No…you couldn’t.

By: Mandy Mitchell

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I was lucky enough to spend a few days immersed in the practice of storytelling this past week. I went to the “Sound of Life” storytelling workshop in Asheville, NC which included talks from brilliant storytellers like John Sharify from KING in Seattle, Mike DelGiudice from NBC 4 in NYC and Les Rose who used to work with Steve Hartman at CBS.

These guys really are some of the best! If you need proof check this Sharify story out:

I did notice something, though. I was walking to lunch on the first day and heard a few people making the same kind of comment.

“If I had 4 days to put together a PKG I could do that too.”

“If I wasn’t running around doing 3 VOSOTs and 4 live shots, I could do that too.”

“If I had 7 minutes to tell a story, I could do that too.”

Here’s the truth folks, No. No you could not.

I am not saying I don’t think you are busy and would love more time to work on stories you are actually passionate about. What I am saying is you are not on that level right now. Very very few people are and that’s what makes those stories extraordinary.

These guys have been doing this for YEARS. In many cases they started right where you are. They started by covering the local city council meeting. They got MOS’s. They covered weather. It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s snowing!

Many of you know of Boyd Huppert’s work at KARE in Minneapolis. Do you also know he is general assignment 3 days a week? Yeah, he gets two days to work on his fantastic stories for “Land of 10,000 stories,” but he also covers fires, and his GA stuff is just as compelling as the feature stuff. Why? Because he’s super talented.

You get there by doing it. You get there by telling stories, no matter how short those stories are.

If you are covering the city council meeting, find a way to make it a better story. If you are getting MOSs for a story you hate, find a way to be more creative. Doing this each day will get you closer to being able to do the kind of work the greats do. Les Rose really said it best when he said to bust your tail on the mediocre so you are ready for the great stuff!

So let’s stop using lack of time as an excuse. It’s not about lack of time, it’s about lack of seasoning. You aren’t there yet. If you want to be a great storyteller, practice every single day. Eventually you will get the gift of time and you want to be ready to take advantage.

 

Words Mean Things

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GUEST POST

A few months after college, Stephanie Beck started as a part-time videotape editor at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, NC. In the nearly 19 years since, she has edited every newscast, produced every newscast, produced half-hour specials and special event coverage, won 2 Emmys and a Murrow, and earned her Master’s degree along the way. She now produces the 6pm newscast at WRAL and On the Record, the weekly public affairs broadcast. In her free time, she is a competitive West Coast Swing dancer, blogs food competitions and freelances as a writing coach.


The “A” Block brought you a list of 10 phrases and cliches to avoid in your writing. One of the items on that list led me to crawl upon my own personal soapbox, which can be summarized in three words:

Words mean things.

This is a phrase my friends and co-workers will hear me say often. Some of them have even adopted it themselves. We use it most when we read an article or hear something on TV – and not necessarily the news, either – where someone has blatantly used the wrong word. They don’t mean to do it, and you don’t either. However, it happens, and when it does, it waters down your writing and your audience’s understanding of what you want to say.

At times, using the wrong word can change the meaning of a news story entirely. I’ll leave it to one of the many other bloggers out there to help you learn the difference between lie and lay, or effect and affect. Here is a list of words that are so commonly misused that many writers don’t even realize their true meaning.

Electrocuted: The dictionary definition of “electrocute” includes death. If the victim did not die, they “received a shock.”

Totally Destroyed: Redundant! The dictionary definition of “destroy” is to damage something beyond repair, so to completely damage something beyond repair is rather repetitive.

Decimate: While we’re talking about destroying things, “decimate” is not synonymous with devastation. “Decimate” means to damage a part of something, not the whole thing.

Strangle to death: By definition, “to strangle” means to cause death by cutting off air flow. Do you really want to say “He caused his death to death”?

