One of the youngest on staff: How to hang with the veterans and gain their respect.

When I started out in the biz, I was one of the youngest producers ever hired at the station where I worked.  I was so young, my anchors were close to my parents age.  So were many of the reporters and photojournalists, not to mention much of the production crew.

During the interviews leading up to this job a news director from another station told me, “You are impressive, but how will you manage anchors who make three times what you do, and are old enough to be your parents? How will you make them respect you?”  Truth is, that question was much easier to answer in an interview, than to live out each day in a newsroom.

That is not to say that if you are young and driven you should not go for big opportunities.  But you do need to have a small arsenal of techniques to handle the hazing headed your way.  Keep the following in mind:

  • Respect is earned
  • Set expectations
  • Focus on team
  • Avoid running to the bosses

The first thing you need to understand as a newbie, is that you are not respected just because you were hired for a particular job.  Respect is earned.  News people are incredibly harsh critiquers.  Our brains are wired to find weaknesses and anomalies.  You will be picked apart, especially if you are young.  Many stations are hiring people before they are ready for a particular job, because it can be hard to find someone at all.  This is especially true of producers and writers.  So you are going to have to come in, be professional and work your butt off.  You have to earn respect by consistently doing good work, visibly pushing yourself to be better each day, and respecting those around you.

Which leads to my next point. Set expectations.  Set them for yourself, and those around you.  If you are a reporter, talk through your thoughts on how to handle a story with your photographer (if you are lucky enough to have one).  Explain to your producer when you will call in and when you need script approval to ensure you can get your pkg in by deadline.  Producers: You need to tell your anchors what you need them to do in terms of writing and/or copy editing the newscast.  You need to sit down with the production crew when you get the job, and see what you need to provide when, and explain your goals for the newscast.

You also need to remember that you are part of a team and focus on that.  This can be a really good thing for a newbie producer.  You do not have to go it alone.  You do not have to have all the answers.  You just need to always clearly explain that you want to be part of the solution for any issue that comes up.  For example, check in with your anchors regularly and ask if they are getting what they need.  Listen to their feedback and take it to heart.  That shows professionalism and maturity that will earn you respect quickly.  If you are a reporter or photojournalist, ask your counterpart what they need from you to thrive at their jobs.  Again, you will gain so much respect.  The best part, you will have stronger allies when you do make mistakes, and, you will make them.  You want a support system around you to help pick yourself up, dust off and heal the bruises.  This is a hard biz, you need all the support you can get.

This also is a very small business.  So, do not go running to the bosses and report issues unless it is dire.  By dire, I mean you are about to put the station in serious jeopardy because of a fact error.  If you tell “Mr. 20 years at the same station” to tag out with “13 News for You” instead of “News 13,” and he tells you to screw off, that doesn’t count.  Write down what you told him and when.  Then, it’s up to him to step in line.  Often, newbie journalists panic when a veteran tells them no.  The fear is they are questioning your authority and will get you in trouble.  That is sometimes true.  But, if you do what you are supposed to and deliver a message from management asking for that new out cue or for something to be included in a live shot or pkg script and the veteran blows you off, the veteran will eventually pay the price.  Let that person hang him or herself, by him or herself.  Write down when you told the person, then let that person sink or swim on their own.  You cannot control that person if he/she is defiant.  Focus on what you can control, and be ready if you are asked about the situation with clear documentation in hand.  Then show what you did and ask what more can you do in the future to handle the situation better.  That is not running to the boss, that is managing.

So hang in there newbie newsies.  The hazing can be tough at times.  But it does get easier.  In fact, the person you thought was enemy number one, can and often does become your greatest advocate.  You just have to earn your stripes.

 

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When reality hits. Questioning why you want to be on TV

The smallest market that Nielsen ranks is Glendive, Montana, #210. It is among the more beautiful places you’ll probably never see. The Yellowstone River flows through the middle of town, according to the chamber of commerce, and you can see a triceratops skull found in 1991 and attend Buzzard Day, no date given.

Glendive is one of those places people would rather visit than live in, though. That’s probably why it only has 4,000 TV-viewing homes. I’m sure there have been some wonderful journalists who’ve gotten their start there. But being that Buzzard Day is listed among the top attractions, I’m thinking it was a lonely start.

So what do you do? You’ve gone to college for four years and made your parents proud. Someone has actually hired you based on a reel you’ll replay in ten years and cringe. And now it’s time to move to someplace like Glendive and become a full-fledged, paid journalist.

Most of us have been there. But the shock was much worse for the young woman who wrote to me recently, whom we featured in last week’s article. She actually had a job in one of the nation’s top markets doing “fun stories and the traffic.” Yes, she’s beautiful. But that didn’t keep her from getting laid-off. She’s managed to find a job way down the ladder. Not in Glendive. But way down the ladder.

