Respecting the elements

Adam Pinsker is a multimedia reporter at WFTX in Ft. Myers, Florida. He was previously a reporter with KTUU in Anchorage, Alaska, and a Sports and news reporter with WACH-TV in Columbia S.C.



Chances are, no matter where you’re working these days, you’re going to battle the elements. Rain, snow, heat and cold.  

Preparation is always key when braving the elements. I can remember a couple years ago suffering from minor frostbite after taking my gloves off for only seconds while out in the field.

It never hurts to have extras of everything. Rain boots, rain jackets, pants and hats. Keep them in your car, you never know when you’ll need them. If you’re in a cold climate climate stash plenty of hand warmers, gloves and parkas.  

I always keep these items in the car, because I’ve found that sometimes you’re sent to a scene and you think it will be a quick vo/sot but you end up being there for hours.
Especially important in warmer climate: extra clothes! Ever go out to a scene and come back drenched in rain or sweat, then end up wearing the same clothes on the air?

Keep an extra shirt or blouse in your car…  Bug spray and sun block as well. And in northern climates, an extra jacket. We all know how quickly temperatures can plummet.

Lastly…water and non perishables. There is nothing worse than being hungry in the field before a live shot. Trail mix, and even apples keep up well in vehicles without refridgeration. Of course, you can always bring a cooler.

It may seem like you’re packing for a road trip, but the hassle is well worth it.  

Hello from Houston! 

Just a quick update. The blog will be back to normal with two posts a week on Monday April 11th. I’ve been covering the NCAA tournament this month and I’m currently at the Final Four in Houston. Fun for coverage, but didn’t leave much time for the blog. Talk to you next week!
-Mandy 

Boy Anchor: Leaving the Desk to Become a Reporter

Chris Stanford is a journalist in Wichita who’s worked in couple top 25 markets, 10+ years experience.

I stole the title of this post from a chapter in Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life.  At age 24 Jennings was an Canadian network TV anchor and by the time he was 26 he was anchoring for ABC.  Then, he quit.  He abandoned many journalists dream job because he wanted to become a better reporter.  That sounds unheard of, because typically reporters work their tails off for a shot at becoming an anchor.  But Jennings did it and well… now he’s a legend. In my mind, the greatest. End of discussion.  I was a kid when he explained to us what Operation Desert Storm was about.  I was glued to the TV set on 9/11 because I wanted to hear what was happening from Peter.

His decision to leave the desk had a major impact on my career path.  A path that would impact my life immensely, not only in my carrer but my personal life; where I lived, the friends I made, and where my wife and I would raise our family.

I read that book when I was 23 and anchoring a morning show in Wisconsin in the market I grew up in.  I felt at the time that if I didn’t make any huge mistakes, I could work there forever.  I took another anchor job close by, and read Peter’s book again. This time, his choice to pursue reporting resonated.  I got an agent and told him, “I want to report”.  “I need to earn my stripes”.  I understood that in order to make significant leaps in my career, that’s what I needed to do. So that’s what I did.  I jumped from market 127 to 15, granted I also went from being a Main Anchor to Morning Reporter. And it was great.

I loved reporting and still do.  In Minneapolis I was given valuable opportunities to anchor now and then in a huge market, for veteran producers.  The people around you at work can either drive you to be better or drag you down. I’d never learned so much so quickly reporting in Minneapolis. I absorbed everything I could from other reporters, producers, photographers, you name it.  The job was incredible.  But I left. On my own. I needed to see how other news markets did it, so I took a job in St. Louis.  The news was the opposite of what we were doing in the Twin Cities.  That comparison could be its own post.

To sum it up, my managers demanded hard-assed reporting with an attitude.  Funny, because you should’ve seen my resume tape, it was the opposite of that. But I learned their style, which when done responsibly and ethically can be great.  Then, unarmed Michael Brown was shot by a Ferguson police officer.  Journalists can go their entire careers without covering a story of that magnitude.

I would’ve never covered that story if I hadn’t left Minneapolis, had I never left the desk in Wisconsin, had I never read that book.  Leaving the desk made me a better journalist.  No doubt about it.  It was the best career move I’ve ever made because it set up some incredible opportunities, to inform more people and better provide for my family.

Jennings inspired me to be better, to pursue a career of journalism and not anchoring.  I believe whatever your job is in the newsroom, we should be journalists first. We owe it to Peter.

