Building a better tape

It’s go time. You may be nearing the end of your four years in college, or maybe you’re coming up on the end of your first two-year contract in the news business. Congratulations! Now you need to make a jump.

Getting hired is not going to be an easy process, but it’s a lot less painful when you have put in the work to develop a good resume tape.

Tape, reel, demo – they all mean the same thing: your video work samples. The best examples of what you have to offer as a reporter, anchor, or photographer.

Your main goal in your job hunt is to stand out. Separate yourself from everyone else applying for jobs. To do that, you need a reel that news directors don’t want to turn off.

It’s an unfortunate fact that many news directors may only look at your tape for a few seconds before they decide to turn it off, and reject you. Your goal then, is to give them something they don’t want to turn off. Have each element grab the ND’s attention, and keep them anxious to see what’s next.

How do you do that? I’m glad you asked.

For an on-air talent, there are key areas an ND is looking for. Can you speak? Do you look good on-air? Can you write? Your tape is going to answer these questions, and they way you present them will keep an ND glued to the screen.

Let’s break it down.

Step 1 – The montage

Your montage should show YOU! It’s more than just face time – show you can tell stories in unique ways.

What: A sequence of standups, live shots, and anchor shots that show you, the job seeker.

How long: Anywhere from :30 to 1:00

For a reporter or anchor, the very first thing we should see on your tape is you. You need a montage of your most polished live shots, standups, or anchoring. Each one should be a few seconds long, and will demonstrate your ability to present yourself on camera. It shows that you can walk, talk, and demonstrate something all at once, while remembering how to tell your story. News directors aren’t looking for newspaper writers; they want people who can be presenters as well as journalists.

As far as the length of the montage, ask five different people and you’ll get five different answers. Some say 30 seconds, others say 45 seconds. Personally, I think you can show what you need to show in about one minute. Anything longer and you’re repeating yourself.

But remember, you need to separate yourself from the pack. Any idiot can stand still in front of a camera for a few seconds. Your standups should immerse you in the story; a way to enhance the information and engage the audience. When you are shooting standups or doing a live shot, be creative! Show me something! Demonstrate, point, walk, use props like cell phones. Set the camera far away to show space. Or get down on the ground and give a unique angle.

Set the camera on the ground and show unique angles in your standup.

A news director gets thousands of tapes with good looking people standing still and saying bland things on camera. Show that you can be a visually storyteller using your camera and your body.

For the best example of this, look no further than Joe Little of 10News in San Diego. Every year he compiles a montage of his best standups and live shots from the previous year. Little is a master at creating a visually compelling standup, and he does all of it as a one-man band. It’s just him, a camera, and a tripod.

As Little shows, you also need to vary your choice of standups. I don’t want to see 10 straight shots of you at an anchor desk wearing different color jackets. I also don’t want to see 10 medium closeups of you standing by a road. Again, be creative in your choices. Pick standups in different locations and circumstances. A shot with a wildfire in the background can be followed by a closeup of you showing details on your phone, followed by a standup where you interact with your environment (jump into the pool, go for a drive, show the documents).

But the very first image should make you look good. Don’t lead with a standup in which another anchor tosses to you (again, the ND needs to see what YOU look like, not anyone else). If you have standups in which the camera starts on something else, save them until after the initial shot.

So while you are still in college (or in your current job) make sure you are shooting unique standups and live shots any opportunity you get. If you are in an internship at a TV station, get as many reps at the anchor desk as you can, even if it means staying late or coming in on the weekends. The more you have to choose from, the better your tape will be. If all you ever shot were six standups and four of them were lousy, then you’re up a creek.

Step 2 – The packages

Choose packages that show your ability to tell different types of stories.,

What: Your best packages as a reporter/multimedia journalist. Self-contained video elements that you shot, wrote and edited.

How long: Typically about three packages. Standard package length is 1:30.

Following your standup montage, you need to include a few packages you created. This is also mandatory! It doesn’t matter whether you are applying to be a reporter, anchor, sports anchor, or photojournalist, you need to know how to make a package.

(I have run into many prospective anchors who think all they need is a few reps at the desk to get a job. News flash: no one is ever just an anchor anymore. Any on-air journalist needs to shoot, write, and edit their own stories. In a small market, you’re not going to be plopped into the anchor seat on the 6 p.m. news right away. You need to show you can work. So start editing packages, or you’ll end up in Public Relations. END OF RANT).

Most on-air talent tapes include three packages, because it allows you to show your writing ability, and how you report on various topics. Again, set yourself apart and be unique! Every ND knows reporters can do stories about house fires. Give them a story they haven’t seen before, or a story told in a new and unique way.

A good rule of thumb is to include a good hard news story, a funny feature, and an in-depth story. These terms are loose, though – you don’t need to be a comedian in a funny feature, but show you can be light-hearted with a sense of humor. An in-depth story doesn’t have to be an Pullitzer Prize-winner, but it should show you put thought and research into a story. The specific topics themselves might not be important, but if you can show you are able to write, shoot and edit a variety of different stories, and do it in an engaging way, that is much more important to a news director.

For example, in my first tape, I included packages about increased winter heating bills, a feature on a comic book store, and a profile on men’s basketball open tryouts. I wasn’t applying for a sports job or a feature job, but those packages showed me at my best – my writing was engaging, my shots were steady, my edits were unique, my standups were creative, and it showed my ability to excel in any assignment. Coming out of college, where opportunities for live shots or heavy stories are rare, that tape got me a news reporter job.

