How To’s

5 Tips for Getting Started in Broadcast Journalism

Broadcast journalism is a profession that requires knowledge, hard work, and commitment. It is not a profession for the faint-hearted, as it requires ample time for preparation and presentation. Like other media, the advent of digital platforms and the Internet has led the field to evolve quickly in a short period of time, requiring aspiring broadcast journalists to master many new skills than their more traditional predecessors ever needed.  

Here are just a few tips to get on the right track and set yourself up to become a successful multimedia journalist (MMJ) in the 21st century:

Getting the right education

A proper education doesn’t just get you certifications that will boost your resume and get you in the door, but gives you well-rounded training in a field that is constantly changing. NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism school has working, experienced faculty members who keep up with the current industry landscape and can share that experience with their students.

As part of the New York Film Academy, NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism school also applies a large focus on the technical aspects of digital broadcast journalism — producing and shooting video, editing, on-camera presentation — skills that multimedia journalists will need to learn in order to be successful in a digital landscape.

Broadcast Journalism Reporter

Getting industry experience

Maneuvering interview rooms with little or no experience will prove unfruitful in broadcast journalism. Getting the relevant experience is thus a fundamental aspect of a career in broadcast journalism.“A graduate may intern for a company to get the necessary experience,” explains Steve Doane, Career Coach at ConfidentWriters.

Additionally, entry-level jobs as production assistants or post-production assistants can be key to working your way up the ladder into more significant positions. Learning the practical skills needed for multimedia journalism, such as those mentioned above as taught by NYFA, are a solid way toward earning those entry-level jobs.

For MMJs, it is also essential to have some experience with social media. In an increasingly networked modern era, mastering the use of social media sites as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great assets for news anchors, and thus part of your training at NYFA’s broadcast journalism school.

Networking 

Creating a network is a key step in journalism. Budding journalists should join such professional organizations such as Society of Professional Journalists, which also provides tons of helpful resources for broadcast journalists, by broadcast journalists. Additionally, keeping close ties to the community of journalists as a whole will help you stay up-to-date on the latest trends, as well as career advancement opportunities.

Learning From the Best

NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism school not only utilizes working professionals as faculty members, but often has high-profile guest speakers come and speak to students directly about their careers in the industry. Learning directly from those who have come before you and made similar journeys can be immensely beneficial.

Watch as many lectures, interviews, and videos with industry professionals and leaders on YouTube and other platforms as you can, absorbing their insight and advice and avoiding pitfalls they’ve come to learn the hard way.

Seeing these speakers in person, however, affords even more benefits, as you may have the opportunity to ask them questions directly. Past guest speakers at NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism school include Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), J.P. Olsen (VICE NEWS TONIGHT), and Sharon Hoffman (Entertainment Tonight.)

Broadcast Journalism Reporter

Stay focused

Broadcast journalism is competitive and tough. However, with focus, determination, and commitment, a graduate can go very far in this industry. Set goals and work toward them. Such focus can potentially see a journalist through from an entry-level position to a reputable job with an established news or media company, such as NYFA Broadcast Journalism alumni George Colli (WTNH), Lea Gabrielle (Fox News Channel). Grace Shao (China Global Television Network), and Nicolle Cross (ABC, Austin, TX affiliate).   

Apply Now for a Broadcast Journalism Program

Written by Paul Bates

Paul Bates is a writer and storyteller at BeeStudent and Essay Task educational platforms and a contributor at HuffPost and Buzzfeed. Also, Paul is an online tutor at PaperResearch service.

8 Things High School Students Can Do to Become Broadcast Journalists

More than ever, high schoolers are urged to make big career decisions as early as possible. In a competitive career like broadcast journalism, making smart choices before you even get to college is immensely helpful. If you want to have a career in media, follow these tips to set yourself apart from other applicants when the time comes:

Start a blog.

man-791049_1280

Being able to show a wide variety of writing clips is essential, even if you would rather work on radio or television. Proving you can communicate news or other information through writing demonstrates you are able to effectively and creatively process your thoughts. There are plenty of free blogging sites like WordPress, Tumblr, Weebly, and Wix. Choose a blogging platform that is best for you, and make regular blog posts.

Volunteer to write for your school’s newspaper or literary journal.

Screenshot 2017-08-02 12.28.25

If your school has its own student-run publication, volunteer as a writer or editor. Just like writing blog posts, having a portfolio consisting of a variety of writing or editing examples heightens your chance of finding a job in journalism.

Work on the morning announcements.

Some schools also have morning announcements that appear over the intercom, maybe even a special channel that airs on schoolwide televisions. Ask if there are any openings or a class to enroll in so you can get involved.

Become an editor of your school’s yearbook.

friends-2347530_1920

If you want to prove you can help produce a great collaborative media project, then consider joining as an editor of the school yearbook! Not only is it mass produced and seen throughout the entire school, you’ll have your own copy as a portfolio piece!

Follow news media, both on screen and in print.

Too many students interested in pursuing journalism think they don’t need to follow current trends in media. In an ever-changing career, keeping up with local, national, and international media is incredibly important. Making a regular commitment to watch and read the news will keep you learning and motivated every day.

Seek out opportunities for experience, paid or unpaid.

press-2499853_1920

You may notice a lot of entry-level broadcast journalism jobs require a good deal of experience. Keep an eye out for internships at local news or radio stations. In high school, you may only find unpaid experience. While you might not want to give up extra free time without monetary compensation, investing your time into a career-related opportunity is worth your attention. Once you graduate college, strictly pursue paid opportunities. After all, you’ll be a pro by then!

Look for great journalism programs in higher education.

When searching for the right college, ask yourself if the colleges you are considering have reputable journalism programs. How many of their alumni have found jobs within their field of study? How prepared did they feel? Consider reaching out to someone who graduated the program to ask these questions.

The New York Film Academy’s Broadcast Journalism School offers students a competitive edge as multi-media producers, with hands-on training in writing, producing, filming, editing, and distributing their own stories. If you’re ready to take the next step, apply here.

