Talking about your job search

By: Mandy Mitchell

Your first real, professional job search can be an exciting time. It’s the first time you have looked for a job with actual “experience” on the resume, and if you have some talent, you may have a few options and choices on where you will go next.

I have some not so subtle advice for you about what do to with this information: KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!

Most of us have figured out that it is taboo to talk about salaries with coworkers. It’s also pretty rude to talk about your job search and “how many people want me,” and how “my agent is getting so many calls,” and how “everyone says I belong in a MUCH bigger market.”

First of all, you can look like a real ass if you constantly talk about what a big deal you are and how you are “up for so many jobs” and never end up actually leaving for any of these jobs. Interest does not equal an offer. It is best, and more professional, to wait until you have agreed to a deal and informed your boss of your intention to leave before you start telling people.

arrogant

It also saves you some embarrassment if something doesn’t work out. Here’s a newsflash: there are likely other talented people up for that job too and the station may hire another person. Gasp!

So if nothing else, you should stop running your mouth because it could lead to some uncomfortable moments for you down the road.

Another reason to avoid talking about your job search is that success is a very relative thing. While you are busy blabbing about how you are just “far too good for the market you are in,” someone else has made a decision to stick around and move up to a main anchor position. That person may have gotten married and had children and is now making 3x what you get paid. You don’t know how many jobs that person may have turned down to stay at the station you are “way too good for.”

This is not to say you should never discuss your situation with others. I understand you have friends in the newsroom you can count on to keep this private. You may have a mentor who can help you choose between offers. We all need to talk from time to time and a job search can certainly be stressful!

This is simply a reminder to show some discretion.

I said a few things, very unintentionally, to coworkers during my first job that I now cringe over. Not everything is meant to be shared and, more often than not, you can benefit from keeping details about your next move very close to the vest.

 

 

Tease me, Bro!

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.  

Our station got into a bad habit a long time ago.  In the 6pm show the producer would regularly drop the sports tease.  So I stopped writing one.  Eventually, it was just commonplace for weather to toss to the break and come back with our generic sports open without any mention of sports throughout the show.
Please, tease your stuff!
I talk now from the news side of things where teases are CRUCIAL to shows.  How many times have you caught yourself either watching or show because the tease was so good, or in some cases, so outlandish that you just HAD to watch for the story.  Inside Edition and any show on the E! Network always make me laugh or cringe with how sensational their teases are.  But, I remember them AND they tend to get me to stick around at least for a little while.
I’m not saying you need to tease death, sex and destruction (ok, maybe sometimes) but you DO need to put effort into teases because they matter.
Here are some quick and dirty tips from one of my favorite Ep’s, Christina Taylor (she now works in Denver as a prof, her husband is an Emmy winning photog in the Denver area):
1)  Don’t start with ‘coming up.’  That gives people a cue that they can walk away or turn the channel.
2)  If it happened in a small town or a small college DON’T say the location.  If people think it doesn’t affect them, they won’t watch.
3)  Don’t be a MORE-ON.  Moron teases are so common and they happen in intro’s a lot too.  Don’t tell me ‘so and so with have more on this,’ because that does nothing for me.  It’s a cop out, it’s lazy. Don’t be lazy.
4) Show me your BEST VIDEO and use your BEST SOUND.  If you have video that makes everyone in the newsroom crowd around your desk, USE IT.  And use it A LOT. If it makes people in your newsroom freak out, gag, laugh, cry, say ohhhhhhh, then yeah it’ll make your audience do the same and will make them want to watch again.  Same goes for sound.  Reporters, when you’re in the field, if you hear a soundbite/nat sound pop that is fantastic, TELL YOUR PRODUCER!  Producers and anchors, if you find a soundbite inside a package from your video service, clip it, edit it and use it off the top.
5)  Let’s say you’ve found that UNBELIEVABLE video that you’re going to use in the tease and in a story later.  You should write your tease for it IMMEDIATELY.  If you know right away, yes that’s my open tease, write the tease so it’s fresh in your mind.  Also write the story so you can (and this is insanely important) WRITE TO THE VIDEO.  Tell me what I’m seeing and why it’s important.
6) Don’t give me a statement.  I see this one a lot.  If you write a tease and it tells me everything I need to know then why would I watch?
7) Safety and security.  At our station this is one of our TOP reasons for running a story.  However, and this is very important, do not scare your viewers.  Don’t write a tease to freak people out.  In other words…I guess don’t be TMZ.

Quick Tip: “I can do it.”

By: Mandy Mitchell

Don’t ever underestimate the power of the phrase “I can do it,” in a newsroom. You will run in to many people who will ALWAYS find a reason something can not be done.

