How to break down a lot of information.

Lately this question has come up a lot in my coaching role. The journalist has complicated stories that seem like they should make air. But it is so hard to boil the stories down, they try to avoid the content. This is a natural phase in learning to be a journalist. Let’s talk about some basic guidelines to help you put that story in the newscast, without lunch bagging it with too much information to understand the point. First let’s talk package techniques.

Simplifying Package Information
Think Set Up
Package focuses on impact and video support
Substantive tag of key facts you need to report, but that don’t work well in package

Unfortunately, many news managers need to read this section as well. They often insist on lunch bagging all the information into the reporter package. Then, they get ticked when the package is long, repeats video and seems hard to understand once it airs. So let’s really walk through these steps and the key reasons each step exists so all can see the benefits.

First, you have to start at the beginning. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but if I had a dollar for all the times this hasn’t happened, I would be rich.) The beginning means two things, today peg, and key background as to why this today peg matters. For example, state lawmakers decide to allow guns on college campuses. The house voted yes, now the senate has too. So you start the coverage of this story with a historic vote today in the state senate. Lawmakers voted to allow guns on college campuses. The senate just passed the measure by a vote of… and last week the house voted in a similar plan. If the governor signs it… this would mean people on college campuses could carry a gun with a permit. This sets up the story, it may or may not have video that usually is boring, and it gets the viewer thinking of questions about impact. You can use video as a set up, or graphics or a combo of both. The point is to lay out why the viewer should watch the upcoming package.

You will then pick one or two key elements describing impact for the package focus. The reporter does not need to tell the viewer that the house voted and the senate voted now because the set up took care of that. The package needs to center on what will this mean when it goes into effect. Is law enforcement ready for this change? Will campuses put in metal detectors? Are professors signing up for classes to learn how to use a gun and get a permit? Pick one of these ideas and package it.

The tag then needs to have key facts to sum it all up or move it forward. When will this go into effect? How long does it take to get a permit? Think really useful information you can quickly summarize.

Now let’s look at how to breakdown a very complicated story as a producer. Sometimes you have to update a complicated court case for example, and it needs to be short and sweet. Many producers just write a 50 second vo and hope that’s ok. This is a key area where you can segment a story out, so it has nice flow and you keep things simple. Think 1 main point per vo. Today Joe Smith will be sentenced for the murder of Sue Smith. Smith was murdered by her husband three years ago. WIPE VO You might remember this case because the kids spoke out that Joe Smith abused their mom for years. (kids crying) Their testimony set off discussions nationwide about domestic abuse. WIPE VO The murder happened as the couple’s oldest child called 911. The 911 operator could hear the shooting.
ON CAM TAG Now the kids are being cared for by relatives. The Smith children will not be in court today, relatives fear seeing their dad again will cause too much pain. This kind of story can really bog down a producer. You don’t want to leave out the emotional pull of the story with the kids and the 911 operator. But you are told to keep stories short and sweet. By sectioning each part out, it feels like several stories in terms of pacing, increases the writer’s chances of keeping each part short and sweet and gets all the information in the newscast in a more compelling way.

You can apply this principle to all kinds of complicated stories like tax reforms, school testing results, updates on cold cases and economic stories. Think 1 idea per element you are using. You do not always have to wipe among vo’s. With on-set video monitors so prevalent now, sometimes the first element references a wall image or vo, then you take the next element full etc. The bottom line is think visual pacing, it will help you really boil down the elements and get to what matters.

The other big takeaway to remember when boiling down a complicated story, is no matter what format avoid lunch bagging all the facts. You have to give some sort of visual cue, for each main point you make. Complicated stories have multiple main points you feel you must cover. So think of the story as several mini stories in one, so you can make sense of the most important information and clearly present the facts to the viewer.

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TV Survival Skills. The 10 Things You Need To Do To Be Successful In The Modern Newsroom

1.  CAN YOU FIND EXCLUSIVE STORIES? No really…can you find the story that makes politicians and PIO’s lose sleep?? Better yet, can you do this even with news of the day? Do you have fast attack investigative skills? You better! Everyone can get PIO info and sound. You have to be able to separate from your competition to get paid. How do you do that?? Know the process and procedures of paperwork- school districts, police and sheriff- what documents exist and when do they become available? Time is quickly wasted, opportunity and credibility forever lost by not knowing procedures. Can you get a great tip confirmed? Most reporters cannot. You are only as valuable as the contact list in your phone.

