Advice from those who have been there

By:Mandy Mitchell

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I was covering a NASCAR race when I was in my second year in the business. I decided, like an idiot, that I needed a “nice” pair of shoes so I could look “the part” among the other professionals. I bought some shoes with a slight heel. I also bought a new top. At the end of the race I had a blister the size of mars and my shoes were torn to shreds. It turns out that wasn’t a good idea, and the “pros” I was hanging with, were all wearing tennis shoes. Lesson learned.

We all wish we could go back and tell our former selves something so we could avoid the blisters. I asked a handful of TV professionals the same question. “What are the 3 things you wish you knew when you got into the biz?” Here’s what they said:

Kelcey Carlson- KMSP Fox 9 Evening Anchor, Minneapolis, MN

  1. I wish someone would’ve told me early on to always thank people for their time,  write thank you notes, etc.
  2. I wish journalism school had better prepared me to help and be respectful of people in a grief stricken state.
  3. I wish I’d had better training in public records searches before I had my first job.
  4. #4( bonus) I wish I’d known that boxy pant suits for women were going to go out of style. I miss them! It’s too much pressure for a 41 yr. old women to wear these tight dresses.

Jenn Bates- KWCH Anchor, Wichita, KS (Former sports anchor)

  1. How much time it takes–not just work hours, but personal hours. In sports especially, I was always on my phone working contacts. It’s a non-stop job.
  2.  Speaking of non-stop, you always have to be ON, at or away from work. No matter where you go you always have to be a rep of your station and of yourself.
  3. You don’t need an agent early on!!! In your first couple of markets, if you go small, an agent is silly to have. You’ll spend a big % of your already minuscule income paying someone for something you can do yourself.

Marti Hause- MSNBC Producer

  1. Expect to work holidays. You will likely work on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and more.
  2. You will meet some of the best characters and friends (for me, a husband!) working in small market TV.
  3. Work on your storytelling above all else. TV may not be around forever. But if you can write & tell a story, there will be a job for you in whatever medium journalism uses next.
Matt Lincoln- WPEC Sports Director, West Palm Beach, FL
  1. I’m happy I went and got an on air job immediately, but young people can take behind-the-scenes gigs, work hard, work on their tape. In the meantime, either get promoted, or use those connections to get on air gigs pretty quickly. As long as they work hard
  2. Don’t get frustrated when you get no responses. It can have ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with how talented you are. NDs very rarely watch all tapes, and you may not fit what they are looking for. If your contacts in business think you’re good… Keep plugging.
  3. This is something that I’ve always known, but it gets clearer and clearer to me as long as I’m doing this…If you’re getting into this because ” you love sports” go do something else. You have to love the storytelling-broadcasting- writing side..

Angie Goff- Anchor NBC Washington, Washington, D.C

  1. Wear comfy shoes.
  2. Find mentors wherever you go- no matter how high.
  3. Accept that sometimes it’s just not your turn.

Stewart Moore- WESH Anchor, Orlando, FL

  1. Do not  get into the business unless you truly have a passion for news/sports and everything that goes with being in the media.
  2. I wish I knew about missing holidays… truly missing them. It wasn’t an issue when I worked in Columbia, SC (WIS) because I was home an hour after my shift.. but here, Christmas means working and spending the day/night alone. – you don’t want to be selfish and tell (in my case my wife) loved ones to skip going to their family just for you. My first Christmas in Orlando I was supposed to get off in time to go to a friends house; instead I spent the day on a triple murder investigation.
  3. I wish I knew that competition for a job doesn’t end once you’ve been hired. Everyone in the building wants to get to the top in the building and it’s like crabs in a barrel when you get close. Learn to not overshare and while we are in the business of telling stories, keep information about your job and prospects to yourself.

John Smist- WECT Sports Director, Wilmington, NC

  1. Never burn a bridge! It’s a very small business and it doesn’t take very long to get a reputation. Also, you never know when you might need something.
  2. Have fun, but always act like a professional. You are not in college anymore! Those people at the bar or, wherever you are, are your viewers.
  3. Don’t ever talk or ask others at the station how much they make. It doesn’t matter! And it only causes problems.
This post is originally from 2015

What’s next if you work in local sports?

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GUEST POST

By: Jeff Zell

Let’s start with these widely accepted statements: ESPN is failing. The sportscaster industry at every level is not growing. Salaries will not be going up. Advertisers will pay less and less for content that is over saturated.

So, what’s next?

And don’t tell me… ‘become a cashier at a local supermarket’ as one sportscaster in need of work posted on Medium. While the post was extremely bold for putting her life out there, the truth of the matter is that you need to pivot…or pivot harder.