No matter what the task, that person will tell you how the deadline is too tight or the equipment isn’t fast enough. They will tell you how the drive is too far or how much work they already have to do.

You can set yourself apart by making sure you are thought of as a person who can always find a way.

I know I will have TV veterans who will say this is a bad idea because it only means management will expect more and more. In this ever shrinking industry I would rather be a “go-to” person than someone who always wants to find a way out of an assignment.

Minor Photography mistakes to avoid

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By: Mandy Mitchell

When you have been in this business as long as I have, you have made EVERY (Well almost every, I am sure there are more) mistake you can make with a camera.

I have come back with blue video, really hot video, really dark video, no video. Yes. No video. I didn’t hit record!

I have come back with overmodulated audio, really low audio, no nat sound, no audio at all.

Name it, I have probably done it!

So here are a few ways to avoid these mistakes so you don’t have to learn the hard way. Yes, I know this may sound elementary to some of you, but someone I work with recently plugged into a “line” feed and came back with some pretty crappy sound. It happens…even to the veterans.

Wear headphones

This is a great example of do as I say, not as I do. I am awful at remembering to do this. One-man-banding creates all kinds of issues. You are thinking about the story. The writing. The bites. You have your notebook and forgot your pen. You are looking for a pen. Oh wait, headphones! I know, I know. Try to remember. I was saved by headphones at a press conference two weeks ago because I noticed the feed was pretty hot. Looked fine on the camera levels. It was not. It was hot. It wouldn’t have been usable. I told the person operating the box and we fixed it. No headphones, I would’ve been saying the F-word when I returned to the station.

Check your levels. Both of them

Ever shoot an entire day without your NAT sound mic? That’s because you were not paying attention to the levels in your viewfinder. Get in the habit…HABIT! of checking for two lines. Get in the habit of knowing what it is supposed to look like, so when something is turned off or down, you notice. A lot of people share gear. Don’t get caught with no NAT sound. Make checking for it as natural as white balancing the camera (please tell me THAT is a habit).

Use zebra lines

I know. You are super talented and you don’t need zebra. You can “see” what looks good. That is until someone messes with the settings on your view finder. Someone made it darker and now you have super hot video making people look like they are walking on the sun. Zebra. Trust me.

Don’t trust the color viewfinder

I didn’t have a color viewfinder when I started. I had to learn what the white balance number should be when outside or indoors. Learn the numbers. If you don’t know, ask someone. Most “old vets” will be thrilled to help. The numbers won’t fail you. The viewfinder absolutely can and likely will.

 

Before you Sign your Life Away

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.

Perhaps I used a bit of hyperbole in the title, but the truth is, when you sign your first contract, make sure you have a lawyer look at it first.

I once had a well-seasoned labor attorney look at one of my contracts. Here are $300 worth of takeaways you’re getting on me.

XDMB0IC7TX

Here are my suggestions as to what you should ask for:

Clothing allowance: Many local stations have clothing contracts with stores and companies which trade with the station for a certain amount of advertising or promotional endorsements.  It’s at the end of most newscasts.  They’ll have a graphic at the end of the show saying, “Ed and Susan’s wardrobe provided by Capital City Fashions.”  The amount of the allowance will depend on your job.  I was a sports reporter/fill-in anchor so I got $500, enough to buy one suit at the place with whom that station had a deal, but it wasn’t a problem since I didn’t need a suit for my job unless I was on the set.

If you’re a met or anchor ask about a makeup allowance. Many corporate stations are striking deals with makeup vendors. So you may be able to have the station pick up the tab on that.

Here are some points of which you really need to be mindful when signing a contract:

Contracts will always be in favor of the station.  We’re in a period now where nearly all local TV stations are owned by massive companies with lawyers on staff who specialize in labor contracts. Most attorneys in general would tell you to never sign such a one-sided deal, but since you’re like I and hundreds before were, we all have or had stars in our eyes, and reporters often tend to be left-brained romantics set on living out dreams than thinking in purely practical terms (at least I am), you’ll put fate to the wind and not let anyone talk you out of signing it. Because this is what you slaved for staring for hours at a screen with Final Cut Pro on it and  you’ve created hundreds of “job agents” on TV station websites, and finally it’s paid off in the form of  your first job offer.

If it’s your first job, you have little negotiating power.  I don’t know how many of you are Country music fans but back in 1978, Kenny Rogers had a hit song called, “The Gambler.” Fortunately for the purposes of this post, Geico’s ad people have brought it back into public awareness. The chorus of the song is” You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Which is a good lesson for when you negotiate your first deal.  Unless you have some intangible no one else in the world has, there are any number of people who will take the job you’re being offered.