2.  WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER-Do your research, demand from management a specific beat- geographic or content based. GA stands for going anywhere-owning nothing! Develop sources that work for you. Build relationships before asking for stories. Go left when other go right. Stand out by standing apart. If someone pitches you a story- make them do the document digging, and initial research- then they can come back and pitch you a partially vetted legitimate story. You just have to confirm documents and details- not spend hours chasing empty leads.

3.  Shoot in sequences, write in sequences, edit in sequences- this saves hours! The best MMJ’s are the most creative while being the most efficient!

4.  Your professional Facebook likes/Twitter followers/LinkedIn profile will make or break a hiring decision. These are your personal brand. They directly reflect your audience appeal, your marketing savvy, and your ability to tease a story! Do you understand news and how to promote yourself as well as your coverage? Social media answers all these questions.

5.  Have a career plan- It is a simple question with horrific consequences- What is your TV career goal?? Most TV folks stumble on this simple question. Your answer will be used against you in a hiring decision. This is a weeding out technique and is a loyalty test for current employees being considered for promotion.

6.  Out work your teammates- first in, last out, first to call-in to cover breaking news, first to ask to travel, this effort gets you choice assignments, management trust, and promoted to the anchor desk.

7.  Hot mess- if you are one and want to anchor or jump to a big market you will go nowhere. You must apply appearance feedback at every level and every turn. Everyone that looks at your tape or consults you should be heard and further feedback solicited. One consultant or ND could be a bit eccentric, 2-5 people saying you appear less than polished is problematic.

8.  Your cover letter is killing you! It is costing you a look at your tape- which is the whole goal! Don’t try to tell me you know someone I used to work with 3 stations ago or we are from the same town! What are you going to do to make my newsroom better today? Why do I have to hire you versus the 50 people that look and sound like you??? This is the written interview that gets you the tape review and phone interview- Be consistent in your message, your strengths, and what makes you a difference maker. How do you fit in with my news style and newsroom needs?

9.  Never send a glossy 8X10 head shot- instant rejection- are you a model/ actor/ or journalist?? Send me a resume tape with exclusive banners on every story- that’s a beautiful picture!!

10.  Is your cellphone number, Facebook and Twitter handles on your business card? Personal cellphone? You are fully available to your audience and sources or not. No problem, I call your competition with my exclusive story.

There are a hundred things a journalist has to excel at to be successful in the modern newsroom. These are ten of the most critical to master to avoid a career setback. Our next blog will answer” Why your resume tape is killing your job search”.

Now go be memorable!

Greg Turchetta is President, www.Brutallyhonestcritique.com and a former News Director
He’s now a life coach to reporters and anchors nationwide!

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“Welcome to the Big Leagues kid.” A reporter’s perspective.

 

You’d think that standing on 5th Avenue, just yards from the Empire State Building, with police, tourists and business people swarming everywhere, would drive home the reality that I was finally reporting on the nation’s biggest stage.

But none of that had really sunk in until I started my 10th or 11th straight live shot of the afternoon and a big New York City garbage truck pulled up about three feet from my left hand.  As I began recounting the story of a deranged man killing a former coworker outside the city’s most recognizable landmark for an NBC client in Australia, a guy jumped off the back of the truck, walked nonchalantly between me and the camera, grabbed a sidewalk trash can, walked back to the truck, slammed the can loudly on the deck, and crossed back in front of me to put the can back on the sidewalk.

As I tried to maintain a straight face, all I could think was, “welcome to the Big Leagues, kid.”

A year ago, I never imagined I would be reporting for NBC’s affiliate service alongside consummate professionals like Jay Gray, Michelle Franzen, and Brian Mooar.  In fact, there was a good chance my journalism career was over.

In December 2011, I left my job as Senior News Reporter and fill-in sports anchor/reporter at the NBC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama.

I had been there 11 years.  I was getting married and moving to New York to be with my wife, Sunday, with no job and no real prospects.

For most of my tenure at WVTM, it was an NBC O&O.  So from time-to-time, I was fortunate to do some work for Newschannel: a hurricane here, or a tornado there.  I worked with some phenomenal producers and editors over the years and kept in touch with a lot of them.

I guess I impressed enough people because last May I got the call:  go to 30 Rock and package the Facebook IPO for NBC affiliates around the country.

As I pecked away at my script in the newsroom on the 7th floor, I’d occasionally peer to my left… in the same row of desks: Robert Bazell, Anne Thompson, Michelle Franzen, Ron Allen… and Chris Pollone.

