The Weekend Shift


I anchored the weekend news with Erin for more than a year.

A newsroom is a busy place.

Walk in any time between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m. and you’ll be met by a scene of what can only be described as “focused tension.” Reporters are hunched over their computer screens, eyes darting back and forth from their scripts to the clock on the wall. Producers are frantically typing and clicking, moving their show into place as the time winds down. Directors are going up and down stairs, back and forth from the production control room to the newsroom computers, making sure every video and graphic are in the system. The police scanner continues to SQUAWK every few seconds with the voice of a police dispatcher.

“Shots fired! Do we have that confirmed?” an anchor shouts to no one in particular.

A producer barks over her shoulder “I need a full screen!”


“With what?”

“A map of the area … I don’t have time to look it up!”

“What do you want it to say?”

“Shooting, something, whatever, I just need it for the cold open!”


The anchor shouts again. “Did anyone confirm that information on the location of the shooting?”

“Yes!” Three people shout back. Keyboards continue to rattle.

A reporter jumps up from his seat and scrambles to a printer to grab his script.


“How are you doing on your 6 o’ clock stuff?” A producer asks him.

The reporter doesn’t stop moving toward the door. “I’ll have to do it when I get back, I’ve got to get to my liveshot.”

“Are you going to have time?”

“I don’t have time right now to get out the door! I’ll have to swing back between live shots.”

The phone rings. “Hello, News 8? … yes, Jeopardy airs at 7 o’ clock.”

“Can you call PD on your way? Can we set up a live interview at 5:15 at the scene?”

“I’ll try. First I’ve got to get out of the door.”

“Where’s my fullscreen?” another producer yells out.


Computer mice furiously click. Anchors pick up phones and try to get in touch with officials themselves. The news director walks out of her office, surveys the scene, nods, and walks back in.

“I’ve got to go, I can’t wait any longer!” the reporter says.

As he leaves, the sports reporter walks in for his evening shift. “Hey, did anyone hear about this shooting?”



… from 3 to 5, especially during big breaking news (and sometimes even without it) the scene of focused tension is your life as a TV news employee. Get on it, and get the news.

But my first taste of TV news began in a much less chaotic world – the weekend shift.

There is a lot of activity always going on in a newsroom on a given day. But the weekends are exactly the opposite.

For the first year and a half of my journalism career, I would get up early on Saturday morning, get dressed, drive to the station, park in an empty lot, and walk in through the loading entrance.

The lights were always off, and I had to walk across a cavernous garage bay, my footsteps echoing. I would go up a set of stairs, turn to my right, and walk into the newsroom.

I was always hit by how still everything seemed. The newsroom was always empty. In those days, we didn’t have a weekend morning show, so when the evening crew left after the 11 p.m. show on Fridays, the newsroom would be vacant until I came in for my shift nine hours later. Aside from a photojournalist who was already out in the field, I was the only person in the newsroom.

Desks were empty, with the occasional paper script scattered about as evidence that anyone had been there at all. The offices for the news director, sports director and production manager were shut and locked. TV monitors mounted to the walls showed the four major broadcast networks on mute – silent broadcasts of college football, Power Rangers, or infomercials.

Computer monitors were dark. The phones were quiet. Newsroom cameras and lights were long powered down.

“SQUAWK” …we still had that, or course. The police scanner was always on. But everything else had ground to a halt.

I would sometimes walk downstairs to bring in the newspapers left on the front step. The sales area was also empty. The row of anchor portraits on the wall, normally lit by individual lamps, were smiling silently in the shadows.

I was alone from the news team. The only other person in the building was the master control operator, tucked away in his dungeon monitoring the programming feed. It always seemed like such a lonely job. I should have said hello to him more often.

The weekend shift was an exercise in solitude. And you know what? It made me a better reporter because of it. It taught me how to get along on my own.

Being the only person in the newsroom for much of the day meant I didn’t have the pressure of being watched by my bosses, and I didn’t have the safety net of having them around, either. I was my own assignment editor. I made the calls producers would make during breaking news. If something went wrong, it was on me. And if a story broke, I needed to step up and be a leader. The shift taught me how to find stories on slow days. How to contact officials on their days off. How to get crucial information without a producer or anchor backing me up. It taught me how to be a one-man storyteller.

Without an assignment editor, I needed to work with my producer ahead of time to set up my stories. And when things fell apart, I needed to buckle down and use all my resources just to find something to lead the 5 p.m. show. One slow Saturday, with nothing in the assignment board and the police scanner surprisingly quiet, I began calling all the contacts I had been making in law enforcement and public safety, looking to see if anything at all was going on. After an hour of desperate cold-calling, a firefighter contact told me they were holding a simulated fire training near the airport. I packed my gear, drove out there, and ended up with a really cool inside look at their fire training that led our show.

But the weekends were never a great source for hard news stories. Simply put, there was never much going on in the way of scandals or crime. So feature stories became my bread and butter. If there was a community event, a fundraiser, a performance, or an activity, I was all over it. My first weekend story was following around a semi-sober group of elk hunters at 6 a.m. In the weeks that followed, my stories were about trunk-or-treat events, high school service projects, fishing, and haunted houses. And I was grateful for every second of it, because it taught me how to have fun.

So many reporters aim to be a serious news man or woman – they want the lead stories, the corruption, the murders – that they feel like fun features are beneath them. But I have a ton of respect for reporters who can turn high-quality fun features because it shows that they can let their guard down and be human, and share other people’s emotions, too. If you can make an entertaining package out of a weekend event, you have the talent to do anything.

So I embraced it – for a high school fundraiser, I followed a family into a haunted house and captured every scream, shriek, and shudder. Sure, the story wasn’t going to be picked up by CNN, but I captured the moment, I had fun, and I think our Saturday night viewers did, too.

On the weekends, we weren’t afraid to let our guard down, Anchorman-style.

And that fun extended to the newsroom. We were always focused on our jobs, and we never did anything out of line, but we knew we could get away with a little more. We could play HORSE with the garbage cans, watch Cops in the conference room during dinner, creatively tease our upcoming programming (“the clock’s up next!”) or prank each other on occasion. One weekend, I once walked in, looking haggard and acting like Ron Burgundy in “Anchorman.” I’M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION!