Just make sure it is your work. If you are interning at a commercial TV station and a reporter lets you re-voice one of their own packages, don’t put that on your tape. Sure, it’s easy, but you’re not doing yourself any favors. You’ll find out very quickly when you start real news jobs that re-voicing a package, and actually shooting and editing one, are two different things. And when a news director sees that you don’t know how to make your own stories, you’re going to get bounced very fast. Instead, as an intern, take your reporter’s raw video, then write your own script and edit it together!

Step 3 – The emotions!

Troy-Community-Emotions-1To be extra valuable to a news director, you need to show that you are comfortable in any situation, whether it’s breaking news or the cat fashion show. So choose work samples that show you are a human being with actual emotions. Combine serious standups with ones where you let your guard down and show a sense of humor. Show you are just as comfortable laughing at a story as you are with grilling a politician with tough questions. So many reporters are robots; they just want to read the news as seriously as possible. Show them that you are a human, who can have fun and be serious when the different situations call for it.

Step 4 – Tinker and tailor

Know what job you are applying for and tailor your tape to it. If you are applying to be an investigative reporter, go back and edit a new version of your reel that emphasizes your investigative work. If you’re applying to be a morning show feature reporter, make a tape that includes more live interviews and funny features. You still want to show that you are diverse and more than a one-trick pony, but be willing to show your attention to detail.

Step 5 – The sound

microphone-in-sound-mixing-30You’d be surprise how often job-seekers neglect the sound of their tapes. After spending weeks crafting their reel, choosing the best standups, reordering the packages, checking and double-checking to make sure there are no jump cuts or black frames, many people never bother to put on headphones and listen.

Your audio is just as important as everything else. It should be clear and crisp with consistent volume.

If you have a dynamite standup, but the microphone was too blown out, get rid of it. It doesn’t matter how good it looks; if you put on bad audio, the ND will know you don’t take the time to make sure your work is high quality. Same thing if your microphone was too quiet on-air or had static issues. Just drop them and find better work samples.

Listen to the audio levels between different standups and packages in your reel. If one is higher or lower than the rest, fix the volume to make sure it’s even throughout. You don’t want an ND fiddling up and down with the volume when they should be focused on you.

Step 6 – The slate

Screen shot 2014-12-30 at 8.42.00 AMThe slate is the full screen graphic that includes your name and contact info (typically email and phone number, although web site addresses or Twitter handles are also becoming popular). Basically, make sure the ND knows how to contact you. In my opinion, the slate should come at the very end of the tape. Some people like to place it right at the beginning, but I don’t think it’s necessary – the ND already knows whose tape it is, and they’re not going to call you until they’ve seen something worthwhile. Besides, don’t waste any time at the beginning of the tape when we could be seeing your pretty face!


Everything is going to come down to the right fit at the right time. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how good your tape is, because the universe may have different plans.

You can never make a perfect tape – one news director may love it for the same reason another news director hates it. One news director may think you look polished and professional, but another may think you come across smug. One news director may like your youthful enthusiasm, another may want you to take up smoking to “age” yourself.

But in the end, if you have put in the work to make yourself a better journalist, and if you have reflected that work in your tape, someone will notice. As we’ve said before on this site, there’s no single way to get into the news business. Sometimes it’s instant, sometimes it takes months. But the right fit is out there. If you have a solid resume tape, you’ll find it.

And of course, we’re never done improving. Just like you are always looking for ways to improve as a reporter, you should also always be looking for ways to improve your tape. Save your good standups, live shots and packages, and edit them into your reel as soon as you can. You never know when that next job may come available, and you need to be ready. You should also seek out advice and feedback whenever you can. Talk to your professors, advisers, mentors, or co-workers and get their thoughts on your tape.

And you can always come to me! It doesn’t matter whether you are an OSU student, someone at another school, or someone trying to take their first professional leap as a reporter. Feel free to email me a link to your tapes, and I am always happy to give feedback.

Email: steven.sandberg@oregonstate.edu

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How I Got the Job: Eric Carlton

Everyone takes a different path to their first media job. Some people land their first choice right out of college. Others need to apply to dozens of places before landing an interview. There’s not a perfect way to get the job you want, but it can help to learn from the experience of others. In our feature “How I Got the Job,” we talk to some of the best people working professionally in media about what they did to get a foot in the door, and what it took to finally sign the contract. This week: Eric Carlton, news photographer at CBS46 in Atlanta.

1017596_901268623573_947597496_nWhen did you start looking for your first TV job?

I didn’t start looking for my first TV job until nearly two years after graduating from Gonzaga University. I never actually thought I’d pursue a TV career and  started working in film right out of school.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

I included three packages and one sports highlight reel that I had shot in college (one hard news, one feature, one NAT pkg and the highlight reel)

How many rejections did you get?

None. Keep in mind that this is not the norm. I had a pretty solid tape and years of film experience that were fairly attractive to prospective employers. That said, I was very lucky.

Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?

Later in my career, I adapted my approach by crafting better resume tapes and creating much more professional resumes/cover letters. I also took the time to create graphic labels for the DVDs and meticulously curated my online presence. Employers look where you direct them and I pointed them at material that screamed “this guy means business.”

What happened in your first interview?

I actually shot and edited a VO/SOT for air during my first interview. There was a little chit-chat and then they handed me a Betacam SX and told me to shoot a VO about car break-ins. No instruction. Just me and the camera. I went out to the employee parking lot and looked for any cars with valuables left in them. I came back in with my raw and had to edit tape-to-tape. A skill I had very little proficiency in. I acted like I’d done it a thousand times and somehow came up with something passable for TV.

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?

I turned down two jobs my first time job hunting. The first station was kind of a joke with terrible equipment and offered me terrible pay. The second didn’t have a take-home news unit, which the third station did.

What was your experience like during your in-person interview?