“I am not only burnt out but discouraged,” she said during one of our e-mail exchanges, which she is allowing SurviveTVNewsJobs.com to quote.

See, she not only worked in that big market but it was also her hometown. The natural support network of friends and family isn’t there anymore.

On top of that, she’s come to the realization that she’s not a journalist. Among other reasons, she just doesn’t have the fire in the belly that’s required to persevere through all the indignities heaped upon you in that first TV news job.

“Yes I should be thick skinned and not let this run me down, but in reality I think my mental health is more important than keeping up a fake smile to get through this,” she said.

Early on in our e-mail conversation, she told me that hosting is actually what she’s meant to do, not reporting TV news or anchoring. I was actually relieved. Would you want a doctor or an attorney whom you could tell really wasn’t into their profession? It’s a recipe for malpractice. However, this young woman was being honest that she didn’t feel the calling to be a journalist. She isn’t going to pollute TV newsroom after TV newsroom with mediocre work just to have her face on television, all the while secretly yearning to host a talk show.

You may fill in the blank with the name of the colleague in your newsroom who meets that description here: ___________________. Extra points if you think TV news was originally just going to be a part of his or her five-year plan.

So I told her to go for it. God bless her for admitting she’s not journalist material. Plus, with media companies clamoring to create their own syndicated shows outside the Hollywood system and adding local talk shows adjacent to their morning or afternoon newscasts, there is a growing need for hosts with the skills to pull them off. This has the potential to be the best time for on-camera talent to work in local television since the days when stations produced their own children’s programming and hired a host to introduce movies.

In this young woman’s case, though, she’s under contract. I know how much she wants to leave and get on the host track immediately. But I urged her to either stick it out in her current reporting job or try to come to some mutual agreement with station management. Broadcast news is a small world. Word gets around. You don’t want to be known as the person who skips out on contract commitments.

However, fate ended-up coming to her rescue. Another company is about to buy her station. The ownership change, she says, is offering her an “escape.” She turned-in her resignation letter last week and hopes to return home soon.

Best of luck to her, wherever she’s reading this now.

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Matthew Nordin is an investigative reporter at WXIX-TV in Cincinnati. Join him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @FOX19Matthew

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Why don’t you show us how it’s done then! The result of on set rants in the booth.

So now we know that anchors often resort to onset rants, when they are super frustrated and feel there is no other outlet.  Anchors, we get it.  Other journalists understand some of these issues are hard to take, but it’s time for you to see what impact that moment of weakness has on the rest of the team.

First, the producer.  Let me clue you in on a little secret, producers tend to be control freaks, who place a lot of their self worth on their work.  Their biggest points of pride, the writing and flow of the newscast.  The writing is their stamp, on the newscast.  So when you the anchor make fun of the writing, right or wrong, for many producers it is a deeply personal insult.  In some ways it is the same as viewers sending scathing critiques of your clothes, hair or delivery.  It takes awhile for many producers to understand that the writing has to be a team effort. (see “How to get inside your anchors heads”).  Anchors can say the  critiques are not personal until you are blue in the face, most producers never buy it.

The producer is also the team leader, especially in shops with newscasts that are more content driven rather than personality driven.  So when you make fun of the writing or complain about how it made you look, you are essentially calling out the newscast leader as a fool.  That is how it feels to the producer, and the production staff.  Again, think about this.  I personally know of only one anchor, foolish enough to call out an AND or ND in the middle of the newsroom.  Producers are a type of manager as well.  Show enough respect to talk to the producer one on one.

That said, producers read “I can’t believe that aired again!” and understand, anchors usually do not go off on the set unless they feel they have no voice and that any suggestions in the past were ignored.  So, if the anchors are constantly calling you out on the set, it can be a message.  You don’t respect us, and therefore we don’t respect you.  As the leader of the newscast, you have to try and make amends.  It is important that you not only allow critiques to happen, but actually acknowledge them and make changes at times.  You are fallible.  Everyone is fallible.  Recognize it, grow from it, and allow yourself to self reflect.  Leaders help those around them rise up.  Are you doing that or serving your own self interests?  Spell out to the anchors, that you will really listen to what they have to say.  If you go against their advice, say why.  One more thing, solid leaders also admit when they make mistakes.  If you can set that tone, chances are the people around you will too, and all of you will grow together.  Set up basic trust, that is crucial especially during breaking news.  All of you need each other.

