3 simple ways to earn respect in the newsroom

By: Mandy Mitchell
I meet a lot of young people in the business who are hoping to make a good impression in a new newsroom. They are often worried about how they dress and how they perform in the specifics of the job whether that be on the air or behind the scenes. All of that is very important, but there are some simple things you can do to stand out.

1- Be early.

If the morning meeting starts at 9, don’t be out of breath trying to hold your coffee in one hand and your keys in the other while trying to dig out your phone to see the notes you made about the story ideas you have. Pretend the meeting starts at 8:50 and be in your seat with your notebook out and ready at 8:55.

I am amazed at how many people in our business are always “running late” or “a bit behind today.”

Make it a habit to show up 5 minutes early to everything you do. I promise you will stand out as a rare person who values the time of others.

2- Say thank you.

It’s still OK to write handwritten notes for people to thank them for doing something nice for you. Someone help you in your first few days in town? Maybe helped with an apartment? Maybe asked you to share a meal? Give them a note.

Maybe someone has been a mentor to you. The holidays are a great time to show appreciation. A nice card will do the trick. It’s usually unexpected and shows you are thoughtful. That’s something missing in an e-mail driven world.

3- Take responsibility for mistakes.

I’ve found young people in this business can be very very defensive if a mistake happens on air. The best in this business are willing, and eager, to step up and say “that was my fault.”

Don’t get in the habit of over-explaining a mistake. We all make errors and we all have another newscast to prepare for. Take responsibility, say you will fix it and do better in the next newscast.

 

Thanksgiving feast!

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As we do on all holiday weeks, I am giving you a list of some of our most popular blog posts for your reading pleasure! I know many of you will be stuck at some mall early Friday morning, so you can catch up on your blog reading!

If you are lucky enough to have some time off, enjoy it and Happy Thanksgiving!

Holidays in the Newsroom

Why enthusiasm matters

Make Sure It’s Purposeful TV

Hello (From several years ago)

Words Mean Things

No News is Likely Good News

Things that make you look “small market”

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

Podcast Ep. 5- Write Like You Talk

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WZVN anchor Jeff Butera was my guest for the 5th episode of the “A-Block” podcast. He is a long time reporter and anchor and is also the author of the latest edition of Write Like You Talk.

In the podcast we discuss what’s in the book and some tips for writing more conversationally during your stories and newscasts.

You can listen to this episode and all of the others here. It’s also easy to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

 

Terms to throw away

Guest post

Larry McGill is a producer at WRAL News in Raleigh.He began his journalism career as a radio producer and on-air talent.Larry spends most of his spare time pursuing an interest in photography, working on getting his own blog off the ground, and trying to keep up with his baby daughter.

I was recently in a meeting with a consultant on the topic of relevance. As he showed a package from another news organization to illustrate a point, I couldn’t help but become distracted from the story as I heard a noise that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.

That sound was the term “behind bars” and it was used no less than 3 times in the toss to the package alone. I stopped counting after hearing it the first two times in the package. The anchors and reporters used the term so much, I’m pretty sure there was a bet on how many times they could get it on the air (“Look here, meow…”).

That term is one of many that I exterminate from my newscasts with prejudice. It makes my team sound too “newsy” instead of the normal conversational tone most writers are going for. And to me, they all sound like fingernails on a chalk board. With such a prejudice in mind, I offer a list of what I consider to be the worst in the news vernacular. Some of them, you may be familiar with. Others could be debated; however, I think you’ll agree most of them should be remanded to a time when the news was read by stuffy old men speaking into a large diaphragm microphone sitting on a desk next to an ash tray.

“Behind Bars” – This is one of the worst offenders (no pun intended). Just say they person is in jail or prison. I’ve never used this when talking with regular people which means it shouldn’t be in a script that’s meant to be written at an 8th grade reading level. Oh by the way…

Jail vs Prison – The two are not interchangeable. Jails are generally run by local governments are and meant to store suspects for the short term. Prisons are generally run by state and federal governments and hold criminals long term.