For the most part, all of my in-person interviews were very informal. There was always some discussion about my credentials and work history, but they also realized they were hiring somebody new to the business. The conversation revolved more about me as a person and seeing how I would fit in with the rest of the news team. They also wanted a clear understanding of WHY I wanted to work in news. This question has come up in every interview I’ve done since.

When did you get an offer? How did it happen?

Again, my situation was a little unique. I had offers from multiple stations and this put me at a huge advantage. I was able to negotiate. This isn’t a luxury afforded to most newcomers. Because of this I was able to squeeze a few more dollars out of the station I ended up working for. I was called back to discuss the various offers in person and I had the leverage of saying, “well station X offered me this much.”

Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?

I honestly can’t say I would change anything really. I was fortunate enough to have all the pieces fall in place for me. The biggest things I had going for me were solid preparation and a healthy dose of luck.

 

How I Got the Job: Ian Cull

Everyone takes a different path to their first media job. Some people land their first choice right out of college. Others need to apply to dozens of places before landing an interview. There’s not a perfect way to get the job you want, but it can help to learn from the experience of others. In our feature “How I Got the Job,” we talk to some of the best people working professionally in media about what they did to get a foot in the door, and what it took to finally sign the contract. This week: Ian Cull, reporter for NBC Bay Area

_uDK6-m0When did you start looking for your first TV job?
I first started looking at the beginning of my senior year of college. I’d just finished an internship at KING 5 Sports in Seattle, and had a little better idea of how the industry works. I also asked many of these same brilliant questions you’re asking now. That’s a key thing, questions. I always asked these questions of different TV news professionals I came across to get ahead of the competition out there who aren’t asking them. You’ve got to work and be ambitious!

Anyway, I compiled a list of stations of about 20 TV stations in desirable small markets. I checked the websites every day to see what their reporters were doing, what sort of stories they were covering, and most of all if they had any job openings. Now, I’d suggest getting a subscription to TVJobs.com to find job openings. It’s worth $40 a year.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?
I asked two professors what I should include. Many news directors I’ve spoken with suggest a one minute montage with active standups, followed by three packages, and then anchoring or another montage. Nothing over 10 minutes. Even though my first package wasn’t a “hard news” package, it was my best one. I’ve been told no matter what, it’s always best to put your best stuff first.

That “best” package was about a new horseback riding class at Gonzaga. Looking back at it now, there are about 37 things I’d change. However, I stood by it. It had great nats, characters, and writing.

How many rejections did you get?
I was lucky. I only applied to about 10 places, before I got a job at KCSG in Southern Utah (which doesn’t exist anymore). My professor used to work with the news director there, and he was looking for a news/sports reporter.

Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?
I started applying about 5 months before I graduated.

Two months before I graduated I got restless and started following up by e-mailing and calling the news directors. Most of the time, I would call to make sure they had my application, let them know I was interested, if they wanted me to send any more materials or had any questions about me.

Nowadays, ambition is key. Every job I got after, it was because I always followed up with an e-mail about 1-2 weeks after I sent my materials. Nothing crazy. But that way, news directors know you’re serious.

What happened in your first interview?
It was the craziest interview I’ve ever had. I had to buy my own ticket from Spokane, WA to St. George, UT, but the station paid for my hotel. I arrived Saturday morning. The news director picked me up and took me out to lunch. He then brought me by the station to meet everybody and see how they work. The whole time he was asking me questions. What are your strengths/weaknesses? What do you like to do? Do you think you could really make it right out of college? Do you think you’d be comfortable moving to Southern Utah?

During every interview there’s a period where you have down time. The ND has to do some work and you’re left to ask questions of other reporters and walk around by yourself. I personally think it’s a test to see how you get along with co-workers. This can be terrifying. So what I’ve done many times is look up everyone I know I’ll meet. I read their bios, see where they went to school, try and find a connection. That way, when you meet “Jim,” you know he’s from a town where you grew up and you can relate to the nice places to visit. Or if he went to a school with a big football or basketball team like Oregon State (that’s for you Steve), you can say, “so do you think Gary Payton’s son will ever live up to his dad’s legacy at your alma mater?” Most of the time, you’ll get a chuckle … and a great recommendation from that employee when the ND asks if they like you.

I had dinner and a beer with the ND (he insisted). Then on Sunday, the ND picked me up and drove me by the station one more time. He then drove me TWO HOURS to the nearest major airport, which is in Las Vegas. It was a long drive, but I finally relaxed a little. Being grilled with questions all weekend will do that. However, we went to lunch at Margaritaville. SO FUNNY. I think he was trying to show me how awesome it’d be to live there. Looking back, it WAS an awesome first job and great place to live.

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?
Just this year. I was approached by an ND, but I just didn’t want to move across the country and be far away from family and friends. At this point in my life, with a child, that is very important to me. For my first job, however, I was willing to move anywhere.

When did you get an offer? How did it happen?
At the end of my interview in Southern Utah, the boss told me the job was mine if I wanted it. He sent me a formal offer two days later. I ran the contract by my family and professors.

Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?
I don’t think I would’ve change much about my job search. However, I wish I would’ve got involved in the community more at my first job. Volunteer, join a church group or intramural sports team at the rec center. Sometimes, those people will give you the best story ideas and a real sense of the town.

Holidays With Your News Family

I could see my co-worker struggling. She had been on the phone for several minutes, not knowing where the conversation was dragging her. She looked at her notes, she tried to interject, she repeated herself, but nothing was working. Time was running out. We needed to land this now.

Finally, I asked her to hand me the phone.

“Yes, hello?” I said. “We want the BBQ pork combo plate please!”

If we were going to celebrate Christmas in the newsroom, we were going to do it right.


