Developing an expertise

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By: Mandy Mitchell

This has been an unusually hectic couple of weeks so my apologies for neglecting the blog. Just when I sat down to write something on Friday morning, I was called in to the station because of breaking news.

A basketball player who played college ball at NC State died. I was the reporter called to do the story because I did a documentary on his hometown last summer. If you missed that, you can check it out here.

I had a unique “expertise” for the story and was quickly able to set up interviews with 3 people and secure a live shot spot.

I totally understand you likely won’t have the chance to produce a documentary on a subject, but you do have a chance to become the “station expert” or the “go-to” reporter for many different stories if you work at it.

For example, I am sure many of you will be working on stories about the travel ban this week. You may be sent to interview refugees or immigrants affected by the ban. It is important to not think of this story as a one day thing. We all have a tendency to shoot interviews, rush to write and go live. This kind of story is where you can set yourself apart.

Get the phone number or email address for anyone you interview. Write down some notes about his/her situation.

Ask more questions than you may need for that day’s story. Does this person have family who could have issues in the future?

Try to really make connections because this will come up again, and when it does, you can be the person who knows who to call and you can be the person who is on this big story.

This advice goes for a lot of the stories we do. It never hurts to get contact information for someone you are interviewing. It also never hurts to save file video of a crime scene or court video or anything else you think you may be able to use in the future. I save stuff on a hard drive. Most of the time I don’t use it again, but it’s handy to have when you need it. I used a bunch of stuff I had saved from shooting my documentary in Friday’s story.

Becoming an “expert” or even developing a strong interest in a subject will make you a better reporter and could get you better stories in the future.

A few shooting tips

By: Mandy Mitchell

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If you are an MMJ or a one-man-band or whatever we are calling that position in this business these days, you are going to have to shoot your own video. If you are someone who wants to be a reporter, you likely don’t really want to shoot your own video. I do understand you are  more focused on writing and how you look on camera than how good your shooting is. Problem is, you will want to have good video for your stories and you are the only source for that video. It’s best to know a few basics so you can have the best video possible.

  • Always always always always always use a tripod when shooting B-roll. It’s really easy to get lazy and just leave the tripod in the car. It’s heavy and all. I get it. But your video is going to look like crap if you don’t use the sticks. Take the extra 3 minutes. Don’t give me the “I just didn’t have time” nonsense. You will waste more time during the editing process trying to find shots that aren’t completely shaky than if you just take the time on the front end to get nice steady shots.
  • Edit in your camera to save time. The new digital cameras we shoot on are even better for this than tape. Get your wide shot and hit stop. Get your medium shot and hit stop. Get your tight shot and hit stop. You will then have a sequence of shots that is super easy to edit when you load the clips. You won’t be hunting around for what shot you need.
  • Don’t overshoot. You are not shooting a documentary. Be mindful of how long it takes your video to load into the editing computer. Be thinking about your story and what shots you need and how you will write to them. Going to a crime scene and shooting 20 minutes of video is a waste of your time.
  • Limit your camera movements. You are probably not a good enough shooter for a pan or a zoom or a tilt. Let’s be real here. I am not a good enough shooter for that and I’ve been shooting for 15 years. Focus on sequences. (Wide, medium, tight)
  • Use a tripod. Did I mention that?

“My daughter wants to do what you do!”

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By: Mandy Mitchell

I get it often when I am out around town.

“My daughter wants to do what you do!”

The smiling dad or mom then continues with “she REALLY loves sports”….”I think she would LOVE this.”

I always smile and offer the same encouraging words.

“That’s great!”…”Tell her to work really hard”…”Tell her to contact me if I can ever do anything to help!” (this never happens, by the way.)

Here is what I really want to say:

Your daughter wants to do what I do huh? Well is she willing to do what I did to do what I do?

Is your daughter willing to send out hundreds of links to her work and hear nothing? Is she good at rejection? Is your daughter willing to move to a new town, hundreds–thousands of miles away– where she knows no one to start this career?

