New journalist in town. How to quickly gain credibility? Drive the DMA

It is no secret that you will likely move several times as a journalist. It can be hard to make a good living at first, and you just have to move to make ends meet longterm.  So let’s talk about how to quickly and easily transition into a new market. The goal is to gain credibility and be able to focus more on context and storytelling; with perspective before the common 1 year in market mark.

The very first thing to do is drive the market. And I mean really drive. Don’t just hit up the tourist spots. Don’t just look on a map at the places with weird names and learn how to pronounce them (Although that is very important to do as well.). Really get out there, and see what places are like. Neighborhoods. Schools. Various parks. And when you can, make a real outing of it. Sit down on a bench and observe. Take a walk in a residential area (preferably with a coworker), and soak in the atmosphere. All areas have little treasures that locals know about that you need to discover quickly.

Also call a local historic preservation group. Ask them for lessons in political and racial history of the area. Ask about the state of education long term. Also economic upswings and downturns. This will give you some ideas to delve into perspective more. 

Go to a farmers markets and playground. Grab a treat, sit and listen to what people are talking about. Same with mall food courts or gatherings of food trucks in various spots. Try and be culturally diverse in these selections. You want to get a broad perspective. This can be a great way to see ways to differentiate your coverage. 

And if you can, try and join an organization to meet people. It can be a great satisfaction to explore an interest outside of just doing the news and a chance to meet people in the community. Many of the groups are meeting virtually as well. You need to try and build a network to source stories, get perspective and start to feel like part of the community you serve. Why not enjoy the process with some social networking too?

Finally remember that the best thing you can do, is watch and listen. Keep watching and listening. The more you do,the more you can relate to the area quickly and the better off you will be.

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Know your why. How to start to develop an online brand as a journalist.

Its no secret the broadcast news industry is desperate to find a way to monetize its digital products. So far, mixed results.

There is an important factor that the TV news and frankly every industry is desperate to tap into. Influencers. They rule the internet. They make the big bucks and they are influencing public opinion in ways marketing and education experts are just starting to realize.

Because of this you need to start to create your own online brand as a journalist. You want to identify the type of influencer you would like to be before the bosses tell you how to act on social media.  Its really that simple. If you want to be true to the journalist you are, then get on it and get your brand defined.  But how?

Let’s start by defining these concepts for yourself.

Why are you a journalist to begin with?

What topics do you love delving into each day?

What kind of person do you want to actually be?

Heavy stuff right? Let’s not forget, your digital brand defines YOU. You are your most important commodity. So you need to soul search this. You need to be able to define who you are online, and why you are that way. Know your why. Otherwise you will be told what to be at some time or another.

So let’s dig into the first question. Why are you a journalist to begin with? This is the most important question you can ask yourself each day, and most important answer as you begin to define your brand. I am going to get harsh here. If you are a journalist because you want to wear pretty clothes on TV, this is not going to be an easy process for you. I know there are a ton of journalists out there showing off their fashion sense, and some are even getting endorsements but long term its not a good “look” for a journalist. Period. That answer makes you a want to be fashion influencer. So go do that. I am not saying posting an occasional image in a dress or showing off shoes or a tie is awful. But it should be an occasional reference rather than the main focus of your brand. Too many budding journalists are focusing on what they wear more than who they are and what topics they love. 

Now that we cleared that up, let’s talk about why you are a journalist. Not a personality. Not a host, a journalist. Are you super curious about the world? Can you not help but ask questions all day long about all kinds of things? Do you want to help hold people accountable for their actions? Do you love explaining things to people? All of these potential answers can help you start to define your brand.  Think about it. If you are super curious about the world, then start showing how you look into those curiosities. Boom, the start of a compelling brand with substantive posts. Same with the journalists that just love asking questions. Same with the accountability type journalists, although those might want some of their posts copy edited first for possible legal issues. If you love explaining things, think show and tell high tech style. Bet you can start to name off a bunch of topics right away already.

So let’s get more in-depth with topics. Some need to be highly relatable. Yep I am talking food, exploring the city you work in, surrounding areas and pets. These subjects should be incorporated into some of your tweets. Same with hobbies. Some behind the scenes at work posts are cool too. And a friendly reminder, makeup and fashion posts cannot be the main focus. Just an occasional mention. In fact all hobbies should be occasional mentions. Just enough to give a little personal insight, but not the crux of your journalist brand. 

When asking what topics you love delving into think of this more like a traditional beat. If you love education stories, retweet, research and engage in that topic. If you love politics do the same but take caution to never show an obvious bias. You are a journalist you must be impartial. And you likely have a work social media policy that demands impartiality. Love tech? Talk about it.  Love geeking out over space stuff? There’s a niche for that. Engage. If you have to interact with viewers several times a day for your job, at least half of it should be about things you love to check out anyway. 

Now let’s get into what kind of person you want to be. Influencers tend to provide “food for thought.” Not all of them slam their opinion down their followers throats. Some do. But more don’t. They use subtlety, a little self deprecating humor, and most serve up good doses of humility. Remember I am talking digital influencers, not TV pundits like Hannity. That’s a whole other ballgame. People are turning to digital to find “real” people instead of caricatures. If they want to laugh at a caricature, then they watch a few memes to get it out of their systems. That is an important thing to realize. Also do not put yourself on a perch above your followers. The online community is about collaboration, more than adulation. Even with movie stars, etc it is a chance to try and connect instead of just look up to them. Acting really authoritative will not last. You will tumble down. Exuding some confidence is fine. But make sure you watch and have a variety of types of posts. Not just ones that could be misconstrued as bragging. Stay, humble, real, and fair in your posts. Think of your online conversations like ones with a new friend you are getting to know. You want to showcase your interests to find a common bond. If you approach who you are on social media this way, you will do fine. 