Taking Care of Your Web Folks

Jeremy Turnage is the digital content manager for wistv.com. He’s been at the station for almost 8 years and started as a web producer before receiving a promotion to help run the department. 

I’ve been in the news business for almost 8 full years — yes, that’s a considerable amount of time these days feels like — and there’s only one constant I’ve seen: change.

The Internet side of news is an ever-evolving beast that can never be tamed, but you can learn to stay on it for more than 8 seconds.
I have one word of advice for any new reporter entering news and even some of you older, wily reporters: take care of your web folks.
Now, there are many things you can do to get in the good graces of your web department, but I’ll keep with the basics.
1. Be ready to write: There is no excuse these days for reporters who do not produce their own copy. The days of “I don’t have time for that” are dead and buried. If you’re pitching a story at 9:30 a.m., that story better be fairly fleshed out and ready to turn into 200+ words for the web folks — breaking news aside, of course.
Web is largely a traffic-driven business. It’s not a dirty secret. By producing your story a little bit early, you’re likely going to help your web folks generate a couple hundred extra page views before noon than you are waiting until after your story airs after 6 p.m.
If you have a fairly lengthy sweeps piece that you worked extensively on, be prepared to write that for the web department as well. The web department is not going to know as much about that story than you. Of course, that saves your bacon legally speaking as well. You wouldn’t want someone working on your story that could open yourself and your station up to litigation.
2. Extra stuff helps a WHOLE BUNCH: Extra stuff means just about anything that you may having laying around that helped you produce your story — pictures, extra video, PDFs, data, etc. All of it can be used to garner extra traffic for your web department.
Let me share with you a story — I had a reporter working on a story about how the state dealt with meth labs. She went inside a meth home as state investigators first discovered there was meth being mad there. It was a great story about what goes on behind the scenes of investigating meth in the state.
Two days before air, she’s putting the finishing touches on the story and I finally sit down with her to see what kind of extra stuff she might have for us to publish with her story.
“Well,” she said, “I have a spreadsheet of all the meth labs the State Law Enforcement Division has investigated with addresses and other information.”
My eyes lit up. I knew exactly what we could do with that data: turn it into an interactive map. A day and a half of furiously working with the data, we turned the data into a map showing meth lab busts in the state from 2011 to 2014.
The story went to air at 11 p.m., but we decided to publish the map an hour before the story aired. Believe it or not, that map received more traffic than the story alone. At last count, it received over 20,000 page views.
I also had another reporter — who actually is in this group and knows exactly who he is — who was constantly giving us extra items for his stories. It was a large source of pride for him whenever he saw his stories generate gobs of traffic for us.
For example, he was working on a story about the mayor of Columbia and his involvement with a former university board member under federal indictment. Our reporter cornered the mayor on camera to ask him a few questions, but the mayor wasn’t having it.
“Grow up,” he told our reporter. He got the whole exchange on camera.
Our reporter returned with the video and immediately shot it over to us knowing exactly what he had. We published the video on our website hours before it aired and it gave us several thousand video views over the course of several days.
So, to sum up, don’t be afraid to ask your web folks if they want any extra items because they could create valuable traffic that you didn’t even think about.
3. Be active on social media: Here’s a big one these days. If you’re not active on social — be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, Friendster (boy that joke is an antique) — then you’re doing it wrong.
Now, what constitutes “active” on social media? One post a day does not mean active, by the way. I’m talking multiple posts through the day. Social media is all day, everyday.
I’ll explain the big two that we use the most in local news: Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter is best used for breaking news and small updates. There’s not a faster way to deliver breaking news than Twitter. Use it whenever something big breaks locally or nationally and don’t forget to use hashtags.
Locally speaking, Twitter is going to be the fastest way to get information to your followers and the folks back in the news room.
If you’re out on a scene — let’s just say it’s a shooting — expect to use Twitter to tweet out updates from the scene. That means pictures, video, small updates, and so on and so forth.
Facebook is a completely different animal than Twitter. It also generates more traffic than anything else I’ve seen.
Video thrives better on Facebook. It is also weighed more heavily in the Facebook algorthm, meaning your Facebook fans are more likely to see videos from your page in their news feed than anything else. Confused? TIME Magazine has a good primer on the algorhtm.
If you have some very compelling video — say a tornado or something highly visual — posting it to your own Facebook page would not be a bad idea. However, the key here is to include a link back to your station’s main website in order get folks back to the site.
That’s really the key to social media — getting folks back to the website. Outside of direct traffic to the website, social media has become the best way to generate traffic and create new viewers.
To conclude, let me just say I think working the web is the best, most experimental portion of our business today. I am biased, of course, but I’ve seen even the most harden TV reporters turn into true believers when their stuff goes viral and winds up on the front page of Facebook, Drudge Report, Fark, Reddit, etc.
We can do so much more on web outside of the 1:30 PKG or 30-second VOSOT and we’re not even close to realizing its potential.