Don’t take rejection as a completely negative experience.

Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough to do broadcast journalism. It means that you need to pursue another opportunity, no matter how many times you need to do it. Even with a lot of experience, broadcast journalism is a tough career to break into. Consider expanding your options to other opportunities within journalism. If you’ve had your heart set on being a television anchor, give radio a try. You might find that you actually like radio more, or vice versa.

BONUS: Attend a NYFA Summer Camp!

If you’re really itching to get genuine journalism experience in the heart of the industry — New York City itself — you may want to apply to NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism Camp for Teens. You’ll learn from broadcast journalists who are active in the field in one of the world’s most competitive cities, while you learn real-life skills and write, shoot, and edit your own projects. Each student produces two projects, shot with single-camera setups and edited on industry-standard editing software. This intensive workshop provides a strong introduction to necessary digital and journalism skills.

 

How Facebook Live Will Impact Broadcast Journalism — And How You Can Take Advantage of It

The rise of social media has had a permanent impact on the craft of journalism. More articles are being circulated than ever before, viewer criticism is on the rise, and the danger of “fake news” has made social media both a curse and a blessing for journalists. One of the most recent impacts on journalism is the rise of Facebook Live, a feature of the social media site that allows users to stream a live video to viewers. It is used more and more by journalists, celebrities, and even politicians as a way to connect with their audience in real time. The feature also allows viewers to comment on the video and displays how many people are viewing the video as it happens.

Large TV networks and the news departments at local stations are increasingly using Facebook Live because that’s where the millennial audience is. For freelance and independent journalists, Facebook Live is their “transmitter,” allowing them to compete for viewers without investing millions of dollars on technical infrastructure. Like any skill, successfully covering a “live” event takes practice. Inevitably the first few attempts will be rough. But over time, you can begin developing the necessary abilities. One way to speed up that process is to attend a broadcast journalism school like the New York Film Academy, which specializes in helping students develop their storytelling and journalism skills.

With the popularity of Facebook Live, it is important for broadcast journalists to take advantage of this new technology. The broadcast can become more spontaneous, interactive, and entertaining. Furthermore the Facebook page is likely to have more user traffic at any given time. But it is important to know the best ways to utilize this tool before hitting that “Go Live” button.

How can you use Facebook Live to your advantage? Luckily Facebook has tons of tips on the best way to go live and get those views. We’ve summarized some helpful hints, below:

Before Recording

press-1015987_960_720

Ready, set, LIVE!

According to Facebook, preparing for the live stream is just as important as the live stream itself. Make sure you tell your viewers you are going live beforehand. This gives them time to be ready to view the video and also builds anticipation for the event.

Ensure that you have a strong Wi-Fi connection. You run the risk of losing viewers if your feed goes out or lags during the stream.

Also make sure that your viewers will be able to hear you. Whether you are recording a speech, event, protest, or a simple Q&A at your desk, test the area to make sure there is no sound interference. You can do a test live recording by changing the share options to “Only Me.” This will allow you to use the live feature, but you will be the only one to see it. After recording, check the archived video to listen for any issues like traffic or a noisy AC unit.

During Recording

apple-1836071_960_720

Is this thing on?

Decide if you are going to answer questions during the recording. Viewers’ comments will appear next to you on the screen. Encourage people to ask questions and participate in the conversation.

Remember to smile and be relaxed during the recording. Because you are live and could potentially have thousands of eyes on you, it is easy to get stage fright. Acting comfortable and personable during the broadcast is important to make the viewers feel comfortable watching you. If you do suffer from stage fright, look up some relaxation techniques to do before you go live.

After Recording

social-network-76532_960_720

You’re done! Now what do you do?

Your video will be archived and posted on your Facebook page with the title that you “were live.” Update the description, thanking everyone for viewing and encourage them to follow you. This way they will be notified the next time you go live. Use this time to answer any questions you didn’t get to (if you are answering questions).

You are also able to check the stats for you video afterwards. Facebook has options for you to view peak live viewers, minutes viewed, 10 second views, and more. Use this data to find out how well you did and what you can do better the next time you go live.

Happy broadcasting! Have you shared any broadcasts via Facebook Live? Let us know in the comments below!

Marketing Your Podcast: 7 Newbie Mistakes

Marketing Your Podcast: 7 Newbie Mistakes 

How do you attract new listeners to your podcast and increase downloads? There’s a myriad ways to do this and their effectiveness depends hugely on the type of podcast content you’re producing, but there are some surefire pitfalls that’ll likely see you never move out of single digit listener figures…

… today, we’re looking at some of the most common mistakes both amateur and pro podcasters frequently make.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.39.09 PM

For the purpose of this post, we’re going to go ahead and assume that you’ve already begun posting episodes and have a dedicated podcast website to promote (if not, the most popular free podcast hosting sites to check out are Podbean, Libsyn, Podomatic and Buzzsprout.)

1. Not Putting Your Podcast On iTunes

Apple has long had the monopoly on podcasting — and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. While there are plenty of other services to tap into that listeners favor over iTunes, you’re hamstringing yourself if you don’t play ball with the big daddy.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.43.34 PM

The main reason podcasters don’t upload to iTunes is that they’re daunted by the complexity of it all. In reality, it’s surprisingly easy to get listed; most hosting services automate this process, but even if you’re doing it manually, Apple has released a step-by-step guide that doesn’t take long to follow.

Once you’re on iTunes, don’t forget to urge your listeners to leave reviews. Common consensus is that this is the main metric Apple consider when it comes to placing your podcast prominently on the store.

2. Not Putting Your Podcast Anywhere Else

Because iTunes is only the first step.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.55.26 PM

Having your own podcast website as a one-stop shop for all the episodes is fantastic. But the problem with relying on your website alone is that unless you do extensive SEO work, your website won’t do much to put itself in front of the eyeballs of anyone who isn’t already looking for it.