Finally understand that developing a brand takes time. That’s why it is important to get on it, figure out who you are online and then stick to it. Give others time to find you, like you and then hopefully be impressed enough to continually engage with you. You want time to find and carve your niche in the topics you enjoy. And you want to get started and have a good foundation in place before your bosses come and tell you who to be online. So dive in, discover yourself more and enjoy engaging in things you love anyway. Its your best chance at success, and quite possibly influence online and in the industry.

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I keep writing fact errors. Help!

This isn’t easy to admit. I get that. But if you keep writing fact errors, you need to own up to it and do these things to stop.  In newsrooms nowadays, prevention techniques are not being taught much, and many times scripts aren’t being reviewed for accuracy. So you have to take ownership if you are writing errors, and fix the problem. Here’s how.

Look at multiple sources

If a fact doesn’t match ask for help

Copy paste the key facts 

Understand context

Make sure video fits

First and foremost, DO NOT JUST PASTE THE EARLIER NEWSCASTS SCRIPT AND REWRITE IT. Sorry to shout at you but this is a cardinal sin in TV news. Do not do it. I don’t care if everyone else does it. Do not do it. Here’s why. If that script has an error, you will repeat it. Even more important, if that script doesn’t have a fact error, your rewrite can easily create one. Its just the simple truth. Do not do it. I know it saves time. I know it means if you don’t get your writing done you still have a script there that can be read during the newscast. Do not do it anyway. I will explain why when we get into context.

When you start writing stories, read several sources first. If its a wire story, also check online publications to see if the facts match. If you see several versions of fatality numbers, different spellings of names etc, red flag, someone is wrong. Now you need to figure out the truth.

If its a local story, pick up the phone and call an expert. Call the PIO. Call the hospital. Do what needs to be done to check the fact. If its a national story, call your affiliate feed line or a station in that DMA. If you are in the weeds, ask the desk for help or an anchor. Tell your EP there’s an issue. Raise the red flag high in the air and get backup.

As you see matching facts, copy paste those, and only those into your script. That way you don’t accidentally type the name in wrong, or any other fact. Before you start writing you should have a little bullet point list like this:

House Fire

No injuries

Roads closed

(road names)

Police say accidental

Now write. Starting with something as simple as this outline should help you stick to the point and not embellish. Writing from another script tempts you to put your creative stamp on the story. Often that’s when context gets messed up. Seemingly subtle changes can really screw up the point and facts of a story. Remember as you write, keep it simple. One sentence per idea. One fact at a time. Short sentences. What’s the video showing? Reference.

Video counts as a type of fact. Often fact errors can occur because the wrong video is shown, or assumptions are made about the video that are incorrect. You need to know what you show. 

This system will take a little longer initially, but the payoff is worth it. And once you get the system down you will write as quickly as if you duped a script and did a rewrite. Best of all you will be factually correct. You will be credible. And you will have more job security.

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What do we do when this pandemic is all over? Why it’s not too early to start planning transition coverage.

I recently posted an article on lessons learned while covering the midwestern flood of ’93. It was an intense time for much of the region. We lived and breathed coverage for months. But luckily for me I had a news director who also understood that we had to help the community rise out of the floods with coverage of some stories that were not flood related. 

This newsroom, like many today did not have a lot of resources. And we were budding journalists, so source building was not something we really knew how to do. Our news director leaned on the management team to help coach and find those other relevant stories. At first it was a couple a week. Then one a day, and slowly as the water receded and people started rebuilding, our newscasts took on a new shape as well. Many of us feared that once you covered something that frankly was so easy to go out and find information about, it would be hard to transition into showing viewers we could find highly relevant stories on other subjects. But the prep work our managers did planning and coaching on beats helped make the transition easier.

Your newsroom is likely filled with more seasoned journalists than mine was back then. But I am going to argue that if you take a moment and really think about the last few years of news coverage, your room lost site of finding the very important factual events going on in your community. A lot of the industry has turned to reactionary coverage, often influenced by what’s trending online. What if, as you start to transition to more ‘normal coverage,’ you take the time to let some of your source builders look for great gets? I know we are entering surge time for COVID-19 in many areas of the country, but I want to plant this seed early. Once there is a dip, do you have reporters ready to tackle other relevant stories? Education, economic, financial and housing stories are going to be very important in the months to come. Why not take a   crew out of rotation every day or two and have them start gathering information and sources on these key subjects? Maybe they turn a vo or vo/sot now. But once the surge ends you can lean on them for key coverage.

Chances are you have a lot more viewers sampling your newscasts and websites than usual. As important as it is now to “own” coverage, you will only have a small window to win over those samplers and turn them into loyal viewers once COVID-19 coverage winds down. It is crucial to come up with plans to transition out of the coverage in terms of manpower and relevant stories. These samplers came to you for facts. Many are not loyal TV news viewers. But desperate times set off a deep psychological need for information. Look for ways to help some of your star reporters find informative, compelling stories that they can run with as the coverage eases up. That way your momentum stays up. The viewers see that you can bring all kinds of important information to them even when there’s not a pandemic. We cannot assume they think that now. Too many polls have shown that Americans have lost faith in news. It’s time to try and bring them back. Start having some key people in your newsroom source build and gear up to be ready while others continue with daily coverage. 

The stations which plan ahead and come up with transition scenarios to maintain high quality enterprise stories that show deep community roots will win. The stations which fly by the seat of their pants will showcase that flaw as the news of the day gets more run of the mill again. A little organization will go a long way to keep more of that sampling audience. So start thinking transition now.

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