“Police are investigating” – Don’t lead a story by telling me police are doing what we pay them to do. That’s not news… although in this day and age it could be up for discussion.

“Under fire” – If that politician isn’t burning, they’re not under fire. Just tell me what they did wrong and get to the next story.

“Grilled” – Use this when referring to steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, or any other food being cooked over a flame. Do not use it to refer to people being asked tough questions.

“Death Toll” – Another term you don’t use in normal conversation, so it doesn’t belong in your scripts. And to me, it sounds like we’re waiting in the wings of a disaster keeping some kind of morbid score. I know… in some situations we are, however you don’t need to let the viewer know that.

“Speaking Out” – I have never heard anyone “speak in”

“Shots rang out” – Much like speaking… gun shots generally don’t ring in.

Homicide vs murder – A homicide is the death of one person at the hands of another. Murder implies there was an intent to kill. While every murder is a type of homicide. Every homicide is not a murder.

“Footage” – This implies there is a tape or reel somewhere, which makes you sound old.

“Gearing Up” – Drivers gear up (assuming you know how to use a manual transmission). Political campaigns and other organizations of the like do not.

If you’re using these words, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t even make you a terrible writer. But they do make things sound highly cliché. Additionally, because they are so over and wrongly used, they can end up being a mark of overall lazy writing.

When I see a story written by the producers I look up to (which are generally in my own newsroom and in some larger markets) these items are NEVER used. I would almost chalk that up to the list of items that make a writer seem “small market.” Unfortunately, though, I’ve seen these in some major markets, and see them even more in scripts from our affiliate feeds… which you should ALWAYS re-write, but that’s a topic for another post. By keeping these items out of your script, your stories can be more concise and more effective at relaying your message.

Q&A with a news director

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WBIR (Knoxville, TN) News Director, Martha Jennings, was kind enough to give us some of her time to answer many different questions. What do you look for in a reel? How should someone ask for feedback?

Below is an excerpt of the conversation. To hear the full conversation, check out the podcast interview HERE.

This is the fourth episode of The “A-Block” Podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes HERE.

Q: Our industry has changed so much in the last 5 years. What is the next step for the business?

A: I think the next step is not sitting down and doing things the same old traditional ways we have been doing it. I think constantly people are building new sets but they still surround this desk… This old traditional desk that people sit at and read things to you. I think you have to make your newscast trigger an emotion within people. Too often we sit down and the 30 minutes of local news that we watch, you can walk away and feel nothing and I think that’s a huge mistake. That’s the thing I think we have to change. We have to transform our content to be relevant for folks who are sitting down and watching news. I just think the sitting down and reading “headlines”we have to shake that up and that’s what we are constantly doing in our newsroom right now and I think the positions in the newsroom are going to change. I don’t think that you will have just a line producer, just a digital producer, just a reporter and just a photographer.We have long gone to a “multi-skilled journalist.” All of our anchors are learning to shoot and edit.

Q: What if you are in a newsroom that is “old fashioned” and still believes in reading headlines from a set and the traditional ways of delivering news? How do you keep your skills fresh for making that next move?

A: Just because your requirement at the end of the day is just a pkg and a vosot and maybe you have someone else who writes your web story…always write your web story! If you’re not staying fresh and writing for both platforms and posting it to your social media platforms you’re going to lose that ability to multitask. That is going to be so crucial anywhere that you go.

As an anchor, if you are entering a smaller market as maybe an anchor/reporter, treat those reporting days twice as important as your anchoring days because the three days you will spend reporting are the three days that will get you your next job.

Q: Do news directors like when employees ask for feedback and what is a good way to do that?

A: Oh my goodness yes! If I don’t hear that then I think two things: They think they are doing great and I know there are things I need to work with them on or I just think that they don’t want feedback. Sometimes people reach our to their former college professors too, but then they are hearing from who they are comfortable hearing from. They are not hearing from the person who hired them and who saw something in them.

It’s all about the approach and it’s all about how that news director wants to be approached. I’m not someone who likes the drive-by meetings, like the pop-in “hey do you have second,” because it’s never a second. I always appreciate those who send an e-mail and set up a meeting.