Ask, and you shall … receive?

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 5.06.38 PMIn my first week on the job, I had to type up my bio for the station web site. You’ve likely seen them before – the reporter’s smiling headshot greets readers to an over-exaggerated list of “accomplishments.”

John Smith is a PROUD graduate of the Wassamatta University School of Broadcast Journalism, where he won awards for his coverage of presidential campaigns and international hot dog eating competitions.

Really, it’s all BS, and most likely these reporters were simply former interns trying to seem like they actually did work before their current job. No one ever actually reads them. So when I built mine, I went through the motions – listing my alma mater, trying to find some accomplishments and awards – and at the very end, I included my email address.

“Steven welcomes any story ideas you may have.”

I figured I was in for plenty of interaction with viewers. I pictured myself balancing a phone on one ear while replying to an email and texting back a source. After all, people are always watching, and always looking for publicity, or help, or answers from their local news.

Not so much.

It was never the steady stream of phone calls and emails I was expecting. It was barely a trickle. People weren’t sending stories in. I would even tweet out a message – “what’s happening in Medford today?” – and be met with nothing but silence. The first few weeks on the job I would sit down at my desk, open my email, and stare at the vast wasteland of press releases and spam, but no tips from viewers. It left me scrambling to find a couple story ideas in the half hour before my morning meeting. “Uh … it’s a couple weeks ’til Christmas … maybe a story on toy sales?”

I quickly learned that most people were not going to hand you stories on a silver platter. It would take hard work and research on my own and with my co-workers to mine sources and find stories.

That’s not to say it was completely empty. Some of my favorite stories came as the result of a viewer’s Facebook comment, or an email, or a phone call. During the Arab Spring in 2011, I found out a local man was in Egypt watching the revolution and capturing it on video, all thanks to a phone call from the man’s family that morning. Thanks to the call, it led to two of my most memorable stories, and several other follow-ups in the years after.

Still, moments like that were the exception, not the rule. Ask reporters in local TV and they’ll say the majority of their best stories came from hard work, asking questions, mining sources, and bouncing ideas off co-workers.

Which makes an experiment conducted by a Portland TV station very interesting.

On Thursday, KATU rolled out a campaign called “Connected 2 You.” During its 3-hour news block from 4 to 7 p.m. they asked viewers to call in with their news tips. “Our anchors are standing by!” they said. Anchors and reporters sat at a desk, answering your grandmother’s old touch-tone phones, with large easels of paper behind them. An animated graphic crawled across the bottom of the screen, instructing viewers to call and email with story ideas.

It looked like a PBS telethon; anchors would get up from the desk and walk in front of the phone bank, asking for support while 30-year-old telephones rang in the background.

“So-and-so reporter said one of their proudest stories came from viewers like you!” the anchor would say. “Now we want to tell YOUR stories. Call in, our anchors and reporters are waiting for you call!”

It was an exercise I had never seen done before. It even extended online; the station’s web site was plastered with banners asking for phone calls, and every reporter tweeted about a story they reported thanks to a viewer tip.

Screen shot 2015-01-29 at 5.06.30 PMRight now I’m not sure I feel about the entire thing.

Part of me applauds KATU for trying something different and encouraging viewers to directly engage with the newscast. Reader tips always help, so promoting how to get involved could improve the news operation afterward. Plus, newscasts are filled with so much fluff, this type of segment actually provides something potentially useful.

On the other hand, there’s something about it that irks me as an old-school and new-school journalist.

I feel like viewers already know how to get a hold of a TV station. The tip line is posted online and is often shown during newscasts. And it seems like no matter how technologically-impaired people may seem, they always seemed to find ways to call the station about the strangest things. I can still remember a prodigious amount of callers, including: the woman who wanted to speak to Diane Sawyer, the man who thought we were pronouncing a tribe’s name wrong, the people who wanted to know where the old meteorologist went, the many old people who complained about Jeopardy being pre-empted, the people who faxed complaints about weather cut-in’s during “Lost,” the woman who said our anchor couldn’t speak, the man who didn’t like our anchor’s wardrobe, the man who didn’t like our reporter’s wardrobe, the mountain-dwellers who didn’t understand how to operate their cable, and last but not least, the woman who wanted to know how to spell the word “through.”

Clearly people know how to find the phone number.

It also struck me as odd that KATU would go to such great lengths to say “give us some news.” Isn’t that the journalist’s job? In the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, the very first item is “Seek truth and report it.”

Seek. Get out of the office, go talk to people and gather the news. The average MMJ in a small TV market is on the road 90 percent of the day, gathering stories while they work, not waiting by the phone. I’m sure many of them would love to take that worth ethic to Portland, and I’m sure the KATU anchors manning those phones had some work to do, stories to research, and interviews to conduct.

So the entire campaign leaves me feeling unsure about its results. If it resulted in a plethora of viewer tips and story ideas, good for them! But how long is that plan sustainable?

Today, news stations have a better ability than ever to connect with viewers on the air and online, and we are seeing news outlets take advantage of them more and more. Twitter lets reporters interact directly with viewers. YouTube, Instagram, and even Snapchat gives stations more avenues to receive viewer-created content and share their own work (Instagram photos graced a cover of the New York Times this week, and a new service from Snapchat gives users access to news). The strongest news outlets are branching out into new territories, and understanding that viewers and journalists interact with news differently than they did five years ago.

So with so many amazing new ways to deliver and share content, what kind of message does it send when a station’s strategy involves touch-tone phones and paper maps?

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Breaking Barriers in Sports Journalism

At the beginning of the school year, a student stopped into my office to talk about the upcoming year. She said she had been involved with the KBVR TV program for a while, and was interested in getting into TV for a career.

“That’s great!” I said. “What do you want to do?”

“Well, I’m really interested in sports journalism,” she said. “But I don’t know if I’ll end up doing that, because there aren’t a lot of roles for women in it.”

That stopped me dead in my tracks.

Here was a bright young student who already thought she was out of the running to become a sports reporter someday, simply because she is a woman.

Obviously, I never want her, or any other student, to think that.