Sites like YouTube and Soundcloud, on the other hand, do much more. Although an element of luck is involved, reproducing the podcast there at least creates the chance that the sites’ algorithms will auto-suggest your content to new people. If you’re looking at other sharing platforms, you’re missing a trick. Try to hit as many platforms as possible.

It might seem counterintuitive to diffuse the podcast across numerous places, but a listener is still a listener — and a decent portion of people will follow the description links back to the original source, i.e. your main website.

This point leads us neatly onto…

3. Depriving Your Listeners of Follow Options

We’ll be the first to admit that it can feel like a bit of a chore maintaining increasingly numerous social channels and making sure a podcast works for all devices, but in this day and age it’s extremely important to cater to all potential listeners.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.35.44 PM

Just expecting people to revisit the website to see if there’s any new content won’t work. People want notifications.

A working RSS feed is essential, and you’ll hopefully already be on iTunes. But don’t neglect Android users, and bear in mind that some people still prefer to get their notifications via old-fashioned email.

A quick way of doing this? Simply use the following code courtesy of Blubrry.com – just remember to add your own podcast url:

Android:

<a href=”http://subscribeonandroid.com/YOURPODCASTURL/” title=”Subscribe on Android”><img src=”https://assets.blubrry.com/soa/BadgeLarge.png” alt=”Subscribe on Android” style=”border:0;” /></a>

Email:

<a href=”http://subscribebyemail.com/YOURPODCASTURL/feed/” title=”Subscribe by Email”><img src=”https://assets.blubrry.com/sbe/EmailBadgeLarge.png” alt=”Subscribe by Email” style=”border:0;” /></a>

Both of those will generate a little button that listeners can click on and get instant notifications via their method of choice. Add these to the website’s sidebar (along with your RSS and iTunes links) and they’ll have plenty of options to keep up-to-date with new episodes.

4. Making Your Podcast’s Concept Convoluted

Very few people want to hear someone monologuing for an hour without any structure (and one-person podcasts are rare, as we cover further down). So it’s especially important to have a strong hook if you want to snag a listener’s interest and stand out from the crowd.

This hook doesn’t need to be a “gimmick,” per se; it could be a niche topic that few other podcasters are addressing, or a novel concept for the format.

Whatever you do, make sure you can explain it in one sentence — much like a good book or film. “Two women review classic film noir movies” is strong; “two women watch old movies while drinking beer and talking about the news that happened last week” isn’t.

5. Not Investing in Your Podcast’s Audio Quality

Given that podcasting is an audio-only medium, it’s surprising how many podcasts currently active feature extremely low-quality audio. Needless to say, very few (read: none) of them ever make it into charting positions.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.37.46 PM

Don’t be one of them. A good mic is obviously important, but don’t skimp on quality headphones either. If you’re listening back to the podcast on your laptop or phone speakers while editing the episode, you’ll never get a good handle on the levels without great headphones.

To go above and beyond in the quest for audio quality, you may want to also invest in an above-standard hosting package that offers more than the standard free packages available through most services. You’d get more control, a dedicated .com address, and greater analytics insight. But if your production value isn’t up to scratch to begin with, a fancy hosting package would be putting the cart before the horse.

6. Failing to Capitalize on Collaborations

There’s no quicker way of growing a new podcast from scratch than to collaborate with other podcasters. Once you’ve got a few stellar episodes under your belt, many low-level podcasters will be delighted at being invited onto your show, and hopefully the offer will be reciprocated.

As you grow, you’ll be able to set your sights higher and hook up with podcasters that have bigger listener-ships. Just don’t spam, for heaven’s sake. Aim to form meaningful connections with podcasters operating within the same niche. And you’ll probably want to invite guests to your podcast at least once every episode to add a little spice and keep your content engaging.

7. Dropping off Schedule

Not posting episodes of what is supposed to be a weekly podcast for weeks on end is anathema to growing your audience, and it’s hard to regain momentum again after a hiatus.

Sounds obvious, but it comes as a result of something that isn’t obvious: podcasting is time-intensive.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.37.32 PM

Many newbies go in thinking it’s as simple as turning on a mic, hitting record and uploading the results online. The truth is that coordinating recording windows with guests or co-hosts, detailed editing, writing show notes, and maintaining the infrastructure of the podcast takes time.

So don’t promise too much going in. You can always ramp up the frequency of episodes further down the line, but it’s detrimental to drop back from what your listeners expect.

But don’t be disheartened. There’s never been a better time to get into podcasting, and when it goes well it’s hugely rewarding.

Best of luck, and don’t forget to let us know what you’re working on in the comments below!

How To Produce Sweeps Pieces Or Stories In Series Form

Brian Williams interviewing Mitt Romney

National elections make for ideal story series during sweeps.

In broadcast journalism, most stories are reported as they happen, and covering the new developments of a story for several days or even weeks doesn’t necessarily mean you’re producing a series on the topic. Generally, reporters and producers don’t think in terms of “I want to do a series of stories about X or Y.” Instead, they think in terms of, “I’d like to do a story about X and then I’m going to follow up to see if there are any new developments in the story about Y.”

However, there is a place for the production of a series in broadcast journalism. There are several situations in which you might want to do a series:

Sweeps weeks, when TV station ratings are measured—Nielsen sweeps months typically occur for the better part of November, February, May, and July, but as the measurement period increasingly straddle months, weeks have become a more common measurement period. And for major markets, where the numbers come in the next morning, every week is essentially sweeps week. To attract viewers during a ratings measurement period, broadcasters frequently run a series about a topic of local interest, looking at different angles of the story for each installment. Typical marketing messages will say something like: “How safe is the drinking water at area schools? If you are a parent, you’ll want to see this.” In small and medium markets, they still do the sweeps drill about four times a year.
• Big stories that can’t be covered all at once. These may include political topics, controversial local legislation, large disasters that continue for days after the main event (say, flooding and the resulting damage to property), or a local scandal or crime wave in which new information arises frequently.
• Small stations undergoing slow news periods may do a series to provide a more in-depth look at the few news topics that are available. This should not be done just as a way to fill time during a show—you should use the opportunity to provide value to your viewers, in the form of additional information or a new perspective on the same story.