When your name is on the dotted line don’t even think about breaking that contract.  A contract is a legal binding document between you and this massive company with a whole office of lawyers looking to come after you should you leave before your part of the bargain is fulfilled.

The contracts will most likely be binding under the laws of the State where the parent company is located, so if you have an issue with them you’ll have to go to Alabama, Virginia or Maryland and hire an attorney to settle the dispute in that jurisdiction.

Be wary of the non-compete.  You’ll hear people say, they’re not legally binding (in some states, they are not) but there’s an unspoken rule in TV: Don’t raid our talent and we won’t raid yours.  A non-compete clause defines the amount of time you have to be out of  the job you performed for your previous employer before you can perform similar duties for that company’s competitors.  In my opinion, companies use it as a means to keep salaries low. I’ve seen cases where reporters have bolted for one station and were reporting for another in the same market the next week. Those were rare cases where the decision to part ways was mutual.

The most important thing to remember is your contract is a legal document spelling out what the terms and duties of what you’ll do for the company and what the company will do for you.  Don’t fall into the trap of, well I’ve had it, there’s nothing they can do to stop me from leaving. Don’t be sucked into the thinking that fulfilling your contract is optional.

The good news is contracts are standard in the biz, so don’t be afraid to sign one.  Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into first.

When I grow up…

Amanda Lamb is a crime reporter for WRAL TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, who has been working in television for 26 years. She is also the author of eight books including true crimes and memoirs. To learn more about Amanda go to www.alambauthor.com or follow her on Twitter @alamb and Facebook, WRAL Amanda Lamb.

When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they usually choose jobs they have seen portrayed on television, in the movies or online as exciting or glamorous. Astronaut, ballerina, police officer, president, firefighter, actor, soldier, model, rock star. They don’t understand for one minute what it takes to get to the particular position they’re fantasizing about. They’re children, after all. These are just dreams.

Over the years, I have come to regard some of the up-and-coming journalists in this same way. They visit the newsroom on a tour, or as an intern, and look at me with their young, eager, starry-eyed selves and say with a completely serious face: “I want to be an anchor.”

“I want to be an astronaut or a ballerina when I grow up,” I sometimes reply. This is usually received with a very confused look, my sarcasm and wit lost on their literal young ears.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have goals. But your goals should always be realistic and involve logical steps that allow you to achieve them with merit and hard work. If the anchor desk calls you, and I do mean calls you, because it chooses you, not the other way around, good for you. But your first goal in television news should always be to be a good journalist. Being a good journalist is the foundation of what we do, behind the anchor desk and in the field. Anchors who are good journalists are respected and can handle whatever comes their way. Anchors who are not good journalists are like wolves in sheep’s clothing-easy to spot, and frankly, not always easy to watch.

The reason that being a good journalist is so important to what we do is that a good journalist gives context to the news he or she reads on the air, whether it is in the writing, or the delivery. The alternative is an actor who reads the news with no depth or real understanding. I’m not going to say this doesn’t happen in a day and age when entertainment often trumps news on many networks because it proves to be more profitable. But in my opinion, depth and credibility are critical factors in the delivery of news to an educated audience.

So, when you meet an old-timer like me, tell them you want to be a journalist, and just maybe you will find yourself a mentor and someone who can give you a hand in a business that we’re trying to keep from going to the wolves.

Healthy Eating in TV News

By: Mandy Mitchell

It’s January, so that means a lot of people are trying to develop healthier habits. While I am not a fan of the New Year’s resolution, I did think it was an appropriate time to address the issue of healthy eating while working in this business.

This is really geared at those just getting in. We’ve all heard of the “freshman 15” in college. I was on the verge of the “first job 15” during my first few months in Myrtle Beach. We are always on the run and that makes it super easy to fall into bad habits.

I  also can’t remember a day in any newsroom I have worked in when a doughnut wasn’t available. Usually that doughnut is right there in an open box near the assignment desk.

You’ve had a long day. You dealt with an angry viewer e-mail. You skipped lunch. You really DESERVE the doughnut.

And while nothing is wrong with one doughnut, the problem is when this becomes a habit. It is a doughnut on Monday, the “one” cookie on Tuesday, the free ice cream on Wednesday. You work in a newsroom…you know!

I have worked pretty hard over the years to avoid this trap, so I wanted to share a few tips with you.