This idea that female reporters can only serve as sideline reporters is not only an ancient mindset, but it’s obviously irrelevant in today’s media. As national networks like ESPN and Pac-12 Network have shown, roles like play-by-play announcer, host, or analyst are not just an all-boys club. And local news stations are finally beginning to reach the 21st century and naming women as sports directors and anchors.

There are, of course, some stations, newspapers, and magazines that are stuck in the past, but their days are numbered. The walls are tumbling down.

I never want any journalism student to think less of their career prospects simply because of their gender (or, for that matter, their race or sexual orientation). It simply has nothing to do with your talent and your ability to do your job well.

To illustrate this, we’re bringing some of the top journalists in their field to speak about it.

OMN-breaking-barriers-sports-journalism-2-1Next week, the Orange Media Network will host a series of discussions titled “Breaking Barriers in Sports Journalism,” in which sports journalists will speak to students about their experience, background, challenges and triumphs as reporters. Joining us next Monday will be Tammy Blackburn and Krista Blunk, who serve work for Pac-12 Network as an analyst and play-by-play announcer, respectively. Then Wednesday, our speaker will be Kristen Rodgers, sports anchor at KEZI in Eugene (interesting note: Rodgers is the only female sports anchor at a local TV station in all of Oregon).

It’s our chance to inspire students, and tell thickheaded news directors to stop living in the past!

I hope you join us at one or both of those days, as our speakers and students break down the stereotypes and help young people to achieve their dreams in sports media. For more information, head to the Orange Media Network page.

‘When the Buzzer Sounds’ – Writing sports recaps

One of the most exhilarating moments of my life – covering the NCAA tournament in 2009.

I had everything ready to go, and then the final buzzer sounded.

It was the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament, and I was traveling with the Gonzaga Bulldogs to cover their postseason run. By that time, I was a senior at GU, so I knew the drill when it came to writing a game recap. I took my position at the press table, two rows from courtside, opened my clunky laptop, and wrote about the game as it happened.

Each time a key sequence took place, I jotted down the events, the time, the score. If a seemingly more significant event happened later in the game, I’d move it to the top of my document, ready to use it as the central sequence in the story if necessary. It was all part of the process. I knew my story was due to go to the web immediately after the game, so I was making sure to build the skeleton of the story ahead of time. As the game goes on, sports writers can sense where the story will go. In my case, the Bulldogs built a strong lead in the second half and would likely hold on to victory. I wrote my skeleton that way and knew I just needed to fill in the blanks of the score and stats afterward, in order to get it posted online within minutes. That’s how the pros do it.

In the final minute of the second half, things changed. Western Kentucky came storming back from a big deficit, and even tied it up in the final seconds. I quickly wrote in the possibility of overtime to the top of my story.

Then, with the clock winding down, Gonzaga freshman Demetri Goodson took the inbounds pass, dribbled it the length of the court, and hit a game-winner at the buzzer. The crowd went nuts. The GU bench exploded. Players and coaches mobbed Goodson at midcourt.

The big story had just unfolded before my eyes. I looked down at my skeleton, highlighted the whole thing, and hit delete.

Time to really get to work.

I still quickly threw together a short recap of the amazing events at the end of the game, and fired off the story to my editors while the celebration continued on the court. Then I went to the locker room, got quotes from Goodson and his teammates, and used them to create an even more thorough recap for the next day’s print edition. And all the extra material I gathered during the celebration was put together for a special feature to run alongside it.

It’s the life of a sportswriter – you cover an amazing story and tell it in multiple ways.


As a sports writer, you may be covering one story, but you’re probably writing two or three.

There’s the initial game recap – which you write while the game is in action in order to post it immediately. There’s the main recap – fleshed out with quotes and context. And there may be another feature that goes alongside your game recap.

(And that’s not even counting your social media duties! Any sports writer worth his or her salt is tweeting from press row and giving real-time insight to readers).

The point is, every night you will be expected to know how to write a quick story, and how to write a bigger story.

Let’s examine this by looking at Monday’s Celtics-Jazz game in Salt Lake City. The first version of the story to appear online was by Associated Press writer Kareem Copeland. His job as the AP “wire” reporter, is to quickly file a report on the game that can then be picked up around the world by AP subscribers. We’ll start by taking a look at his lead:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tayshaun Prince scored 19 points, and the Boston Celtics held off the Utah Jazz for a 99-90 victory on Monday night.

That’s it. It cuts straight to the chase and gives us the most relevant information – who won, when it happened, and the leading scorer.

Copeland and the AP need to get this story out as quickly as possible, so he’s not wasting time trying to be clever or flowery. He’s the meat-and-potatoes writer, just giving the important information so the story gets published moments after the final buzzer.

Following that, he just includes more related information – other key players and stats, and key moments in the game:

Tyler Zeller had 14 points and seven rebounds for Boston, which grabbed control with a big second quarter. Jared Sullinger had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Avery Bradley also scored 12.

Prince, who was acquired from Memphis in a three-team trade on Jan. 12, was 7 for 10 from the field and 3 for 4 at the free-throw line.

Gordon Hayward had 26 points for Utah, and Enes Kanter finished with 20. Reserve Trey Burke added 18 points, and Derrick Favors finished with 13 points with eight rebounds.

When you’re on deadline, you don’t mess around. Just get the story out.

So that’s the first version of the story, but not the last. If you try to publish that AP story in your newspaper the next morning or as the featured story on your web site, it’s going to look tiny and unattractive to your readers. The next version of the story is when you give a little more than facts and stats. Your deadline is a little later, so you have the time to go to the locker room, get interviews, and craft a compelling narrative with more than numbers. You tell a story that keeps your reader’s attention.

Let’s look at a recap of the same game that was published online for the Salt Lake Tribune later that night and printed in the next morning’s print edition, written by Aaron Falk:

When Gordon Hayward’s old college roommate landed in Salt Lake City, he had a request for the Utah Jazz forward.

