Resume reel mistakes

By: Mandy Mitchell

Like most people who have been in this business a while, I get asked to look at a lot of resume reels. One thing you should absolutely understand is that I am no expert on resume reels. I don’t think anyone is, really. What gets you a job with one shop could be thrown out in 6 seconds at another.

I can tell you a few things that ALWAYS stand out to me as looking “small market.” These are things I see in reel after reel. Yes, they are coming from folks in small markets, but these folks are trying to move up. It’s time to start looking big market if you want to be big market!

**I can only speak about on-air reels here**

1- Poorly framed interviews

I can’t tell you how many times I see interviews in PKGs on reporter’s tapes that are not framed well. Your interview should look like this:


There should be head room and room in front of the person and he shouldn’t be looking at the camera, but looking at you.

This is an example of stuff I see often:


2- Interviews shot against a wall

Please DON’T DO THIS! You want to have some depth in your shot. Let’s say you are shooting in a classroom and want some books in the background. You’ll want to seat your subject several feet in front of the books…not right in front of the books. The idea is to get the books to be a bit out of focus.

I made this mistake many times as a young sports reporter. I thought shooting in a locker room would look “awesome” and “just like ESPN.” So I would put the player on the locker room bench, roughly a foot front of the locker. Didn’t look awful, but you should instead get a chair and get that person as far away from the locker as is logistically possible.

3- A hand holding a mic in a shot

You should be using a lav for any PKG worthy of your resume tape. I don’t want to see your wrist and your ugly mic in the shot. If you don’t have a lav, make sure you frame the mic out of the shot. Most of us have editing equipment with zoom functions now. Use it!

While we are on the subject of lavs and looking “small market,” I don’t want to see  the mic wire hanging from the shirt. Go ahead and take the extra 30 seconds and have your subject hide the wire behind a tie or under the shirt.

4- Jump cuts and too many dissolves

Learn the value of close-ups, and cutaways. If you are an MMJ, learn to shoot those. If you are working with a young photographer, learn to ask for those. Don’t rely on dissolves to get you out of trouble. The best storytellers only use dissolves for impact, not to avoid a jump cut.

5- Clothing that makes you appear young

I can’t stress this enough. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Do not wear trendy clothing. Do not wear shorts in a stand-up. Do not let me see you wearing flip-flops during a live shot. Why am I saying all of this obvious stuff? Because I have seen them all on resume reels.

I am amazed at what young people not only think is ok for on-air attire, but think is ok for a resume reel. This should be a reflection of you at your absolute best. Would you wear a tank top to an interview? How about don’t put that shot on your reel!

6- Music in PKGs

I am sure I will spend an entire post writing about this subject alone at some point. Let me first say I am not against music at all.  I have used music many times.

What I am against, and what makes someone appear “small market,” is simply adding a music bed to a pkg to make it “sadder.”

Doing a story on cancer? Add some sad music! YUCK!!

If you don’t know how to properly add music to your story, please don’t do it. If you like music, I encourage you to watch people who use music well and learn how it works. Until then, I encourage you to rely on NAT sound and writing to make your stories standout.


This post is originally from summer 2016



Leaving your comfort zone

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

By: Mandy Mitchell

I haven’t talked about this on the blog much, but I made the decision to leave my job as sports anchor at WRAL back in January. The decision came after a lot of thought about what I want to do in the future and where I want to be. To make a long story short I just wasn’t having fun working in traditional sports anymore. And while I understand it’s a job, and not all aspects of work will always be fun, I wanted to follow my passion for journalism and storytelling and I knew to do that I had to make a major life change.

So I made the jump over to the news department where I am now a reporter focusing on longer term “enterprise” stories. It’s a dream job for me for sure, but that doesn’t mean the transition has been easy.

When you do anything for 14 years, like I did when working in sports, you develop a comfort. There are some tough and challenging days, but it eventually becomes easy. When I made the decision to leave sports I made the decision to leave my comfy little nest of security. I didn’t think that would bother me. I was confident it was all similar work and would be an easy transition, but I was not correct.

