The Station called. The job’s yours. Now what?

So you got the big call. The news director throws a few compliments, says he/she needed you there yesterday, then offers so-so money.  How do you react?  Be polite.  Don’t sound excited.  Say you have to think about it.  In other words make the news director sweat just a little bit. Why?  You want to eek out as much money as you can and this is your last chance to see if there is any wiggle room.  Remember if you don’t get the money when you first walk in the door, the odds are about as good as playing the lottery that you will ever “see the money” in that shop.  Eek out as much as you can immediately.  The other reason to not jump for joy is to see how the news director acts towards you.  Remember, be polite.  Say you feel complimented.  Just don’t say yes right away.  Play a little hard to get.  If the news director starts firing off that 10 other people are dying to be in your shoes right now and you better make up your mind fast, you know this person is will be hard to deal with and you should probably turn the job down.  If the news director says take some time and think about it (usually that’s a day, maybe two) he/she knows this is a big decision, the odds are higher you really will be working for someone reasonable.

Then, before you decide to take the job, research two things:  The management team and the cost of living where you might move.

Do Google searches and find out where this news director worked before.  You want to find out as much as possible about the news director and assistant news director.  Cold call old TV stations if you must and ask for people who worked under these managers.  If you are told the person is amazing, demand to know the bad things.  You need to figure out if you can handle this person’s quirks.  News directors and A.N.D.’s can quickly make or break you.  Don’t trust that they checked you out and know you will click.  He/she is overworked, overstressed and mostly interested in getting through each day without being eaten alive.  Your personality means little to nothing.  Filling the job means one less headache for management.

Next, if you haven’t already, research the heck out of the cost of living in this particular city.  Check out various cost of living calculators online, like the one at (  Better yet, get online and read the local newspaper.  Find out the average cost of renting an apartment by looking at the classifieds and take a look at the grocery store flyers to try and gauge the cost of food.  It can vary wildly and may make a huge difference to your bottom line.  Also, call your car insurance company and find out what rates would be like in that city.  You need to make sure that raise you think you are getting will really be there once you factor in these things.  If you live in the south and are considering heading north, check out tax rates.  One place we lived had state income taxes, county income taxes and city income taxes.  A nearly 30 thousand dollar jump didn’t look so glamorous after that was factored in.  You can use this information to try and eek out more money.  Even if you end up getting only a little more, every bit helps.




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.



Go to Human Resources or keep your mouth shut?

We have seen some incredible talent get burned by making the wrong choice.  First let’s spell out why human resources really exists.  Headline:  It is not for employees.  Human resources is designed to keep management from being sued.  It oversees hiring, annual reviews and station policies to make sure the company is protected.  This knowledge is key.

If you are being harassed by a co-worker, you need to be able to make a clear case.  If management is after you, human resources is helping the effort.  However, human resources does still give you options.  You just need to play your cards right because the deck is stacked against the individual worker.  If you complain as a group, there can be safety in numbers and strength in message.  This is hard to understand for many workers, however, it is the simple truth.  Also you should never go to human resources before speaking with your direct managers.   This will burn you because you are not going through the chain of command and giving management a chance to fix the problem.  The only exception would be if your reason for seeking help is a problem with the news director.

So when do you go to human resources?  The answer is usually in your employee handbook.  When station policies are clearly being violated you have the right to complain.   This often involves a manager that is out and out ignoring written policies, like approval of vacation time or denying sick time despite having sick notes or other required documentation.  This means you must have a paper trail.  Written proof of one incident is usually not enough.  You must be able to show a pattern.  Again, the best bet is if several people have similar documentation and it’s all turned it in over a short period.

Now let’s say your job is being threatened.  Complaints to human resources might buy you time.  Again though, you must have documentation.  Let’s say management is complaining you don’t always come to work.  If it’s because a manager keeps changing your schedule and doesn’t inform you, that could buy you time.  So, in this example, copies of the schedules and the changes that caused the issue could go a long way toward protecting you.  Also, check your employee handbook.  Usually you must be given written notice of schedule changes.  If you are told there are issues with your job performance, take a look at your annual reviews.  If you have several past reviews that are strong and one that is weak, you may be able to buy some time.  Request that management give you an action plan to improve your performance.  Then follow up with human resources if management fails to give you such a plan.

Human resources can also be a direct link to the general manager.  Weigh this knowledge carefully.  If you just hate a manager and want to bring the person down, a complaint to human resources is a serious gamble.  You need clear cut proof the manager is not following corporate or station policy.  You also need several others who can corroborate your complaint.  If there are clear cut problems though and a group of people are willing to stand up, your chances of getting help are much better.  Notice we said help.  Do not expect a manager to get fired.  What you might see is policy change or disciplinary action.  In one case we saw a news director forced to seek anger management training.  No firing however.  Still it did help calm the waters in the newsroom.  But you must also realize that this process does not always happen in a vacuum.  Here’s one final note to think about:  That particular news director may have actually been told who complained.  So, think hard if you want your boss to know you complained about them later on down the line, when layoffs or other changes are needed.