“He said he needed me to do some laundry,” Hayward said with a smile at shootaround Monday morning. “I was like, ‘What do you think this is, dude? We’re out of college.’ “

For the first two paragraphs, we don’t even mention the game. Falk gives an anecdote about Hayward’s college roommate. It’s light, it’s fun, it gives us a little chuckle, and then it acts as a segue into the bigger story about the game itself:

In the end, Hayward would have probably rather washed shirts for former Butler guard turned Celtics’ player development coach Ron Nored than deal with happened Monday night during a mini-Butler reunion at EnergySolutions Arena.

A second-quarter collapse doomed the Jazz in a 99-90 loss, putting them in a hole so deep even a furious third-quarter comeback and 26 points and six rebounds from Hayward weren’t enough to complete the rally.

Now we’ve reached the main hook for the story – what happened in the game. But because Falk had a little later deadline, he was able to go to the locker room and talk to players and coaches, which is how he found the Hayward-Nored connection. Details like that make your story stronger, and gives your reader more than a box score. It makes the game human.

Your second version of a game recap uses the advantage of time to provide your reader with a little more. Like anecdotes and quotes:

“It was one of those problems that permeates everything,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the Jazz had dropped to 16-29 on the year. “We didn’t play hard. Maybe it’s a little more complicated than that, but we played soft as much as anything. There’s just nothing we did with any force.”

As a sports writer, you may have written your initial game recap while sitting at the press table during the 4th quarter. Then your second, fleshed out version comes an hour or two later after interviews. But you might not be done yet! Sometimes there are more stories than a single game recap can contain! Sometimes you find yourself in the locker room and find some strong stories that can’t fit into your game recap! So sometimes it means writing another feature story to run alongside your recap.

Falk saw another opportunity for a story while visiting the Celtics’ locker room. He spoke to Celtics rookie Marcus Smart about his matchup with fellow rookie Dante Exum, and turned it into a nice feature story that gave more depth to his coverage of the game.

Marcus Smart stared at the floor in the locker room, a steady beat leaking out from his headphones.

And if the Celtics’ point guard was visualizing his matchup against Dante Exum, the guy taken one pick ahead of him in the June draft, the rookie wasn’t about to say so.

The end result was quality, comprehensive coverage of a little Monday night game, but it was something that gave more to the readers. Sports readers crave as much coverage as they can get, so use your talents as a sports writer to give it to them.

It takes a combination of all of these things to be an effective daily sports writer – immediacy and emotion, providing the reader different things at different times. If you only give stats and numbers with no emotion or context, readers will be feeling empty. And if you wait until 12 hours or more to write your fleshed out recap, your readers will have lost interest. Your initial web recap acts as a promise to your readers of more things to come.

So when your freshman guard hits a game winner to send your team to the Sweet 16, you’d better get that story online fast, then give them a deeper story to read later.

How I Got the Job: Megan Parry

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: Megan Parry, meteorologist with KGTV 10 News in San Diego.

megan-parry_1401492223324_5485732_ver1.0_640_480When did you start looking for your first TV job?

I have to first start with what I wish I had learned before I went to college. Maybe it was the generation I grew up with but I had the mentality that “you go to college and get any job you want. Your major just needed to be close to what you wanted to do.” So I wanted to be a weather girl, no, I didn’t even know that what I really wanted to be was a meteorologist! I received my undergrad in Earth and Environmental Science and got an internship at KABC in Los Angeles and thought ok, I’ll get a job here and be golden. Nope!

So I went back to school, spent more money, dropped my life and moved from sunny southern California to the middle of nowhere Mississippi to get my Master’s in broadcast meteorology. I learned from my mistake and worked hard to get that first job.

I didn’t want to stay in Mississippi longer than I had to so while most students waited until their second year to get an internship, I got two internships in my first year, so I could get a paid job in my second year.

I started looking as soon as I started my Masters. I heard of 3 stations within 2.5 hours that hired weekend meteorologists from the school I attended and I knew I wanted one of those jobs my second year.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

I didn’t have a first reel…I never even made a second reel to get my second job, but I didn’t go to school with many people, if any, that had that same experience.

I had one student broadcast I sent to the Mississippi station that had an opening. I never heard back. A month later I sent the same clip…no response. School got out for the summer and when I came back a few months later I heard the position hadn’t been filled! I sent a new broadcast, still only a one 2 to 3 minute weather hit from school. They contacted me the next day and I went down for an interview. They told me they had made plans to hire someone else that week but liked me so much they told me I had the job right then and there!

When I made my first reel years later I had about a 1 to 1:15 montage of my best clips then 2 long weathers about 3:30 to 4 minutes each.

How many rejections did you get?

My second job in Oregon reached out to me before I was even applying and I took that.

When I applied for my current job I was turned down for one job for an Orange County station located in Los Angeles.

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

YES! My first job after college didn’t include a job search! My job search was a process I started WHILE I was at my second job in Oregon. I reached out to meteorologists in EVERY city I was willing to move to when my contract was up. I sent them broadcasts (not a reel) and asked for critiques and advice to work on being someone THEY would hire in the future while I was at my current job. I wanted to the best person for the job WHEN that job opened up rather than hearing critiques when it was too late! Not everyone wrote back, but the people that did, including the chief at my current job, have been valuable connections since then.

Then eight months before my contract was up I sent reels to the news director at the station I REALLY wanted to work at in San Diego and said the same thing, “here’s my reel, how can I improve now to be someone you would hire in the future.” He gave me some good tips that I worked on so I could put together the best reel when the time came.

Then a couple months later I contacted more news directors in San Diego, because that’s where I wanted to go! Every one of them contacted me back and most said they liked me but didn’t have a position and to contact them closer to when my contract was up; but one asked if I had time to talk on Friday! I about flipped! I had a mini interview over the phone and he said they don’t have a position now but may by the end of the year.

A few weeks later he contacted me and said they may have a position opening up sooner rather than later, and they flew me down for an interview.

What happened in your first interview?

