Get a job

You’ve heard it before. A news director will give you just 30 seconds to make an impression with your resume tape. Turns out that may be a generous estimate. “My rule is ten seconds or less,” news director Neal Bennett of WVIR-TV told an audience at the RTNDA convention in Las Vegas.

If you have a deer in the headlights look, you’re out. If your first package is a feature, it’s out. That means you have no idea what we do at my television station. We produce hard news.

“The one thing every news director is looking for in a tape is a reason to take it out,” said Mark Kraham, news director at WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, Md. , who got a dozen tapes just last week and doesn’t even have an opening. “Make sure it will play, that the audio and video are good quality.” And be sure you follow instructions. Kraham asks for a tape and resume. He once got a tape that was still wrapped in plastic and had nothing on it. Ooops.

Neal Bennett, news director at WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, Va., says he doesn’t care if your tape’s production values aren’t great, “I’m looking for good stories, the type we do on our local newscast, stories about government or crime, that we cover every day. Don’t include something you did when you had an internship in a top 10 market.” If you want to anchor, Bennett says, don’t apply right out of school. “I won’t even watch your tape. Our anchors need experience.”

“I’m looking for an applicant who doesn’t just know how to do radio,” said Chris Carl, news director at radio station WDEL in Wilmington, Del.

My radio reporters are using video cameras to capture audio, we post video packages and text stories on the Web. I’m looking for good writers because I think good writers can work anywhere.

What if you’re looking for a producing job? Bennett wants to see one full newscast you actually produced and include scripts. Jerry Post executive news director at KXLY-TV in Spokane, Wash., also asks for a one page critique: “Tell me why you led with a story, why you chose to tease what you did, what mistakes you made so I know you are self-aware. ”

One other piece of advice: Tailor your tape to the job you’re applying for. Don’t put an anchor segment on a producing tape, said Denise Dowling of the University of Montana, because they’ll know you’re not serious about producing. But Post said there’s an exception to that rule. If you want a reporting job and you can also do weather, put that on your tape. “I’m always looking for a back-up weather person. If you do it well, you’r tape wil go to the top of the pile.”

Where to apply? Cast a wide net, said Post.

You may be living in a place you’ve never even heard of. but It’s just for two years, and you’re going to have a blast.  You gotta get good someplace and that place might be Fargo and that’s okay.

And don’t discount radio as a place to start, Carl said. There aren’t as many jobs available but he sees far fewer applicants than his TV counterparts. “There are things you will learn doing radio, especially if you find a forward looking station like mine that does video on the Web.”

But if you’ve got “ins” use them, Bennett said. If you know that someone else from your school has worked at a station, have your professor write a letter. “In this business, it’s who you know,” said Post. That’s just one more good reason to make sure you get an internship and get the most out of it.

The new career track

For years, aspiring TV journalists have been told to expect to start in a small market where they’ll do it all–report, write, shoot and edit.  Then they could move up to bigger and bigger markets, where eventually they would only have to do one of those things.  That may not be true any more.

At the Radio-Television News Directors Association convention in Las Vegas today, news managers said they expect journalists to keep “doing it all” in the biggest markets.  “The new paradigm is that we’re all content gatherers,” said Adam Symson, vice president/interactive for the Scripps TV group.  Multimedia journalists who really can do it all for TV and online are “extremely valuable,” he said.  He advises students to produce not just a great tape but clips in AP style as well, and says his company is actively recruiting.

News director Marian Pittman of WSB-TV in Atlanta said reporters at her station are assigned “a 5, a 6 and a W”–a story for the Web site, which she called “our other channel.”  Lasvegasnow.com, the Web site of KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, has developed a new job category just for the Web called “community guide”–journalists who cover specific neighborhoods, shoot their own stories and blog for the site.

So it sounds like there are jobs to be had, but be advised–they still won’t pay much.  Pittman was especially blunt in describing the future.  Some salaries will be frozen, some will be cut drastically, she said, as the station moves to a “two-tier” newsroom, with only a few highly paid employees.