Interview the station, don’t let it interview you.

Read that title again.  Interview the station, don’t let it interview you.  This probably goes against the grain of what you’ve been taught.  But hear us out and you’ll see the logic.  Most people assume that news management knows what type of person it needs for a given job.  That is not always true.  Increasingly news managers want to do only 1 thing, find a warm body to fill a slot.   We say this after working in a combined 14 shops; most of them in market 30 and above.  Most are places you would think have a clue about how to hire for specific needs.  Bottom line: They don’t.  Even the 1st place stations with “higher standards” often just want to fill and move forward.  Scary?  Yes.  But you can still increase your odds of becoming a super hire, instead of that warm body destined for doom.  It all comes down to how you interview the station.

How to interview the TV station


  1. Talk to staffers.
  2. Go it alone.
  3. Watch an editorial meeting.
  4. Ask management to spell out its news philosophy.
  5. Play out scenarios.
  6. Ask for a writing and ethics test.

Expand? Sure.

Talk to staffers

This is your best shot at crucial intel. Talking to staffers doesn’t just mean talking to the people management chooses for you to speak with.  Get business cards off desks of people who are not around and call them after your interview.  Ask if you can speak with them when they are outside the newsroom.  Better yet, ask current staffers for names of people who used to have the job you are interviewing for.  Google them and call those former employees at their new job.  If everyone says the place is perfect, say flat out you know that’s not true.  Ask what frustrates them about station WZZZ.  This is your best shot at seeing if you can handle the weaknesses at the station.  And trust us, all stations have them.


Go it alone

Request time during your interview to wander the newsroom and get a feel for the place.  If the manager gets hinky, that’s a big sign the place is a mess.  Well run shops have no fear of this.  In fact many insist you wander and then watch how you react.  Newsrooms that are starting to get on track will gladly give you a short stint to walk around.  Hell holes will not let you do this.  Also, ask for the chance to go it alone, while you are in the interview, not ahead of time.  You do not want to give management the chance to stage it.  Lastly, if the manager says sure, but provides you free time only when everyone’s at lunch or out on a story, that can be a sign of trouble.


Watch an editorial meeting

“Watch” is the operative word here.  This is not the time to pipe in and show off your knowledge of the area.  If you want to share any ideas, wait until the end of the meeting and do it one-on-one with management.  You want to see how the staffers react to each other and management.  Take notes.  Do you see snickering and note passing?  Do the reporters and producers seem half dead or over eager?  All of these are signs the place could be a mess.  If the meeting runs smoothly and quickly then this shop may have a vision.


Ask management to spell out its news philosophy

You want the news philosophy to be boiled down to one sentence.  Request it. Stations with vision and clear cut standards can easily spell it out.  Let the manager say the sentence, then ask for examples of how the shop will execute the philosophy that very day.  Ask every manager you speak with the same thing.  Do it with the anchors, reporters and producers you meet too.  If you get stuttering, stammering answers the place is most likely a mess.  Write it off.  If you get a sentence, but then get excuses on why there is no execution that day, walk away.  Everyone must be on the same page, or you will step into one mess after another.  A shop without a clear vision is political hotbed hell and who needs that?


Play out scenarios

Give managers scenarios then ask how the newsroom is supposed to react.  A favorite of ours:  Ask about an armed standoff with a station helicopter overhead and SWAT team outside.  Who makes the call as to how close a shot the station will take on live TV.  Who decides when to pull the shot back?  Will a manager be in the booth at all times or on the phone?  Another good one:  Does the station mention social media chatter during breaking news?   How is that decided?  We also like to discuss natural disaster coverage.  For instance, if it’s a hurricane prone area, what is the hurricane coverage plan?  Where do crews stay during the storm?  How does the station ensure safety?  Will you be fed?  And don’t forget to ask about more than the ins and outs of news coverage.  What if someone loses their cool in the newsroom?  How is that handled?  What if that person is an anchor?  Who has the final say on copy?  If it isn’t the manager on duty, chances are the shift boss is a highly paid babysitter who will stab you in the back.


Ask for a writing and ethics test

Yes this sounds insane.  But this is the cat daddy for interviewing the station instead of letting it interview you.  Blow management’s mind and ask for a writing test and get the bosses to ask you how you would handle specific ethical calls.  Well run newsrooms should do this automatically.  But we must admit, in all of our years only one television station did both types of tests.  You want to write copy and get critiqued.  This will show you if your writing style works or can be easily adapted to the newsroom’s style.  There is little worse than being “Big J” to the core and ending up at a tabloid shop.  You can ask, but few managers will actually admit to an interviewee if the plan is to head down a “flash and trash” road.  A critique of your writing style might give you a clue.  Also having them set up ethical calls shows you what situations the newsroom often covers or worries about covering.  The tests are a key chance to determine if you and management think alike.  Having the guts to ask for these might get you the job and MORE MONEY as well.