The importance of building experience

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

By: Mandy Mitchell

Those who hurry do not arrive.

I wanted to share a quick story with you. I had a moment on the air a few days ago that made me realize how the steps I have made in this business really paid off.

I was anchoring our high school football show and there was a big error with the break times. It was pretty much a complete cluster behind the scenes. Long story short, we were able to come up with a way to fill a significant chunk of  extra time and the viewer was none the wiser.

A couple of people complimented my demeanor through the broadcast and my ability to remain calm and problem-solve instead of getting flustered. The reason I am telling you this story is because it would not have been nearly as smooth a decade ago.

The calm came from experience.

There are going to be times when you think working in a small market is a waste of time. The stories you are covering are not as big as you would like. The equipment is likely not as good as you would like and your pay certainly isn’t what you would like.

That’s when you have to remember the steps matter. Every step you take in this business, every newscast you produce, every live shot you do, adds up and eventually becomes experience.

I had a director at my first shop who couldn’t punch a show to save his life. My tapes (yeah, we used tapes at the time) would be rolled in many different orders and stopped at random times. This crap drove me nuts! I was only focused on my resume reel at the time and couldn’t stand it when I was having a great show and then some random tape would run out of order. I didn’t understand this was really making me better.

We didn’t have a wireless mic at my first station. I complained about this daily and used it as an excuse to not try creative things. Then one day I realized how to work around this and used a long cable, propped the mic on a fence and was able to shoot my own creative stand-up. Would it have been better if we had good gear? Yes! But not having it taught me to think outside the box and find a new way to solve the problem.

You start collecting these experiences the moment you step into a newsroom.

It is really easy to get into the mindset of “get job, get reel, get out,” but you really shouldn’t rush through any step you take.

Whether you are in a small market trying to get to a bigger market, or you started in a big market trying to work your way up in the newsroom, don’t rush. Approach each day realizing it’s a building block for where you will be in 10 years. I know that’s cheesy, but it helps when things go wrong.

Your IFB died while the anchor was tossing to you? Sure you’re ticked now, but you’ve also added an experience. Next time that happens, you will handle it better. Celebrate!

Your lead story missed slot and two live shots failed during your newscast? Sure, you want to scream, but you’ve just added an experience. Celebrate!

I have never met a true veteran in this business who skipped or rushed a step. Ask anyone you admire and you will find story after story of things that went wrong or were really frustrating. You will also notice that person makes it look easy now.

Few people can fake that.

I can’t tell you how grateful I was for experience when I sat on that set dealing with what could have been pretty embarrassing. You, too, will have that kind of moment at some point. Hopefully when you do you will have the same success because you built the strong foundation along the way.

 

 

 

Mailbag: Dealing with sketchy assignments

mail

By: Mandy Mitchell

Question: (paraphrased) I am a female MMJ in a small market and I sometimes feel unsafe when I get sent out to get interviews at night in a bad area of town. I don’t want to say no all the time, but it makes me nervous. How do I tell my EP I don’t feel comfortable without looking lazy?

I am not a news reporter, so I asked some colleagues to answer this one for you. If you have a question like this, feel free to e-mail MandyTv@gmail.com and we will get you an answer.

Answer:

If she EVER feels unsafe, she should NOT be doing the interview.
No story is worth your life. And as an MMJ, no one is there to protect you (or even witness anything bad that happens to you).

Station managers should be willing to take steps to protect their people. If she’s doing a story that requires her to be in a bad neighborhood after dark, they should be able to at least have a station employee with her (on a case-by-case basis).

Jeff, Anchor, WZVN

 

Is there a way to get interviews without going into the neighborhood? A local pastor or a community leader? A city councilman or a county commissioner?

Another trick: it’s good to be competitive, but sometimes the competition is your friend. If competing stations are in the neighborhood – walk together to search for interviews. There’s safety in numbers.

There are assumed risks we take as journalists. But, for me, once police and other news outlets leave the scene in a sketchy neighborhood, I leave the scene… Especially after sunset.

I’d suggest asking your manager what the station’s policy is about leaving neighborhoods when you feel uncomfortable. A responsible company will support you leaving a scene as soon as you feel unsafe. If he or she tells you that’s the policy, I would then tell the manager you’ve been uncomfortable.

My managers tell me to leave “as soon as the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.” If you feel unsafe, go with your instincts.

Any respectable manager will value a safe work environment, and should offer solutions to make you more comfortable.

Kristin, reporter at FOX13 in Memphis

 

Your job is never worth your life. Period. On stories where you know you’re going to a bad neighborhood, ask if another MMJ or photog can go with you. If you feel threatened, bail. If your ND won’t back you find a new shop.