We were always so serious all of the time, so it was nice to be able to let our guard down a little bit.

But I think the biggest benefit to starting on the weekend shift is that it taught me to be self-reliant. The news director wasn’t walking through that door. The executive producer wasn’t walking through that door. Your fellow reporters were enjoying their weekend off. And your 6 p.m. producer wasn’t going to walk in the building for five hours. When something happens, it’s YOUR responsibility. You can shirk from it, or you can fly.

On one quiet Sunday morning, I got into work, checked my email and made my beat calls to local police and firefighters. Typically, those calls were 10 seconds long, and stuck to the same script:

“Anything major happening today or overnight?”

“Nope. It’s all quiet.”

Six different phone calls. Same response. Saturday, Sunday, every week. And this Sunday was no exception. I called and got nothing, or I left a voicemail for police officers. So I looked in the assignment board, gathered my gear and traveled 30 miles north to cover a holiday art exhibit opening (sigh, weekend news…).

Just as I pulled into the parking lot in Grants Pass, my cell phone rang.

“Hi Steven, this is Lt. Hansen returning your phone message. Yeah, we’re on scene of a stabbing here on 6th street.”

Thank God I had left that voicemail that morning. Otherwise I would never have known what was going on.

My mind immediately went into overdrive. There weren’t any other reporters to send to the scene, or web editors to tweet out information. It was all on me. I quickly got as much information as I could over the phone, then tweeted out what I knew so far. I leaped back into my news car and drove the 30 miles back to Medford. On the way, I called my producer, who wasn’t set to come in for another few hours, to give her the update. I was making the call: I was dropping my other two stories and focusing entirely on this stabbing. I told her we would also need to divert our photojournalist to the scene to tag-team it. She offered something better – she was closer to the scene and could head out there while I was on my way.

25 minutes later I arrived at the scene. I touched base with my producer, who shared what she had found in the meantime. I told her I would get interviews with police and witnesses, and my plan was to shoot a package and cold open for the 6 p.m. show.

A few hours later, our newscast was on the air, covering the entire story from beginning to end. With only three employees on our shift that day, we delivered thorough content, dramatic video, and compelling interviews to shed light on the tragic story. It was a whirlwind, and it was tough, but when you are on the weekend shift, you have to step up when the time comes. Plans can change, roles can be altered, but the news goes on.

The first team I worked with on the weekend shift. Emily, Scott and (not pictured) Kirk.

Years later, our station put more resources into the weekend team, adding morning newscasts and more people to the day’s shift. If I had begun my broadcast journalism career in those circumstances, I don’t know if I would have turned out to be the same reporter. My weekend shift was lonely at times, isolating, and frustratingly difficult at others, but above all, it toughened me, and taught me what it takes to make it as a reporter on my own. I welcomed the moment when I finally moved to weekdays and got my Saturdays and Sundays back, but I don’t regret for a single second my time on the weekend shift.

Describe what you see

Describe the scene: Smoke from the wildfire created a hazy veil over the Rogue Valley, making the sun invisible and turning sunsets into an odd glow on the horizon…

Print and radio have a lot in common. The most obvious similarity is that neither a written story nor an audio story has the advantage of using videos and images. At their most basic level, both print and radio rely on their words to tell the story.

For an audience that can’t see what we’re talking about, those words are vital. They become a way for the reporter to paint the picture for their audience. Those descriptions put your audience right there in the middle of the story. And the more that you practice it, you find that sometimes you don’t even need the images at all.

Some of the best newspaper articles and radio stories have learned a lot from each other and influenced each other. Radio reporters have always done a great job of acting as the eyes for their audience, describing the setting, the people, and the actions inside their story. Meanwhile, the best newspaper reporters know the best way to make your words count – picking the best words and eliminating unnecessary sections.

Put me, the viewer/reader, in the middle of the story, and don’t waste my time doing it.

As an example of this, let’s first check out a story by Adrienne Hill on new classroom technology being offered to offenders in a San Diego juvenile detention facility. The story aired last night on the public radio program “Marketplace.”

Being inside a detention facility can be an emotional, intense experience – walking through the desolate hallways, seeing the looks on offenders faces, looking at the world through a chain-link fence – but it’s easier to just show what it’s like using pictures and video. On radio, you don’t have that luxury, so Hill became the eyes for her audience:

San Diego’s Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility feels a lot like an adult prison.

Kids exercise in a courtyard surrounded by high fences and barbed wire. Probation officers, who double as security guards, keep close watch. In hallways, offenders are forbidden from making eye contact with adults.; they turn and face the wall as we pass.

Nearly every door has a heavy lock on it, including the classrooms.

(Sounds of door being unlocked)

But, behind these locked doors, the sense of powerlessness eases a little.

Now, your audience isn’t just listening to a story about a detention facility, they are inside it. They are walking down the corridors as offenders turn their backs, they see the barbed wire on the fences, they stand outside a heavily-locked door. Suddenly, this story becomes much more real.

And when you are a part of a story, you stick around to see what happens next.

Here’s another example from NPR’s Carrie Johnson in a story about sex-trafficking laws:

In this dark apartment not far from Dallas, a young woman pushes up her sleeve to show off a tattoo of a lotus flower. The deep purple ink covers up an older mark

“If you look closely, you can still see the diamonds, so it said M and a P because that’s what his name was, and it had a chain of diamonds around it.”

M.P. was her pimp. That earlier tattoo: a brand, to show the world she belonged to him.

This time, the reporter chooses to describe the woman and her actions in that moment. We know we are in a dark apartment, and we can picture her and visualize the tattoo she reveals under her sleeve.

So in radio, good descriptions are often a necessity. But what about in a print edition, when you can easily place a photo next to the story?