Nauseous: This one is almost always used incorrectly. People use it in everyday language to mean “to feel sick.” Actually, it is used to describe something that causes nausea. (Pro tip – make sure not to confuse it with “noxious”, which means “harmful”)

Migrant/refugee: I had to include one pairing on this list, because it’s timely and I’m hearing it almost every day somewhere. No matter how much you need a synonym for “refugee”, “migrant” is not it! The difference between the two is choice. A refugee is someone forced to flee their country to escape persecution, war, or natural disaster. A migrant is a person who chooses to move to find work.  

In the wake of: This saying comes from the use of “wake” to specifically describe the path a boat cuts through water. Use “in the aftermath” instead. Regionally, some parts of the country also use it as a synonym for “instead of”. For that use, I recommend “in the stead of” or “in place of”.

Get: This is a verb that is overused to the point that it has nearly lost its meaning. Every time you use this word, there is probably another verb with more specific meaning that can both clarify your writing and save you time. A few examples:

        “Get milk at the store” – Buy milk at the store.

        “He didn’t get it” – He didn’t understand it.

        “She got sick on the trip” – She caught a cold.  

        “Get me that book” – Hand me that book.

            “He got the book from her.” – He received the book from her.

Big: This is also so overused it has little meaning. A few examples:

        “A big deal” – important, consequential

        “A big man” – he’s large… in what ways? Tall? Wide, solid? Imposing? Or perhaps you don’t mean his size at all, but his power. Is he a powerful man in his line of work? Is he a key player in something?

Pro tip – don’t forget – each of these synonyms carry not only their own meanings, but also their own connotations and mental baggage.

What are your pet peeves when it comes to misused words? Please share, so we can all learn something.

Working for “free” vs. Working for “Me”

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By: Mandy Mitchell

One of the very first things I was told in my very first newsroom was this:

“Never ever ever work for free!”

The photog was telling me this over a Wendy’s lunch that I found rather magical as a 16-year old intern out with a an actual TV news crew. We were covering a story about an endangered bird that had been shot. We had just come back from seeing the dead bird and getting the interviews and had just enough time to sit down for an “real lunch.”

He went on to explain that his “hours” were 9-6:30 and he planned to be out the door at 6:30 every day or they would be “paying him” for every minute he stayed. He then told me how he rarely answered his pager (this was 1998) because those who answer “get taken advantage of more often.”

I get this line of thinking. I really do. This is a tough business and we don’t make a lot of money and we keep getting asked to do more with less. Sometimes you have to draw a line. You also have to have a life outside the newsroom. You don’t want to constantly be worried you will get the call to breaking news on your days off. I get it.

But I don’t subscribe to this philosophy completely. I think there are times where you can benefit from working for free.

Let me give you an example from my own career. I produced a documentary on my own time last year. I didn’t get time to work on it during “work hours.” I was called “nuts” by a few co-workers who claimed I was giving my station content and getting nothing in return. They were right if you are thinking about this strictly based on dollars earned for hours worked. But value isn’t always about how many dollars you make.

I can remember having a conversation with a network reporter a few years back. He asked me what the longest story I ever told was. I answered, as most of you would, “Uh…I don’t know 2 and a half, 3 minutes. You know, sweeps pkg length.” He then told me I should find a way to do something longer. So I did.

I may not have made a dime producing that documentary, but I can now tell anyone who asks, the longest story I have ever told is 24 minutes. There is tremendous value in that.

Sometimes you have to look at the big picture and what will be best for YOU down the line. If you have an idea for a great investigative story, but no one will give you the time during your shift, do it on your own time! You can then put it on your resume reel and eventually you will get a better job that pays more and you may get that job because you took the time to do that story.

I know there will be TV news veterans shaking their fists at this post. I am not recommending doing regular everyday work for free. What I am saying is sometimes it’s worth putting in the extra time…your time… for something special.

You have to think of payment as something more than just money.

