I don’t cover big games and that’s ok. 

Guest post: 

Justin Biegel is a sports reporter and anchor for NBC Nebraska (KSNB). A Baltimore native, Justin attended Elon University and graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism in May 2016. He’s a die-hard D.C. sports fan, except when it comes to the Orioles. 

Earlier this month I celebrated eight months at my TV station. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I graduated college and moved to the Midwest to begin my career as a sports journalist in Central Nebraska.

There’s one thing that hails king in this state – the Huskers. Without a professional football, baseball, basketball or hockey team, these people – quite literally – eat, sleep and breathe their University of Nebraska athletics.

 Unfortunately, I don’t get to cover the Huskers. My station is located about 90 miles west of Lincoln. But we do have a sister station in the Capital City who is kind enough to feed us everything Huskers – daily pressers, game highlights, special reports, etc.

 As a guy who grew up watching my local sports reporters cover two professional teams and a major D1 university, it was hard accepting the fact that I wouldn’t be doing the same thing in my first job.

 But now I’ve realized this: it’s OKAY!

 Instead, I cover two smaller colleges – one D2, the other NAIA. I get to stand on the sideline/baseline without security telling me to back up. I’m able to get up close and personal in huddles for cool cutaways and close up shots. The access is unbelievable.

 On top of that, all the coaches and I are on a first name basis and they’re more than grateful every time I show up for a practice or game – something I NEVER experienced in college.

 And then there are all the local high schools. Like the colleges, I’ve built strong relationships with a number of the coaches. As for the athletes themselves, they never fail to show off for the camera.

 It’s very much a small town feel with deep tie to the local sports. It took me a while to understand it. Now, I embrace it.

 Like all sports journalists, I do have aspirations  to move up and cover events like the Super Bowl and Olympic games in the future. But I look forward to continuing to strengthen my relationships within the community and grow so I’m prepared for that second job.

Responding to Viewer Complaints

Guest Post from:

Andrew Marden: Sports Director at the CBS/NBC duopoly in Fresno, CA. He has 12 years of experience in sports broadcasting and is a 2003 graduate of Syracuse University.

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You’re in the newsroom. The phone at the assignment desk rings. You answer it.

“Hello, (insert station name)

Perhaps the person at the other end is calling with a news tip. Or calling to ask where he or she can find last night’s sweeps story on your website. Or calling to compliment the job your new chief meteorologist is doing.

That does happen.

More often than not, though, what you’ll hear is this:

“I can’t believe you guys aren’t showing the Raiders game right now. You deserve to be fired!”

“I saw your high school football show last night. Why was no one at my son’s game? He scored three touchdowns!”

“I was driving behind one of your station vehicles earlier today and the person behind the wheel was talking on the phone. That’s against the law. I just want you to know!”

We’ve all been there.

And trust me, we’ve all thought about telling those viewers exactly what’s on our minds.

We can’t, obviously, and we don’t. But we also shouldn’t be rude.

I’ve been in this business for 13 years and it didn’t take me long to discover that most viewers have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be in a newsroom. (I actually took a phone call once from someone asking to speak directly to Katie Couric!)

So the best thing we can do? Educate them!

Tell them that you have no control over which NFL game CBS decides to air in your market because the decision isn’t made locally. 

Tell them the reason their kid’s football game didn’t get covered is because you don’t have unlimited resources and of the three photographers you were given, one called in sick and you sent the other two to cities X, Y and Z instead.

Tell them the reason the driver was talking on the phone is because there was major breaking news. He or she didn’t have time to pull over into the nearest Starbucks and write everything down because the new destination was 30 miles in the opposite direction.

I’ve found that if you actually take the time to let people know what is going on, they are more receptive to the situation:

“Oh, there is an issue at your transmitter and that’s why there is a power outage? And you have someone working on it? Okay, thanks for letting me know.”

Whenever I respond to viewer complaints I always end by saying (or emailing), “Thanks for watching.” Like with feedback from your news director, you have to have a thick skin. You can’t please everybody, but you can try your best to be kind to everybody…even when you don’t want to.

Do I need an agent?

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By: Mandy Mitchell

You know who you are. You have been in the business anywhere from about one to five years. You are talented. You’ve been told you are talented by your co-workers. You’ve been told you should be in a bigger market. You start thinking you should get an agent. You may have even been contacted by an agent who told you how talented you are and how you should be in a bigger market.

I was you. I know how you are feeling.

You are thinking it’s the next logical step. You are thinking it can only help you move on and up. You are thinking the agent will have connections and will know about job openings before they happen. You may even be thinking it would be cool to tell your parents or peers you have an agent because it feels like progress even in the face of zero progress.

I was there. I signed with an agent during my third year in the business because I thought all of these things. It was a mistake.

I am not going to tell you a long story of why it was a mistake and I won’t tell you why you shouldn’t sign with an agent. It wasn’t right for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you and your path.