Drew Stewart, Retired TV news veteran

Mailbag: Money, clothing and you

mail

By: Mandy Mitchell

Question: I make NO money and I am still expected to look good on TV. Is there anything I can be cheap with as far as clothing or makeup? I don’t want to look “cheap” but come on!

Answer: There are things you can definitely save on and things you shouldn’t skimp on at all. I’ll start with the things you MUST spend money on. (note: not paid for these links)

  • Foundation Makeup (powder/foundation liquid/concealer). You should be wearing MAC or better on air.  I know it’s expensive. I wore Cover Girl my first 3 years on TV. Ugh! Yuck! You can totally tell and that wasn’t even HD back then! MAC has a program that offers discounts to on-air folks. You can apply here. That will save you some money for sure. You can also ask for gift certificates to MAC (or other expensive makeup places) for Birthdays, Christmas and Hanukkah. I know that’s not fun, but you want your next job don’t you?
  • Some clothing. Guys and gals should have one expensive and tailored suit/dress. Get it in a neutral color and change the tie and accessories. Wear it a few times a week. At this stage of your career it’s not about variety as much as it is looking sharp on your resume tape.

Things you can save money on?

  • All other makeup! You can get your lipstick, eyeliner, blush and mascara at Target. I am a big fan of this mascara. I found that after many years of spending way too much at MAC for stuff that didn’t work as well. Did you know you can also save your used MAC containers and trade them to lipstick? I can’t remember the last time I actually paid for lipstick. You shouldn’t either. Just do this.
  • Ties and accessories. Guys- Shop at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s for those name brand ties. Ladies, Charming Charlie is your best friend. Weirdly enough, I have also found great stuff at Old Navy and Target. You can totally go cheap on your jewelry!

 

We’ve had two GREAT guest posts that talk about clothing more extensively. You can check those out here:

Clothes make or break an anchor

Are you Suited for TV News

 

 

Mailbag: Raises and contracts

mail

By: Mandy Mitchell

Question: I’m under contract but I was promoted to anchor. Now that my duties have changed I think I deserve a raise. Can I ask for one or would that be a bad idea?

Answer: Keep in mind I am simply answering this question from my own experience and the experience of others I know. The short answer is this: You can ask for a raise but you have to expect the station to ask for more years on that contract of yours.

If you like the new position and would like to grow in that new position, by all means go to your News Director and renegotiate the contract. Be prepared for a brand new deal that tacks on a few years if you would like more money. I know this doesn’t sound fair, but the station has the leverage.

If you have plans to leave at the end of your current contract, you should probably just stick with the deal you have. Use the extra experience as your “pay” and if you do a good enough job you will get that money back with your next deal whether that is at a new station that will pay you to move up as an anchor, or at your current station where you will now have leverage because you can leave. If they value you, they will pay you.

You always have to be thinking 3 and 4 years down the road as far as your paycheck goes. You don’t want to tack on extra years to a contract to make just 5 grand more a year. You could double your salary with a new job in that time. Be patient.

Breaking out of a rut

rut

By: Mandy Mitchell

If you’ve been in this business long enough you have had your share of ruts. It’s the time when your mind is pretty negative about most things. You think about the bad stuff of the business.

I tend think about how I’ve been working weekends for 13 years and have worked most every holiday for 13 years and how I can’t take time off more than 3 months of the year.

Can’t take March because that’s the NCAA tournament! Can’t take February because that’s sweeps! Can’t take August-December because that’s football season!

It is very very easy to fall into this trap of thinking about the negative stuff, especially when you are burned out after a big project or just a long stretch of time of grinding day after day. We all know this isn’t a 9-5 job. We all know we are going to have to work bad hours and holidays and all of that, but what we don’t really talk about is what to do when that stuff begins to weigh on you and when it takes the joy out of what is actually good about the job.

Telling yourself to “think good thoughts!” doesn’t do much to get you out of a really deep TV news rut. Neither does thinking about how great it would be to get a “normal job” and looking around for things you could to do have a “normal life.”

There are a few things that can help.

  • Have a good cry. It certainly helps me to completely unload all of the negativity at one time. The stuff we do isn’t glamorous. It’s ok to admit that and just let it out. You would not be the first and will not be the last to do this.

 

  • Talk to someone who does the same job you do in another market. Just call them up and tell them you need to vent and then do that. You will quickly find you both have the same stories to tell and it will almost become comical. If you choose to vent to someone else in your own newsroom, you can often be misunderstood and come off as a “complainer.” We all need vent time. The best person to vent to is someone who gets what you do 100%. Reporters, anchors, producers, and assignment editors all have problems, but they are slightly different problems. It helps to talk to someone with your specific job.

