Laugh often

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By: Mandy Mitchell

TV news can be really frustrating.

They warn you about the hours, the holidays, the weekends. What they fail to warn you about is the egos, the tempers and the bitter people.

You want to learn to laugh as much as possible.

He who laughs, lasts.

Jerk anchor who thinks he invented TV news? Have a chuckle.

Guy who throws things when something goes wrong? You know that’s funny.

Photog who ALWAYS complains. ALWAYS. Don’t join him. Think about how silly that is and enjoy the moments.

Are you prepared for breaking news?

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By: Mandy Mitchell

If news broke right now would you be ready for it? Do you go into your day expecting breaking news or are you more reactive?

If you are expecting breaking news you will be ready.

If you are a producer you should always do what you can first thing. All supers you know…in. All intros you can write…written. All graphics you can order/build/request…do it! Don’t think you have all day because breaking news doesn’t care if you are behind at 4pm.

If you are a reporter you should have your “go bag” packed in your car. You want to be the one ready to head to hit the road if needed. You don’t have time to go home and pack. If you expect breaking news, you will be less likely to be really ticked off when the assignment desk calls you to change your story at 9pm. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised when nothing happens.

Breaking news happens a lot. Prepare for it.

Keep your e-mails short

 

 

By: Mandy Mitchell

We live in a Twitter age where short and sweet has become the way to go. I have a bit of advice for you when it comes to work e-mails: keep it short!

I don’t know about you, but I get a zillion e-mails a day. Press releases…newscast excellence reports…ratings…did I mention press releases? Tucked into that mess are things I actually NEED to read. When you are sending an e-mail to someone, you should probably consider all of this.

Sending a note to producers about your story? This doesn’t need to be a novel. Give a few bullet points and tease angles. No one wants to read 4 paragraphs about how you had an interview set up, but that fell through and now you have a call to another guy who probably won’t go on camera, but you think you will have an interview in an hour that will work out.

Keep it simple. Producers have a lot going on and, believe it or not, you are not the only story in the newscast.

Sending a note to your boss? Keep in mind your boss deals with a bunch of B.S. daily. Make it like Twitter and get your point across quickly. If more needs to be said, send the note simple requesting a meeting to discuss (gasp) in person!

I see far too many e-mails in the newsroom that seem to be written by people who are trying to prove they are doing work. They want everyone to see they are doing work and they “over-explain.”

The busiest people don’t have time for all of that. Please get to the point. If you are doing the work you claim to be doing we will all be able to tell come news time.

Holiday preps

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By: Mandy Mitchell

You may have looked at the headline and thought “um…it’s October.” This is the time you should start talking to your family about the holidays.

One of the toughest things during your first few years in the business is missing the big holidays for the first time. It’s not just tough on you, it’s tough on Mom, Dad, Grandma…and you should prepare them for what’s about to happen.

The first thing you want your family to understand is that working the holidays shouldn’t be viewed as some sort of punishment. It’s not necessarily that you are the “lowest on the totem pole.” It could very well be that management would like to give you a shot at anchoring, or producing a show in a different day part. Lots of older, more experienced folks in the newsroom have husbands, wives and kids. This is your shot as a young single person to work a shift you normally wouldn’t get the chance to work.

Explain that to your family. Make it clear this is an opportunity to advance and better yourself in the business. If you change your own attitude about the situation, you can convince others to join in the excitement. If you explain how to watch your anchoring debut online, I am betting the family will be pretty pumped to make that a part of Christmas Eve celebrations!

That being said, you may very well have to work simply because you are new and you are young. That’s the business, baby! It sucks, but you shouldn’t tell your family that. You should explain that you are paying your dues and someday someone else will be the new and young one and you will be sipping eggnog with the fam. Be as positive as you can be and you can lessen the emotion that is likely headed your way!

Having a backup plan is another thing to do. If you are scheduled for a holiday, try to come up with a way to visit your family another day to “makeup” the holiday. If you have family traditions on Thanksgiving, Christmas or Chanukah, maybe you can participate via face time or move it to another day all together. Getting your family to understand the holiday doesn’t have to be on one specific day can really help. Christmas morning is just as fun on December 28th!