The station I was at in Oregon required women to wear blazers, so when I came down for my interview they told me to not bring any blazers. In fact they asked me to bring down a few outfits for an on-air run-through I ended up doing with one of the morning anchors. I was at the station for hours and interviewed with just about EVERYONE! The news director, executive producer, assignment managers, general manager and was supposed to meet the assistant news director but he was unable to be there that day. I had been at the station years before when I applied for an internship, but it had changed since then so it was nice to see what I was stepping into.

Since I was from San Diego the interviews couldn’t have gone better because I had a connection somehow to almost every person I spoke with! There was a lot of repetition with people asking the same questions but it was more like having conversations with these people then an interview, which made me want to work here even more! I got along with everyone and it felt like a good fit.

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?

The day I was going to take the Oregon job a station in California reached out to me that I ended up turning down. When I was working in Oregon a station in Portland asked if I could fill in while in Oregon, but I had already accepted the job in San Diego and would be leaving before they needed me. I wish I had gotten that opportunity earlier and been able to do a few shifts up there! A Cincinnati station was very interested in me and was going to fly me out for an interview, but I took the San Diego job and had to turn them down.

I had applied to a Sacramento job awhile back and never heard anything. While I was waiting to hear back from San Diego I decided to reach out to Sacramento again and I’m glad I did because the news director contact info on TVJobs.com was incorrect! So they never even got my application and reel! I made up for this my going on their website and getting contact information and emailed five people at their station, surely one of them would be right! The news director called and laughed because everyone had forwarded my application to him! I told him, “hey, it got me a call didn’t it?” He told me they had already narrowed their list down to three but saw me and wanted to fly me out, I also had to tell them I was talking to San Diego and eventually had to turn them down. After I had already started in San Diego a station in Phoenix I had applied to contacted me and I told them it was too late!

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

It took a while before I got the offer. They were figuring stuff out internally so it took longer than expected. I spoke to them first in December, got the call about an opening in late January or early February. I had to send them three consecutive weathercasts in addition to the reel I had already sent. Then they wanted to fly me out but I couldn’t get time off until the first week in March. They emailed me almost every week after that but it was a waiting game while they figured stuff out. I got the call at the end of March or early April that they wanted me!

The biggest piece of advice I can give you when you get the offer, DON’T TAKE THE FIRST OFFER. They expect you to counter-offer, and if they turn you down if you do, then it wasn’t going to be a good job any way. If they want you, they are going to fight for you. I got everything I asked for, including more money. It was stressful, but I’m glad I did it.

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

I’ll finish with what I started with; I wish I had gone to college for broadcast meteorology instead of having to go back to school for my Master’s. While I’m glad I have that degree, I wasted valuable time working my way up in the industry. Maybe I’d be in LA by now! I made up for that by taking the extra steps to get back to San Diego as soon as possible.

Biggest advice I would give to a college student: get internships, make connections, make a great reel and be persistent. Don’t wait for the job you want to open up, contact them before there is a job and be the first person that comes to mind when there is a position.

Words Broadcasters Never Say

I still remember being in my first TV news meeting, way back when I was a sophomore in college. Our group would gather every morning in the TV studio to talk about the projects we would be doing together.

In that first meeting, I spoke about my plans.

“The baseball team is going to open its new stadium soon,” I began, full of momentum. “Right now they are playing in an area way out in the industrial complex of the city. It looks really bleak out there, compared to the new stadium. So we’re going to go film out there and –”

“You are going to do WHAT?” my professor suddenly said. My heart jumped into my throat.

“…huh?” I asked meekly.

“What was that word you used? That F word?”

“…film?”

My professor brought over our video camera. “Do you see any film in there?” he asked calmly.

“…no…”

“So you’re not going to be filming anything, are you?”

From that day on, I never used the word again, when I was shooting or recording video.

That was my first lesson in using the right vocabulary in my career as a visual media producer. It may seem silly to pick and choose the right words, but I learned that the way you talk about your job has a great effect on your understanding of it, and how you are perceived by your peers. You need to be able to talk the talk. Like my professor would always say, if you want a drink in the TV Engineer’s Bar, you need to sound like you know what you’re talking about.

And it’s not just about respect, it’s about doing your job correctly. If you are a TV producer, and you refer to a VO as a package, no one is going to trust you to stack a show correctly. Even if you understand it in your own mind, the way you talk about it will project confidence to your employer and your co-workers.

So let’s start using the correct terms, and eliminate the wrong ones.

The following are some of the most common mistakes I hear from young broadcasters. Cut these things out, and you are a step closer to gaining the trust and respect of your TV co-workers.

  • “Film” – Unless you are Martin Scorsese shooting an actual movie, you are not “filming” anything. You also don’t “tape” anything anymore (very few cameras still use tapes). Instead,  you “shoot,” or “record.”
  • “Episode” – You watch an episode of Friends on Netflix. You don’t watch an “episode” of TV news. It’s a “newscast.”
  • “Teaser” – drop the ‘r.’ It’s just called a “tease.”
  • Confusing the terms “Package,” “VO,” and “VOSOT” – These are three very different things, so don’t call one by the other’s name. A VO is a VoiceOver; a video that plays while an anchor narrates. A VOSOT is similar to a VO, but includes a soundbite from an interview subject (“SOT” referring to Soundbite On Tape”). And as we’ve previously covered on this site, a package is a self-contained video element that includes soundbites, b-roll, reporter voice and natural sound to tell a complete story.
  • “Outro” – Just call it a tag.
  • “Cameraman” – an outdated term. People who use cameras are “photojournalists,” “photogs,” or “shooters.”
  • “Anchorman” – Seriously, Ron Burgundy? We call them “anchors” in the business.
  • “Weatherman” – Let’s just leave the 70s behind, OK? They are meteorologists or weathercasters.

Got any other annoying phrases broadcasters should avoid? Leave them in the comments!

Out of the darkness and into the light!


“Hey, why does my interview look so bad?”

It’s inevitably the first question many young reporters ask when they sit down to edit a story. They’ve gone out, shot the video, nailed the interview, only to find that their subject looks dark and the image looks flat.

Yes, it’s the often forgotten component of shooting a good interview … the lighting.