Well, photos can help illustrate, but they often can’t set the scene or describe the action on their own. Consider this article about twin pole-vaulters by The New York Times’ Jere Longman:

BLACK SPRINGS, Ark. — Just off Highway 8, amid the cattle pastures, chicken houses and hog farms in these rolling hills, is Pole Vault Lane. Its short, gravelly path is decorated with pennants, and it leads to a metal building about half the length of a football field. It is a hangar of sorts, or, more accurately, an indoor runway designed to produce short but spectacular flight.

On Saturday morning, the identical twins Lexi and Tori Weeks traveled two and a half hours to challenge the national indoor pole-vault record for high school girls: 14 feet 2 ¾ inches.

A photo can show the twins pole-vaulting. It can capture the emotions as they compete and celebrate. But on its own, it can’t describe the rustic surroundings at the event. It can’t explain the conditions the pair practice and compete it, or what it feels like to have such high expectations weigh on you as you walk up that gravel road toward the hangar.

When you have the luxury of photographs it can enhance your story and make it more visually appealing. But when you don’t have it, your story can still be just as visual and just as powerful, thank to your words and descriptions.

If you are a writer, practice with your next few stories by providing some kind of description at the beginning. Take us on a walk through your setting, or tell me what your interview subject is doing while you interview them. Make me feel like I am there. And if you’re a radio reporter, focus your next few stories on connecting with your audience, be their eyes and ears and provide detailed descriptions of what you see, along with good natural sounds to enhance the sensory experience.

Your stories can make your audience feel like they are a part of it, so practice the right techniques to make it feel that way.

How I Got the Job: Sarah Schueler

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: Sarah Schueler, producer at NBC 7 in San Diego.

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 9.56.22 AMWhen did you start looking for your first TV job?

During college, I was given a lot of warnings about breaking into the broadcast news industry. Things like: you’re going to be overworked, you’re not going to make any money, and you’re going to have to move away for your first job. The thought of leaving Chicago, the only place I’d ever lived, was a bit scary. Because of that, I waited about six months after graduation before sending out those scores of applications that eventually led to my first job.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

I was lucky to have the chance to produce segments for ABC 7 Chicago while I was in school. And the people I met there were some of the most helpful I’ve ever encountered. They gave me tapes of the segments I worked on, and those became my work samples.

How many rejections did you get?

Not many rejections, but a lot of dead air. Most just plain didn’t respond. Some I played phone tag with for weeks. It was hard to always be available when I had another full time job.

What happened in your first interview?

It was a particularly crushing defeat. I remember getting a call from an unknown number while I was bowling one night. I went to a quiet area to answer and it was a news director. I was completely unprepared, flustered, and unfocused. I blew it.

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

After that, I started practicing responses to typical interview questions. The next time a station called, I was much more confident.

Did you ever turn down a job offer?

Twice, when I was looking for my second job. The first time wasn’t my choice. I had a two-year contact that wasn’t quite up. The station wanted me to leave early, and my news director said no. Sometimes that’s just how it goes in this industry. The second was just after I had accepted my second position, signed a new contract, and was getting ready to move. A station in Phoenix (a higher market then the one I was headed to) finally called back with interest in hiring me. They even offered to call the station I had signed with to try to convince them to let me out of the contract. I told them no, and that I had to honor the commitment I had already made. Even though the Phoenix station would have been a better opportunity, I still feel I did the right thing.

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

I finally got my first job offer after about a month and a half into the job search. It just fell into place. I got the phone call at a time when I was free, the interview came easy and went well, and before I knew it I was headed to Medford, Oregon.

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

Nothing, it was all a learning experience. But it did take me awhile to figure out what a news director is looking for. I quickly discovered a lot of producer candidates are really aspiring reporters or anchors, which many news director frown upon. Luckily, that wasn’t my plan, but I learned to emphasize my dedication to the producing position. I also learned to always remember, this is a business. New ideas on how to raise the ratings, how to make the shows more appealing, and how to integrate with the web and social media are always welcome.


How to Apologize the Wrong Way

We all make mistakes. It happens. Being in the media doesn’t automatically make you a flawless person. We still flub our words, forget to turn on our microphones, and yes, occasionally say things on air that we shouldn’t.

But there are no excuses for the latter. If you are on TV for a living, you need to know what words are coming out of your mouth when a microphone is clipped to your lapel. We’ve covered this before with dunces like A.J. Clemente. If that happens, and you want to salvage some shred of your dignity, credibility, and career, how you make up for it can go a long way.

But when you screw up your apology, you make it even worse.

Monday morning, Cleveland’s Fox 8 ran a recap of the previous night’s Academy Awards, ending with Lada Gaga’s “Sound of Music” performance. Anchor Kristi Capel, attempting to compliment the singer, somehow made reference to Gaga’s “jigaboo music.” Not just once, but twice, apparently not knowing that the word is a racial slur.

Naturally, Twitter blew up.

Now, for all we know, Capel had no idea what the word was (although why she chose to use a word that has only ever had a racist definition is beyond me). Let’s say she was completely ignorant of the word’s meaning because of its anachronistic nature, and saw after the show the response she was getting on Twitter. In that case, all she has to do is make a simple apology – “I’m so sorry. There’s no excuse for me using that kind of language on air. I had no idea what the word was, but now that I understand its meaning I know I should not have used it. I sincerely apologize.” Simple, right?

That’s not what Kristi Capel does.

Screen shot 2015-02-23 at 9.30.57 AMInstead, she goes to Twitter and starts hitting Ctrl+v; copying and pasting the same response to people over and over and over like a spambot.

“I do apologize if I offended you. I didn’t know the meaning behind it or that it was even a word. Thank you for watching.”

Ouch. It’s a master class in missing the point of an apology.

Let’s pull out the telestrator and break down everything she did wrong in that apology:

“I apologize IF I offended you.” If? So if I wasn’t offended, you wouldn’t have apologized? Don’t just apologize to people who were offended, apologize to everyone. You were wrong. Admit it and apologize.

“…or that it was even a word.” If you don’t know that something is a word, then it probably won’t be in your vocabulary. You didn’t make it up on the spot, you knew it was a word. Maybe you didn’t know what it meant, and in that case, say that. But no one “makes up” a word and accidentally stumbles unto a racial epithet.