My story: I was a local sportscaster at market 153, 101 and 22. It took 10 years to do all that. I covered college and pro teams from the adjacent market and ultimately as an in market guy.

I left my position at a local station in Charlotte after not being offered a chance to interview for a promotion. My soft landing spot was 4-5 days a week of freelance at a national website that could only guarantee five months of employment but had ‘likely more work in 2017’. I had been freelancing with them for 2 years prior and felt good about the situation.

But in January, that freelance budget dried up.

I was not worried. The writing on the wall for our industry had been there for a while and I was prepared. I had also been hustling since 2014 as an associate for a stock market research company part-time in the mornings. I fulfilled the task to complete my ordinary job duties but always thought…’there are areas where this business could be exploited for larger gain’. And my background as a sportscaster translated more often than not.

How did I gain an audience as a sportscaster on social media? I provided pertinent information for free but if you want to see the extra mile (or the exclusive story)– tune into the sportscast. For the stock market business, I quickly gained an audience by giving away some information — but always pointed out how our extra information (that you have to pay for) could make or save you a ton of money. Within the first six months, that has translated the company into instant revenues.

How about navigating breaking news through Twitter? What sources are reputable, what is true? How can you confirm this quick and get it to an audience that trusts you. The stock market is a fast-moving environment that sportscasting and my career in journalism properly prepared me for.

How about presenting facts with creativity? My favorite part of sportscasting was not telling the audience that the running back ran for 200 yards last Friday night. It was telling the back-story about how the RB promised a sick kid he would have a big game in his honor. Turning information into compelling videos or other formats has a large place in the business world.

Some of these ideas…along with interpersonal skills developed as a sportscaster made the stock market company jump at the opportunity to bring me on full-time when I weighed my options in the sub-optimal sports broadcasting environment. I now work from home, make nearly double my sportscasting salary and also get a different type of reward — a chance to be involved in every aspect of my son’s (and second one on way) life.

Sidenote: It’s funny how priorities change so quickly.

Certainly my story is unique and it would have been difficult to pursue a self-employed (I’m a 1099-employee) career without a wife with a great job that had insurance. But one thing to keep in mind — the sportscaster is the ultimate utility player. Often times, we are the department who was ‘forgotten’ and/or overlooked. We came up with the ideas for sports specials; we pitched the extended coverage; we came up with the plan to make high school sports coverage on Friday night better than the year before.There is a highly-desired market for the ‘go-getter’.

So how to get started? It’s about starting small and branching out over time. Don’t quit your job today cold turkey. But finding multiple avenues of income allowed me to take a risk. Honestly, you never know when your station could be the one that cans sports so having your hand in different pots is a must.

Personally, I enjoy the stock market — so navigating into this was easier than moving into a field that I despised. But, if sports is the one true love and you won’t be happy doing anything else, it may be time to take a chance on yourself.

Find an under-served niche market. Nope, I’m not talking about an NFL or College team. How about a teaming with a high school booster club or a little league association. People will pay up for a memory video of their son or daughter. Market yourself…utilize what you learned as a MMJ sportscaster and give it a chance. You will learn that a sportscaster’s energy make us incredible salespeople.

Keep an ear out for your career. When the national and regional sportscasting industry eventually does come back…it probably won’t be as full-time jobs but likely in small doses on a freelance basis. So starting a side-hustle will be critical to controlling your future.

And if not anything else…when your idea does turn the corner and begins to make profits — you will be the one that sees the monetary value of hard work first-hand.

My graduation speech

By: Mandy Mitchell

Since it is graduation season, I wanted to share with you some things I wish I knew while sitting in my chair at the University of Florida in 2003. Take this as a brief “commencement speech” for journalists if you will. I originally posted this last year at this time.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2017….

You have likely spent your entire lives hearing about the “real world” and all that comes with that. I want to talk to you about what it means to step in to an actual TV newsroom for the first time.

For the first time in your 22 years, you won’t be working for grades. You may go days…months…a year without a manager telling you where you stand. It is up to you to do your own grading.

Seek constructive criticism from peers. Watch your stories and your newscasts after they have aired. Get better even if it feels like no one is watching and no one cares.

There is one person in your class who looks like the “sure bet.” She is the superstar student who is beautiful and has network hair. She will be working in pharmaceutical sales by 2020.

Meanwhile, there is a guy who was average at best. He spent more time drinking beer than paying attention to the news. He will be a top 25 anchor by 2020.

So much of this business is random and based on timing. Don’t get caught up in who is where and how fast they got there. I assure you, that stuff will not matter once you have spent a decade working in TV news. Learn to focus on your own journey and don’t keep score.

Your quality of life is far more important than what size market you are working in.