There are a few guarantees when you start your very first news job. One – you will work in a small town somewhere. Two – you will work shifts with bad hours. And three – you will work on the holidays. Once you put in a few years on the job and accrue a little vacation time, you can get the better shifts and get time off for the holidays. Until then, you’re the low man on the totem pole. Expect to work.

It’s a big eye-opener when it happens. Our entire lives leading up to our first jobs taught us that holidays are off-days. We get holiday breaks in school and college. We see stores and businesses shut down on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the news doesn’t stop, and before you know it, you’re assigned to fill the roles of three different people on a short-staffed holiday.

It takes some getting used to.

Sometimes, it’s annoying for a person in their 20s. Instead of kicking back with a beer and watching the fireworks on Independence Day, I was rushing to find a parking spot along Fir Street so I can jump out, shoot video of the fireworks show, and rush back to the station to edit it for the 11 p.m. show.

But sometimes it’s something different and unexpected. Instead of attending the usual Halloween parties, I took my camera and followed a family through a haunted house, capturing every scream, shriek and shout as monsters leapt out of the darkness at them. I cut a fun package that I will remember for longer than another party with drinking games and Monster Mash on the iPod.

And sometimes, it takes reshuffling. Instead of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the afternoon, I’d arrive home to have my meals with my wife and visiting in-laws after 7 p.m., always with my work phone in my pocket in case of breaking news involving a turkey fryer fire.

Christmas is always the toughest. Christmas is supposed to be a time for waking up early, opening presents, eating cinnamon rolls, and naps by 11 a.m. Instead, I was driving 30 miles to Grants Pass in a dinky Subaru.

It was my first Christmas at work.

The hardest part was that the work made it feel like any other day. There was nothing going on that suggested to me that it was indeed Christmas. It was simply another assignment, another drive, another editing session and another newscast. For some people, that helps soften the blow of having to work on the holidays. But for me that day, it only emphasized that I wasn’t home enjoying my Christmas morning

I went to Grants Pass that morning and stopped in at the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen, which was serving a holiday meal for the less fortunate. The people there were wonderful. At that point I had always known much of Josephine County to be populated by hard, cold people, but their displays of generosity on Christmas changed my perception. For the couple hours I was at the kitchen, I allowed myself to be lost in the story, interviewing organizers, talking to people who came in for a warm meal, getting shots of people smiling as they accepted trays of food and talked with one another. But the moment I was done and I sat down in my news car, it hit me again. I was practically an outsider, watching other people take part in the holiday spirit. Sharing those stories with the community is immensely important, but in that moment, my 24-year-old self was missing the feeling of being part of that community.

A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was my producer, Erin, asking how the shoot went. Fine, I told her. She asked if I could swing by a location in Medford to grab another quick story, seeing as I was the only reporter working that day. Sure, I said, exasperated. She could hear it in my voice, and knew something wasn’t right.

“You doing OK?” she asked me.

I blurted it out. “I just want to go home and see my wife.”

I shouldn’t have said it. I should have been a good soldier, sucked it up, and kept doing the job I was being paid to do. It was selfish of me. After all, she was back at the station, away from her loved ones. There were production staff preparing for the shows who were also missing Christmas. I had no right to act as if I were being personally wronged.

But she was a pro. And she knew how to make the most out of the situation. Rather than stoop to my level, she did something about it.

I got back to the station later, and edited my stories together. After a while, I saw my producer begin carrying two-liter bottles of soda into the conference room.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“What channel plays the marathon of A Christmas Story?” she replied.

“Uh, TBS, I think. Why?” I asked.

“Finish up what you’re doing,” she said. She called out to the sports office, where our sports director was cutting highlights. “Same for you. When the show’s done, we’re having Christmas in the newsroom.”

And that’s what we did. We finished our newscast. Erin got on the phone and called a local Chinese restaurant. I took the phone from her when it became clear the scribbled orders she had taken from the newsroom were too hard to read. My wife was even invited in. And our little group sat in the conference room, eating Chinese food, watching A Christmas Story, laughing, and celebrating Christmas together.

Christmas night in the newsroom, watching A Christmas Story and eating Chinese food.

When you get your first TV job, in a tiny market, working strange hours, and rearranging holidays, one of the dumbest things you can ever think is that you are alone. Everyone at your station is likely going through the same thing. They’re also working the odd hours. They’re also in a new city. And they’re also separated from their families.

So, your news team becomes your family.

I will never forget that Christmas in the newsroom, the way it brought all of us closer together and allowed us to celebrate. Ask people at stations around the country, and it’s likely the same story. Maybe it’s a Super Bowl party for the weekend crew. Maybe it’s a potluck Thanksgiving in the newsroom. Maybe it’s sitting on the roof of the station to see fireworks on 4th of July. No matter what it is, it’s much more special to do it together with your brothers and sisters on the news team.

The holidays are about family. And that Christmas, I celebrated with a new one.

Christmas with my news family!

Choosing Your Life Over Your Job

It was a night shift like most night shifts in TV news.

Get in at 2:30 p.m., be asked to turn a quick story for 5 p.m., find time to make calls and set up interviews before sources went home at the end of the work day. Dinner in the news car, frantic editing, followed by the inevitable breaking news at 9 p.m. After rushing to cover a grass fire 25 miles away, there was more frantic editing, followed by another 50 mile round trip to and from the live shot. Back to the studio. Make sure you post your story to the web! Transcribe, write, edit, post. Oh, and could you re-edit your package for the morning show? More editing, more rewriting, more posting. Got an ear on the police scanner, praying that the squawk box would stay quiet.

By the time it was all over, it was 1 a.m. Or, as we are commonly pressured to list on our timesheets, 11:30 p.m. Wink Wink. All in a night’s (or day’s?) work, right?