Viewer Phone Calls

Kelly Riner is an assignment editor at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, NC. Kelly’s experience ranges from producing to working on the assignment desk. She also field produces and plans special projects. Kelly graduated University Valedictorian from North Carolina State University with a degree in Communication Media, and she has a Masters of Humanities from Duke University. She’s worked at WRAL for 14 years, and prior to that, she wrote for the Fayetteville Observer. Kelly also oversees the News Production Assistants at the station.

An internship or entry-level position at most TV stations will likely include a quick lesson on answering viewer phone calls. If you’re asked to help on the assignment desk, any assignment editor will gladly let you navigate your way through viewer calls starting on day one. There are those calls that are easy: people asking about programming, people wanting to know the high temperature for the day, or people asking about information included in a news story. The rest of the questions, well, they can be quite varied!

Within your first few days, you’ll surely have had your first “crazy caller.” You’ll most definitely have handled your first “angry caller.” And then there are those who call with story ideas and you won’t know if they’re legitimate, crazy, or a combination of both. Working on the assignment desk for 14 years, I’ve heard just about everything a viewer can say, yet I’m still taken by surprise occasionally. People have told me over and over again I should write a book about some of the wild things people say.

One day, I may. However, this blog is about how to handle these viewers. No matter what you may think of the caller, remain professional and calm. When a viewer is yelling at you, don’t raise your voice back and don’t get caught up in an argument with the viewer. You will not win, so just listen. Do not let your personal feelings, political persuasions, or views on a topic come out. Remain neutral. If someone begins cursing at you, politely tell the person you will be hanging up, and they are welcome to call back when they are able to talk with out cursing.

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If someone calls in with a story idea, take their information. Be sure and get their name and telephone number. Also find out from where they are calling. If it is something a reporter will pursue, the reporter will need as much information as possible. Follow through, and be sure and tell the assignment editor or producer about the story suggestion immediately. If it is a tip about a crime or accident, tell the others on the desk, and immediately start making phone calls to confirm the tip.

As tempting as it may be, don’t make fun of viewers who call on social media. You never know who may follow you on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Remember you represent your station. You in no way want to call out someone and have them see it and then believe the TV station is making fun of them or mocking them.

Treat viewers with respect. Many have likely watched your station for years. They come to think of the on-air talent as friends and family. They feel compelled to call because they believe they know you. Sometimes they are older, sometimes they have challenges, and sometimes they live alone. It’s sad to think about, but people do call the TV station just because they want someone to talk to them. Be compassionate, and give them some of your time. Believe me, you won’t realize it when they call at the busiest time of the day or catch you just as your logging off to go home, but after a while, if a few days go by and you don’t hear from one of your “regulars,” you’ll start to worry about them. My colleagues and I have called nursing homes or people’s home numbers just to check and make sure some of our viewers are ok.

 

Bottom line, viewer phone calls will run the gamut. From some, you’ll get invaluable news tips that help you and your station win on breaking news. Some will make you feel like a punching bag as they complain about something on your air or some wrong-doing they’ve experienced. Some will make you laugh out loud. And some will annoy you every day with their crazy questions, their weird assertions about news stories, etc. But, remember they aren’t just random people. They are your viewers. They keep the TV station going. And along the way, some of those crazy viewers may just become a friend or great tipster. Be nice, help when you can, and treat them like you’d want to be treated. This part of your job is all about customer service.

Talking about your job search

By: Mandy Mitchell

Your first real, professional job search can be an exciting time. It’s the first time you have looked for a job with actual “experience” on the resume, and if you have some talent, you may have a few options and choices on where you will go next.

I have some not so subtle advice for you about what do to with this information: KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!

Most of us have figured out that it is taboo to talk about salaries with coworkers. It’s also pretty rude to talk about your job search and “how many people want me,” and how “my agent is getting so many calls,” and how “everyone says I belong in a MUCH bigger market.”

First of all, you can look like a real ass if you constantly talk about what a big deal you are and how you are “up for so many jobs” and never end up actually leaving for any of these jobs. Interest does not equal an offer. It is best, and more professional, to wait until you have agreed to a deal and informed your boss of your intention to leave before you start telling people.