I know this isn’t a news flash, but leaving one’s comfort zone is extremely uncomfortable. We all hear that, but to experience it has been eye opening. I’ve been way more anxious and nervous than I ever imagined I would be. I have woken up in the morning feeling sick and feeling a stress I haven’t felt since my first days in the business.

But guess what? It gets easier every day. I learn something new every day and I feel like I am growing. I’m also learning the angst is coming from within and isn’t worth it.

I’m not saying you should jump to some new job at a new station, or to another department at your current station simply to avoid a comfort zone. However, I would encourage you to recognize your comfort zone and make sure you don’t let it keep you from your goals.

We all settle into a “normal” in life and that is totally ok if you are enjoying your work. But if you are not, don’t be scared to take a chance. As uncomfortable as it has been I would not go back and make a different decision.

I am learning to enjoy the discomfort and understand it is what will get me where I want to be.


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.

That’s what the money is for!

By: Mandy Mitchell

If you are a fan of Mad Men you have seen the scene. Peggy Olson, the ambitious ad copywriter, is complaining how she doesn’t get credit for her work. Don Draper, her boss, looks at her and says “that’s what the money is for.”

Now there are a lot of interpretations of this scene. You can go deep into what this says about Draper and his treatment of co-workers and his simple beliefs in how the world works.

I am not going to do that right now because I am not a television critic. The reason I bring this scene up is simple. I see far too many people in newsrooms who expect praise for what they are paid to do.

I get it. You aren’t paid a lot. You feel you make peanuts and you probably do. But those peanuts come in exchange for your live shots and PKGs and the newscast you produced today.

Your boss hired you because she believes you are capable of the live shots and the PKGs and the newscast you produced today. You can not ,and should not, expect to get praise from her on a daily basis for doing what you are paid to do.

A trip back in time


By: Mandy Mitchell

Last week I was sent on assignment to cover a story in my very first market. I had been back there once or twice since leaving more than a decade ago, but this was the first time I was really back where I used to “cover stuff” when I worked there. I was directly across the street from the old TV station and less than two miles from where I lived all of those years ago.

It was weird. I didn’t go in expecting it to be weird, but it was.

I started thinking about what I was like at 22 when I worked there. I thought about making 19 grand and how I wouldn’t have been able to afford to eat at any of the restaurants that had popped up in the area since I left.

I thought of how much I wanted to learn golf when I worked there. I believed, at the time, that golf would be essential to my professional life and “networking” as a sports anchor.

I thought about the times I dreamed of working for ESPN and always assumed it would happen “some day.”

I thought about the mistakes I made and the dumb decisions I made and how naive I really was. Thinking about those mistakes and dumb decisions made me feel bad.

I thought about how much I disliked that job and hard I worked on my resume reel on random Saturday mornings at the TV station when “no one would be there.”

I thought about how scared of failure I was. I was scared I wouldn’t “make it” and would never “live up to expectations.” I was scared of being laid off. I was scared my bosses didn’t “get me” and my enthusiasm was “misunderstood.”

Most of all I thought about how much I had changed. It has been 13 years since I started working there and 10 years since I left. I thought about how much I wanted to go back in time and tell the old me to relax and just be yourself.

So I will tell you that instead.

I eventually made more than 19 grand and can now afford to eat at restaurants.

I never learned golf because eventually I learned I don’t like playing golf. I learned that’s OK and you should never force yourself to do something just because you think you “should” or it would be “good for your career.” I am a runner instead and have gotten a ton of joy out of that.

I haven’t made it to ESPN yet and that’s ok. I think we all have that “ultimate goal” when we start out. That evolves as we mature. Over the years I have realized how much I enjoy storytelling and have chosen to focus more on that and less on trying to anchor Sportscenter. You have to listen to what makes you happy and try to do more of that.

I made more dumb decisions and bad choices. The key is learning from those mistakes and becoming a better person. I think I have done that.

Those lonely Saturday mornings working on my resume reel for hours never amounted to anything. I sent hundreds of tapes (yep–postage and all), but  I left that station with no job and no hope of a job. I spent time unemployed and felt what “failure” is. Guess what? The world didn’t end. I eventually found work and have always appreciated having a job more since I had that experience. A little failure won’t kill you, so don’t spend your precious time being scared of it.