Talking to someone on camera requires more than just pointing a camera at someone and hitting record. You also need to make sure we can actually see the person. A camera is not as good as a human eye – humans can see much better in the dark than a camera. So while you may be able to clearly see the person sitting next to you in a dimly lit room, your camera will not. That’s where lights come in. Know what you need for the given situation.

One-man-band reporting

3_3_4

Always mount a light to your camera when you are in the field.

Every reporter should be carrying a light with them, regardless of what story they’re doing. As a one-man-band, you need to get the shot and get the story. You don’t have time to lug around a big light kit, then ask the busy police officer to wait for 20 minutes while you set everything just right. So that means mounting a top light on your camera. Leave it on there while you are in the field, and when you need some light to see something a little more clearly, you can just flip it on. When it’s time for an interview, your top light will be pointing directly at your subject’s face, making it appear visible and sharp.

This interview was lit with a top light mounted on top of my camera. Without a light, your viewers are looking at a dark blob instead of an interview subject. I also chose a location with street lights to put something in the background.

“But Steven,” you’re likely saying. “What about stories during the day time? Why do I need a light then? Can’t I just use the sun?”

Excellent question! The sun is a great natural tool for lighting your interview subjects, but it’s not perfect. If you position a subject so that the sun is directly on their face, they may be well lit, but they’ll probably be squinting. Remember how your mom told you never to look directly at the sun?

Therefore, the temptation is to angle them away from the sun. Simple, right? Wrong! Just the slightest angles can cause all kinds of shadows on a person’s face.

Brian is angled away from the sun, which causes shadows over his eyes and the right side of his face.

Notice how forestry officer Brian Ballou’s entire right side of his face is in shadow. The brim of his hat is casting a shadow that blocks his eyes. His nose is casting a shadow that blocks his right cheek.

We don’t want to see shadows on a person’s face.

Using a light in addition to the sun provides you with two light sources, allowing you to light two sides of his face at once and eliminate the shadows.

In-studio interviews and live shots

To paraphrase Han Solo, good in remotes is one thing, but good in a living interview? That’s something else.

It’s going to take more than a single top light to make a formal, in-studio interview look good. So plan ahead! If you know you are going to be sitting down with someone for an interview, grab the right gear, get there early, and set it up.

Whether it’s for the president or anyone else, set up your lights ahead of time for a sit down interview.

To achieve a good look for both your subject and the background, you’re going to need several lights. For a great demonstration, I recommended checking out Lowell EDU’s Components of Interview Lighting, which not only explains the purposes and positions of various lights, but also shows step by step what each light does (my thanks to KXAN’s Rob Scott for sharing Lowell’s lighting tips).

In a nutshell, you’ll likely have:

  • The Key Light – your primary, dominant source of light.
  • The Fill Light – which helps control the shadows caused by the key light
  • A Background Light – Self explanatory. Don’t shoot interviews in front of blackness!
  • An Edge Light / Back Light / Hair Light – Sometimes you’ll use more than one. The main purpose is to give a sense of separation between the subject and the background.

Put them all together, and the result is a well-lit subject and background!

Many of those same lighting elements will also be used for a reporter live shot. Photojournalists still need to know how to light their reporter and their background so that they are clear to the viewer, even at night.

Check out this video of the components in action, and picture the subject as a reporter ready for a live shot.

Are you a photojournalist, and do you have tips on lighting interviews and live shots? Have some video examples or well-lit or poorly-lit live shots? Feel free to leave them in the comments, or email me at steven.sandberg@oregonstate.edu

 

Know Your Camera, Know Yourself

Shooting for news is not the same as shooting a movie, let alone a home movie.

Your main goal is to quickly get the video and sound you need to tell the story. You’re not trying to look dramatic, you’re not trying to set a mood, and you’re not trying to win an Oscar. Get your shots, get good audio, and get back to the station to edit it all together. But you still need to know how to do more than point and click.

To do it well, you need a camera designed for it, and you need to know how to operate it.

My third day on the job in TV news, I was sent out the door to a car crash. I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know the area, and I didn’t know the protocol for what to do at the scene of the crash. What I did know was how to tell a story, and how to operate a news camera, so I wouldn’t waste time trying to figure out how to use it when the clock was ticking on my deadline. I mounted a wireless microphone on the camera, checked my settings, and when I arrived on scene, all I had to do was focus, hit record, and start shooting my story.

You learn very quickly as a reporter or photojournalist that you and camera soon become inseparable. Part of it is practical – there’s no one else to lug around your stuff. But part of it is that you don’t want them to. Your camera is your most important piece of equipment, and being a storyteller means knowing how to make it work. It becomes second nature, to the point where you know instinctively how to use it and meet your deadline.

That car crash wasn’t going to wait for me to say “hold on, I’ve got to figure out how to adjust the iris … and wait, I need to set up my separate audio recorder … and just a sec, I need to clap to sync this up.”

News waits for no one. So know how to operate your field camera to give you enough time to get your story in the can before 5 o’clock.

For this post, I enlisted some of the most talented photojournalists, photographers, and producers working in TV news today to share the cameras they use in their daily work. One of the main things they stressed to me is that students need to learn how to actually use them. Now how to set a white balance, know how to use your audio inputs, and know how to set it up so you can work quickly and efficiently. When you are out on breaking news, you won’t have time to grab extra pieces of equipment and expect to get the shot. And when you’re editing on a deadline, you won’t have time to try to sync audio with video captured on separate equipment.

The one thing I hear consistently from reporters fresh out of J-School is ‘What? I have to shoot, write and edit a story in 5 hours? Back in school I had a week to shoot and edit a story!'” said Matt Valladao, director and photojournalist for KTVL in Medford, Ore. “Speed and efficiency are key in real world news shooting situations.”

Your news camera is your all-in-one tool. Learn how to use it right.

JVC ProHD

For most reporters, multimedia journalists and one-man-bands, you’ll likely start on something smaller and a little easier to tote around. At KTVL in Medford, MMJs and photogs use these JVC ProHD cameras. They’re relatively lightweight, and they offer good control of your video and audio settings, like white balance, iris, neutral density, and two channels of audio. Most news cameras like this will allow you some flexibility when lighting a shot or recording audio. Most will have two audio inputs, allowing you to capture natural sound from the front mic while using a lavalier mic to record an interview.

