, and the excitement/scary part of the trip.

Q:What thing/things make you ignore a reel immediately?

This is market specific, but for me – agent. I’m market 181 – if you have an agent, I’m more than likely not interested. Overall though – me seeing standups that don’t show me you know how to shoot. It’s the way we’re going, and as a former photog – it’s frightening to see, but at the same time – I certainly see why and embrace it. If I see a standup with tons of movements, and can tell you’re simply “revoicing” someone else’s work – we’re done. If I see someone standing there – do I want movement yes, but it makes me watch a little longer to see if they shot it themselves. Now – is “One Man Banding,” the death of TV – no. Not by a long shot. Those telling you it is, aren’t being honest with themselves, and are most likely frightened of losing their jobs, or “remember a time when….” Here’s the question – can you have quantity and quality? Yes. Easily, yes. You simply have to have a good teacher. These MMJ’s – if you get the ones with the right attitude – can shoot their asses off and turn dang good stories. The key is teaching, and attitude. If you have those two – you’ll have a rising star in no time.

Q: What one thing can make you continue watching a reel?

A: A great mixture of “I shot it,” and I can do an interactive standup with help.” Mix those two & you have me for a minute or two longer.

Q: How many newscasts do you watch a day?

A: I try for all. Most days I make it, others I don’t. We go on at 4:30a-7a, 11a, 5p, 6p, and a 10p. My alarm is usually set for 4:30a to try & at least turn on the TV to semi-watch and wake up. From there it’s just like our viewers – I watch, and I listen as I work to get the kids ready for school, breakfast, and our own selves ready for work. From there, I’m at work and watch the 11a, 5p, and 6p. I try to make sure I look over the shows, watch the “playpen” and making sure we’re doing what we need to do, and that my AND is watching over the “playpen.” The 10p we’re usually in bed watching…taking mental notes, reacting both positive and negatively to what we’re seeing, and paying close attention to what my wife is doing & saying. God love her, she still watches TV like a normal person, and doesn’t watch all the newscasts. The 10p is usually her “catchup,” newscast and she’ll make recommendations, or note something that caught her eye, etc. It’s kind of perfect, because she’s in the demo that we really want to reach, she’s a “normal,” viewer, and she reacts to things like most viewers would.