“Thank you for watching.” No, no no. Everyone knows that “thank you for watching” is TV news code for “F%&# you” to angry viewers. I’ve seen reporters use it. I’ve used it in emails to angry viewer complaints, and I regret it. It makes you feel big for five seconds, and then you immediately realize how petty it makes you sound.

And of course, copying and pasting the same non-apology nine times does not make you sound contrite. Do you think Bart Simpson was really sorry when he had to write on the chalkboard at the beginning of every episode?

So Capel showed us the wrong way to apologize. Now let’s look at the right way.

Step 1 – Talk to your boss.

Maybe you started seeing complaints fly on Twitter or in your email. Maybe someone called the station. The first step is to talk to your boss and show them you immediately understand that you screwed up. Trying to hide something will only make it worse. Ask for forgiveness and work on a plan to make it right.

Step 2 – Apologize to your audience, and mean it!

If you truly understand what you did, you should know the difference between a fake apology and a real one. Don’t be mad you were caught; be mad at yourself for screwing up. Apologize in whatever medium your boss thinks is appropriate – Twitter, Facebook, station’s web site, or on-air. And again, you need to really be sorry, so don’t just apologize to “anyone who was offended.” It shows a lot of maturity to your audience and your co-workers when you actually take the blame.

Step 3 – Don’t make excuses.

I don’t care whether you thought you were in a commercial break, you didn’t know the meaning of a word, or your sense of humor got the best of you; there are no excuses for bad language or professionalism on the air. You stepped in it. And if you post something bad on Twitter, don’t try to claim your account was “hacked.” Celebrities do that all the time when they post something controversial, and no one is buying it. No one is hacking into your Twitter account just to post that the Governor looks like Sloth from the Goonies.

Step 4 – Move on.

Don’t let the mistake define you. Work harder than ever to make sure your stories are high quality. It’ll help people forget your mistake and focus on your actual work.

Step 5 – Accept the consequences.

Sometimes you can follow all of these steps and it still won’t be enough. Like I’ve repeated several times, there are NO EXCUSES in this business. You can sincerely apologize all you want, but your boss still has a business to run, and they can demote you, suspend you and even fire you. If you make the mistake, and it was entirely your fault, there’s not much you can do.

Got a story of a time you screws up on the air, and what you did to make up for it? Please share it in the comments!

Update: Capel deleted her copied-and-pasted non-apology and issued a new one.

Now that is what we should have seen when this started.

Hammering it Home: Using headlines the right way

For being one of the most prominent parts of a newspaper page, it’s also something often overlooked by editors: the headline.

Editors place so much effort on organizing schedules, assigning stories, editing articles, reviewing photos, and playing Tetris with their layout, that they often treat their headlines like an afterthought. Some editors can get so exhausted from the grind of news gathering that they sometimes just say “screw it!” and slap on whatever headline fits the news hole.

But even if the editor has the hyperactive energy of Jimmy Fallon on a coke binge, they could still end up neglecting the headline. Many editors are being taught the same things – headlines should stretch across the entire story, headlines can’t include “the,” “a” or “an,” headlines need to be formatted as subject-verb-object (“President announced plan”).

The result is that all their headlines end up looking the same.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Your headline is just as vital as the text itself; sometimes even more so, because your headline is what will grab someone’s attention in the first place. So write it and design it so that it is eye-catching.

The best way to to this is by using what’s called a “hammer headline.” These are short, punchy, printed in large-type, and attention-grabbing. It can be a phrase, a saying, or sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a complete sentence! Something like:

Coming Home

Just three words long. When it’s printed in big bold font, it draws the reader’s eye to it.

But there’s just one problem with hammer headlines – they don’t make any sense on their own. What is “Coming Home” about? Well, that’s why all hammer headlines are accompanied by a subhead, or deck below it – a smaller line that gives more information:

Coming Home

Bulldogs set to open new baseball stadium tonight


Now, our eye has been drawn to the page by the big bold hammer headline, and the deck provides a little more context about the story.

When you combine those things with photos, text, and info boxes, it works together to give the reader a complete understanding of what the story is about. The most effective page designs make good use of this design choice.

I rounded up some good examples of newspapers and web sites that used catchy hammer headlines to draw the reader in. As we can see, most of them are only one, two, or three words long, and they are used for everything from news to sports to entertainment:

Last Call: Goal line interception in closing seconds finishes Seahawks-bc009c29c61274feDrought Solution?: Some think desalination could solve California’s water shortage

Decimated: 150 structures burned in Weed

Whiteout: A blizzard stops Maine and the Northeast coldME_PPHYoung, Gifted & Homeless: For more than 100,000 students on U.S. youth, public school and college teams who have no stable place to live, sports provide a way to survive – and even thriveScreen shot 2015-02-20 at 8.20.13 AMNo Charges for Wilson: Arson, rioting erupt in FergusonMO_SLPDCuban Shift: President’s action could open flow of money and people between the two nationsCA_SDUT

The Big Dig: Despite high snowfall totals, crews able to keep roads clear

Leading the Strike: Academic experts say long battle is possible

Day of Destiny: Scotland’s 4,285,323 voters have 15 hours to decide their country’s fateBxxLXR4IIAAVzdr

Numbing Numbers: All-time low records falling across state

Pitch Perfect: US soccer star Alex Morgan has plenty of love for hoopsScreen shot 2015-02-20 at 8.19.04 AMAlmost Home: This loss won’t diminish a magic season

Justice Has Been Done: U.S. forces kill Osama bin Laden

Obama’s Night: Tops Romney for 2nd term in bruising runNew York Times 3When it’s done right, the hammer headline + deck combination, along with a dominant photo and solid story, cal keep your readers glued to the page. It’s not a conservative, traditional, or safe look, but it’s much more eye-catching. And in the end, if your headlines can’t draw in more eyes, what’s the point?


Front pages courtesy of The Guardian, Slam, Sports Illustrated, Newseum


How I Got the Job: Wiley Post

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: Wiley Post, executive producer at KGW in Portland.

dj0tr-wCWhen did you start looking for your first TV job?