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It also saves you some embarrassment if something doesn’t work out. Here’s a newsflash: there are likely other talented people up for that job too and the station may hire another person. Gasp!

So if nothing else, you should stop running your mouth because it could lead to some uncomfortable moments for you down the road.

Another reason to avoid talking about your job search is that success is a very relative thing. While you are busy blabbing about how you are just “far too good for the market you are in,” someone else has made a decision to stick around and move up to a main anchor position. That person may have gotten married and had children and is now making 3x what you get paid. You don’t know how many jobs that person may have turned down to stay at the station you are “way too good for.”

This is not to say you should never discuss your situation with others. I understand you have friends in the newsroom you can count on to keep this private. You may have a mentor who can help you choose between offers. We all need to talk from time to time and a job search can certainly be stressful!

This is simply a reminder to show some discretion.

I said a few things, very unintentionally, to coworkers during my first job that I now cringe over. Not everything is meant to be shared and, more often than not, you can benefit from keeping details about your next move very close to the vest.

 

 

Tease me, Bro!

Jenn Bates has been the morning anchor at KWCH since November 2014 and was a sports anchor/reporter for 8.5 years in Wichita and Tri-Cities, WA before that.  Jenn studied telecommunications-news at the University of Florida from 2002-2006.  

Our station got into a bad habit a long time ago.  In the 6pm show the producer would regularly drop the sports tease.  So I stopped writing one.  Eventually, it was just commonplace for weather to toss to the break and come back with our generic sports open without any mention of sports throughout the show.
Please, tease your stuff!
I talk now from the news side of things where teases are CRUCIAL to shows.  How many times have you caught yourself either watching or show because the tease was so good, or in some cases, so outlandish that you just HAD to watch for the story.  Inside Edition and any show on the E! Network always make me laugh or cringe with how sensational their teases are.  But, I remember them AND they tend to get me to stick around at least for a little while.
I’m not saying you need to tease death, sex and destruction (ok, maybe sometimes) but you DO need to put effort into teases because they matter.
Here are some quick and dirty tips from one of my favorite Ep’s, Christina Taylor (she now works in Denver as a prof, her husband is an Emmy winning photog in the Denver area):
1)  Don’t start with ‘coming up.’  That gives people a cue that they can walk away or turn the channel.
2)  If it happened in a small town or a small college DON’T say the location.  If people think it doesn’t affect them, they won’t watch.
3)  Don’t be a MORE-ON.  Moron teases are so common and they happen in intro’s a lot too.  Don’t tell me ‘so and so with have more on this,’ because that does nothing for me.  It’s a cop out, it’s lazy. Don’t be lazy.
4) Show me your BEST VIDEO and use your BEST SOUND.  If you have video that makes everyone in the newsroom crowd around your desk, USE IT.  And use it A LOT. If it makes people in your newsroom freak out, gag, laugh, cry, say ohhhhhhh, then yeah it’ll make your audience do the same and will make them want to watch again.  Same goes for sound.  Reporters, when you’re in the field, if you hear a soundbite/nat sound pop that is fantastic, TELL YOUR PRODUCER!  Producers and anchors, if you find a soundbite inside a package from your video service, clip it, edit it and use it off the top.
5)  Let’s say you’ve found that UNBELIEVABLE video that you’re going to use in the tease and in a story later.  You should write your tease for it IMMEDIATELY.  If you know right away, yes that’s my open tease, write the tease so it’s fresh in your mind.  Also write the story so you can (and this is insanely important) WRITE TO THE VIDEO.  Tell me what I’m seeing and why it’s important.
6) Don’t give me a statement.  I see this one a lot.  If you write a tease and it tells me everything I need to know then why would I watch?
7) Safety and security.  At our station this is one of our TOP reasons for running a story.  However, and this is very important, do not scare your viewers.  Don’t write a tease to freak people out.  In other words…I guess don’t be TMZ.

Quick Tip: “I can do it.”

By: Mandy Mitchell

Don’t ever underestimate the power of the phrase “I can do it,” in a newsroom. You will run in to many people who will ALWAYS find a reason something can not be done.

No matter what the task, that person will tell you how the deadline is too tight or the equipment isn’t fast enough. They will tell you how the drive is too far or how much work they already have to do.

You can set yourself apart by making sure you are thought of as a person who can always find a way.