Anchors need to consider another thing before ranting on the set.  It undermines your authority with the production staff as well.  No one wants to sit and hear someone being criticized openly.  If you can say that about the producer, what do you say about the production crew behind their backs?  It causes a sense of superiority that is not appropriate.  Production crews and producers are fully aware of how much they impact your success.  Never, ever, forget that.  Every time you sit on the set, you are placing your fate in many hands, no matter how talented you are.  Do you really want them collectively saying “Why don’t you show us how it’s done then?”  They will monitor how long you take to do your hair and makeup, they will help managers figure out if you take three hour dinner breaks, even on big news days.  In other words, if you regularly rant on the set, you better be the hardest working journalist in the newsroom EVERY SINGLE DAY, or you will have a host of enemies waiting to watch you get yours.  It is just the truth.  A producer I used to work with purposely used words her anchor struggled to pronounce in copy, and especially during breaking news, just to trip the anchor up.  She was tired of the on set rants.  I watched a production crew, purposely call up a mic line early to catch an anchor in a rant, on live TV, just to make her shut up.  I have also seen producers lobby together to request that anchors be fired, because the on set rants became too much to take.

News is stressful.  We all have moments of weakness.  But when those moments happen on set, they are not easily forgiven.  They create the “us vs. them” mentality that damages so many newsrooms and so many newscasts.  Anchors, stop those rants.  Producers, give anchors a forum to talk with you about concerns, and really listen and learn from the information.  Make it your pledge for the new year.  You will be shocked how much better all of you perform when you set aside the ego, and focus on team.

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I can’t believe that aired again! Why anchors complain on the set.

This makes many producers blood boil. You toil over a newscast for hours, then during the show, the anchors start complaining about and/or making fun of the copy you worked so hard on.  Complaining on set during the newscasts about the show, is the number one way to create a huge divide between anchors and producers. It creates the “us vs them” mentality that causes so much friction.   But there are two sides to this, and we are going to really delve into both.

That said, many of those anchors are really not trying to just be jerks.  I PROMISE YOU. There are reasons behind the decision, (and it often is a decision) to complain about copy on the set during the newscast.  The biggest reason, FRUSTRATION.  When anchors reach the point of complaining on set, most are usually at their wits end.  From their point of view, they have tried to “talk things through” and the producer/management has ignored the issue.  Many veteran anchors are just tired and frustrated that they constantly have to “train newbies.”  If you step back and really think about it, you can see how this can happen.  One anchor I consulted with on this article says, “Even if you are not normally a complainer, when you get an anchor sitting next to you who is a little immature and starts going off, it can be very difficult not to give into the temptation and complain also.  It is human nature.”  Another anchor mentioned, “I worked so hard to get to this point, I don’t want to come across as clueless or even just plain stupid. Why aren’t we (anchors) protected?”

A key thing to remember, is when the anchors “mess up” and read copy that is factually incorrect or just doesn’t make sense, it isn’t just the anchor that looks stupid.  The entire news operation loses credibility.  Anchors are very aware that they are the poster children for the entire organization.  They understand that if they come across as not credible, their job is on the line, because that lack of credibility undermines the entire station’s standing in the community.  When you separate yourself from the insults, and really think about that, you can see why anchors sometimes “go off.”  It is a lot of responsibility, and yet they give up control of the newscasts to producers.  It is how the system works, except in rare cases.  Anchors are depending on you to get the facts right, so they look credible.  Yes anchors can, and most will, get into the newscast and fact check and rewrite if they notice a potential issue.  But in the morning, and during breaking news that is not always possible.  The anchors need the information to be correct, or at least quickly fixed if there is a problem.

Which leads to the second reason, anchors find themselves complaining on the set over a mistake.  It is absolutely maddening, when they see an issue, raise the issue to the producer and then it is not corrected and airs incorrectly two and three times.  Many anchors say they try to help and bring up an issue with a super, or a misspelled item on the ticker, and then it isn’t changed.  The anchor doesn’t have access, and can only watch the mistake happen again and again.  Remember, credibility for the entire news organization is on the line, anchors are the final gate keepers.

There also are issues in many shops where veteran anchors are told, to just read whatever is there, and let the producers do all the gate keeping.  Anchors are told to stay out of the decision making and that producers rule (see Producer Driven) the roost.  Problem is, often the producers are much less experienced than the anchors.  No matter how smart you are, experience brings a lot of knowledge.  So veteran anchors sit, wishing they could just bang their heads against the wall and watch something they could have prevented play out on the air.  Excruciating!

That said, giving in to human nature and complaining on the set, diminishes respect toward you if you are one of those anchors.  It sends a message that you think you are superior and fed up with the underlings.  And that’s even if what you say is absolutely true.  So this is where things get hard for the frustrated anchor.  You need to find a different forum to vent.  Maybe that’s after the show, on the phone with your co-anchor.  Maybe it is at the gym working out your frustrations.  Maybe it is in a meeting with the EP or AND.  Just make sure you keep the conversation pro-active.  Producers and managers, put ointment on the sting, and look to see if the anchor really does have a good point.  If the anchor feels they have a forum to address concerns, the on set rants will eventually stop.  Chances the quality of the newscast will improve as well.

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