What I would like to tell you is a few things you should do before you make this very important career decision.

1- Realize this is an important decision

I am not sure why I went into my relationship with my first agent with such carelessness. I read a couple of reviews and I thought the person was “big time” and because the person “wanted me” I thought that was good enough. This is a BUSINESS relationship. It is important. You are putting your career in his or her hands. You may be paying this person money. We don’t enter into other relationships without a great deal of thought. Don’t just get flattered and sign a deal. It is worth your time truly ponder the decision and what it will mean for you one or two years from now.

2- Think about why you want this

Why do you want an agent? Is it the connections? Is it so you don’t have to worry about sending links or doing that work anymore? Is it because you think the agent can negotiate better?

As we discussed in another post, I haven’t seen many agents who can truly help with connections on the local TV level, particularly in the size markets you would be looking at during years one-five. You can do as good a job of knowing about openings by making connections. Get to know people in the markets you are interested in. I assure you I know about openings in my market long before they go public. Many agents spend their time e-mailing news directors. Do you really want to pay them to do the work you can do?

Do not fall into the trap of signing with someone because you are tired of the job search and want someone else to hustle for you. Realize YOU care more about YOUR career than anyone. That means you will be more diligent about the process. The agent may, as my agent did, skip sending links to stations you really would like to work at because it’s “not a good enough job.” You be the judge of that and do your own work.

As for contract talks. It’s not that scary. We will address that in another post, but truly consider if you feel like paying 10% of your salary just to avoid a few uncomfortable moments with the ND.

3- Talk to current clients

If you have considered all of these things and still want to sign with the agent, make sure you talk to people who are current clients. Ask the agent to give you a few phone numbers. Do not e-mail these people. Call them. Take them to lunch. Ask how often they talk to the agent. Ask if they know what stations they’ve applied to and the status of the jobs. Make sure the agent isn’t sending bulk tapes (links with several clients). Really find out if this is a relationship you would like to have.

Agents will often have testimonials on their websites. Pay ZERO attention to those and get your own.

4-Look at the agent’s website

A website tells the story. Does the agent update it often? If he doesn’t, what does that say for how often he will want to update your reel?

This is a good place to look for attention to detail. If it is lacking on the website, it may be lacking in your job search too.

5- Meet the person

If all of these things check out and you are still super fired up to sign with the agent, go ahead and meet the person. Fly to the city she lives in and have a meal. If this is not an option, try to have a Facetime conversation. Talk to her about your goals and dreams and make sure you feel comfortable putting your career in her hands.

It is ok to be demanding. Do not feel like you are in a job interview. YOU are the one interviewing HER. Make sure she knows you expect communication and you want your reel updated on a regular basis.

These may sound like an obvious things for agents to do. I assure you, they are not!

Just be careful. I know how tempting it is to sign with someone, especially when they fill your head with where you could go and what kind of money you could be making.

I hope you will learn from my mistake and truly put some thought into the decision.

This post is from January 2016

Seeking feedback

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By: Mandy Mitchell

It is a common complaint in a newsroom: “I never get any feedback.”

First of all, if you aren’t hearing anything, that’s probably good news. Your news director has A LOT on her plate and you are likely doing just fine so you aren’t at the top of the list of things to address.

But, I know you want some feedback. Anyone who wants to get better wants feedback.

So what’s the right way to go about getting that? I have talked to several news directors and have asked this question. They have all told me it’s very simple. ASK!

Don’t just “pop in” your news director’s office and ask for a meeting. You should send a note asking if you can “get on her calendar” some time in the next few weeks. Explain that you want to go over a few stories or newscasts so you can improve.

Most news directors have told me they really enjoying the coaching aspect of the job, but it’s never top of mind because of the 1,000 other things they are doing daily.

Be prepared when you go to that meeting with work samples you want to look at. This could be specific dates or even a flash drive with the stories or newscasts ready to go. Be prepared with some things you know you should be improving and ask specific questions.

Also be prepared to hear some negative things. I’ve seen many a colleague over the years who complains they “never get any feedback” when what they really mean is “I never get a pat on the back for all of the good work I do.”

Don’t go into that office expecting a load of praise. This is a chance to get better, not a chance to have someone tell you they appreciate the work you are doing. In the words of Don Draper, “That’s what the money is for!” (even if you make very little money, that’s what it’s for)

Go get that meeting set up. Make it a habit. It will make you better and give you a better relationship with your ND.

Finding investigative stories

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GUEST POST:
Jody Barr has worked as an investigative reporter for nearly a decade and is currently working for the FOX affiliate in Cincinnati. In 2006, he started out at the CBS affiliate in Myrtle Beach, SC before moving to the NBC affiliate in Columbia in 2009. Jody has been working in Cincinnati since June 2014. His investigative reporting beat focuses on government spending and accountability, with a concentration in corruption, fraud, waste and abuse of tax dollars and the public trust.
Do you ever see an investigative report and wonder: where the hell did they find that? How do you find the news that someone doesn’t want told?