I seriously began looking for work in TV News during my junior year at Gonzaga University – I chased several production jobs at the local affiliates – my thought process being it would be a great door into a newsroom and you never know where you can go from there once you get to know people. At that point I still figured I would be working as a newscast producer or technical director, so I applied for and got a part-time production job at KHQ during the summer between Junior/Senior year. This was in the last days before automation and before producers began to be expected to make their own graphics, so I was assigned as the graphics/chyron operator for the morning show. I essentially built full screens and other special graphics on an old graphics machine that was separate from the switcher/graphics system. I’d work with the show’s producer and fill his graphics needs every day. That work, and my exposure to actual real-world newsroom operations (and a shift helping out plug numbers into races on election night) totally changed my outlook for what I wanted to do. I figured out that producing was where the real journalist action was and that summer was really responsible for shifting me away from the technical/production side of things and into the news side of things.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

I think I included a couple of finished segments from Sit Down (a student-produced interview show), a package that I shot/edited/produced and an A-Block from our newscast, GU This Week. but my first job didn’t really hinge on a resume reel … as you’ll see.

How many rejections did you get?

Zero. I applied for only one job and I got it.

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

My pre-graduation plan to get into a newsroom paid off – I became a known quantity (and a solid employee prospect) for KHQ through my summer and fill-in work and I turned that into an internship there during my Spring Semester.

What happened in your first interview?

I laid out my experience at KHQ – how it had already shaped my understanding of TV News, and I explained how I felt like I was already a valuable contributing member of the team. I sold the hiring manager on my great desire to continue learning from the veterans in the newsroom and how I valued their knowledge as a way to further my professional education. And I basically laid out how I was already comfortable with the demands of a producer in the newsroom based on my internship – because during many of my days at work I was writing 1/2 to 3/4 of a newscast under the guidance of the show producer (in hindsight – way more than they probably should have let me do — but I took all that I could get experience wise)

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

I was lucky because I was already familiar with all of the people involved in the hiring process. My 2nd job hiring interview was a much more traditional experience where I was flown out to meet my prospective employers and spent an entire day on the ground with other employees/managers, etc. For the prospective employee – I think it’s very important to spend as much time as possible with other people in your prospective job when given the opportunity. You’ll obviously have lots of questions for the hiring managers, but you should have just as many if not more questions for the other producers/reporters/etc. that you get to speak with. Find out what the daily life of the newsroom is like. Find out how stories are assigned. Is it a producer-driven newsroom? A desk-driven shop? How much creative control/input do the line producer/reporter level staff actually have? Is it a micro-managed newsroom? Are people happy? This learning experience can and should go a long way toward your decision if you’re offered a job. To me it comes down to quality of life and happiness. I love TV News, but a toxic environment can ruin that fast no matter the money/title/etc you’ve got in a new job.

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

1st job: I was given an offer letter on the spot.

2nd job: I was mailed a contract offer letter and contract paperwork in the mail after my return from my interview along with a phone call explaining that the station would like to offer me the job and instructions about how to reply to the offer. I was also given a timeline – essentially, “we need to know in XX-amount of time” which was expected. Having now been on the other side of the hiring process, hiring managers can’t afford to wait on a prospective employee to think things over to excess. If you get to the point where you’re getting an offer, you should have already done that thinking and be ready to either accept or decline the offer in short order. The hiring manager is under his own deadlines to find a new employee, make a hire, move to the next candidate if no hire happens, etc.

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

I don’t think I would change anything about my hiring process the first time around. I made a pretty dedicated play to get hired on with the place I wanted to work and it paid off. However, I will say it made the 2nd job process a little more daunting because I hadn’t been through it before.

The proof is in the lead

Newspaper reporting is pretty straightforward. Newspaper writing can be tricky.

That’s because the techniques to gathering news becomes muscle-memory over time: search for ideas, research, find sources, call sources, sit down for an interview, take good notes, lather, rinse, repeat.

But when you finally plop down in your chair, open up Google Docs, and rest your hands on your keyboard, all of a sudden that momentum you built up during the news gathering process comes to a screeching halt.

How the hell do I write this?

And that uncertainty can be seen in the very first paragraph. The proof is in the lead.

When we don’t know what type of story we want to write, or how to convey our information clearly to our reader, we fall back on writing crutches – cliched leads, what we think a news lead should look like. From there, it derails the rest of the story – making it an information dump or a jumbled mess, instead of a narrative. (There are times when cliches can be useful – I’ve found that simply writing and typing can help you find a rhythm, but the key is to go back and make revisions later and eliminate the crutches that helped you reach the second page.)

Here are some of the most common cliched leads I see in newspaper stories:

“It’s that time of year again…”

“You may have noticed…” or any lead with the word “you.”

Any question lead – “Did you know that Oxford Hall is 100 years old this week?”

“On (insert date here), the (insert group name here) held its (insert event name here)…”

Any one-word lead: “Extraordinary. That was the word by attendees to describe…”

Leads that use a quote – “‘Well how about that!’ said John Smith as he read the morning’s newspaper.”

r834304_7719621When you struggle to find a way to begin your story, it kills the enthusiasm for your readers. Think back to every boring book you were forced to read in high school or college – what did they all have in common? Probably, they failed to capture your attention right away. Don’t make the same mistake with your news writing.

Students have sometimes asked what type of lead they should put on their story? Does this need a straight summary lead? An anecdote? My response is that you shouldn’t worry about trying to fit your lead into a category. Your story will tell itself.

One of the beautiful things about great news writing is that it isn’t concerned about fitting into a particular mode. The best writers aren’t running through a list of lead structures and deciding “is this a metaphor lead? Or a prediction? Or a false premise?” They find what’s interesting about a story and they tell it.

I went through a few Pulitzer Prize nominees and winners in feature writing from the last few years to get some examples of how to begin a story. First, a 2014 finalist from the Journal Sentinal, “The Course of their Lives”

The noisy, first-day-of-school chatter subsides. A hush falls over 200 students in a lecture hall at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Already, their thoughts are drifting up a flight of stairs to the sprawling dissection lab, where in two days they will meet and become intimate with something many have scarcely encountered: Death.