At the end of the night, like most nights on the late shift, all I wanted to do was go home and kiss my wife.

I finally escaped the building, walking alone into the darkness of our poorly lit parking lot. I pulled out as the morning show producers were pulling in, just starting their day. Sometimes I’d wave. Most times I just didn’t have the energy. Took the same drive home I did every night, past the empty Food-4-Less parking lot, past the rows of homeless shopping carts near the freeway entrance, past the brightly lit airport where all the planes were already tucked into their hangars. Of course, I seemed to hit every red light on the drive home, making my night even longer and putting further time between me and my wife.

Mercifully, I finally rounded the corner in my neighborhood. Home sweet home.

As I pulled up, I could see the lights inside were off.

I sighed.

I knew the dance steps from there. Had lots of practice at it. Got out of the car. Quietly fumbled for my keys and unlocked the door. Slipped off my shoes. Walked in through the darkness into my bedroom.

There, asleep and breathing softly, was my wife. Just as she should be at 1:15 a.m. The dance continued. I quietly undressed in the dark, crawled into bed, tugged some spare covers from my wife, and eventually fell asleep. I didn’t say anything to her, because she didn’t need me disturbing her sleep – she would be getting up for work in a couple hours, when she would perform her part of the dance. She’d get up quietly, prepare for work in another room, and give me a quick peck before she left.

It was the extent of our interactions during my weeks on the night shift.

We were experts at the choreography – two partners, both dancing on their own. We performed five nights a week.

And I hated it.


Love the work, hate the job. It’s a phrase I’ve heard echoed by TV news people. We love being able to tell stories, travel to new places and meet new people. But we hate the sacrifices we have to make to do it.

The hours are one of the major factors. News never sleeps, so it means there needs to be a constant, vigilant watch from journalists at all hours of the day and night. It might mean you work on the morning show, adjusting your schedule so you wake up at 2 a.m. to begin your day. It might mean you work a “day” shift until 7 p.m., unable to be there when your kids come home from school. It might mean you work the night shift, finally ending your day when everyone you know is already fast asleep. No job in any field ever gives you the perfect set of hours, but TV news schedules things at just the right times to keep you in a permanent long-distance relationship with your own life.

After several years of it, I couldn’t handle it any longer. Frankly, the hours were one of the reasons I decided to get out. Over my time working the night shift, I found out that I personally didn’t like the thought of never being able to see my wife in the daylight during a whole week. I didn’t like only being able to hear her voice over the phone. I didn’t like both of us having to eat dinner alone, yearning for each other’s company. I needed my wife, and the night shift hours stole me away from her.

I never figured out a way to handle it that worked for me. Some people have no problem with the hours, and others find ways to handle the stress on their bodies, their mental health, and their relationships. If that’s the case, then go for it, by all means. Whatever works for you to help balance the demands of the job with the demands of your life is very important, and something you need to hang on to in this business. (I also encourage you to share your stories in the comments section).

But as I’ve seen journalists grow older, meet people they love, and start families, I’ve seen how important those precious hours become.

Recently, Dallas news anchor Karen Borta announced she was moving from the evening shows to the morning shows. In an emotional speech to her co-workers, Borta said the move was a chance to make sure she never missed another moment with her family.

“My kids are getting older, and I’m missing so many things,” she said.

I’ve never heard the struggle of balancing life and a TV news job summed up so perfectly. Life is short. And we need to find ways to cherish the moments with the people we love. More importantly, we need to find ways to be present for them. The news business is a demanding job, and you need to balance your priorities to handle the pull of the job with the pull of your family. It can be done. It’s hard, and emotionally taxing, but it can be done. But if you ever come to an epiphany regarding your job and your life, you need to take steps to correct it. Borta saw that, and made the switch from evenings to mornings.

““I’m going to love, love, love, being able to go home at 11:30 and to be that mom who can pick up kids, and go to games, and have dinner with my family,” she said. “I’m going to suck up every minute that I can with my family while I have those years left.”

Borta speaks for any TV news employee who has ever missed a soccer game, or missed nightly dinners, or canceled holiday plans, or missed playtime with their kids.

Or spent weeks never seeing their wife’s smile in the sunshine.

The Wrong Ways to Get the Scoop

George Stephanopoulos interviews Darren Wilson on ABC in November,

Reporters always want the scoop – the exclusive story you secured through hours of reporting, working the phones and gaining trust of sources. But just as important as getting the scoop is making sure how you get it is done in the right way.

Journalists have to tread a fine line. They need to be polite and gain the trust of people, without being a source’s friend. But they also need to find ways to be objective and critical without being someone’s enemy. And in today’s PR-obsessed world, it can be hard for reporters to get scoops without undermining their ethics and credibility. Sources no longer share their stories with reporters who have a solid track record, they are looking for reporters who won’t ask tough questions, reporters who will put the right PR spin on things, reporters who will make them look good.

Last month, reporters met secretly with Darren Wilson, making their pitch as to why they should be allowed to help share Wilson’s side of the story about what happened in the shooting of Michael Brown. The police officer had his pick of reporters, from ABC to CNN to CBS. In the end, Wilson chose ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. But why? ABC never explained to its viewers what Stephanopoulos said to Wilson to land the interview, and Wilson never explained either. But we can guess – do you think someone in Wilson’s position wanted a tough-as-nails reporter who would go after him about the facts? Or did he want a sympathetic ear?

No reporter likes to share the tricks of the trade. They want to keep their advantage over the rest of the pack. It’s just good business. But that also assumes that reporters are doing their jobs right: gathering facts, asking tough questions, and staying true to their ethics. Viewers assume that if someone wanted to share their story under specific terms or agreements, that the reporter would ethically choose to decline. So the process of how you get your scoop becomes just as important to your readers and viewers, to ensure that they can trust the information you provide is honest.