 

  • Find your “happy place.” The place at the TV station that reminds me why I got into the business is the control room. For whatever reason, it still seems cool to me. The lights, the monitors, the buttons! If I am ever feeling sad, I just go into the control room for a block of the news and stand in the back. It reminds me that, while this job can suck, it’s also a pretty cool thing to be a part of live TV. Find a place you can go  that can do the same for you. It allows you to take a step back and appreciate where you work and what you do.

 

  • Take a long walk or hike that isn’t part of your daily exercise routine (if you have one.) Find a park and walk, with no music, for an hour. If you have places to hike, do that. Just being in nature for a longer period of time will clear your mind. Try not to think about what’s burning you out. Just focus on the walk.

 

  • Watch a local newscast from a bigger market. Find a station you like and admire and watch what they do. That will remind you of your goals and remind you that TV news can be fun.

 

Most of us who are in this business are really ambitious and have big goals. The flip side of that is learning how to deal with the stress and pressure those big goals can bring. You can be a mostly positive and happy person and still pretty darn burned out a couple of times of the year. Just learn to recognize the rut for what it is and take steps to pull yourself out.

Throw back Thursday!

Here’s a look at some of the posts we did almost a year ago. If you are new to the blog, you should check out the archives! Enjoy!

This was the very first post to the “A-Block.” I really should do something like this again soon. What great advice for anyone entering the business from many different people:

What I wish I knew

 

Know someone who makes coffee nervous? Don’t be that guy. Stay away from “Team Panic!”

Team Panic

 

Alex Carrasquillo, who is moving up to a new job in a bigger market soon, wrote this post about being a young producer in a newsroom.

Dealing with the “pros”

 

Broke? We all are. Here’s how to deal…especially early on!

Don’t do this. You won’t make any money!

Why I produced a documentary

By: Mandy Mitchell

I just got done with one of the bigger projects of my career. I’ve always wanted to produce a really long story and I got a chance to do that over the last three months. The documentary was called “Basketball Town” and it told the story of 8 NBA players who have come out of a small town in North Carolina. I produced this largely on my own. I got help for the stand-ups and few of the interviews but I shot the bulk of it, wrote it and edited it.

You can check it out here.

I got the idea for this story about a year ago but I waited until Brandon Ingram of Duke, who is from Kinston, was about to be drafted. I wanted the story to be timely and news worthy.

I knew I had to go to my news director with a really good pitch. WRAL, or any station for that matter, isn’t just going to give someone 30 minutes to play with. It has to be good. So I went (on my own time) and shot a handful of interviews. This worked for me in two ways. First, it showed to me I had the kind of story I thought I had. How many times do we have an idea, but can’t really get the soundbites to back it up? The second thing it did was give me quotes to include in my pitch.

I really had to sell this to get the time. The pitch was about 5 pages long and included a detailed outline with supporting quotes from the interviews I already had in the can. It helped that I had done so much work before going to my ND because it showed I was serious. Lots of people can have big ideas for big stories. The hard part is getting it done.

So here’s my takeaway from this:

  • If you believe in a project, you should never ever be afraid to spend your own time doing the work. I did 90% of this documentary on my own time. I went to Kinston on my days off and spent all day there shooting interviews and talking to people. Doing the work on my off days gave me complete freedom from breaking news or any other events that popped up. I know this may sound crazy to you and you may think it was bad form for me to “work for free.” I am a big believer in opportunity cost. I thought it was worth it to me…for future gains…to give my free time up to achieve a higher goal. Yeah–It would have been nice to have been given a month to work on the project. But I work in TV news…who are we kidding?

 

  • Side projects like this are really good for curing the boredom this business can often provide. This documentary was a huge challenge and took a lot of time, but it was also really fun. We have all done stories and said we just wish we had more time. This time I had more time.

 

  • Sometimes you just have to create your own opportunities. You won’t get all the good assignments or trips or the best schedule all the time. Sometimes you have to think of your own ways to expand your role. If you want to do more storytelling, come up with a good franchise and pitch it. If you have an investigative idea, do a sweeps series. If they don’t have time to air it on TV, do it for the web! If you like long-form interviews, do a podcast or blog for the station website. Try not to fall into the trap of only doing what is asked of you. It may not earn you extra money now, but it will make you more marketable later.

Stations are looking for people who can do more than just do a live shot and a PKG in a day. Stations want content and I think, overall, this is great for our business! Showing you can do more will open more doors for you at your current station and future stations. I never thought I would do a documentary. Now I am looking for my next big project!