1- Keep a stash of healthy snacks at your desk. Some of my co-workers have laughed at me for this. I am always snacking on pretzels or almonds or an apple with peanut butter. Why? Because there is a doughnut somewhere and I don’t want to be hungry when I see it. So prepare for that. Bring snacks. Keep a bag of pretzels around. Treat the newsroom as a grocery store and don’t go in there hungry!

2- Bring your lunch/dinner. You will see this on all healthy eating lists. It is WAY easier for reporters/photogs to swing by a drive-thru. It is MUCH more convenient for producers/anchors to order out and let someone go pick up the meal. This is fine every now and then, but it is extremely hard to stick to any kind of good habit when you are eating out every night.

If you are in the field, invest in a nice lunch box/cooler and pack it with fruit, veggies, a sandwich (PB&J is a solid choice!), pretzels, baked chips, crackers. I actually got a fun Bento box lunch box (yes I am a huge dork) that encourages variety. It works really well on busy days.

Anchors/producers can get more creative. You may even want to cook for yourself! (a foreign concept for many) Even making your own pizza is better for you than ordering Papa John’s with the nightside crew. Make an effort to brown bag it a couple of times a week. It saves money too!

3- Bring a water bottle. Soda drinking is also an easy habit to fall into when you work in this business. It’s a good idea to cut back on that and try to fill the bottle up a few times a day instead. Coffee and tea are good substitutes for the caffeine!

 

We’ve all seen the news car with 5 days worth of fast food bags in the backseat. Let’s not be that person!

 

 

 

 

Quick Tip: Google a story 

By: Mandy Mitchell

Believe it or not, I once found a great story by googling these three words: “runner. fundraiser. Raleigh.”

A blog post from a restaurant popped up with a brief mention of a local woman who was raising money for a North Carolina boy with epilepsy. She was planning to run the Boston Marathon in his honor and the two had never met.

I found the woman on twitter and had the story set up 5 minutes later. Here it is in case you want to see it.

Coming up with story ideas is one of the more challenging things we do. Sometimes it helps to get creative and try new things. I now use this technique on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s useless. Other times it comes up gold!

 

What to Consider Before Signing with an Agent

By: Mandy Mitchell

You know who you are. You have been in the business anywhere from about one to five years. You are talented. You’ve been told you are talented by your co-workers. You’ve been told you should be in a bigger market. You start thinking you should get an agent. You may have even been contacted by an agent who told you how talented you are and how you should be in a bigger market.

I was you. I know how you are feeling.

You are thinking it’s the next logical step. You are thinking it can only help you move on and up. You are thinking the agent will have connections and will know about job openings before they happen. You may even be thinking it would be cool to tell your parents or peers you have an agent because it feels like progress even in the face of zero progress.

I was there. I signed with an agent during my third year in the business because I thought all of these things. It was a mistake.

I am not going to tell you a long story of why it was a mistake and I won’t tell you why you shouldn’t sign with an agent. It wasn’t right for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you and your path.

What I would like to tell you is a few things you should do before you make this very important career decision.

1- Realize this is an important decision

I am not sure why I went into my relationship with my first agent with such carelessness. I read a couple of reviews and I thought the person was “big time” and because the person “wanted me” I thought that was good enough. This is a BUSINESS relationship. It is important. You are putting your career in his or her hands. You may be paying this person money. We don’t enter into other relationships without a great deal of thought. Don’t just get flattered and sign a deal. It is worth your time truly ponder the decision and what it will mean for you one or two years from now.

2- Think about why you want this

Why do you want an agent? Is it the connections? Is it so you don’t have to worry about sending links or doing that work anymore? Is it because you think the agent can negotiate better?

As we discussed in Monday’s post, I haven’t seen many agents who can truly help with connections on the local TV level, particularly in the size markets you would be looking at during years one-five. You can do as good a job of knowing about openings by making connections. Get to know people in the markets you are interested in. I assure you I know about openings in my market long before they go public. Many agents spend their time e-mailing news directors. Do you really want to pay them to do the work you can do?

Do not fall into the trap of signing with someone because you are tired of the job search and want someone else to hustle for you. Realize YOU care more about YOUR career than anyone. That means you will be more diligent about the process. The agent may, as my agent did, skip sending links to stations you really would like to work at because it’s “not a good enough job.” You be the judge of that and do your own work.

As for contract talks. It’s not that scary. We will address that in another post, but truly consider if you feel like paying 10% of your salary just to avoid a few uncomfortable moments with the ND.