One thing to always remember is your family likely will never truly understand why you are working holidays. YOU chose this business. THEY did not.

A personal story

Ever wonder when it’s the right time to move on? I asked WXII producer Alex  Carrasquillo to share his story of starting out and moving to a bigger market.

I just started working at WXII 12 News in Winston-Salem. This is my second job with Hearst Television. I was at WJCL 22 in Savannah, GA when Hearst bought that station. I quickly recognized I wanted to stay within the company and the process of moving between stations confirmed something I noticed early on: it’s a company that really cares about its employees and looks out for them. Combine that with its deep commitment to quality news – I don’t think it gets much better.

I got to see Hearst come in and rebuild WJCL. What is second-nature at many established stations, had to be trained and taught in some ways. Observing that rebuilding process was a big part of the ability to feel confident about what I was working toward for myself and for the station.

Every company has its own way of approaching news. There isn’t one right way, but each has to pick an approach and be confident and consistent. Seeing that strength within Hearst has helped me find the same strength within myself. And of course, with all of that, comes the need to always be open to new ideas and perspectives that will help you grow.

Such a big part of being a journalist is having an opinion about the effort you’re working toward. Surrounding yourself with mentors who recognize that and help you build on it is key. The process of moving between stations also reaffirmed something I’ve come to love about TV News. There are so many people to learn from. Stopping to listen is such an important part of growing in this business.

While I was at WRAL I got to watch true experts perfect their craft. In Savannah, I asked a million questions as I tired my hand at what I’d so closely studied in Raleigh. Ask anyone who works with me – my questions continue and always will!

Look for even the smallest opportunities to learn. Some of those small moments might teach you some of the biggest lessons.

Advice from Bob Woodward

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By: Mandy Mitchell

I got a chance to hear Bob Woodward speak this past week at Elon University. He talked, quite humorously, about the campaign and the books he’s written about various presidents. He talked about Watergate. I wonder if he tires of that?

He also talked about journalism. As I was sitting there listening, I was thinking is there anyone better to learn from than Bob Woodward? I wanted to pass some of his knowledge on to you.

 “Learn to shut up.”

Woodward says he digs one of his nails into the side of his finger to remind himself not to interrupt or interject when he’s interviewing someone.

He lets “the silence bring out the truth.”

He told a story of interviewing President Obama and how the President offered up “what bothers him the most,” while they were sitting in silence.

My personal thoughts on the subject: There’s no reason for you, as the reporter, to say “right”…”I see”…”ok”…just because you want to fill the silence. Learn from Woodward and learn to shut up.

Learn to see past the BS

Woodward  told a story about interviewing Bill Clinton and how Clinton “doesn’t blink.” He explained how Clinton made him feel during an interview. He was going along thinking he was getting fabulous quotes. Then he got home, looked at the transcript and noticed it was mush.

I couldn’t help but think “been there!”

This happens to me a lot with experienced coaches. They are so good at the game that you don’t realize they are feeding you BS. I learned a lot from Woodward from this story about Clinton.

This goes back to listening. Are you really listening when you are interviewing someone? What are the REALLY saying?

“Never? Don’t ever tell me never.”

Woodward told the story of working on the Watergate story and a meeting he had with Katharine Graham, the Publisher of the Washington Post at the time.

She wanted to know when the truth of the story was going to come out…when the paper would be proven correct. He told her probably “never.” She looked at him and said “Never? Don’t ever tell me never.” The Washington Post is planning to put that quote up in the newsroom now.

Woodward said he left that meeting motivated.

I’m sure you have had a story (and if you haven’t you will) where you feel the answer is never. It’s probably best to not use the word.

Mistakes

Woodward talked about making mistakes in stories. Not really of the fact error variety, more on the lines of perception going in and thinking something means something when it really does not.

He used the example of Gerald Ford pardoning Nixon. He said it always felt like the perfect “corrupt ending to the perfect corrupt story.”

He interviewed Ford 25 years later and realized it was much deeper and much different than that.

He said “neutral inquiry” is very important. It gives you pause and lets you step back and look at what is really going on. Said there’s not enough of that in today’s journalism.