Help! I’m in over my head.

This can be hard to admit, but it happens to everyone.  Cold sweats, waking up dreaming of your live shot or newscast crashing are all part of the gig.  Getting chewed because you cannot complete all of your work happens, especially with more stations lumping on extra packages or making people one man band.

Now let’s talk survival skills.  First, understand there is little to no training in newsrooms anymore.  It simply does not happen in the majority of cases.  Every shop is understaffed and half the workers are also in over their heads.  Many managers are drowning and lost too.  By the way, this is supposed to make you feel better.  That’s because these journalists are surviving and so will you.

Here’s what to do.  Find the go to person who gets the work done every day with little trouble and become a buddy.  Find out how the person does it and figure out how to do it yourself.  If you don’t feel comfortable simply asking, then hook up with others in the know.  For example, if it’s a reporter who you’re trying to figure out, request to work with that person’s favorite photographer. Then pick the photog’s brain.  Look online at the reporter’s past stories and look for patterns.  If a producer is your target, ask the newscast director what this person does to make script printing deadline or create killer teases.  Let’s say your writing stinks.  Don’t worry, this is common.  Figure out who the best writer is in the shop.  It’s easy to do.  Just listen to the anchors dish with each other, you will learn who it is quickly.  Once you do, start printing out this person’s scripts and look for common threads.  Then you can mimic the style.

There also is usually a manager that stays very calm in crisis.  That person will often give you advice if you just sit down and ask.  Managers are not all out to get you.  Replacing staff all the time is a pain and most would prefer not to deal with it.  It’s easier for them to do some training.  But you need to ask the right manager.  The news director is next to never the smart choice.  Often it is an executive producer or managing editor.  They are still in the trenches so they can still relate to what you are struggling with.  Once you identify the right person, ask for a critique of your work.  The manager will probably be thrilled you actually want to improve and talk your ear off.  They also tend to dish about their favorites in the shop.  Now you have a new set of names to watch and mimic.  Best of all, you will gain an advocate in management because you are not whining about how hard the job is, you are asking to grow.

 

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Stop the screaming! What to do when your boss is deafening and demeaning.

If you haven’t already, you will eventually work for a “screamer” in television news.  It’s just a simple fact of life in the biz.  But that simplicity of fact does not mean reacting to it is simple.  Screamers are alarming, and not just for the ear.  It means the person loses control in key situations; very troublesome when this is the person who decides your fate.  The good news is that the screamer’s boss probably is aware of the temper tantrums and hopefully takes them and any tirades about staffers with a grain.  The bad news:  The screamer is usually not forced to calm it.  So the verbal abuse keeps on coming.

There is an effective way to protect your ears and your ego.  The more the screamer lets loose, the calmer you need to be.  You need to consistently do this, during public and private tirades.  Screamers expect to unnerve you.  It is a control technique for bullies.  If you want the person off your back, don’t indulge it.  Sit down, look slightly above the screamers head and watch him or her pitch a fit.  Whatever you do, do not speak.  The screamer is not interested in anything you have to say.  The screamer needs to get rid of pent up stress.  Once the screamer is done, say “okay I will keep that in mind.”  Then go back to work.

Sometimes the screamer will follow you and start up again with insults or questions like “did you hear anything I said.” Say “yes” to the question and ignore the insults.  Later, once the screamer is calmer, you might be called into that person’s office.  Hopefully this is when you can get some constructive criticism and explain any extenuating circumstances.  But if the screamer has a particularly insecure ego, you will not hear about the incident again.

This does make it harder to learn what “old yeller” wants.  You can still listen to the rants and try and decipher the point.  Just do not lower yourself to the standard of the screamer.  You need to keep your cool.  That can help you if things get really out of hand and you end up in human resources.  You also would prefer the tantrums happen in public even if it is humiliating at the time.   Witnesses can say it was the manager who lost control, not you.

Finally, no matter how tired you are at the end of the day, document the inappropriate conversation with the screamer as well as any follow ups.  Include the time of day and a witness list in your notes.  Remember human resources must have patterns and documentation.  If you end up in trouble, you can use these tantrums to buy time and demand a formal critique of your work in writing.  Your case:  How could you be expected to know what to do with the manager screaming at you incessantly?  There is a case to be made and, again, you have to be able to show a pattern of verbal abuse.