Khalid Sharif-Sidi, a 24-year-old from Galesburg, Ill., who has never seen a lifeless human body beyond a few seconds at a funeral, is nervous. He wonders if it will look real or fake, if the person will have tattoos or nail polish or piercings. He wants the body he dissects to look anything but real.

Next, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” from the New York Times:

The snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: “Avalanche! Elyse!”

The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.

Next up, “Disposable: Surge in discharges includes wounded soliders” from The Gazette in Colorado Springs. This series of articles won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting:

Kash Alvaro stared at the ceiling of an emergency room in January listening to the beep of an EKG monitor for what he guessed was the 80th time in 12 months. The once-healthy Afghanistan War veteran had collapsed in a hallway that night, then awakened confused in an ambulance and lurched up in alarm, swinging and yelling until the paramedics held him down and injected sedatives. Now he lay alone in a room at Memorial Hospital, quietly weeping.

Strong leads can be used in serious international reporting, too. Here’s the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner in International Reporting, titled “Authorities implicated in Rohingya smuggling networks” by Reuters reporters:

The beatings were accompanied by threats: If his family didn’t produce the money, Myanmar refugee Abdul Sabur would be sold into slavery on a fishing boat, his captors shouted, lashing him with bamboo sticks.

It had been more than two months since Sabur and his wife set sail from Myanmar with 118 other Rohingya Muslims to escape violence and persecution. Twelve died on the disastrous voyage. The
survivors were imprisoned in India and then handed over to people smugglers in southern Thailand.

And finally, the 2007 features writing award winner, “Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam’s Future” from The New York Times:

The young Egyptian professional could pass for any New York bachelor.

Dressed in a crisp polo shirt and swathed in cologne, he races his Nissan Maxima through the rain-slicked streets of Manhattan, late for a date with a tall brunette. At red lights, he fusses with his hair.

What sets the bachelor apart from other young men on the make is the chaperon sitting next to him — a tall, bearded man in a white robe and stiff embroidered hat.

“I pray that Allah will bring this couple together,” the man, Sheik Reda Shata, says, clutching his seat belt and urging the bachelor to slow down.

In each of these leads, the writers explained something or showed something. They put us at the scene of an avalanche or into the minds of medical students. Each of these writers asked themselves, what would the story be like from the point of view of those involved? Then, they used those perspectives to allow the story to tell itself.

As a writer, you need to learn to take yourself out of the story, and almost out of the process itself. Don’t worry about writing a story, focus on telling one.

For more information on writing news leads, Poynter has a nice collection of good ones here. On the other side, a Scientific American blog has a fun look at the different lead cliches writers use. Check them both out!

How I Got the Job, and Why I Got a New One: Bryan Navarro

We all know by now that landing your first job in TV news isn’t easy. But sometimes an even more difficult decision is figuring out whether to LEAVE the TV news business.

This week, we speak to Bryan Navarro, Director of Creative Video at St. Mary’s College of California. Bryan previously worked as a reporter and multimedia journalist in Medford, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz. In this edition of “How I Got the Job,” Bryan explains how he first got into TV news, and why he ultimately decided to leave the news business to put his talents to use elsewhere. For any aspiring broadcasters, this is a must-read.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 10.46.30 AMWhen did you start looking for your first TV job?

I didn’t start looking until about a week before graduation. I also didn’t know I wanted to work in TV News until about two months before Graduation. I knew I’d be looking in some sort of video production field – TV, films, documentaries – but I didn’t know exactly which industry. I set up my first account just before getting my diploma.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

Most of my work up to that point had been sports, so it was as much high energy work from that as possible. I went out and shot a package specifically for it. I didn’t do much news work in college. Boy, am I going to regret this but some searching of my old email account turned up the link to my first reel.

How many rejections did you get?

None. Also, I only applied to one place. Super rare that this happened. A friend who graduated a year ahead of me had starting working at a station. He called me at the end of senior year saying there was an opening and he could recommend me. I put my reel and resume together and he put it on the Asst. News Director’s desk. That friend was Steven Sandberg. To whom I am eternally indebted. But not financially.

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

No, but I was insanely lucky. Apply to a variety of places or jobs. Give yourself options so you don’t HAVE to take a job somewhere you don’t want to.

What happened in your first interview?

The station’s General Manager called me cold. I didn’t know he’d be calling. I happened to be at an airport at the time and I tried to find the quietest corner of the terminal so I could think. We spoke for only about 10 minutes. He asked what I was good at and what I needed to improve at- shooting, editing, writing or being on-camera. He asked if I had good news sense. I don’t remember much else. But it was only ten minutes of over the phone before he offered.

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

I had in-person interviews in San Diego and in Tucson. You meet a lot of people and they just try to get a feel for who you are. Do you know what you’re talking about, can you think critically on your feet, are you a good person, can you get along with your potential coworkers. Also, there are a lot of meals. I had four meals in my two-day interview in Tucson and one dinner (at an Indian place) in my evening interview in SD.

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

The first job timeline went like this:

June 1: Applied

June 14: Phone Interview

June 16: Phone Tag Game

June 18: Offer/Phone Tag Ended

June 21: Accepted Offer

I played phone tag for a while with the General Manager who conducted the phone interview. We finally caught up on Friday and he said something like “We like you and we’d like to have you join our team. We ask for a two-year commitment. And we’d pay you $20,000 for your first year and $22,000 for your second year.” I asked for the weekend to decide, but I pretty much knew right then and there that I wanted to take it. It was only a six-hour drive from home, I knew someone who was working there, and didn’t want to risk saying no, then getting rejection after rejection from places across the country.

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?

I did later in my career. I was working in Tucson and had an interview with a station in San Diego, which was always my dream market. Who wouldn’t want to live there? The in-person interview went great and I liked the News Director and the station. He offered, but I turned it down because, in my heart of hearts, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I knew that I didn’t have the passion for news that the rest of the station did. I just wasn’t as fired up about the work as I should have been in that job. That, plus I wanted to try a different line of work. But it was almost impossibly difficult to convince myself not to take a job in the city I’d dreamed of working in.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 10.49.15 AMWhat ultimately led to your decision to leave TV news?