Don’t ever do work to win awards. Awards are nice, but they are not life-changing. Do work that makes you proud and makes a difference. If you do this, awards will follow.

The crap that happens in your first job will provide stories and funny moments for the rest of your career. Try not to let the lack of money and the awful gear get you down. You WILL laugh about it later and it will be a source of bonding with other journalists you will meet on your journey.

We have ALL been there.

No one owes you anything. This goes from the moment you enter the newsroom to the moment you leave. This is a business that literally starts over every single day. Don’t expect work you did yesterday to be remembered. What are you doing today?

Don’t be a jerk. Remember to smile often and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Good luck.

Don’t do the same boring graduation story

Guest Post

Shane Dorrill is the manager of broadcast media relations for The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where he helps reporters with stories every day. Before joining the media relations staff, he served as a reporter, producer and news director for television and radio stations in the Birmingham, Alabama market. He also teaches broadcast news students in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media in UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences. You can follow Shane on Twitter @sdorrill.

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It happened as I was watching my local 6:00 news. The anchor began telling me about all the graduation ceremonies that are happening this month. I braced myself in my chair, because I knew what was coming next. I’ve seen the same story year after year.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good graduation story. However, the problem comes when reporters or producers decide to be lazy and do the same old, boring story that they’ve done in the past.

Being a former reporter, I know how the conversation in the morning meeting probably went: “Hey, I know, let’s do a story on graduation. Can we find some statistics on how many of these kids won’t have jobs when they finish school?” Sure enough, a simple Google search turned up a random website with the negative data they were looking for. All the reporter had to do was attribute the statistics to the website without giving any context to them and they had a story.

“It looks like a bleak future for those students graduating this month,” the anchor read in a solemn tone.

But is it true for your area? Are there really no jobs? Are the students graduating from your local high schools or colleges going to be destitute in a few months? Are they doomed to living at home in their parent’s basement?

A simple call to your local Chamber of Commerce or Industrial Development Authority may give you the answer. If the job market is weak in your area, it’s OK to tell your viewers. However, don’t leave it as a negative story. Find a way to talk about what is being done to change the job market. Interview someone from an organization that’s helping graduates get jobs, or find a student who already has a job waiting on them after graduation. Do more than just report negative statistics.

Better yet, get away from the job market story altogether this year. Find a way to focus on the positives of graduation. These students are commencing; in other words, they’re about to start something new. Find a student who has overcome major obstacles in life, yet still managed to succeed. Share their victories. Or, tell the story of a teacher who has given their entire career to helping students, but who will be retiring at the end of the school year, and commencing into a new chapter of their life.

Your local schools will thank you, and so will your viewers.

Get out the door

Amanda Lamb is a crime reporter for WRAL TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, who has been working in television for 26 years. She is also the author of eight books including true crimes and memoirs. To learn more about Amanda go to www.alambauthor.com or follow her on Twitter @alamb and Facebook, WRAL Amanda Lamb.

Mike-speed

I can’t tell you how many times I am in the newsroom and I see a reporter in his or her cubicle glued to the computer screen. Many times, he or she is trying to find someone connected to a story we are trying to air that day. I can tell by the frazzled look on the reporter’s face that the reporter has not gotten results.

Sure, the internet has great resources to find people. Not only can you simply look up a phone number and address, but the number of public records that exist online these days is amazing to a journalist who grew up scouring phone books and consulting map books. Today, in under five minutes, I can usually find out where you live, what the heated square footage is of your house, how you vote and whether or not you’re in a relationship if you happen to have a social media profile that’s not set to private.

Don’t’ get me wrong, the internet provides great tools to learn more about a person in your story, but they are not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. For example, most of the time when we call someone and ask him or her to do an on-camera interview about a controversial story we are risking getting turned down. I would estimate you have a greater than fifty percent chance of getting rejected. And once they turn you down over the phone, you’re toast. You can’t in good faith knock on their door.

But, if you don’t call, and you just go, I believe you have a much better chance of getting the interview. This technique has worked for me so well over the years that my managers allow me to take risks, to drive a long distance for an interview that may not pan out. But many times it does pan out—the reason, because people trust you more in person. Over the phone you are a faceless, disembodied voice that is very easy to say no to.

Years ago, we went to small towns without a clue of where to find someone and simply went to the local general store and asked around.

“You all know Joe? Anyone know where he stays?”

Today, we have the added advantage of knowing in many cases exactly where to go, in addition to having the person’s number at our fingertips. I would urge young reporters when you have time to resist the urge to drop a dime, and instead, pay your potential interviewee a visit. You might be surprised by the results.

Read more from Amanda here

This post is originally from March 2016