Unreal.

I went to voice my first script and the booth was occupied.  When the door opened, out walked WNBC anchor legend Chuck Scarborough.  He gave me a hearty, “Hey there!”

The booth smelled of integrity and excellence.

Sitting on my couch that night reflecting on my day, it hit me that there are two things that separate the major markets from the “lower rungs”: eyeballs and toys.

At the end of the day, the work I do for NBC is the same work I did at WBNG in Binghamton, at WCCM in Lawrence, Mass., at WJTV in Jackson, and WVTM in Birmingham.  Yes, the stakes in New York or at the network level are higher, and the margin for error is tighter, but the work is no more important than what journalists do in every market around the world.

There are a lot more viewers at this level, and we might have producers, runners, shooters, and bookers by the dozens, and the best lights, cameras and microphones on the market, but those toys mean nothing without strong, compelling storytelling.

So what’s different here?

Oversight.

When I left WVTM, I had earned enough trust that generally no one reviewed my scripts before they aired.

Now, I work very closely with my on-site producer, the managing producer in Charlotte, and sometimes the top levels of NBC Newschannel management to make sure my scripts are accurate, concise and compelling.

The script development process is also a lot more collaborative.

On some stories, I actually conduct interviews and do original reporting.

On others, my producer will email me a list of shots and logged sound bites, and I write the story without interacting with any of the newsmakers at all.

In the hours following the Newtown school shooting, I started doing live reports for our U.S. NBC affiliates, MSNBC, CNBC, and our clients in Asia, Australia, Canada, and England.

I did nearly 80 live shots from 2PM to 2AM, and every bit of information I shared with the world was being fed to me through my IFB from Charlotte and emailed to my iPad because our field producer had not yet arrived on scene.

I never actually attended a press conference or interviewed victims and townspeople until the day after the shooting.

Some days, I never leave my living room.

When Newschannel is short on correspondents and needs a package put together for the affiliate video-on-demand service, I get a list of elements from a producer, I write the package on my couch, and record voice track on my iPhone with a $50 Tascam microphone.

Working with Newschannel, there is a lot of travel and a lot of decisions made on a split-second notice.  The day the new Pope was to be announced, I flew to Boston, ate dinner, and flew back to New York just in case Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley was named the new Pope.

There are long hours and not a lot of sleep.

During the Jerry Sandusky trial, I started my days at 3:30 AM and did live shots and packages through 3PM.  My producer and I would grab an early dinner and then I’d sleep until about 8PM when I’d wake up to write and voice my morning package.

On that story, we had the benefit of a morning correspondent (me) and an evening correspondent (Brian Mooar).

On some stories, like the NCAA sanctions against Penn State, I was a one-man show.  We started at 3:30 AM and did live shots through 9PM.  One-day stories usually get this type of treatment.

At this point, I have no illusions that I have “made it”.

As a freelancer, the work comes and goes.  Sometimes I’m working several days a month, or even weeks at a time.  And then other times, I’ll go several weeks without an assignment.

I supplement my news income with various endeavors for PR firms in New York and Boston.  Ideally, I’d like to move to full-time or
“perma-lance” with Newschannel, or even do some work for WNBC between Newschannel gigs.

I can’t overstate the importance of networking.

It’s the top lesson I teach when mentoring young journalists or speaking in broadcast journalism classes.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be nice and work hard in every situation no matter how difficult the circumstances.

You’d be stunned at how much doing everything that’s asked of you quickly, correctly and with a smile will win you future assignments.

I’ve been blessed to have some great coworkers and friends who believe in me.

Newschannel’s main correspondent, Jay Gray, has been a great friend and advisor, as well as Chicago-based producer, JoEllen Ruvoli, and Charlotte desk supervisor, Bill Riss, but there’s no chance I’d spend one day at Newschannel without the backing and support from my friend Jodie Jennings.  She’s an absolute rock star producer and is “so” NBC, she’s part peacock.

When you’re trying to make “the leap” to a major market or network, it’s crucial to have great contacts like these who like you and believe in you.

Coming to New York, I had won AP, Emmy, and Murrow awards.  I covered Hurricane Katrina, major tornado outbreaks, federal, state and local scandals and corruption, and 3 BCS National Championships.  I had confidence in my experience and abilities.  I had performed every newsroom job over the span of 16 years.

When I first moved here, I met with a local News Director.  She was very nice, but exhibited that hackneyed cynicism that basically says, “New York is the only place that does news, and everyone else in the other 209 markets are just a bunch of circus clowns.”