Consultants label this “investigative journalism” and want it branded in newscasts as something extraordinary. It is. Only because—generally—folks have gotten away from the basics of journalism: holding the powerful accountable. It’s 101.

So, how do you find those reports? The really good ones come along after you’ve established a reputation as someone capable of handling these types of reports. Viewers and the people with the information hold onto the goods until they see they can trust a journalist with the information—and won’t get burned by blowing the whistle.

You have to remember: a source is likely hinging his/her livelihood on your promise to keep them confidential. Do not ever break that or you’re dead in this business. If you aren’t willing to spend a little time in jail in order to protect one, then you might want to stick to general assignment.

It’s that important.

START SMALL

The key is—like with anything else in life—take baby steps. It’s unlikely you’ll end up with a multiple-part investigative series off the bat. Plus, you’d likely not know how to handle it without some experience in dealing with this type of journalism.

Look for angles that deal with tax dollars, how they’re spent and who’s spending them. Those investigations are always easy sells to management and often don’t take much time to produce.

Governmental budgets are investigative reporting mine fields. Just ask yourself when you’re looking over a budget: does this expenditure make sense? Is this something taxpayers would be okay with?

One of the best places to look these days are community Facebook pages. There are tons of locals who interact on there and who provide avenues to be investigated. If something’s amiss in a community, Facebook is usually the first to know. Join those groups and just watch what’s posted. Always read the comments—they’re goldmines for tips, leads and potential sources and interviews.

When you’re first starting out, don’t be afraid to pursue a story you’ve seen in the paper. You just have to do that report differently. Track down the angles the paper didn’t pursue. Look for ways to hold someone accountable. Odds are, the paper didn’t do that. That’s a wide open opportunity to make your version stand out and be memorable. You never know what else you could dig up simply by pursuing the same report.

Look over government meeting agendas. Look for executive session items and who that session is dealing with. It’s often an employee discipline matter. If so, file a FOIA for that person’s employee file.The answers are likely in there.

Executive sessions might deal with the government body’s legal consultation on plans to spend millions on a piece of property that holds an actual value of far less. Look for who owns that property, then look for who that person might have given campaign cash to. You never know where sniffing out a deal like that might lead you.

Whatever you do, do not ignore tips that are called and/or emailed into the newsroom. For every 10 crazy calls, there is likely one golden nugget somewhere in there. You’ll know pretty quickly whether it’s a wasted call, but you have to take the chance.

Whatever you do, hold a strong social media presence. Provide your cell number and email upfront in your bio. Be responsive to private messages containing tips. State clearly in your bio what your reporting preferences are. As you get going, people will send you tips and leads.

I’d also suggest checking your station’s Facebook and Twitter messages and comment postings. As with the community pages I mentioned earlier, there could be the next big break lying one click away.

Learn your state’s Freedom of Information Act. You’ll need it to find the official documentation to answer most of the leads you’ll investigate. Be nosey, then file FOIAs.

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE

The most frustrating part of this is finding your way as you enter your brand new market. You’re new. You don’t know anyone. You’re essentially source-less. Don’t panic.

Investigations beget investigations. You have to be patient. It’s a long, tough road because not only are you battling the pressures of finding reportable, substantive news, you’re also battling management over time to do what you have to do. Do it on your own time if you have to.

INSTITUTIONAL KNOWLEDGE

I moved to a new market in an entirely different state. I came with nothing by way of sources or contacts. I had no institutional knowledge of Cincinnati or the two other states we cover. I was extremely nervous about taking the leap from the comfort of South Carolina—a place I knew well with contacts in just about all 46 counties.

From a decade of reporting in SC, I knew exactly what happened from the time a warrant is sworn out; who would be serving it and where it would be held after the person’s arrest. I learned exactly where all three copies of a state traffic ticket went. I learned where the State Law Enforcement Division parked the SWAT truck—and made a friend with someone who worked in an office within eyeshot of it so I knew when it left the garage.

I say all that to say, learn the institutional processes in your market. It’ll help you uncover things your competitors will have no idea how to find until you report it. That’s also investigative journalism. It’s taking a topical news item and going a level or two deeper—places no one’s thinking to look. You’ll know where to find search warrants after they’ve been executed. You’ll know where to get copies of affidavits in murder cases before anyone gets their hands on it.

By beating the other guys consistently, viewers and potential whistle blowers will view you as someone to be relied upon. That goes toward building your reputation.

When I get a tip these days, the first thing I ask myself is: “Who’s responsible?” Answering that question will lead you to whom to hold accountable. There’s always someone whose job it was to make sure whatever got screwed up, didn’t.

Go after that.

This is a post from November 2015. It seemed like really good info to remember in our current journalism climate.