What happens in your first job, or even your second job, will shape you but it won’t define you. Try to remember that as you are stressing about what your next move will be. I never imagined my career would work out how it has. Like all things in life, some of it has lived up to expectations and some of it has been disappointing.

Just relax. One day you will be looking back at these days and wishing you could tell yourself it will all be ok.

New Year, New You!


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.

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.

Before you Sign your Life Away

Drew Stewart is a 1997 graduate from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. He spent 19 years working in TV news in South Carolina.  Stewart currently
lives in Columbia, SC, and is a one person video department for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

Perhaps I used a bit of hyperbole in the title, but the truth is, when you sign your first contract, make sure you have a lawyer look at it first.

I once had a well-seasoned labor attorney look at one of my contracts. Here are $300 worth of takeaways you’re getting on me.


Here are my suggestions as to what you should ask for:

Clothing allowance: Many local stations have clothing contracts with stores and companies which trade with the station for a certain amount of advertising or promotional endorsements.  It’s at the end of most newscasts.  They’ll have a graphic at the end of the show saying, “Ed and Susan’s wardrobe provided by Capital City Fashions.”  The amount of the allowance will depend on your job.  I was a sports reporter/fill-in anchor so I got $500, enough to buy one suit at the place with whom that station had a deal, but it wasn’t a problem since I didn’t need a suit for my job unless I was on the set.

If you’re a met or anchor ask about a makeup allowance. Many corporate stations are striking deals with makeup vendors. So you may be able to have the station pick up the tab on that.

Here are some points of which you really need to be mindful when signing a contract:

Contracts will always be in favor of the station.  We’re in a period now where nearly all local TV stations are owned by massive companies with lawyers on staff who specialize in labor contracts. Most attorneys in general would tell you to never sign such a one-sided deal, but since you’re like I and hundreds before were, we all have or had stars in our eyes, and reporters often tend to be left-brained romantics set on living out dreams than thinking in purely practical terms (at least I am), you’ll put fate to the wind and not let anyone talk you out of signing it. Because this is what you slaved for staring for hours at a screen with Final Cut Pro on it and  you’ve created hundreds of “job agents” on TV station websites, and finally it’s paid off in the form of  your first job offer.

If it’s your first job, you have little negotiating power.  I don’t know how many of you are Country music fans but back in 1978, Kenny Rogers had a hit song called, “The Gambler.” Fortunately for the purposes of this post, Geico’s ad people have brought it back into public awareness. The chorus of the song is” You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Which is a good lesson for when you negotiate your first deal.  Unless you have some intangible no one else in the world has, there are any number of people who will take the job you’re being offered.

When your name is on the dotted line don’t even think about breaking that contract.  A contract is a legal binding document between you and this massive company with a whole office of lawyers looking to come after you should you leave before your part of the bargain is fulfilled.

The contracts will most likely be binding under the laws of the State where the parent company is located, so if you have an issue with them you’ll have to go to Alabama, Virginia or Maryland and hire an attorney to settle the dispute in that jurisdiction.

Be wary of the non-compete.  You’ll hear people say, they’re not legally binding (in some states, they are not) but there’s an unspoken rule in TV: Don’t raid our talent and we won’t raid yours.  A non-compete clause defines the amount of time you have to be out of  the job you performed for your previous employer before you can perform similar duties for that company’s competitors.  In my opinion, companies use it as a means to keep salaries low. I’ve seen cases where reporters have bolted for one station and were reporting for another in the same market the next week. Those were rare cases where the decision to part ways was mutual.

The most important thing to remember is your contract is a legal document spelling out what the terms and duties of what you’ll do for the company and what the company will do for you.  Don’t fall into the trap of, well I’ve had it, there’s nothing they can do to stop me from leaving. Don’t be sucked into the thinking that fulfilling your contract is optional.

The good news is contracts are standard in the biz, so don’t be afraid to sign one.  Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into first.