Now the caveat for your efforts:  The screamer will become disarmed at your calm response.  The screamer will end up noticing how out of line he or she is getting.  This will throw the person off and you will take control of the relationship.  After a few attempts at rattling you, the screamer will usually learn that you are tough skinned and probably not someone to mess with.  You will probably be left alone.   In some cases you will even become the screamer’s confidant.  We have seen news managers develop a strange need to then constantly impress and please the employee that cannot be unnerved.  You might even end up with better assignments.  There is always another sucker on staff that will scream back or cry.  The screamer will usually become focused on that person.

 

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How to generate story ideas when you are swamped

Journalists are constantly told to source build and break stories.  Problem is, in many shops you are given two packages a day and have no time to work the phones and source build.  That’s what you think, but it really is possible.  There are ways to generate fresh story ideas that do not take a ton of time.  You also can source build.  It will take some of your too precious free time.  But the payoff is making you more valuable to the station.

So how do you come up with interesting stories when you have next to no time?  Here are some ideas to get you started.

First, some help for reporters.  Try and “befriend” one person a day while covering the news.  This could be the secretary you have to stare at while waiting for an interview, the officer telling you to wait behind the yellow tape, even the restaurant manager at a local dive where you bought a sandwich.  Ask them about themselves and hand out a business card.  Make sure you get their card too.  A few days later, send a quick email saying you really enjoyed your conversation.  If you learn the person loves a football team or has kids that like to play sports send email links to interesting stories every once in a while.  Bottom line:  Build a connection.  If you have time to write an update on Facebook, you have time to send a quick link to these new potential sources.

Set up a Twitter account and use it.  When we say use it, we don’t mean throwing up a meaningless self-serving plug for the story you are reporting on that very day.  Throw up a comment about something interesting you read about.  Mix up the comments so you are engaging to follow.  Give snippets of what it’s like to be a TV journalist each day.  But keep it positive.  Remember, employers and potential employers often research Twitter and Facebook accounts.  For example, don’t gripe about how much you “hate” your assignment to babysit a “dumb” police standoff.  But do mention that your feet sure do hurt after waiting two hours for the standoff to end.  The first makes you seem look childish, petty and unprofessional.  The second, however, makes you look real and is something your followers can identify with.  Twitter is an amazing resource most people are not using correctly.  It is a chance to tap directly into what people are thinking about each day and what they want to learn more about.  You will gain a following and, eventually, you’ll also start getting interesting tips.  The key to Twitter is creating a human connection not another shameless, weak marketing ploy that just ticks people off.  People on Twitter tend to obsess about being in the know, right now.  You will lock them in if you make them realize they can literally be your eyes and ears and that their ideas may actually make it on the news.

Next, contact the Better Business Bureau and county or state run groups that help small businesses get off the ground.  Let these organizations know you are building a list of experts.  This can help you when you are suddenly asked for an out of the box story on damage prevention during bad weather or the latest housing or computer scam.  These businesses need publicity and cannot, generally, afford to buy ads.  But they can afford to send you a quick email pitching ideas once in a while.

Look at blogs on local newspaper websites.  People go off on interesting things that sometimes turn into colorful television.  How about the guy with the American flag that is too big for the homeowner’s association by-laws?  Many of these kinds of stories turn up first in these blogs.

Now let’s talk about generating interesting stories if you are a producer.  Yes, it’s hard to source build when you never even leave the newsroom for lunch.  So use the computer to get ideas.  Search for blogs and groups online that target your key audience.  Then browse them several times a week for fresh information.  These groups constantly dish.  Also keep your ears open when you go to the gym, pick the kids up at daycare or stand in line at the grocery store.  You will hear what people are concerned about.  These tidbits can turn into interesting stories that you can “produce up” in your newscast.  Also look at the hottest video of the day online, then try and come up with a local spin.  A Twitter account can be a great asset for you as well.  Build your following in the same way we just laid out for reporters.

Finally check out what other stations around the country are covering.  Go to a few station websites in areas nearby and see what they’ve played up.  Often you can at least find a consumer story with universal appeal.

 

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