It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I had to choose between trying to break into a new industry that interested me or taking a job that appeared to be the logical next step in my career. I decided to pursue producing videos at a college. I didn’t know the industry or what it took to be good at it, but something about colleges and universities always fascinated me. There’s something magical about the youth, energy, optimism, and commitment to learning and growing at a college. I wanted to be part of that. That thought had always been tucked away in the back of my mind.

I had also become a bit disillusioned with TV news. Because of the particular role and timeslot I worked (morning MMJ) I was setting up and shooting my own liveshots. I had fewer opportunities to do interactive live hits, didn’t get to enterprise my own stories, and was often covering breaking news. Looking back on it, I think, management and my coworkers were upfront with me about that aspect of my position, so I knew what I was signing up for. But I wanted to try something more.

It seems like an easy decision to simply follow your heart and go after what you want. But it’s daunting to leave an industry you understand and are good at for complete unknowns. Ultimately, I made the change because I wanted to try to conquer something new, sooner was better than later and I would never know if I liked it if I didn’t try it.

Screen shot 2015-02-10 at 10.27.47 AMWhy do you feel your new position at St. Mary’s is a better fit?

My position is a brand new one and I love figuring out how this job should work. The College and the Athletics Department (which are two separate entities) have never had a full-time videographer position before. I work 80 percent with Athletics and 20 percent for the College. I’m blazing new trails everyday, figuring out the best ways to complete a project and what to emphasize. I love growing and getting better at as many aspects of this job as possible. I’m trying to learn more about marketing, cinematography, storytelling, and reaching a varied audience (high school students to 70-year-old alums). Most of all, I love working with students. I had some great mentors and I want to be able to be that kind of mentor to others. I think I’d eventually like to be a professor. But that’s another career-change away still…

Competition and Kindness

Between live hits on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse. From left: Whitney, Katie and Paul from KTVL, myself and Julian from KDRV, and Will from KOBI.

I get excited over the Portland Trail Blazers, and sometimes I like to share it. A lot. Online.

It was April 2010, and the Blazers were in the playoffs. As I watched the game on TV, I live-tweeted the contest, sharing my highs, my lows, my elation and my frustration as the game went back and forth. Nothing salty, nothing mean-spirited, and nothing directed at anyone in particular. I was still in my first six months at my first TV job, so I was still getting used to the area and to the people. Live-tweeting was my way of adjusting to living in a new place and maintaining some normalcy.

It was some time in the fourth quarter, right in the heat of my frenzied tweeting, when it popped up in my feed.

“non stop twittering during a basketball game? Two suggestions: find a friend, or get a play by play radio job. Seriously?”

It was sent by an anchor at a competing station in Medford. I had never met this man before. Never spoke to him, never even tweeted at him. And it cut me like a knife.

Was this the attitude I was to expect from members of the “competition?” Was this the way we were expected to treat each other?

Welcome to Medford, kid. Now shut the fuck up.

When you begin your first media job, one of your first goals is to get to know the people at your station. After all, you’re living in a new city, hundreds if not thousands of miles away from home, so your new co-workers are often your first link to making new friends.

Not quite as obvious, though, are the relationships you will forge with people at the other stations in town.

You’ll be interacting with them on a daily basis, too. You’ll be out covering the same stories and conducting interviews with the same people. You’ll be waiting around at the same press conferences, looking for someone to talk to in order to pass the time. You’ll be lined up almost side-by-side for live shots from the same area. The people at your competing stations will be almost as close to you every day as your co-workers.

Many of you will be the same age. You’ll be working your first jobs, making the same low pay, drinking the same cheap beer, and pining for the same goal of a new job in a bigger city.

And you’re also competitors.

I’ve worked various jobs in my life, and in the free market economy, you want your business to do well. But I never thought that I wanted my competitors to fail. But news can be like that. News directors, managers, and corporate types want their station to get all the eyes, all the viewers, all the money. And they want the other stations to fall flat on their face. That cutthroat attitude is easily passed on to overzealous producers, who don’t just view the other stations as competitions, but as enemies.

I once saw a producer log on to Twitter, and saw she was being followed by an anchor at another station in town. Suddenly, my producer seemed to get agitated at the idea. “Why is she following me? I don’t want her knowing anything or getting any information.”

She then blocked her. Gleefully, I might add. For no other reason than she was from a competing station.

That’s the attitude some people have about their competitors. And I wholeheartedly disagree.

You can talk to each other. You can tweet to each other. You can say hello on a story. It’s OK. Your ratings are not going to plummet as a result. TV news people and their colleagues at other stations have so much in common. Embrace it. Make new contacts and new friends.

The tweet I received from the competing anchor (who will remain nameless, for the sake of his bloated ego), was one of my first interactions with someone from another station. And it could have changed the way I approached my job and the people I met. Your first interactions with people as a 23-year-old reporter can have a big impact on your life.

But I learned very early on that you have nothing to gain from being an asshole to people.

News directors hate the idea that people from different stations can act nicely to each other. In their mind, saying hi is a slippery slope to revealing vital station secrets (and with sweeps coming up!). But that’s not the reality. We talk, we see how much we have in common, and yes, we even hang out or move in together. Believe it or not, we can separate our personal lives from our work lives.

Some of my best memories came from hanging out with co-workers and competitors. The guitarist in our band was the director at another station. Members of all three stations went out for drinks, and watched the Super Bowl together. We even got members of the TV stations and local newspaper together for a kickball tournament.

And when we all covered the same fire, we would sometimes come back with suspiciously good-looking standups. “Uh, there was a firefighter out there who was good with a camera…”

Why? Because we were all in the same boat.

Of course, we knew where the line was. We are professionals, after all. We never shared story leads or station details. And if a reporter was trying to poach an interview that I was shooting, or stand in the background of my shot, sometimes I needed to chew them out. I learned you had to be firm when someone else’s actions could affect your job.