How to Get Started

Approaching a series is not all that different than approaching your story or stories of the day. However, you will probably have a little more time to examine different angles if you’re working on a series. Ideally, that’s something you should do for every story, but sometimes, when you’re running around covering multiple topics, you may only have time to report the facts and move on to your next assignment.

Many broadcasters will ask each reporter to pitch an idea for a series to run during the upcoming sweeps month. There are a few ways to approach this. You can look back at recurring topics or issues you’ve reported on in the last few weeks or months and consider whether there are unexplored angles or simply opportunities to provide a more in-depth look at a story.

A profile on a prominent community member or close look at a local issue or problem is another option. You can also look at the many different stories you’ve covered and think about whether there might be a connection between some of them. Did you cover several different car accidents at the same intersection? Have you covered a lot of theft stories at a particular chain of local stores?

Another way to develop material for a special series is through the contacts and sources you build up over time. A good reporter always nurtures sources. Checking back occasionally with individuals you have interviewed in the past can lead to new, perhaps even bigger stories.

Alternatively, you can spend some time on your station’s social media feeds and try to get an idea of what viewers find interesting. Granted, some viewers’ suggestions may not be right for a series, and others may not be based in fact. However, if you keep seeing different people inquiring about a certain topic, or suggesting it should be covered in more detail, that might be worth considering.

Here’s an example: Several years ago, a local TV station covered a tragic story about a road worker who was killed by an intoxicated driver. She had no previous record, and claimed to have mixed up her daytime and nighttime medications on the day of the collision. Although she pled guilty to negligent homicide as part of a plea deal, she only served about ninety days, plus twelve months probation. A few years later, she was arrested on a DWI charge, bonded out of jail, and was subsequently arrested several more times for DWI and a variety of other charges. When local media covered each arrest, her previous conviction for negligent homicide was frequently mentioned.

As you might imagine, many viewers were outraged by the situation. After every story about a subsequent arrest was posted to local stations’ social media feeds, a deluge of comments from audience members followed. Many asked how an individual with such a history kept getting out of jail. Some suggested she was bribing a judge. Others demanded DWI laws should be toughened.

During a sweeps month, one local station ran a series about state and local DWI laws, as well as sentencing statistics, in an attempt to answer some of these viewer questions. The first installment described the arrest, conviction, and sentencing history of the habitual drunk driver. The reporter explained the leeway judges have in sentencing after a conviction of negligent homicide, and noted reasons judges typically give light sentences—first-time offenders, mitigating circumstances, etc.

The second installment looked at rates of DWI/DUI arrests and convictions, statistics on how many people actually served time for such offenses, and the frequency of repeat offenses for the same individual. A third installment included interviews with local legislators about proposed changes to local DWI laws that, in their opinion, would make the area safer from repeat offenders.

Tips for Covering a Series or Sweeps Piece

• Choose a different angle for each installment.
• Either provide new information or a new perspective in each installment.
• You are usually given more time for a series or sweeps piece. Use it to give the audience a more in-depth picture of the issue or story.
• If you’re doing a profile of a person, try to include details that have an emotional impact, in addition to the facts of the story. Show us the local scholarship recipient studying while riding the bus to his second job. Show us the pile of cold cases the police detective keeps on her desk and looks at once a week, even when she knows there are no new leads. Show us the mayoral candidate emptying the trashcans at his campaign headquarters like a regular person. Things like this often tell us more about a subject’s personality than the rehearsed talking points or nervous rambling you might hear in an interview.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Find And Get Journalism Internships

Internships Next Exit road sign

Internships are helpful for students who want a hands-on learning experience in a real TV or radio station. Interning with a broadcaster can help you narrow down what kind of job you’d like to do in the field. It’s also an asset to your resume when you’re ready to apply for jobs after graduation.

How Do I Find an Internship?

First of all, start looking sooner rather than later. If you’re hoping for a summer internship, it’s best to start looking early in the spring semester, or even the previous fall. Many summer internships have application deadlines in February or March. Please note that the days of work-for-free interns are gone. Due to a recent lawsuit and subsequent court decisions, interns must either be paid or receive academic credit. Some schools allow students to get class credit for doing an internship during a semester, usually with an approved local company, but you’ll also need to apply for those months in advance.

Several websites dedicated to helping students find internships in their field allow you to search for journalism openings. Many schools maintain a list of resources for students seeking internships. You can also check with local broadcasters in your area—some may list these positions on their “job opportunities” page.

Time to Write or Revise Your Resume and Cover Letter

The application process often varies from one broadcaster to another, so it’s important to read the requirements carefully and make sure you’ve met all of them before clicking the “submit” icon. Some may want a video audition explaining why you’d make a great intern, while others may ask for samples of packages you’ve produced in class. Regardless of other requirements, most companies want a resume and cover letter.

If you haven’t written a resume yet, now is a good time to start—it’s definitely better than waiting until you graduate and start applying for jobs. If you have written a resume, this is a good time to update it.

In general, a resume should have your name and contact info at the top, then subheadings for education, work experience, and possibly volunteer work or student associations.

If a student is responding to a posting, it’s always advisable to integrate some of the language from the posting into the cover letter. They have provided a checklist of what they are looking for, so you give them their own words back. This is especially helpful in an era when, at large companies, software often scans incoming job applications and selects only some of them to be forwarded on to a real person.

Education

Under “Education,” you should list your school, your major, where you are in your program (“Completing one-year program in May of 2016,” for example), and your GPA, if it’s high enough to be beneficial. If your GPA is not where you’d like it to be, you may consider leaving it off. On one hand, employers may assume your GPA isn’t listed because it was a low number—on the other hand, if you actually list your 1.8 GPA, they’ll know for sure. (Obviously, the best option is to make every effort to get good grades.)