Sony NX3

Bryan Navarro is the Director of Creative Video at St. Mary’s College, but he began his career as a reporter. During his time in Tuscon, he shot his stories on a Sony NX3 camera. He loved working with it so much, when he moved into a more creative video-driven job at St. Mary’s, he brought the same cameras with him. He now uses the camera to shoot sports, including pieces like the St. Mary’s Minute, and feature stories like the one below:

panasonic_ag_hpx600pjf_ag_hpx600_camcorder_with_ag_cvf15_906083

Panasonic AG-HPX600

Eric Carlton, photojournalist at CBS 46 in Atlanta, knows what it takes to shoot video in a variety of environments – from pouring rainstorms to dimly lit rooms. He also needs to shoot video for different purposes, whether it’s a package, VOSOT, or a reporter live shot. For his position, he shoots on cameras similar to this Panasonic AG-HPX600. The camera uses a P2 memory card to store video.

“It shoots great in low light,” he says. “I also think P2 is the best card format I’ve come across. They are bulletproof in my experience.”

Sony_PDW_F800_PDW_F800_XDCAM_HD422_2_3_627521

Sony PDW XDCAM

Eric has also shot on this Sony XDCAM, which has advantages and disadvantages from the Panasonic.

It’s also a great camera. It’s lighter than the Panasonic and has better black levels after adjusting the paint profile (out of the box it looks awful). The viewfinder is crap, but I loved it. Still prefer the P2 over XD cards though. Had the media corrupt more than once on XD. The battery on that Sony lasted crazy long. I could shoot for days on a single charge.

As you can see, you could encounter a variety of ENG or news cameras in your first jobs. But the key is to practice in college and know how to tell a story, which will help you no matter what field camera you are given.

Focus less on what type of camera you’re shooting with and focus more on how you use it,” said Adam Thompson, photojournalist for KOIN in Portland. “A more expensive camera never made anybody a better photographer.”

“I would tell the students not to expect anything new and emphasize that the camera really doesn’t matter. Shooters should concentrate on the frame, light and capturing good nats/audio,” said Brad Gowing, longtime editor and photojournalist in the Northwest. “What I learned pretty quickly was the need for tight shots. They can bail you out of the corner while editing.”

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Canon XL2

The cameras you practice on could be the cameras you use. Greg Talbott, sports anchor at KNDU, got his first job and realized his camera was the same Canon XL2 he was using at Gonzaga University.

“Exact same kind as GUTV, believe it or not,” he said.”

The other key for inexperienced reporters, MMJs and photojournalists is knowing what cameras work for the situation.

An example of a DSLR camera

Something I’ve started to see is people trying to re-purpose a DSLR digital camera for use shooting news video. While these are great for taking still photographs, I don’t want young photojournalists using it for shooting news video, because it’s not what you’ll encounter when you land a TV job.

Unlike news field cameras, there’s only one audio input, which means you can’t record natural sound and interview sound at the same time. And remember, in the field, you don’t have the time to lug around a separate audio recorder to try to sync your video in the editing room. You are severely handicapping yourself by giving yourself extra work. There’s also no headphone jack on a DSLR, so you can’t monitor your audio levels anyway.

Remember, you need to work quickly with a news camera. You need places to mount your wireless mic and top light and easy to access video/audio controls. A news or ENG camera is all-in-one; plug your microphones in, adjust your focus and iris rings, and get shooting! A DSLR is better used for projects without deadlines and when you have access to a studio filled with lights and other equipment.

“DSLR is great for promos, indie movies, online video and obviously photos. You still will have to figure out how to get the best audio by adding more to the rig,” said Scott Perry, photojournalist for KDRV in Medford.

DSLRs add to creativity and look pretty, but for most daily shooting situations I feel they would be impractical. Don’t even get me started for DSLRs as a replacement for studio cams… NO WAY!” Valladao said. “I use a DSLR for side projects. It has its benefits, but I find that I keep trying to make it more like a ENG camera, by adding rails and shoulder rests and counter weights. So after using both, I would say that for shooting news, a news style ENG camera is best. They are designed to be used in tough situations, hold up in the weather. Shooting in the snow and rain and the heat isn’t easy or always fun. DSLRs aren’t designed for shooting vid and in tough shooting situations you want to have ease of use to get to your camera controls, and you don’t have that when shooting vid on a DSLR.”

Once again, the key is to be efficient with your time. If you know how to use field and ENG cameras for shooting news, they give you the ability and advantages you need to meet your deadline.

One thing to remember is as a news outlet, you are telling the story … that is the meat … not how creative you can make a shot look with shallow depth of field, 24 frames per second, etc.,” said producer and editor Chris Plouhar. “If you want to be more creative, make documentaries. Otherwise, tell the story.”

Whatever news or sports job you end up getting, whether it’s in a small market in middle America or in a bigger station, knowledge of how to operate a camera is not only essential, it’s mandatory. As a reporter, MMJ or photojournalist, your video camera is your most important piece of equipment. You carry it with you everywhere, it becomes an extension of your body, and the sight of you and your camera is how people in the world will associate you and your job.

Your camera is you. Treat it with respect.

TV’s Path Will Be Online

This is the future.

NBC announced it will be streaming Super Bowl XLIX online through NBC.com, NBC Sports Live Extra, and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. Best of all, you won’t need a cable or satellite TV subscription to do it. Just sign on, and watch all 11 hours of Super Bowl coverage from your computer or tablet.

For anyone who works in television or visual media – this is a big step. It’s an acknowledgement – finally – that the major TV networks are stepping out of their decades-old box and embracing a new way of delivering content.