I HATE that.

If anything, I firmly believe the smaller the market, the harder you work.  You have fewer resources, fewer toys, less money and just as important stories as the big markets.

This news director said she didn’t generally hire reporters from “that small a market” (Birmingham is market 42) and that her reporters exhibited a certain type of “sophistication”.  As she said that, I could see one of her “sophisticated” reporters on the monitor behind her doing a story on an armed robbery.

Yawn.  We’ve all done that 150 times.

I wished she had just come out and said she didn’t like my nose, or my (lack of) hair, or whatever, instead of belittling my experience, my former coworkers, and my home of 11 years.

Whatever.

I’m here to tell you, whether you’re in North Platte, Nebraska, or in the North Bronx, the process of doing good journalism is the same.

To get a shot in the “majors”, you have to be a great writer, digger, and a rock star on live shots.

Don’t believe the people who tell you how great you are, and don’t, for a second, believe the people who say you aren’t good enough.

If you have the experience, the drive, the talent, and have made some good friends and contacts over the years, it’s likely you, too, can make the “leap” to the big leagues.

——————————————————————————————————–

Chris Pollone lives in Manhattan.  He’s on Twitter: @ChrisPollone and Facebook: facebook.com/cpollone.  Questions?  Email him at CPollone@gmail.com.

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Is this the twilight zone? When job interviews just get weird.

No doubt about it, news directors are often characters.  They are charismatic, intense and usually intimidating.  That means it can be hard to know what you are walking into when it’s time to interview.

When I meet someone in the business, it’s inevitable the conversation will come around to: Who I worked for and what some of the job interviews with those people were like.  In fact, I had a conversation like this just the other day.  These stories are often humorous, sometimes shocking, and always enlightening about news director’s and general manager’s personality types.  So let’s delve into some of these personality types, so you don’t suddenly think you have entered the twilight zone.

Ego maniac

First, the ego maniac.  These are the ND’s that everyone seems to have heard of, and has an opinion, about in the biz.  Many are GM’s who had been legendary ND’s.  One thing is for sure, you will sit during the interview and hear a bunch of stories about how awesome this person is and all the amazing things he/she has done in the business.  You start to feel like maybe the ND or GM is convincing you that you should work for him/her.  There are several things to keep in mind when you are interviewing with this personality type.

  • Stay engaged
  • Do not appear overly impressed
  • Do not interrupt stories with how you are like this person

Because these interviews come with a million “I remember when” stories, it can be easy to drift off into la la land or start to panic and think: “I can’t compare to some of this stuff.”  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be on the same level.  You just have to really listen and throw in a question or two when the interviewer comes up for air.  This person is trying to see how passionate you are about the business and if you find him/her engaging.  So stay engaged.

Do not go on and on about how amazing these stories are.  Smile a lot and occasionally say “wow,” or “impressive.” Gushing about how amazing the ego maniac is actually hurts you. This is the kind of person you want to keep slightly off guard, so he/she feels compelled to try and figure you out.  Like we said in “Interview the station,” it is good to play a little hard to get in interviews.  You want to remain a little mysterious, by not seeming overly impressed with all the stories.

Do not interrupt the stories to showcase how you are like this person.  This is really hard to do because the stories can drone on and on.  This doesn’t mean that you should not tell your own stories and engage in conversation.  It does mean you need to wait until the ND or GM is done with his or her story.  Then if you have an interesting story to keep the conversation going, tell it.  If you don’t have a story, ask a question about the ND or GM’s news philosophy and try and mine some valuable information for you to judge the person before the next “I am so great because” story begins.  The key point here is to not interrupt the ego maniac.  The person will be very offended, which will ruin it for you.  And remember, some ego maniacs are brilliant and worth working for.  Just know they can be tough to deal with.  Expectations are often very high.  You have to live up to their ego.