Work History

You should list any work experience you have, even if it’s not related to broadcast journalism. The fact that you worked at Joe’s Hamburger Barn the last three summers suggests you were a reliable and hard-working employee—otherwise, Joe probably would have hired someone else instead of hiring you back for the next summer.

Under each job, you should add a list of bullet points describing what you did—in particular, goals you met or exceeded, or innovative ways you improved your employer’s business. Be as specific as possible. “Earned a five-star average on customer comment cards” sounds better than, “Waited on customers.”

If you don’t have any work history, you can list volunteer work or student association activities—especially if they’re related to broadcast journalism. Definitely list any work you did for the campus TV or radio station, even if it was only for a brief period of time. Again, be specific about your accomplishments. Examples of good bullet points:

  • Interviewed news witnesses, asking follow-up questions as appropriate
  • Wrote package scripts answering the questions of who, what, when, why, where, and how
  • Made beat calls to local police and fire agencies and followed up on all leads
  • Engaged with students on social media to learn the types of news stories that most interested them, then shifted our editorial focus to those topics, resulting in a 5% viewership increase over last semester

Cover Letters

A cover letter should do three things: It should tell the reader who you are, why you want the internship, and what you can do for the company. Although you may repeat some sentences or paragraphs about your education, experience, and goals, you should not send the exact same letter to every company.

First, address your letter to the correct individual. Usually applications list a contact person. If not, search the organization’s website—you may find an “internship coordinator” or “hiring manger” listed in the directory. If that doesn’t work, simply call the company and ask for the name of the person in charge of the internship program.

You should use the first paragraph of your letter to briefly introduce yourself and explain why you want to work for this particular broadcaster. Although you can touch on your desire to learn more about journalism, you should focus on why you want to learn from this organization. To show that you’ve thoroughly researched the company, give concrete examples of what you like about it. Here’s an example:

“As a one-year student studying Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy, I’ve always wanted to work at a TV station with excellent live coverage of the latest local news. When I come home from school and watch WXYZ News, I’m always impressed by how professional your reporters are, and how quickly and accurately they report news and show how it affects the average person. Your three-part special on the city’s homeless population really helped me see the subject from a new perspective. I would love to learn from the team that was voted “Best Newscast in Cleveland” three years in a row, and when I saw that you had a summer internship program, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

The next paragraph should tell more about your education and work history, especially any broadcast journalism-related experience. Your final paragraph should mention that you’ve attached your resume (and any other requested materials). Close by thanking the recipients for their time and note that you look forward to hearing from them.

Apply Widely

Even if you’re a great candidate, you will be vying with hundreds of other applicants for each internship. For that reason, you should apply for as many as you can to improve your chances of landing one.

There’s no reason to stick with your city, either. You can apply for internships all over the country. Keep in mind, however, that some internships are unpaid. Some larger companies may provide housing for a pool of interns, but most will expect you to pay your own expenses. Even a paid internship might not pay enough for all your expenses while living in an unfamiliar city. If traveling and renting an apartment out of town isn’t financially feasible, you might want to focus on an internship closer to home—even if it doesn’t pay at all. Or, you could look for one in a city where you could stay with a friend or relative.

Unpaid Vs. Paid

Obviously, most students would rather take a paid internship—which is probably why there’s even more competition for these spots. There’s nothing wrong with trying to land one, but in case that doesn’t work out, you can at least get academic credit if your school allows it.

And while you might not make any money, you will learn about the different job roles in a TV or radio station. If you’re unsure which career path you want to follow, working at a TV or radio station might help you figure out which position most interests you. Also, you get to network and make contacts, which can help when you graduate and start looking for a job in broadcast journalism.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Get The Story First And Not Get Scooped

Daily News Extra!

If you spend time on social media, you might have seen the story of nine-year-old reporter Hilde Kate Lysiak, who broke the story of a murder in her small town of Selinsgove, Pennsylvania—beating adult journalists to the scene. Not long after, critics took to social media to suggest someone her age would be better off “having tea parties” or “playing with dolls” than covering serious crimes like a murder. Lysiak later read the list of complaints in a YouTube video, and went on to say, “If you want me to stop covering news, then you get off your computers and do something about the news. There, is that cute enough for you?”

Lysiak later told the Washington Post she received a tip from a reliable source, confirmed it, and went to the crime scene. She then posted the story on her digital and print newspaper, Orange Street News, hours before The Daily Item, a local community paper newspaper that declined to comment for the Post article. Her father, author and former New York Daily news reporter Matthew Lysiak, said there were no other reporters at the scene of the crime when she arrived.

Although the Post story only mentioned the local newspaper, Selinsgrove appears to be part of the Harrisburg DMA, which is 44 on the Nielsen ranking list. Stations that serve small towns in addition to larger ones don’t always have the resources to cover crimes in the smaller, outlying areas. In these cases, an assignments editor may choose to report the story based on the information in a police report rather than sending a crew to the scene.

Getting Scooped Happens

Every journalist wants to be the first to report on a big story, and many TV stations place a high value on bragging that they were “first on the scene” or “first to bring you the news of such-and-such event.” While no reporter or media organization can be first to the scene of every story, you should aim to get the scoop more than you get scooped.

There are a lot of reasons reporters and producers lose the opportunity to break a story. Sometimes it simply isn’t possible—in smaller markets, stations may only have one or two reporter/photographer teams on duty, especially during slow news times, like overnight. If news happens and all your available teams are on the other side of town covering other stories, but your competitor happens to have a crew nearby, you may be out of luck. Stations in larger markets have the opposite problem—they have more reporters and photographers, but they also have more news.

Avoidable Causes of Losing a Big Reveal

While some missed opportunities aren’t avoidable, many are. Sometimes, especially in smaller markets, the person assigned to monitor the news room’s police scanner simply misses something. Maybe he or she steps out of the room at the wrong moment. Maybe something sounds less newsworthy than it actually turns out to be. Plus paying attention to the scanner isn’t the only way to gather news—some reporters have missed out on major leads because they ignored a viewer tip that sounded like a crank call, but wasn’t.