That’s become even harder in sports journalism, as the line between reporter and columnist is blurred. In a perfect world, reporters gather facts and columnists present their opinion. But these days, those columnists are breaking stories alongside their positive or negative opinion pieces. Writers are being asked to wear two hats, and we see it everywhere, from Sports Illustrated to Deadspin to ESPN to Yahoo. I don’t agree with it. I’ve heard arguments from sportswriters that people get their news differently now; that there aren’t the traditional definitions of “reporters” vs “columnists” vs “bloggers” anymore. But I think that approach comes at the cost of our ethics.

To keep things honest, there needs to be a clear line. And when the line continues to be smudged, it’s hard to know how certain scoops came to be.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski is typically credited as one of the best NBA writers, but his methods of getting scoops are dubious.

I had previously been a fan of Yahoo Sports’ NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski. The guy had every scoop, every detail, every trade, every draft pick, sometimes before they were officially announced. I thought, “this is a reporter who knows how to do his job.” He kicked ass, frankly.

But there was always that line that Woj seemed to straddle. He would break stories on Twitter, but he would also give some scathing criticisms or heap praises upon players, coaches, general managers, and agents. Now, a huge takedown by Kevin Draper in the New Republic reveals the methods to Woj’s scoops, and how he used his position as a columnist to get information.

For example: Wojnarowski seemed to have every scoop on the Detroit Pistons over the last few years, from coaching decisions to trades and free agents. But during that time, even as the once-mighty Pistons fell into the cellar of the Eastern Conference, he never wrote a single negative column about the team. As Draper points out: “Instead, Wojnarowski penned several sympathetic profiles of [Pistons GM Joe] Dumars, including ones that covered his completion of his college degree and another wholly about his defensive skills as a player in the 1980s.”

And when Woj didn’t get the scoop? Then he used his column to criticize and attack players and personnel. Whereas other reporters work hard to gain the trust of sources in order to break news, Wojnarowski uses his column to shift public perception about players. Woj has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter, and a column from him can make or break someone’s reputation. As a result, he mixes his reporting with his opinion, and bullies his way into breaking stories.

Then came the hammer: Draper writes about how the NBA figured out that it was Joe Dumars who was leaking the information to Woj:

In 2010, the NBA fined Dumars $500,000 for leaking multiple confidential league memos to Wojnarowski, according to multiple sources. This matches the third largest publicly known fine the league has ever handed down. The NBA decided that too many memos were making it into the media, so they conducted a sting operation over several months. They would change a few words or numbers in different team’s copies of otherwise identical memos, so that when the memos leaked they could spot the small differences and trace them back to the leaker. This approach caught Dumars red-handed, as well as an executive from another team who was fined $12,500 for leaking to a draft-focused website.

Go read the whole piece over at the New Republic, because it’s an enlightening look at the dubious methods being used by someone who had been hailed as one of the NBA’s top reporters. It will make you take a closer look at what you are reading, and hopefully, you’ll start to question how a reporter got their info in the first place.

How I Got the Job: Rob Scott

Everyone takes a different path to their first media job. Some people land their first choice right out of college. Others need to apply to dozens of places before landing an interview. There’s not a perfect way to get the job you want, but it can help to learn from the experience of others. In our feature “How I Got the Job,” we talk to some of the best people working professionally in media about what they did to get a foot in the door, and what it took to finally sign the contract. This week: Rob Scott, news reporter at KXAN in Austin, Texas.

rob-scottWhen did you start looking for your first TV job?

Short answer: I began applying March 5th of 2012, exactly two months before I graduated from college.

Long answer: In a lot of ways, I began looking for that first job a year and a half in advance. It seems obvious to me now, but I had no idea how employment with local news worked. I knew you don’t just start in Phoenix (where I was living/studying/interning at the time) but then again, I didn’t know how [the hiring process] worked.

At my internships I would study the reporters’ careers as much as their actual work. THIS paid off. I learned which “small market” produced talent that ended up advancing their careers. I quickly realized places like Medford, Yakima and El Paso were better for hungry journalists than other small markets.

The first words out of the mouth of the first reporter I ever shadowed (and a man who become my favorite reporter to shadow) were “First thing’s first: ALWAYS make sure you get paid hourly — not salary,” as he choked down a cigarette. Wise words. Once I became a professional, I quickly realized why he was right!

I continued to learn more about good places to start and by the time I applied, I had a list of eight places I wanted above all others. Truth be told, I would have taken ANY market that gave me a call first. I checked websites for the stations in those markets everyday – multiple times a day – until I found openings. Then I sent my application immediately.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

I followed a strict formula I had developed after time spent talking to reporters at internships, professors, and peers. 45 to 50 seconds of live shots and standups followed by my three best packages. A five-second slate started things off with my e-mail and phone number.

I spent HOURS perfecting it, getting feedback by only a select few before leaving it be. Looking back, that reel is TERRIBLE — in every way. (Editor’s note: our first reels always look terrible when we look back on them!)

How many rejections did you get?

Honestly… zero. You either hear back or you don’t.

On March 5th I sent out four applications – Santa Barbara, Lansing, Anchorage and Medford. The next morning I had a phone interview request from a Medford station. A week later, the ink was dry.

I don’t think this part of my career is anywhere near normal, knowing what I know now.

My second job was a much different experience. More realistic too.

Three official rejection e-mails, literally 50+ unanswered applications to about 15 total markets. Took 7 months, countless hours of working my contacts and refining my work, weekly pep talks from either parents or mentors, and three legitimate times I questioned getting out of the biz.