How does your daughter feel about carrying 80 pounds of gear? How does she feel about carrying 80 pounds of gear after driving 4 hours to cover a college football game, then walking roughly a mile to the stadium to set up the gear, shooting a 4-hour game,  shooting postgame and then shooting her own live shot? How does she feel about doing that and then getting an e-mail from the news director about how her hair looked a bit “messy” and how it would be great if she could “spend more time on her on-air appearance.”

Does your daughter like hearing the word no? No…you can’t take vacation during February, May, November or anytime during football season. No you can’t have any Friday nights off between August and December because those nights are 100% reserved for High School football. No you can’t cut your hair the way you would like, we are going to need you to have the haircut we (the station) like.

Does your daughter handle rude people well? The kind who will email to tell her they hate her and she sucks at her job simply because she is a girl doing a “guy’s job.”

Does your daughter handle rude colleagues well? The kind who will tell others (not her, not to her face) that she was hired simply because “she’s a woman in sports.”

Is your daughter ready to make very little money? Are YOU, Mom or Dad, ready for that? You are going to pay thousands for her college education and she is going to make peanuts for a decade or so. Is that cool with her? Is that cool with you? I bet you didn’t know that. You saw somewhere that Erin Andrews makes a mint to “go to games” and you thought that would be pretty neat right?

Is this about sports OR journalism for your daughter? If it’s about sports, leave the dream behind and do it as quickly as possible.

This job has to be about a love of writing and telling stories and being good at TV. Sports is a very small piece of the cake. The bulk of what I do isn’t “going to games.” It’s shooting interviews and editing and writing and making connections so I can break stories. It’s journalism. If you want to go to games you should consider a career in pharmaceuticals so you can have weekends off and go to games.

If she is ok with all of this, if she is prepared to sacrifice and bust her ass, then by all means tell her to CALL ME! I love what I do and I love what I have been able to do by working in this business.

I’ve been to the Super Bowl, two Final Fours, the College World Series (twice!), the Masters and the US Open. I travel every year to follow teams in the NCAA tournament. I covered Coach K’s 1000th win at Madison Square Garden. THAT is what you see and what you think your daughter would enjoy doing.

I promise you, she would! My question is, would she enjoy the rest?

New Year, New You!

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By: Mandy Mitchell

Let me start of with saying I absolutely positively despise the “New Year’s Resolution.” I hate it. Why? Because I am a fan of self improvement at all times of the year. I am a firm believer in setting goals. I think resolutions are often wishes without real tangible plans for how to achieve that wish.

A goal has to be concrete and measurable. “I want to eat better,” is not really something you can measure right?

All of this being said, a new year is a good time to set new goals so I am here to suggest a few you may want to consider in your professional life.

  • Stop complaining about work to your co-workers.

Why? Because it’s not at all productive. It’s fun and it’s something to bond over. You know, it’s fun to vent about the “annoying ass assignment desk that always sends me on breaking news.” But it’s amazing how quickly you can be branded as “a complainer” even if you only do this once in a while.

You also  don’t know how many times this complaining is passed along to the person you are complaining about. It’s best to stop doing it all together and save your venting for your friends at other stations or your significant other. How do you measure this? Don’t do it at all. Just stop. Trust me!

  • Commit to social media.

Social media isn’t going anywhere and we can all work harder to learn how to better serve our audience on the different platforms.  If you want a new goal for the new year, you should commit to get better at that. You can measure your progress by making it a habit. Maybe you want to have one post a day. Maybe you can learn about one new way to engage viewers per week. I have a goal to learn Snapchat. I feel old saying this, but I just don’t get it. I want to learn how to make this part of my daily work and learn how I can promote my stories on snap. You can find a similar goal and do the same thing!

  • Make new connections.

The time to start making new connections is not when your contract is up. It’s also not when a station has an opening. The time is now.

You can do this in many different ways. Twitter and social media make it easier than ever to connect with news directors. You can plan to go to conferences like RTDNA or Poynter in hopes of networking. How do you measure your progress? Make a new connection a month and keep in touch with that person. It could be as easy as asking that person to give you an opinion on your reel. You’ll be amazed how many people are willing to help. Just don’t wait until there’s a job involved. That rarely works.