A personal story: Part 2

This is Part 2 of Larry’s journey from Raleigh to Philadelphia. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Cue the theme song from “The Jeffersons” – because we’re moving on up. In my last post, I told you about some initial bullet points… namely why I left a perfectly comfortable position in a great (winning) newsroom in market #24 for another position in market #4 where it’s a dog fight. While I doubt my family will be living in a deluxe apartment in the sky, this is certainly the big leagues and I’ve got my turn at bat. As it stands right now, the excitement still hasn’t hit me. Namely because to me, this is just another pragmatic step toward getting where I’d like to be in life. Plus I’m just not a terribly excitable person in the first place. I offered up a “Part 2” on switching markets because there were some items that have really caught me off guard through this whole process. Some of it has to do with sheer market size. Other aspects are because I’ve never left the company that got me started in this business.

  1. The paperwork. Although technically it’s not paper (it’s mostly digital)… I do have to fill out a lot of forms. They’re not all just for one company. There is SAG-AFTRA, moving company documents, exit reviews, 401k transfer information, and the list goes on. Keep in mind, I still haven’t arrived at my new station which will probably require tax documents and much more. Given that I have a baby at home an a fluctuating schedule, it’s been tough to get it done. I finally had to stay up through some late nights (when everyone is finally asleep) to get everything done. Keep in mind, I’m a producer… this is the pretty “straight forward” rendition. I hate to see how much more could be involved when lawyers and agents get involved on the talent side!
  2. The size of the city. I still remember driving out from the airport when I went to Philadelphia for my interview. As we turned the curve from parking, and the skyline began to unveil itself, I specifically remember my first thought: That’s Huge!

I said that… out loud… word for word. Keep in mind, I’m honestly just a country boy from North Carolina. I don’t have a habit of visiting major cities. And despite all the research I did in getting familiar with the place, I still was just not mentally oriented for how big that place is. I had to pass the Comcast Center on the way to my hotel, and I’m pretty sure my eyes were the size of saucers. There may have also been some expletives involved. Again, I’m familiar with the streets. I looked everything up on Google Maps and had an idea of the placement of everything. But it is STILL not like physically standing next to one of the tallest buildings in the country… and just looking up.

 

  1. The union. Having to be a part of SAG-AFTRA was not surprising to me. I was told about it up front. The wide gamut that union covers, however, was incredible. From the amount of pay, to the use of cameras, and even the number of people that can write for a newscast. It’s ALL in the collective bargaining agreement. For my new newsroom, the union also serves as the clearing house for benefits (health insurance, 401k, etc). This is completely new to me, as my current benefits come directly from the company. The rules and regulations governing my relationship with my new company is mind boggling. Oh by the way… being in that union costs. As such,what will also be surprising to me is if I don’t get premiere client services.

 

  1. Finding a place to live. As I’ve noted before, I’m a country boy. Raleigh-Durham is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in. And as you can imagine, finding a place to live a similar lifestyle in Philly is difficult. Just the average style of a home in the city and its suburbs is completely different from what my wife and I are used to. There are a LOT of people per square mile in that city. And every one of them seem to be right on top of each other. Literally, everything is either on top of something else or squeezed in somewhere. I personally have resolved that I will end up making a pretty decent haul into work to make my wife comfortable and to live in an area that has enough space. And if you’re wondering, no… I don’t plan on using public transportation right now. Maybe that will change once I get in the city. Maybe the city of Brotherly Love will rub off on me and I’ll love being around other people enough that I can live closer to the city, and not mind being so close to other people.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of everything that has popped out at me thus far. Note these are all things the I knew about before hand and they STILL caught me a little off guard. These technically were not surprises. I only offer this as a point of reference for people who may experience a move in the future. Some of this may not be mutually exclusive to moving into a large market. Obviously, none of these items have been deal breakers, they are simply points I thought would be most interesting to share.

 

A personal story: Moving to a new market

We like to share personal stories here on The “A” Block to give you a chance to learn from others who are moving on and moving up! This one is from producer Larry McGill who is jumping from his current job at WRAL in Raleigh to Philadelphia. 