The loyalty tester

Now let’s talk about the ND with loyalty issues.  These managers can come across as combative and rude in interviews. But, if you prove your loyalty they can be real gems to work with.  It is ideal to know if the ND or GM has loyalty issues before the interview.  That requires doing your homework ( Read “The station called”) which frankly you should always do anyway.  First this personality type will bring up stories where someone was loyal and when someone was not loyal.  Listen closely. These are a warning.  If you cannot be loyal and be a real team player, this is not someone you want to work for.  Do not say anything negative about anyplace you worked, or anyone you worked with.  If you don’t like someone the ND brings up, just smile and say: “Yes I know so and so.”  This is why:  The ND or GM could suddenly call the person you both know, right then, right in front of you to talk about you.  If you just trashed the person, you will be sweating buckets.  The key here is to stay calm and not worry what the other person says.  This is a tactic to see if you ever appear disloyal.  The ND may secretly think the person he/she is calling is a moron.  Remember, loyalty has a high cost.  If you take a job with this person, no standing in the parking lot with coworkers trashing the ND for a dumb decision, even if you got royally screwed!   No coming into the ND or GM’s office furious about a tight spot you were put in.  By working for this person, you are agreeing to be the loyal soldier no matter what.  I had one ND put me in absolutely horrible positions, including one where half the newsroom thought I was spying on and documenting incidents I didn’t even know about.  I had every right to really pitch a fit and demand an apology.  I took several hard hits for the team and won a very loyal ally in my ND.  He did show me great respect later.  I know this person will always go to bat for me because I showed respect for him and the news business.

Beware the bully boss

This is where the whole twilight zone reference in the article title really comes in.  I have been interviewed by many bully bosses.  I’ve been yelled at over an opinion I gave.  I had one GM ask me who I thought I was even walking into his office with “such a crappy resume.”  I remember sitting there thinking: “Why did you fly me to the station then?” Guess what.  That’s what I asked him.  I leaned forward in my chair and threw it right back.  He said: “I’d be crazy to hire you.” I said, “You were crazy enough to fly me here, why are you wasting my time?  What do you your comments tell me about you?”  I got the job and a lot of money to do it.  You have to stand up to a bully, especially during a job interview or you are toast.  In my opinion, I would stand up to a bully even if I was thinking:  “There’s no way in hell I will ever work for this person!”  This is a small business.  Remember the beginning of this article.  When you meet new news people you talk about who you know, who you worked for and who you interviewed with.  This bully will remember you.  Most bullies like moxie.  If you stand up to him/her they often will actually say you would be a good hire, even if you turn him/her down.  As far as working for an obvious bully boss, that is a highly personal decision. In my case this bully provided me an incredible opportunity to grow my skills immeasurably.  But it did take a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

The happy go lucky

These type B seeming ND’s and GM’s can be really hard to see in a true light.  They are charming, witty and you hate it when the interview is over.  You pray this person calls to hire you.  When you interview with this type, enjoy the stories and enjoy feeling on top of the world with this calm person.  But, remember, no one gets high up without some sort of hard edge.  This person can, and does, make tough decisions about layoffs and firings.  This person will have high expectations, despite seeming so laid back.  You are not necessarily any safer working for the happy go lucky than you are the bully.  In fact, the happy go lucky may catch you more off guard if the boom comes, because it can be much harder to see it coming.

The charmer

I worked for several charmers.  Again, they came into the room and you were mesmerized.  People just love working for the charmer. Morale seems high when you walk through the newsroom.  The charmer can be a wonderful boss.  When you interview, do not try and out charm them.  Just enjoy the stories and share a few witty stories of your own. Your stories will be appreciated.  Just know that getting fired or demoted by a charmer can be a real ego buster.  It just hurts more.  You feel like you really let an incredible person down.

Straight Shooter

The straight shooter is all business, all the time.  You try and throw in a joke or a charming story and the ND or GM just stares at you.  You ask philosophy questions and get one line explanations or sometimes blank stares followed by “well how would you handle that if you are hired.” The straight shooter can be unnerving during an interview.  You often leave and wonder: “What the hell just happened?”  Did you impress or let the person down?  Often these interviews are lightning fast.  You feel like you didn’t get to know the ND or GM at all.  In these cases see what you think of the AND and/or EP.  The straight shooter will not spend a lot of time with you during the interview or working for them.  But the straight shooter will be fair and you will likely know where you stand.  If you are looking for a boss to learn from, the AND and/or EP will be more likely candidates.  Judge whether to take the job even more based on them.

Now one final thought.  No matter what you see in a job interview, it may never top this story.  I know a reporter who interviewed with an ND who kept falling asleep.  The reporter obviously felt like he had entered the twilight zone for real.  The reporter didn’t get the job, and for years he thought he bored the ND to sleep!  Turns out the ND had narcolepsy.  When the reporter found out years later he was so relieved.  I reminded myself of this story for years whenever I was headed to an interview.  You just don’t know what you are up against.  A strange interview may have nothing to do with what you said or did, it may just be that you entered the news director twilight zone!

 

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