The Police Scanner Is Your Friend

If it’s your job to monitor the police scanner, pay attention and remember just hearing the radio isn’t enough. It’s easy to get focused on a task, like stacking the next show, and hear something without really processing it—especially if you’re used to the sound of routine conversations between the police dispatcher and patrol officers. That’s why it’s helpful to have other people in the newsroom listening at the same time—a coworker might hear something that you’ve missed because you were concentrating on writing an intro to a package, for example. If you happen to have interns, teaching them what to listen for on a scanner can be a good learning experience for them, and take some pressure off you.

But sometimes you may be alone in the newsroom if you work in a smaller station—or, your coworkers might all be as distracted as you. It’s a good idea to train yourself to listen for specific things that are out of the ordinary—an increase in chatter on the radio, for example, over the normal level, might signify something is happening beyond a traffic ticket. You should also familiarize yourself with the codes dispatchers and officers use. While there are far too many to memorize all of them, you should make note of the ones that indicate the most newsworthy events, like a homicide, bomb threat, car accident, etc. After you’ve been listening to the scanner for a while, you should have yourself trained to take notice whenever you hear one. Keeping a comprehensive list of codes handy is also helpful, in case you hear a less-common one you can’t place.

…But Not Your Only Friend

While the police scanner is a great tool for any news organization, it’s not the only one. Most stations also maintain a “tip line” for viewers to call in when they witness news, a link to report news on the station’s website, or both. As you might guess, this setup can attract crank calls, and you should always take anything you get from these sources with a grain of salt until you confirm—but you should try to confirm the information, no matter how kooky the person delivering it might seem.

If you receive a phone call or email about potential news, ask appropriate follow-up questions. Where is this news event happening? Have the appropriate authorities been contacted, if necessary? Does the caller have any video or pictures of the news event? Sometimes a quick call to your press contacts at the local police or fire departments can confirm or refute a story quickly. If the claim doesn’t involve a call to authorities, you may be able to find the answer by searching on the internet.

Don’t Forget Social Media

Not every viewer with a great tip is going to call a tip line or use the appropriate link on your station’s website. Sometimes audience members may just post something on your Facebook page or Tweet a tip to your official Twitter account. Even if you’re busy, it’s a good idea to frequently check your social media accounts, if only briefly. You may just get a big tip that turns out to be legitimate. On the other hand, if a viewer is mistaken, confused, or just getting a good laugh out of posting lies on the station’s social media feeds, you want to know so you can delete the posts—or respond with a correct version of the story.

How You Look at a Story Is Important, Too

Sometimes you might cover a story, but miss a bigger related piece of news. This is easy to do when you’re focused on reporting the facts, especially if you’re working under a tight deadline. Once you’ve written your script, however, it can help to think about the story and all its angles. Have you missed something? Could this news affect any particular public figure, or maybe a group of people in the community?

If you have time, it’s always helpful to do an internet search on people involved in crimes or accidents, whether you consider the story newsworthy or not. Even if the event seems cut-and-dried, you never know what might turn up. It could be the guy who just got arrested on a drunk-and-disorderly charge is running for City Council. While drunk-and-disorderly stories usually aren’t that newsworthy—except on a really slow news day—it’s always interesting to viewers if a local politician is arrested, even on a misdemeanor charge. Or you might find out a company that just received a lucrative city contract is run by someone related to the mayor or a City Council member. Considering all the angles might open up new opportunities to report on a big story.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Make A Great Audition Video

Making an audition video

Most broadcast journalism students who want to pursue an on-air career make an audition video in their senior year, prior to applying for jobs in the industry. (These are sometimes called audition or demo reels, although those technologies have been replaced by DVDs, uploading your video as part of an online submission process, or providing a link to your work.) You’ll have more footage to work with after you have produced several projects. Still, it’s never a bad idea to start thinking about the kind of footage you want to use. You might want to record some special material—in particular, stand-ups—for use on your audition reel.

Keep it Short

Most audition videos should be no more than four or five minutes, although two or three minutes is acceptable and sometimes preferable. Station managers, news directors, and other people who make hiring decisions at TV stations are busy people with many other job functions. They also receive, on average, dozens or even hundreds of audition videos every month (this varies a bit depending on the size of the station). In the spring, when most journalism students graduate, that number increases. The bigger the station, the more videos they have to sift through.

What does that mean for you? It means some hiring managers may not have time to watch every audition video. They may choose some to watch based on the attached resumes, so it’s important to make sure yours is in good shape. It’s a good idea to ask a professor, if he or she has time, to look over your resume and make suggestions. Make sure to include any work you did for the school’s TV or radio station, even if it was unpaid or required for a class. Also include any internships, and part-time or summer jobs at local broadcasters.

Assuming the person in charge of hiring decides to watch your video, he or she probably won’t view the whole thing. Again, people in those positions are busy and overwhelmed with audition videos. Even if they like you, they’ll probably just watch the first 30 or 60 seconds, or they may fast-forward to the next clip to see if there’s anything different on the video.

What Does That Mean for Me?

That means it’s important to grab your viewer’s attention right away. Some professors recommend putting a slate (also known as a graphic) at the beginning and end with your name and contact info. This doesn’t have to stay up for more than a few seconds at the beginning—if interested, a hiring manager can always rewind and freeze the frame.

The first piece of video that rolls should be your best work. In three minutes, you could put six thirty-second packages on your tape, or four thirty-second packages and two sixty-second stories, or various other combinations. You can also include a montage of stand-ups and live shots. If you think some of your packages are slightly better, you should start and end with the best ones.

How Do I Decide?

This can be a tough one, especially if you have regularly appeared on a school TV station, and make a point to save a copy of all your videos. There may be some you can rule out right away—ones where you stumbled on a sentence, or experience technical difficulties, for example. (Of course those things happen in television and provide good learning opportunities, but they shouldn’t be on your audition video.)