As I write this, I’m reflecting on a conversation I just had with my news director. After nearly 5 years in my newsroom, I informed him that I’ll be taking a new job in a new market. It was certainly not the tough conversation I anticipated. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected. But I do know for some reason, I wasn’t expecting the joyful reflection we shared before I had to hurry back out to finish a newscast.

I do feel I should explain my current position is in the newsroom where I first got into television news. From the moment I walked in the door as a production assistant, I said I wanted to become a producer. In a world where a lot of people say starting in a top 25 market – #24 to be exact – is nearly impossible, everyone in the building took a vested interest in making it happen. Now, I stand on the verge of making another major jump. This time, to market #4.

When I went to Philadelphia for my interviews with the management team, there was one main question that everyone asked: Why? You work at one of the best newsrooms in the country… WHY come here? WHY leave a comfortable position at a heritage station with winning ratings for a place where we’re in a dog fight with the another heritage station? The answer to that line of questioning is simple.

  1. The Person. I’ve known the news director for a few years now. While I’ve never been in his inner circle of colleagues, I did know he is held in very high regards. The more I asked what it is like to work for him, the more people confirmed how excellent he is at his job, and more importantly… growing talent. They also continued to confirm how great he is as a person. Had anyone else offered the job in a major market, chances are I would have rejected the proposition. Here is another kicker… all of May managers, despite not knowing him personally, know him by name and reputation. To me, that speaks volumes.
  2. The path and process. As I said before, my new news director has a reputation for growing talent. Not that my current one isn’t capable of doing so. The opportunity for me to move up simply is not there. That’s because one of the cons of being at a heritage winning station is that people don’t leave! That means staying at the bottom of a very large totem pole. I am lucky enough that the opportunity falling into my lap, gives me the chance to move into an entirely different echelon of journalism. Between the company, the market, and the personal network… it’s all a level that I thought was never possible in my career.
  3. The change. Philadelphia is a huge ass city. Even after doing my research, the sheer size of the city versus where I grew up and where I currently work is honestly a little overwhelming. The type of people there are different. The culture… different. The number of lifestyles…different. The pace of life… different. It’s being in these types of situations, the proverbial fish out of water, that rounds out a good journalist. And as someone with a medium as powerful as television, it be hooves me to experience a new place to round out my view of the world.

Admittedly, there are a few other items that led me to my decision to move. However, they’re all ancillary to these 3 main tenants just listed. The pay is better. The market is major. Even the newsroom is about to move into a sexy new building. There are even more opportunities to advance at my hobby of photography. But note that the things my decision really hinges on are far more pragmatic. I hope that if and when the time comes for you to pick up and move, you’re afforded the chance to be equally as pragmatic.

Dress for the job you want

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By: Mandy Mitchell

You may have heard the saying “dress for the job you want not the job you have.”

This is about way more than the clothes you are wearing and is something you should be thinking about the second you walk into a new newsroom.

You may think you want to spend two years in your position and then move on, but I have met so many people who had that plan before spending a decade plus at the same station.

There are ALWAYS chances for advancement within your building and you should be planning for them now and not just when the job is open and posted.

I see this mistake often.

An anchor position opens and all of a sudden a reporter starts working a bit harder…dressing a bit sharper…complaining a bit less. He thinks it’s “his turn” at the anchor desk. Problem is, the news director sees him as a reporter and goes with an outside hire. Why? Because the reporter didn’t carry himself as the next anchor until that chair was open. You want to be an anchor? You should be volunteering for any anchor shift available. You should be acting the part from the way you dress to how you volunteer in the community to how you post on social media.

A prime newscast is now open for a producer. 6pm…Monday-Friday! All the producers want it. What have you done to make it yours before it’s open? Are you someone who volunteers to work an extra shift when someone calls out sick? Are you someone who has creative ideas? Or…are you someone who just does what you are told and “has been here a long time” and expects the next promotion?

Newsrooms are competitive and you have to be ready when a new situation comes up. You want to be the “no brainer” for management so they don’t have a chance to look at someone else, or outside of the newsroom.