Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to you and yours! I want to thank you for reading this blog throughout the year and sharing it with friends in the business.

Holidays can be tough for those of us in the news business. If you are working on Christmas day (I am!) I hope you will take the time to appreciate your work family. We spend so much time with the people we work with and they often become some of our best friends. Do your best to enjoy the holiday even if you’re working. It does become easier with time 🙂

 

Hurry up! But don’t panic!

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I just want to ask you one question. Have you ever been impressed by someone who is panicking? You know, that producer yelling in your ear “WRAP!!!” “WRAP!!!!” “NOW!!!”… That anchor screaming “WHERE ARE WE?!? WHAT IS DEAD?! B6, D4?!?”…That reporter who always seems to be in a dead sprint to the audio booth at 8:30pm?

My friends in the industry and I have often referred to these people as members of “team panic.” It’s the group of folks who always always always seem to be incapable of a deep breath. They approach deadlines the same way most people would approach trying to outrun a hungry grizzly.

Here is just a little advice for you: Don’t join team panic.

Yes, I know there are stressful moments in TV news where you feel like minutes just seem to be moving quicker than they normally do. Time always moves fastest when the editing computer is rebooting at 11:02, and you have a newsroom live shot at 11:08, and your PKG hasn’t sent. I am here to tell you jumping up and down and screaming at the computer won’t fix the issue. (I’ve seen many try)

Breathe, say some silent bad words, and compose yourself because you have to be on air, or in the booth or on the desk soon. Use that new calm to figure your way out of the problem.

Try to view deadlines, and problems leading up to those deadlines, as a way for you to shine. Be the person who doesn’t get rattled under pressure.

The very best producers, editors, reporters, and anchors I have met over the years always appear to be calm as heck. They are annoyingly calm. THAT is impressive. So just learn to relax, solve your problem and make slot. You’ll be amazed how far a deep breath can go.

This post originally ran in October 2015

Pick better soundbites…please!

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For the love of good television, please start spending more time picking bites that matter instead of ones that will fill 15 seconds. I am going to start with sports people because that’s the subject I know best.

Sports people: Why are we still airing bites saying things like “We are just going to take it one game at a time.”…”It’s a new season now. We are all zero and zero.”…”We aren’t thinking about that HUGE game next week, we are worried about Southwestnorthsouth State.” ????

SPARE ME!

This is awful. It tells me nothing. It teaches me nothing, and you are wasting your viewer’s time. Not to mention, you are being lazy.

The coach didn’t say anything? What were you doing at the time, looking at Pinterest? Ask better questions to get better answers.

This goes for news too. Don’t just air a bite because you were planning on a VOSOT. I am certain you can find better use for that :15. Isn’t that what weather people are for? (I kid because I love)

Make sound bites count. Put them in the newscast for a purpose and not just to fill time. A bite about a fundraiser telling me how much money was raised is not useful. The anchor can tell me that. Have a bite tell me how big a deal this is for the charity and how much it will help. Have the bite add some emotion to the story.

Put a bite in a newscast/sportscast with a plan. What do you want the bite to accomplish? How will it add to the story? What questions can you ask to get the right kind of bite?

Have a solo anchor and simply looking to break up the reads? Think about a NAT sound pop instead. Be creative!

Bad bites are bad television. Ask better questions to get better answers and make sure what you are putting on the air is worth :15.

This post originally ran October 2015

How do I improve my delivery?

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By: Mandy Mitchell

I get two questions more often than most from people just entering the TV News business.

The first, and by far the most common, is: When should I hire an agent?

Ugh. Really? Why is that the most asked question? If you want an answer to that question please read this post . Or you can read this one.

Now that we have gotten that question out of the way I will go to the more practical question I get often: How do I improve my delivery?

Honest and quick answer? Time. Time. Time.

I know you don’t want to hear that. I bet you want some trick that anchors and reporters use to “improve” that aspect of performance. All I can tell you is, after more than a decade of being in front of the camera, the answer is time.

Your delivery develops as you get more comfortable in front of the camera.

There are a couple of tips I can offer as you get these reps.

  • Don’t talk in a news voice. One of the best compliments I can get is if someone tells me I “sound just like you do on tv.” That means I am comfortable on air. It means I am talking in a normal voice to the viewer. It means I am not shouting. You don’t have to have some sort of “news voice” to be taken seriously. Just talk to me. Just tell me a story.
  • Write like you talk! I am stealing this from the book (which we talked about in this podcast.) If you write like you talk, you are not only writing in a way that will avoid “news speak” like blaze, or shots rang out…you are writing in a way that will be easier to read. When you write things that are easier to read you  don’t sound like you are reading.
  • Slow down. Chances are, you read too fast. You likely read too fast on the desk and you likely read too fast in the audio booth. You are reading too fast because that’s what happens when you try to inject ENTHUSIASM! and try to have ENERGY! I assure you that you can have enthusiasm and energy without spitting out a million words a minute. Take a deep breath. Tell me a story.