I got my hopes up with one market after a few phone interviews. Never heard from them again.

A total of three stations even showed interest. But it only takes 1, and I was on cloud 9 when the phone rang.

Did you have to change anything about your approach to the job search?

Perhaps I’m stubborn, but no, I stayed the course. Keeping an open mind but trusting your instincts is key.

What happened in your first interview?

A very nervous college senior did all he could to impress a Medford news director with his… shall we say… generously represented news “experience.”

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?

Well actually, in a way. I had already signed the Medford contract when my #1 choice, in Anchorage called looking for a phone interview. I had to decline.

When did you get an offer? How did it happen?

I got a phone call on the way to Vegas… what a day!

They wanted an answer right then and there. I asked for an extension. They gave me until the end of the day. I called at the end of the day (a Friday) and asked to think it over and have an answer that following Monday. Went back and forth on it all weekend. Woke up Monday morning not going to take it. Picked up the phone, dialed the number … took the job.

Looking back, what would you have changed about the process?

Excellent question. I would not change anything. Some say I wasted too much time preparing to apply and searching for openings. I say if you want something bad enough, it’s up to you to make it happen, and that’s the mindset I followed.

I take it back, the BIGGEST piece of advice I’d give ANY journalist at ANY stage of their career: Visit, in person, the station you are about to sign your life to. You will never regret a round-trip ticket. Seeing if both the market and station are a good fit for you is key.  It may seem like you know what to think, but so much can be learned about a station from mere minutes in a newsroom.

Know Your News – All Of It

Find a time, find a way, but gather news in all of its forms – politics, sports, entertainment, etc.

Quick: Which movie studio recently had thousands of emails and confidential documents hacked? Who is the chairman of that studio?

What is the name of the Portland school that was the scene of a shooting on Friday?

What movie topped the box office this weekend?

What phrase did various NBA players wear on their warmup shirts to protest a grand jury’s decision in the case of an unarmed black man being killed by a white police officer?

Can you name one of the three teams tied for the best record in the NFL?

If you work in news, you need to know all of these things, and then some.

One of the most important skills you can have as a journalist is a working knowledge of a wide variety of news. You should know about politics. You should know about international events. You should know about sports. You should know about entertainment. You don’t need to be an expert in all of these fields, but you should know enough to carry on a conversation.

Like an old broadcasting professor once told me, you don’t get a seat at the bar if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Know what’s happening in the world around you. In a given week, you should be familiar with the top stories around the world. What are people talking about? What is important to people that week? You should be just as familiar with the presidential candidates as you are about who was cast as the next Spider-Man.

You’ll be a more versatile reporter because of it. As I’ve mentioned before, stories can come from anywhere, so if you are familiar with a wide range of topics, you’re more likely to find a unique story to report on. When you’re in an interview, you can ask more relevant questions, because you read up on the subject, or know about a subject your interviewee is interested in. Talking shop about the Oregon Ducks can help you create a bond with your interview subject, or knowing who won Dancing With the Stars could help you strike up a conversation with a reluctant person.

It’s also going to be expected by news directors when you are looking for a job. Bosses don’t want people who work in a vacuum, they want people who are hungry for news – and who can recall it immediately. It’s not enough to simply know how to Google information – you should know it on the spot. Time spent on search engines is time you could have been on the road gathering a story. So be prepared for a current events quiz during your in-person interview. Bosses will throw them at you to test whether you can handle a curveball, and to see if you actually know your stuff.

Unfortunately, it’s something younger journalists struggle with when they start out. A news journalist might not be a fan of sports, or an entertainment journalist might not know politics. I’m only interested in news, why should I care who won Sunday’s football game?

I’ve heard college journalists admit it. “I don’t really care about sports.”

You should.

News is news. It doesn’t matter what kind of category you try to put it in. It’s all connected. You can’t operate with single-mindedness. As a news reporter, you should know which movies are big at the box office, because a bomb could lead to layoffs at the studio, which could lead to stock prices falling, which could lead to big business moves and takeovers. As a sports reporter, you should know who the movers and shakers are on Capitol Hill, because politicians can run college football conferences, and can influence funding for school athletics, which could cause major impacts for recruiting and even affect the professional leagues.

Sports reporters should know how to submit public records requests to find out the criminal history of a potential coach, or to find out where the money is coming from to fund a new stadium. News reporters should know who the top teams are in the NBA and how the local team is doing, because big games or big transactions can become big front page stories.

In fact, do not think of yourself as a news reporter or a sports reporter or a business reporter or an arts reporter.

You are a reporter. Find the facts in everything.

You don’t need to be a die-hard sports fan, or a stat geek, or a Washington insider. But you need to know the top stories every day. Follow current events and consume news wherever it is found.

Always Assume a Camera is Pointed at You

Let’s face it, a lot of on-air talent became anchors and reporters because we love being clowns. We instinctually know exactly when a camera is pointed at us, and we know how to mug, how to pose, how to joke, and how to act. Yes, we know all about journalism and know it’s a serious business, but we also know how much fun it is to be on camera.

The best journalism and electronic media schools encourage this. At Gonzaga, the TV crews was required to take part in each type of broadcast, whether it was a news program or a comedy show. As a result, it encouraged people to loosen up, have fun, and find new and creative ways to tell stories. I wouldn’t be half the reporter I became if it weren’t for the comedy show. Believe it or not, my on-air presence as an anchor was better because of my time doing Christopher Walken impressions or acting like I was in a world controlled by the Monopoly man. To tell a good story, you need to know how to entertain.

It’s fun, it’s rewarding, but it comes with a catch: when you get a TV news job, that enthusiasm needs to come out in the right ways. There are good ways to make viewers laugh and feel comfortable, and there are bad ways. A false step in the name of a joke can land you in hot water.