The Super Bowl is the most watched television event on earth – last year’s game drew 111.5 million viewers. As a broadcaster, why would you want to limit the ability to watch something that popular? An event like that needs to be viewed in as many ways as possible

We live in an age where the ability to find and consume media is easier than ever. On an embarrassingly regular basis, my living room features shows being streamed on Netflix, games being played online through a console system, music streaming through Spotify, and news being discovered on Twitter on a phone – and sometimes all at the same time! Technology allows us to take our media with us wherever we go, at whatever time we want, and fewer and fewer people are sitting around the TV at a set time to watch the news, or watch a TV show. Streaming video through something like Netflix is much more common and convenient for viewers.

But the main holdout has been live sports. If you wanted to watch the college football championships, you needed to have a cable or satellite subscription to watch them on ESPN. If you want to see the Golden State Warriors take on the Portland Trail Blazers on a Thursday night (as I often do), you needed to subscribe to a cable package that included TNT. In an age where so many people have wanted to cut the cord on cable, the need for live sports has kept them on the hook with TV. Live sports is the only reason people are clinging to a broadcast model that doesn’t work. So let’s adapt to the reality and put live sports and other live programming online.

My hope is that NBC’s announcement signals the future. As more people abandon the outdated models of cable and satellite TV, more live broadcasts should be moved to the web. It’s already started – last night, our journalism students at OSU sat at their computers to watch a live stream of President Obama’s State of the Union Address. If sports is the only reason people still subscribe to cable or satellite, then it’s time to change and move into the 21st century. Let’s make all content available online, even if it’s in real time.

If you are a student studying for a career in media, this will be especially important to you moving forward. The traditional models of 5 o’clock news, 8 o’clock sitcom, 10 o’clock drama, 11 o’clock news is over. You need to create content that can be updated and altered as information comes in in real-time. And you need to ensure that people can access it whenever and however they want.

In an age where technology has the ability to offer any information we need on any device at the blink of an eye, it’s time we started making it a reality.

How I Got the Job: Lindsay Joy

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: Lindsay Joy, sports anchor/reporter for KHQ in Spokane, Wash.

UiG5vBjp_400x400When did you start looking for your first TV job?

I started sending out tapes right after graduation in May, but I probably should have started a month or two sooner.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

A mix of anchoring and reporting, and two packages.

How many rejections did you get?

I didn’t ever really get notified of rejections, but I probably sent out 20-30 tapes without hearing anything back at all.

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

In my first one, no. In more recent searches I’ve sent my tape out just for feedback and changed some things around.

What happened in your first interview?

It was a phone interview for a news/sports job in Casper Wyoming. We just talked about my background, the job, and what Casper was like.

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?

In my most recent job search, yes. I liked the job, but I had some other jobs in the works so I decided to see how those worked out.

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

My first in-person interview was for my job in Charlottesville. I spent the whole day with the sports director, and also interviewed with the news director for about 30 minutes. In smaller markets, the in-person interview is often a formality, just making sure they really want to hire you and that you like the place as well.

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

For all three of my jobs, the offers have come over the phone a week or two after I initially interviewed. In my experience, the news director has called and explained the offer and given a couple days to think about things and accept.

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

I think I could have started the process sooner in a couple of situations. It’s never too early to have your tape together, to send it out to people for feedback, and to start applying. Even if you’re under contract or still in school, there’s no harm in sending stuff out just to see what happens.

Run, hide, or keep shooting

Overheard on the scanner: “Police assistance requested at the scene of the fire. Homeowner is trying to attack the TV crew.”

Yes, it was me. Allow me to explain.

My third month on the job, I was sent out on breaking news when a house caught fire north of Medford. Not to sound insensitive, but I’ve always considered house fires to be a pretty standard, frankly easy form of breaking news. You show up, shoot video of the flames (oooh, fire…), grab a firefighter to get an interview about what happened, try to talk to the homeowner (although I hate shoving a camera in the face of someone going through a hardship), and take off back to the station. If you’re doing it right, a standard house fire should take about a half hour to cover.

During this incident, I had covered a few fires, so I knew the drill. I arrived at the scene and saw smoke billowing out of the windows, but no visible flames. Firefighters walked calmly across the property, spraying water while the roar of the fire trucks’ engines blared and lights flashed. After a few minutes, I caught eyes with a firefighter and asked if I could speak to someone. He waved me over to the driveway to talk.

(A brief aside – you’re not allowed to walk on to someone’s private property. It’s called trespassing. But during a fire, firefighters casually toss those laws aside, and often invite you to walk on the property to get the video you need, as long as you don’t get in the way. I once hiked in a complete circle around a burning house to get some good shots, and no one ever said a thing. If they are going to invite me on, I’m going to get my video.)

I walked up the driveway, set up my tripod, and began shooting video of what I thought was a pretty disappointing fire (no flames!). That’s when I saw a man make a beeline for me.

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” He yelled.

“Uh … I … ah,” I made vague vowel sounds trying to form words.

“You need to get that camera off my fucking property right now!” He was within arm’s reach of my camera. “Turn it off right now!”

“I’m talking to the firefighters!” I finally managed to get out. “I’m talking to the firefighters!”

My heart was racing. I picked up my tripod and brought my camera closer to me.

“You’re still recording!” he continued. Pointing at the red tally light on my camera. “Stop taking pictures of my house!”

“I’m here for the firefighters!” I was stuck in a loop, and it was the only thing I could think of to say. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was in a rural part of southern Oregon, where people protect their property like it was their children. For all I knew, this man was prepared to fight me. Or shoot me.

Or worse.

It was at that moment that a veteran firefighter stepped in, hands raised to his chest, and guided the man away from me. He took him aside, where the man continued screaming and pointing at me. I’ve never shot video faster in my life. Wide shot, medium shot, tight shot, let’s get the hell out of here! I grabbed by tripod, speed walked to my car, and put as much distance as I could between me and the crazy man.

When I got back to the station, my co-workers laughed nervously. They had heard the reports about my incident over the police scanner.

“Are you OK?”

I was. But it wouldn’t be the last time I would have an altercation while on the job.


Being a reporter means being out in the world every day. You are constantly driving to different cities and meeting people from different communities. And not all of them are going to take kindly to a young punk in a tie pointing a camera at their property. It’s not very common, but you need to know how to react in those kinds of situations. No, I never got shot at, or punched, or arrested. But I did learn that occasionally people’s attitudes and reactions will make your job very difficult. Sometimes you need to be a professional and defuse a situation. Sometimes you’ll need to be ready to defend yourself. And sometimes you just need to get the hell away.