I know I will have TV veterans who will say this is a bad idea because it only means management will expect more and more. In this ever shrinking industry I would rather be a “go-to” person than someone who always wants to find a way out of an assignment.

When I grow up…

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.

When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they usually choose jobs they have seen portrayed on television, in the movies or online as exciting or glamorous. Astronaut, ballerina, police officer, president, firefighter, actor, soldier, model, rock star. They don’t understand for one minute what it takes to get to the particular position they’re fantasizing about. They’re children, after all. These are just dreams.

Over the years, I have come to regard some of the up-and-coming journalists in this same way. They visit the newsroom on a tour, or as an intern, and look at me with their young, eager, starry-eyed selves and say with a completely serious face: “I want to be an anchor.”

“I want to be an astronaut or a ballerina when I grow up,” I sometimes reply. This is usually received with a very confused look, my sarcasm and wit lost on their literal young ears.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have goals. But your goals should always be realistic and involve logical steps that allow you to achieve them with merit and hard work. If the anchor desk calls you, and I do mean calls you, because it chooses you, not the other way around, good for you. But your first goal in television news should always be to be a good journalist. Being a good journalist is the foundation of what we do, behind the anchor desk and in the field. Anchors who are good journalists are respected and can handle whatever comes their way. Anchors who are not good journalists are like wolves in sheep’s clothing-easy to spot, and frankly, not always easy to watch.

The reason that being a good journalist is so important to what we do is that a good journalist gives context to the news he or she reads on the air, whether it is in the writing, or the delivery. The alternative is an actor who reads the news with no depth or real understanding. I’m not going to say this doesn’t happen in a day and age when entertainment often trumps news on many networks because it proves to be more profitable. But in my opinion, depth and credibility are critical factors in the delivery of news to an educated audience.

So, when you meet an old-timer like me, tell them you want to be a journalist, and just maybe you will find yourself a mentor and someone who can give you a hand in a business that we’re trying to keep from going to the wolves.

Healthy Eating in TV News

By: Mandy Mitchell

It’s January, so that means a lot of people are trying to develop healthier habits. While I am not a fan of the New Year’s resolution, I did think it was an appropriate time to address the issue of healthy eating while working in this business.

This is really geared at those just getting in. We’ve all heard of the “freshman 15” in college. I was on the verge of the “first job 15” during my first few months in Myrtle Beach. We are always on the run and that makes it super easy to fall into bad habits.

I  also can’t remember a day in any newsroom I have worked in when a doughnut wasn’t available. Usually that doughnut is right there in an open box near the assignment desk.

You’ve had a long day. You dealt with an angry viewer e-mail. You skipped lunch. You really DESERVE the doughnut.

And while nothing is wrong with one doughnut, the problem is when this becomes a habit. It is a doughnut on Monday, the “one” cookie on Tuesday, the free ice cream on Wednesday. You work in a newsroom…you know!

I have worked pretty hard over the years to avoid this trap, so I wanted to share a few tips with you.

1- Keep a stash of healthy snacks at your desk. Some of my co-workers have laughed at me for this. I am always snacking on pretzels or almonds or an apple with peanut butter. Why? Because there is a doughnut somewhere and I don’t want to be hungry when I see it. So prepare for that. Bring snacks. Keep a bag of pretzels around. Treat the newsroom as a grocery store and don’t go in there hungry!

2- Bring your lunch/dinner. You will see this on all healthy eating lists. It is WAY easier for reporters/photogs to swing by a drive-thru. It is MUCH more convenient for producers/anchors to order out and let someone go pick up the meal. This is fine every now and then, but it is extremely hard to stick to any kind of good habit when you are eating out every night.

If you are in the field, invest in a nice lunch box/cooler and pack it with fruit, veggies, a sandwich (PB&J is a solid choice!), pretzels, baked chips, crackers. I actually got a fun Bento box lunch box (yes I am a huge dork) that encourages variety. It works really well on busy days.

Anchors/producers can get more creative. You may even want to cook for yourself! (a foreign concept for many) Even making your own pizza is better for you than ordering Papa John’s with the nightside crew. Make an effort to brown bag it a couple of times a week. It saves money too!

3- Bring a water bottle. Soda drinking is also an easy habit to fall into when you work in this business. It’s a good idea to cut back on that and try to fill the bottle up a few times a day instead. Coffee and tea are good substitutes for the caffeine!

 

We’ve all seen the news car with 5 days worth of fast food bags in the backseat. Let’s not be that person!