You should also make sure you were professionally dressed in any video you’re considering. Most students have at least a few clips of themselves in jeans and a t-shirt, because it’s easy to forget you’re going to shoot a story or anchor the news at your school TV station later. You may also have outdoor videos where the wind has messed up your hair, tugged your tie crooked, etc. Those shouldn’t be on your audition reel either.

Audition video footage should show you in the type of clothing you’d wear to a job interview—a suit jacket or blazer, dress shirt or blouse, and matching pants or skirt. Not all TV stations require men to wear ties on-air today, but it won’t hurt to wear one. You might be able to get away with wearing flip-flops if your feet don’t show in the video, but remember you’ll be expected to wear real shoes to work when you get a job. In general, it’s a good idea to avoid t-shirts, tank tops, jeans, shorts, sequins, and anything you would wear to the beach or a nightclub.

Keep in mind that most TV stations won’t hire someone with purple hair, a nose ring, or a lot of highly visible tattoos for an on-air position. Of course you have the right to express yourself, and you could argue that a reporter with unicorn hair is just as skilled a journalist as a reporter with a more traditional hairdo. You’d probably be right—in fact, you might even be able to find a person with green hair and a nose-to-ear chain who can out-investigate someone who looks like a clone of David Muir.

But, whether you like it or not, TV hiring managers will pass up anyone who doesn’t fit with the image they want to project for their stations. You could argue that they should care more about journalistic skill than conforming to an image, but the fact is most broadcasters care about both when making hiring decisions.

Buying professional-looking clothes can be expensive, and not everyone can afford it after paying for tuition, books, etc. Thrift stores sometimes have gently-used career clothes at a low cost. You might also be able to borrow a suit jacket from a friend before going to shoot something for your campus TV station.

Variety is a Good Thing

If possible, you should show clips of yourself both anchoring and reporting. Also try to use video in different locations—maybe one outdoor shot, one at the news desk, another at an indoor news scene. Try to make sure you’re not wearing the same thing in every clip you use—that tells the hiring manager you shot a bunch of stuff in one day to make your audition reel, and you don’t have much experience.

A variety of news topics is also a good thing. You should have some serious stories—about the economy, politics, or crime, for example—interspersed with more lighthearted, or even humorous, topics—sporting events, local fairs/carnivals, concerts, local person who did something unusual or set a record, stories about animals, etc. This shows that you’re versatile, and a less serious story is an opportunity to prove you’re able to try new things and poke fun at yourself—say, letting a monkey climb on your head at the local zoo. Being a good sport is an important part of being a journalist.

Audition Videos Aren’t Just For On-Air Positions

If you seek a job as a producer, newscast director, photographer, or one of many other off-air positions, you should have video of newscasts you produced, directed, etc. You will need to explain in your cover letter what you contributed to the video you’re submitting. For example: “I’ve attached a sample of three packages I shot, then edited per the reporter’s instructions.” By being precise and to-the-point, you’ll grab the attention of a potential employer while showing off your diverse strengths.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Read The News Like A Professional News Anchor

Reading the news off a teleprompter may sound easy, but it’s actually more complicated than it seems. Anchors and reporters have to develop a reading style that seems natural, but isn’t too fast, too slow, too nuanced, too accented, too high-pitched, too quiet, or any other extreme. Reading news like a professional news anchor requires skill, practice, and training.

Practice Makes Perfect

Photo by New York Film Academy.

The best way to start is to practice reading news stories that you’ve written for class. If your school has a student TV station, doing some on-air work there is also helpful, as you’ll probably be able to get a recording of it afterward. You can also record yourself with various apps on your phone.

It’s hard to be objective about your own reading, so it’s a good idea to ask others their honest opinions. Does your reading sound natural? Is it hard to understand for any reason? Would your listeners want to hear you read more?

Things to Work On

Speed is one important consideration when reading the news. If you read too slowly, viewers may get bored and impatient and consider changing the channel. If you read too fast, viewers may have a hard time understanding you. Typically, news anchors read between 150 and 175 words per minute, and some stations may time new reporters or anchors to get a baseline for that individual’s usual reading speed.

If you find you’re talking too fast, it may be helpful to concentrate on enunciating clearly — sometimes this helps people slow down. Of course, people often talk faster when they’re anxious, and your first time reading a story on-air can be nerve-wracking, so sometimes the problem resolves itself after you’ve simply spent more time doing the job.

Talking too slowly is less common for students learning to read the news, but if this is a problem you can ask the teleprompter operator at your campus station to intentionally go a little faster than you. (Practice this for a while when you’re not actually on-air!) If you’re practicing by yourself, you can try reading from a computer or tablet screen and scroll through the words a little faster.

Sounding Natural and Conversational

Photo by New York Film Academy.

Another common problem students face when learning to read the news is learning to sound as if they’re not reading — something that is much harder than it sounds!

Most of us sound very different when we read something aloud than when we’re having a conversation with friends. It’s also very easy to sound robotic when you’ve been reading for a long time and your attention has started to wander, which can easily happen to an anchor, particularly during a slow news day or a repetitive morning show.

You can practice by reading a news story and pretending that you’re telling it to a friend. You don’t want to ad-lib or change the wording (which may be more formal than the way you normally speak), but you should otherwise talk conversationally. This can be difficult, especially if you’re also trying to speak more slowly or enunciate more clearly, but sounding natural is an important aspect of reading the news. After all, if viewers wanted to hear the news in a monotone, they could just ask Siri to read the day’s headlines.

Accents and Dialects

There are many different “accents” and regionalisms associated with American English. Depending on where you grew up, others may perceive an accent. If you learned English as a second language, you may have an accent associated with your first language.

While there is no single correct accent for American English, most broadcasters prefer reporters speak with a General American accent (most common in the mid-west and on the west coast)—or as close to it as you can reasonably get. Some people already do this, but for those with a strong accent, becoming more linguistically neutral can be difficult.