One obvious solution to avoiding dangerous situations is to bring backup. Go somewhere with a partner or a group. There’s strength in numbers, right? One situation proved to me that it’s easier in theory.

Early one Sunday morning I hauled my gear into my little Subaru Go-Kart and took off deep into rural southern Oregon, where a small house had burned down overnight. When I say “rural,” I don’t mean “oh, there’s some farms nearby.” I mean “deep in the forest, gravel road, 20 miles from cell phone reception, banjo music” rural. Homes are hidden behind hills and trees. People who live in these areas live there because they don’t want to be found.

But alas, Sundays are tough days for news, and a fire in the middle of nowhere beats dead air.

I had arranged to meet the rural volunteer fire department chief at the scene for an interview. When I arrived, the two of us walked down the gravel road to the front of the house. From the front, the fire damage wasn’t visible, and the firefighter explained we would need to walk into the backyard to see anything.

Suddenly, a bearded man came walking toward us from down the street.

“Nuh-uh,” he said shaking his head. “Don’t be doing that.”

“Do you live here?” I asked. Maybe I’d get an interview!

“No, but I know the guy that does,” he said. “He had his house burn down, you don’t need to be takin’ pictures of it.”

“I’m really sorry, sir, I’m with channel 12. I’m just going to get some video. I’m not going to go inside or disturb anyone.”

“No yer not!” He was raising his voice now. “Get the hell out of here, you hear me? If I see you step on that property I’m gonna to kick your ass!”

This was the first time a threat had been communicated to me so clearly on the job.

Finally the firefighter spoke up. “Sir, he has my permission to go on to the property to take video.”

“Who the hell are you?” the man asked. “I don’t care what you guys are doin’ here, if you go on that property I’m gonna kick your ass!”

“Sir, please go back to your home,” the firefighter said.

The man began stomping away. “I’m watching, and if you don’t leave right now I’m going to kick your ass!”

I was in disbelief. I’d never had someone threaten both me and a firefighter. Shocked, I began to turn around to ask the firefighter what to do, and saw he was already walking back to his car!

My backup was basically saying “nope!”

He clearly wanted no part of it, and clearly wasn’t about to take a punch just so a reporter could get some video. After a few moments, he left me in the middle of nowhere with my jaw on the ground and a pissed off neighbor a short ways away. Oh, and I still didn’t have any video. And I was on my own.

Desperate not to come back empty handed, I drove 20 miles to get cell phone reception, where I called the local sheriff’s office. Surely they would protect an innocent citizen who was just doing his job! I got ahold of a deputy and explained what the man had said, and told him I didn’t feel safe out there.

“Well,” he said. “We don’t have anyone to send out there to escort you. We’re tied up today. Sorry”

What?

But the man was preventing me from doing my job! He was threatening to kick my ass, even if I was on public property! It was an unsafe and potentially dangerous situation.

“Well, it’s not against the law to say you’re going to kick someone’s ass,” he told me.

We ran the story without video that night.


My assignment one Saturday: a story on how Grants Pass police got their man. A suspect in a serious, violent crime (murder? I honestly can’t remember, it’s been so long) had been arrested in California and was being brought back to Oregon. The police report gave his address, so I went to the house to try to interview family members.

I knocked on the door, and a balding man with a harsh look on his face answered. I told him who I was, and said I wanted to ask him about the suspect. He said the suspect was his son, but that he didn’t want to talk. Civil enough. I thanked him and left.

I decided to go next door to see if his neighbors would talk. Now, as a one-man-band, you need to take your camera with you everywhere, because you never know when you need to get video and you don’t want to scramble back to your car to get it. I knocked on the door, and a young woman answered.

“Hi, I’m…” but before I could finish my sentence, she took one look at the camera by my side, and flipped out.

“Oh hell no, I am not talking to the news! You need to get the hell out of here right now!” and she slammed the door in my face.

(Sensing a pattern here?)

I didn’t even know who she was, but if she was adamant about not talking, I wasn’t going to force her. So I went across the street to get a wide shot of the suspect’s house, and that’s when the neighbor came back outside.

“You need to stop pointing your camera at the house!” She yelled from across the street. At that point in my career, I knew that it was a good idea to keep rolling at all times, so you have video evidence if something goes wrong.

“I’m not pointing it at your house,” I explained.

“Stop pointing it at that house or I’m calling the cops!” She yelled back.

“I’m on public property,” I said, motioning to the sidewalk beneath me. I had been on the job long enough to know what laws were on my side. “If you don’t want to be on TV, go inside.”

The more I tried to shoot video of the house, the more the woman would yell and get in the way of my shot. I found a neighbor across the street who agreed to go on camera to talk about the suspect, but the woman kept yelling and kept threatening to sic the cops on me, so he turned down the interview. Suddenly, the door of the suspect’s house opened, and the the father stepped on to the porch. The woman walked up to him and began talking, motioning over to me.

Whoa. The father of a murderer and their neighbors are tight. Now it was two against one. I never like those odds.

I didn’t want to see what the father of a murderer and his crazy neighbor had cooked up for me, so I drove around the block to throw them off. I spoke to several other neighbors on the back side of the house, who all explained that the house had a bad reputation. They warned me not to go near them.

The trouble was, I still didn’t have enough b-roll for my story.

As I went to my news car, I took one shot of the back of the house, thinking no one inside would notice.

They did.

Another woman came out of the suspect’s house from about 30 yards away and was coming straight toward me. I threw my gear in the car, jumped into the front seat, and locked the door just as she reached me.

“I want to talk to you,” she said through the window.

“Have a nice day,” I replied. I knew that conversation wouldn’t be healthy. I shifted the car into reverse and pulled away.

It didn’t turn out to be much of a story anyway.


Those are just a few stories of dealing with difficult and angry people on the job. Plenty more to come. Got a story to share from your own time as a reporter? Share it in the comments!