While on an assignment covering a small plane crash outside Medford (no one was hurt), we were setting up for a live shot near the wreckage. A competing station had set up a short distance from us, when I noticed the reporter was standing inside the perimeter of the police caution tape – a major problem, because plane crashes were federal investigations. I didn’t need federal agents looking into why Medford reporters were interfering with their crash scene, so I called out: “Hey, watch the line, it’s a crash scene.”

The reporter didn’t look my way. “Thank you. Don’t worry about it,” he said, waving his hand dismissively.

Despite my protests, he stayed. After the live shot, I approached him and explained about the legal risks of what he did. I told him his actions could get all of us in trouble.

“Ok, well, thank you for your concern,” he said passive-aggressively, not able to look me in the eye. “But why don’t you let us worry about our own live shot. OK?”

I explained again how his actions affect everyone else, and he walked away. I had never had an issue with him before, but he was being disrespectful and breaking the law. You have to call out people like that.

But those rare interactions cannot affect your overall demeanor with your competition. You may not be best friends, but you need to know how to get along in the field. Know how to do your job without being at each other’s throats.

I always tried to say hello when I met new reporters in the field. I made it a point to welcome them to Medford, and ask where they were from. And I tried to hide my grimace when they asked me how long I’d been in the market (pro tip: if someone tells you they’ve been at the station for four years, don’t remark “Wow!” You are not below your job. Even if you don’t plan on being in the city for long, don’t look down on someone’s home.)

Maybe I would never become their best friend, but I knew a warm greeting went over better than a mean tweet, or a passive-aggressive argument. I knew that meeting someone with a smile will mean so much more to a person in their first job.

I knew all of this, thanks to Carolyn Carver.

In my second month on the job, I was sent out to a car wreck a short distance from the station. I didn’t know many people yet, and I didn’t know whether I was any good yet as a reporter. Basically, every day was terrifying.

While I was at the scene, with police lights flashing, and two wrecked cars taking up most of the highway, I sensed someone walking up to me from my right. I turned and saw Carolyn, who was the top reporter at KTVL. I had seen her work and knew she was as good as it got in our market. I immediately got nervous that she was going to tell me to get out of her shot, or try to step past me to get an interview.

Instead, she smiled.

“Hi!” She said, extending her hand. “I’m Carolyn! You must be Steven.”

I shook her hand. She continued:

“You’re doing a great job so far! Welcome to Medford! If you ever need anything, let me know. See you around!”

And that was it. The whole conversation barely took 30 seconds before we were both back to work.

But those few moments completely lifted my spirits. It showed me how far a smile and a friendly greeting can go for a young reporter new to an area. Carolyn’s warm welcome stuck with me to this day, and I made it a point of saying those same things to each new reporter I met. Hopefully their day was a little less scary as a result. Hopefully they passed those same things on to new reporters they met, and made the world of TV news a better place.

Thank you, Carolyn Carver, for showing me that, even from a competitor, a little kindness goes a long way.

How I Got the Job: Derek Kevra

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: Derek Kevra, meteorologist with Fox 2 News in Detroit.

When did you start looking for your first TV job?

The second semester of my senior year in college was my “crunch time” for preparing for my job search. I interned during the summer and after getting back in the flow of college, I finally turned my attention to reviewing my material from the internship and picking out the best stuff with four months to graduation.

Do you remember what you included on your first tape?

I had two sets of video that I was thinking of incorporating in my tape: my internship video and my student TV station video. I remember thinking it was important to include pieces from both because I wanted to show I’ve done different things, even though the video quality was so bad from the student TV station. In my opinion: just show the best stuff. Variety isn’t important, high quality material is.

How many rejections did you get?

I signed with an agency while I was still in college so I’m not sure how many tapes were sent out and never responded to, but I’m sure it was a lot. It’s always a lot. The annoying part is that you often don’t get a rejection email, you just don’t ever hear back.

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

I didn’t have to change anything about my search, but I did make sure to do all the appropriate homework before each interview. Find out what their top stories are, news directors/general manager names, anchors, reporters names, etc. It is always helpful to be able to say, “I noticed you grew up in northern Michigan. My family has a place up there! Have you heard of Houghton Lake?” Or something like that.

What happened in your first interview?

When I was applying for jobs there must have been something going on in Medford, Ore., because I had interest from competing stations in the market. I got phone calls from both stations and we had about 30 minute phone interviews. Usually for first jobs the stations won’t fly you out for the interview (in fact I hear more and more are doing Skype interviews) but I figured there was a pretty good chance I’d be working for one of these stations so I bucked up and flew out there myself to have in person interviews. While the questions were all pretty standard, the length was not. I found myself at each respective station for eight hours, meeting with the news director, producers, chief meteorologists and GM’s.  They also wanted me to stick around for the 5 p.m. newscast. I have found this to be standard operating procedure at every other place I’ve ever interviewed.

Side note: one place I interviewed for had me take a timed test with questions like: “write the intro to this story” and “what is the important detail here”. This was interesting to me because I was clearly a meteorologist, not a reporter, but they were interested in how much I knew about everything. Kind of the way the business is working these days.

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Why?

I have turned down two jobs in the past for various reasons. The first time I was forced to because I my current station was exercising their ability to match during my “out year.” That was tough to swallow. The second time was a personal choice to stay at the station I was at because I really liked it and was enjoying the city and my life. It would have been a move up career wise, but sometimes the market number isn’t everything. I reflected on what was important to me at the time and decided to stay where I was. Two years later, the same station had a different opening and I took it. I was ready the second time around!

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

Since I had an agent, they made the offer directly to him and he called me telling me the details. We would then talk it out, decide if we wanted to discuss anything else (professional dues, hair, makeup, etc.) and he would call them back. It was nice not having to play hardball directly.

One news director though told me he didn’t want to talk to an agent and instead spoke with me directly. I obliged, but would always take the info back to my agent, discuss with him, and then go back to talk with the ND.

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

I would stress less. Right after college ended I thought, “I have student loans! I need to make money now!” There will be plenty of stations that will be interested in you and plenty of opportunities in life. Work hard, be prepared and relax.