What’s the story?

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Chris Stanford is a journalist in Wichita who’s worked in a couple top 25 markets, 10+ years experience.

I was 20 something interviewing for an anchor job in Kansas City and the news director offered up some of the greatest storytelling advice I’d ever heard. “You should be able to sum up a story in three words,” he said.

He’d shown me some early Steve Hartman packages, and then asked me how I would tell that story in merely three words. I hesitated (because my interview philosophy is that silence is better than saying something stupid). “Boy loves mother,” he said. He then shared what those three words really meant and how it shaped the story. There were no interviews with the father about how the boy loved his mother. Hartman showed interviews with the boy and his mother, that’s all that was needed to tell that story. Love was the theme, although I don’t recall him ever using the word. But that’s what his storytelling made me feel.

Of all the news philosophies I’ve heard, that is one that needs more attention.

I’m going to use a few different words to describe a bank robbery and each group tells a different story: Man Robs Bank. Search for Bank Robber. Teller Thwarts Robbery. Cops Catch Robber.

Those stories each have a different feel and should be told as such if the real story is recognized early enough. Reporters are told, “Chris, go to the bank. There’s been a robbery.” It should be YOUR job to find and tell the real story, then make sure your producers and managers know ASAP.

Another example helps illustrate how we can miss the mark on covering developing news because the real story was not understood soon enough. There was breaking news at 5pm of a murder. By 6pm, there was new information about the search for two suspect considered armed and dangerous, however it took about 60 seconds or longer to report the new and more important information. The story should’ve turned from Man Shot Dead to SEARCH FOR DANGEROUS MURDER SUSPECTS!

The newest and most relevant information should’ve been the first words out of the anchors’ mouths. This is a classic example of burying the lead. And, it happened because several people didn’t understand or know what the real story was. I was baffled that no one caught it.

In this example the public’s safety was in jeopardy. It was a disservice to them not to report that there were two armed men who’d just killed someone in a residential neighborhood running from the cops.

Bottom line: if you CAN’T sum up your story in a few words, then maybe you don’t know what your story is.

This post originally ran in November 2015

 

Preparing for disappointment

By: Mandy Mitchell

There will be a time in your career where you really get your hopes up. You may get your hopes up about a new job. You may get excited about a promotion or a raise. You may have every reason in the world to think things are going to happen.

Your boss told you you would be in line for that next anchor opening. The news director at that station you’ve dreamed of working at says he loves your tape and you are going to get a call for an interview.

Then…all of a sudden…nothing happens.

If this hasn’t happened to you yet, I’m afraid to tell you it will. You will, in one form or another, have to deal with disappointment when it comes to this business.

So here’s some advice for preparing yourself for these moments.

  • Always take everything or are told with a grain of salt. Realize that nothing is ever final until it actually is. Someone could have the very best intentions in telling you you will be the 6pm producer when that spot opens up. Then all of a sudden the GM comes in with other ideas. A news director could really truly mean it when he says he will call next week for an interview. Then the company goes into a hiring freeze. It’s ok to be proud of your accomplishment if this kind of thing happens. Just don’t set yourself up for disappointment by thinking it’s done before it really is.

 

  • Hold off on telling others until it is concrete. The worst thing you can do is call your mom when you are told you may an interview in Dallas next week. Unless you have a plane ticket, I’d hold off on that phone call. Sometimes our disappointment gets worse when we feel like we are disappointing others…or we feel embarrassed by having to explain why it didn’t work it. If you must tell someone, make sure you tell them how it’s not certain yet, but you are hoping it works out.

 

  • Truly think about how you will act if it doesn’t work out. This is especially helpful for promotions. You don’t want to get bitter or come off the wrong way with your current boss, so you have to be prepared with your reaction if you are told you won’t actually be getting that job you thought was promised. I’m not saying you don’t have the right to be ticked. You can respectfully explain how you are disappointed and you hope you will be considered for a similar opening down the line. I’ve seen some very experienced people come out of a news director’s office crying when something like this happens. I have had to hold back tears when something like this happened to me. It’s best to fully be prepared for the disappointment so you can react accordingly.

Reporter’s Christmas List

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This post originally ran last year. I’ve tweaked it a bit. It’s really something you can use on a yearly basis to help your family HELP YOU.

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?