3- Talk to current clients

If you have considered all of these things and still want to sign with the agent, make sure you talk to people who are current clients. Ask the agent to give you a few phone numbers. Do not e-mail these people. Call them. Take them to lunch. Ask how often they talk to the agent. Ask if they know what stations they’ve applied to and the status of the jobs. Make sure the agent isn’t sending bulk tapes (links with several clients). Really find out if this is a relationship you would like to have.

Agents will often have testimonials on their websites. Pay ZERO attention to those and get your own.

4-Look at the agent’s website

A website tells the story. Does the agent update it often? If he doesn’t, what does that say for how often he will want to update your reel?

This is a good place to look for attention to detail. If it is lacking on the website, it may be lacking in your job search too.

5- Meet the person

If all of these things check out and you are still super fired up to sign with the agent, go ahead and meet the person. Fly to the city she lives in and have a meal. If this is not an option, try to have a Facetime conversation. Talk to her about your goals and dreams and make sure you feel comfortable putting your career in her hands.

It is ok to be demanding. Do not feel like you are in a job interview. YOU are the one interviewing HER. Make sure she knows you expect communication and you want your reel updated on a regular basis.

These may sound like an obvious things for agents to do. I assure you, they are not!

 

Just be careful. I know how tempting it is to sign with someone, especially when they fill your head with where you could go and what kind of money you could be making.

I hope you will learn from my mistake and truly put some thought into the decision.

 

The Great Agent Debate

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.

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One harsh reality of television when you start out is how little you will make.  In my first job as a weekend sports anchor/sports reporter in a small market I made $20k a year and that was considered a good place to start!  I was hourly in a 2-man department so during state playoff time I would put in 14-16 hour days which made the paychecks a little nicer but not much (the hours are also another future blog post!).  My ‘raise’ in my 2nd year was a standard cost of living raise which bumped me up to a whopping $22k.  I was big time!

I think the salary is a well-known part of the job.  I remember Dr. Sid Pactor at the University of Florida asking us every single day why in the world we were in this major because we were never going to make any money.  He was pretty much right.  What he didn’t tell us about, and what we rarely ever talked about, was getting an agent.  I did not have one out of college and I eventually got one while I was looking for my second job.  I wish I hadn’t and here’s why.

I was making barely enough to cover rent, bills and food so how in the world did I expect to pay an agent 8% of my next salary which wasn’t going to be much more than what I was already making? (for reference, my salary in my 2nd job was $32k in my first year so yeah, still not a lot)  If you are just looking around for another local market job there is really not a need to get an agent.  Sometimes even network jobs can fall in your lap without representation.  Most of the time news directors and Gm’s don’t really want to talk to agents anyway, it annoys them.  Not to mention you can do your own interviews and send our your own tapes!

I’ve been a part of the hiring process of my station.  I was involved in watching the tapes and reading the resumes.  Let me tell you this first-hand:  tapes from agents did not get any special treatment!  It was especially annoying getting a full reel from an agent (that means it’s not just your stuff on the tape) and seeing people who weren’t even sports anchors.  We dumped those tapes immediately.

One thing you should already be doing in college is networking.  We were lucky at UF to have the advisory council come every semester to meet us and chat about tapes and answer questions like I’m doing here in this blog post.  I kept the names and numbers of the anchors, producers, Ep’s and Nd’s that came to that council and kept in contact with them.  I also made sure to stay friends with people from J-school that were workers like me.  That’s partly how I got my first job.  My friend Josh was working for Baylor in Waco, doing their school sports TV network.  The sports director hiring me in Washington state?  Used to work for a local station in Waco.  Happy coincidence?  Both of them were Jewish in a very heavily populated Christian town so Josh and my eventual sports director knew each other well.  Josh vouched for me and helped me get that job.  Everyone you are around right now can help you or hurt you, remember that.

Another reason I regret signing on with an agent is what happened with getting my job I have at KWCH now.  I hadn’t told a soul about applying to KWCH.  I was still a few months out of my contract being up so I wanted to keep things under wraps until there was something more solid.  One day the chief photog at my station in Washington walked up to me and said, ‘Wichita huh?’  I was floored.  I asked how he knew.  Turns out, his ex-wife was the ND at KWCH at the time.  Thankfully, they still had a good relationship.  It also happens that my GM in Washington knew the GM at KWCH back in the day when they were both consultants in San Antonio together and their friendship was still strong.  I later found out my Washington GM told the Wichita GM she would be a fool not to hire me.  Who needs an agent when your work can speak for itself?

My GM here in Wichita has also told me many times that I should not get an agent.  Partly because it seems silly to give up part of an already meager salary but also to my last point, why not try and use the connections you’ve made with your ND, EP, GM and fellow reporters/anchors/photographers to sell yourself without having to pay a dime?