We were taught early on that you are “always on camera.” In other words, any time you are on a set, or are wearing a microphone, or have a camera pointed at you, you should always assume that you are being broadcast live to thousands of people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a practice run, or if your live shot is 30 minutes away. When that camera is set up and the mic is in your hand, SHUT UP.

You never know when an inexperienced director could accidentally hit the wrong button and put your picture on the air, or if an intern starts recording you without your knowledge. Because of that, you need to act professionally.

(Warning: Videos contain language that is NSFW)

Hearing reporters use profanity, even in their off-time or on Twitter, is off-putting to me. First, it sounds juvenile, and I would expect a higher standard for people whose job it is to speak publicly. Second, it’s a hard habit to break. The more you swear casually, using “fuck” as a crutch for your conversations or when you’re frustrated, the more likely that is to pop up when you speak on the air.

And as we’ve seen, those mistakes can cost you big time.

It was A.J. Clemente’s first time on the air, and his last – his behavior in his first 15 seconds on the air led to him being fired immediately after the show.

Clemente’s situation frustrates me, because he went viral after the incident, went on Letterman, and tried to pass the blame off on not being told he was on-air. He didn’t know the show was starting, he claimed. But the camera was pointed right at him! The clock was counting down! The show starts at 5 p.m.! Your co-anchor was STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU AND SPEAKING TO VIEWERS. Any profanity should be 10 miles away from that studio at that point. Clemente is a dunce.

During my time as a reporter, our station had a folder of videos called the “fun tape,” comprised of bloopers and antics behind the scenes. Some were typical, like when a live shot is interrupted by people yelling, and others were because of our willingness to clown around on camera. My improv side came out during long days of cut-ins for a holiday coat drive, and I would do celebrity impressions for the amusement of my photog and the production staff back at the studio. The staff would compile the impressions for the fun tape, and we would share copies of the tape at the end of the year party. Reporters and staffers had an understanding that anything on the fun tape would not be posted online, and reporters like me who did have fun behind the scenes knew that anything we did on camera should be harmless. No insults, no giving the finger, no swearing, and nothing that could reflect poorly on the station.

After all, it only takes one person to post it online before it spreads like wildfire, and then you get called into your boss’s office asking why you’re in a station-branded video swearing and mooning the camera.

And honestly, the same thing goes for when you’re out in public. As an on-air talent, you are a personality in the community. So if you are running your mouth at the bar or picking your nose while you drive, you can bet someone will notice. And believe me, they always call your station to tattle on you.

It’s a hard adjustment for people, especially if you have a big personality or enjoy making people laugh while in front of the camera. But in TV news, there’s a high standard. You can still find plenty of ways to have fun, and you can still joke with your audience and your crew and find ways to make people smile, but be smart about it. Make sure you protect yourself and your job while doing it.

True Pros Make the Most of Crisi-tunities

Things break down in TV. A lot. It’s just the reality of the business when you rely on so many pieces of technology to create a live broadcast.

Cameras die, buttons get stuck, computers freeze, teleprompters glitch. When it happens, though, there are certain ways to handle it like an adult. Throwing a temper tantrum is not one of them.

I’ve seen anchors, reporters and, meteorologists do it. I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself. A microphone may get cut off too early, or the graphics on a weather forecast don’t change soon enough, and all of a sudden, on-air talent gets in a huff. As soon as the commercial rolls, they throw their hands in the air, scoff, and give a look of “what the hell, guys?” or “Really?” Maybe the frustration comes out in a sarcastic comment after the show, “TV isn’t that hard to make…”

As if the production crew was deliberately trying to sabotage the show.

Trust me, they’re not.

In order to make it in TV, you’ve got to roll with everything. The best of the best can find ways to make something good out of a bad situation. When I was in TV news, the best person at this was former meteorologist Scott Lewis. No matter what went wrong with technology, Scott was unflappable. I’ve seen his wireless microphone malfunction during severe storm coverage, and Scott would track down a hard wire mic to keep going, never once complaining. A fire alarm once went off during a segment, and Scott played it off with a remark about a “rain alarm,” and continued with his forecast.

Once, a camera had not been set in the right position in the weather center set. So with seconds to go before he went live, Scott dove in front of the nearby newsroom camera, kneeling at an awkward angle in order to fit in the frame. When the show went live moments later, Scott had a big grin on his face, and carried on with his usual forecast in an unusual location, as if nothing had happened. He never took anyone to task or chewed anyone out about a simple mistake or a broken piece of equipment. That would not have benefited anyone. Instead, he carried on with his job, always making the best of things.

Scott was a true leader. Young employees straight out of college may not listen to every word you say, but they’re always watching. We watched Scott act as a true professional each and every night, and everyone who worked with him took notice. I watched how he would prepare for a newscast, how he interacted with co-workers and viewers, how he would compliment the work of an employee and not dwell on mistakes. He led by example, and his work ethic and professionalism inspired everyone to be better. He showed us that even when things look bad, you can make something great out of it.

Don’t look at equipment malfunctions as a catastrophe. Look at it as a chance to make something new. As Homer Simpson put it, it’s a crisi-tunity.

For a current example, look no further than WCIV meteorologist Dave Williams. When his weather computer went down, he didn’t rant and rave, he and his co-anchors took it as an opportunity to do something fun.

Dave Williams, making the most of it!

The anchors googled some high temperatures, jotted them down on note paper, then held them up to form William’s new “background” on the green screen. The team had a great time with it, and I’m sure their viewers did, too.

Any two-year-old can throw a hissy fit. It takes a consummate professional to find a silver lining. And when you inspire others to think the same way, your TV work is all the better for it.