If you find you have a strong accent, you can listen to reporters or anchors who read the national news—those reading to the entire country have to be the most linguistically neutral—and practice speaking like them. Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to one sentence, pause the recording, and repeat it a few times yourself, then listen to it again. It may not be possible to get rid of your accent entirely, but if you can move it closer to General American, you will probably improve your prospects of finding an on-air job.

If you have difficulty shaking a strong accent, you might consider working in an area where that accent is common. Although General American is preferred in most places, the tendency to speak with a southern drawl likely won’t be as much of a problem in the south as it might be in other parts of the country, for example.

Of course, it should be noted that the United States has a vibrant foreign language news media. The most obvious is Spanish language, but there are Chinese, Korean and Japanese news operations as well. Univision and Telemundo (owned by NBC) are national networks, with local affiliated stations. The other languages tend to be represented by small, generally local outlets.

Adjusting Tone for Content

In general, when you read you should sound moderately upbeat, but not overly chipper. However, you’ll need to adjust your tone when reading somber stories, like those involving deaths or serious injuries. Sometimes slowing down and speaking more quietly can help you convey the seriousness of a sad situation.

This should extend to the whole story, including the reporter’s “standard out” and anchor tags. Recently there was a news story about the death of a twelve-year-old boy in a house fire. The reporter sounded appropriately somber while reading the details of the story. However, when she read her “standard out” (usually something like “Reporting live, Jane Doe for XYZ News”), she suddenly sounded very upbeat and chipper. My guess is that she practiced her standard out this way, and it probably worked fine for most news topics. Unfortunately, in this case it was a sharp contrast to the rest of the story and seemed both jarring and awkward.

For this reason, it’s also helpful if producers can plan content to avoid going directly from an extremely sad story to a happy one. There is no good way to transition from reading about a tragedy to “So, I hear we had an exciting day in the world of sports! Tell us more about that, Bob!” If you can wedge a more neutral story or a commercial break between sad stories and happy ones, you’ll be doing both the anchor and the viewers a big favor.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Dealing With Viewer Criticism In The Social Media Age

fingers pointing at person crying

Working in broadcast journalism can be an engaging and exciting job, but every job has its drawbacks. In the news business, there’s always a steady stream of criticism from viewers, from hairdos to the stories the station covers. The popularity of social media has made it even easier for the audience to express its displeasure to the news organization—and the world at large.

If you’re on-air, you’ll likely receive everything from marriage proposals to criticism of your clothes to complaints about your interviewing style. Even if you’re not on-air, the critics won’t completely forget about you. Amateur photographers love to complain about “lousy video quality,” even if they have no idea of the circumstances or difficulties involved in capturing a particular shot. Everyone loves to tell the news director or assignments editor what stories to cover—or not. (How dare you fail to send a camera crew to cover a viewer’s cat’s wedding!)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, viewer complaints (valid or not), would have been delivered by phone, by snail mail, or maybe by email. But today, they show up on a station’s social media pages where hundreds or thousands of other followers can see them. Have a page for yourself, as a news anchor or reporter? People will post complaints there, too.

How Do I Make It Stop?

You can certainly delete any comments that are obscene, profane, threatening, hate speech, etc. If you had time, you could just go ahead and delete all negative comments, but that would be a bad move from a PR standpoint. Viewers would then take to their personal page to tell their friends that your TV station’s management doesn’t care what their viewers think, can’t take a healthy debate, and deletes critical comments in an effort to censor free speech. Even people who don’t see those posts might notice and find it odd if there were never any negative comments on a broadcaster’s page.

Some outlets are even eliminating Comments sections, seeing that they can get hijacked and turned into forums for racist and sexist rants. Large stations and networks actively curate their online and digital platforms. Elsewhere, it can sometimes become an embarrassing free-for-all.

Handling Social Media Comments in a Professional Manner

There is no requirement that you respond to every comment on the station’s page, your page, or on a link to a story you covered. You can choose to ignore some of the negativity, and that’s definitely a better idea than shooting back an angry reply. However, if you have a large number of similar negative comments, someone at the station should address these.

Most broadcasters have a position to handle the station’s social media presence. This person will usually be on top of comments about each story, and about the station in general. Usually reporters and anchors are not expected to spend all day defending their stories on the station’s page.

However, most on-air personalities are expected to have their own social media presence as part of the station or network’s social media strategy. Some stations will create profiles for anchors and reporters; smaller stations sometimes expect the talent to handle that themselves. In either case, on-air personalities are expected to check in at least a couple times a day, and make some effort to respond to legitimate questions and concerns. (In larger stations with more viewers and comments, the station may assign someone to help the anchor or reporter.)

How Do I Respond? What Should I Ignore?

First, remember that you represent your employer on social media—even on your personal accounts that are separate from your professional profiles. If someone tracks down your personal profile despite your best efforts to hide it, you still have to respond in a professional way. Usually this means a polite reply directing the person back to your professional profile.

You can manage all of your professional accounts with a social media management program like Hootsuite. This allows you to monitor all your account activity in one place—Facebook posts, Tweets, Pins, Instagram pics, and whatever other platform you use. As time allows, you should try to respond to comments and questions—both negative and positive—from viewers. Engaging with people on social media helps build rapport and keep people interested in watching your news reports.

If you get a lot of questions, remember that you don’t have to respond to every person individually. Frequently, twenty people will ask the same question—all you have to do is answer once. Start by noting that you appreciate all the questions about X, and the answer is Y, etc.

So What Do I Do When People Hate My Story? What If They Hate Me?

To begin, figure out what the problem is, and whether there is any merit to the complaint. If viewers don’t like your new haircut or the outfit you wore today, you can probably ignore them. Your hair is going to take a while to grow back and there’s not much you can do in the meantime; you’re not going to wear the same outfit two days in a row, so the viewers can look at something else tomorrow.

If you see a lot of negative comments about a story, figure out what bothers most of the viewers. Sometimes rude comments are really about the subject of the story and not the reporter or the station (although viewers have been known to get confused, or blame the station for publicizing someone they don’t like). However, if there is a specific concern about the newsworthiness or fairness of a story, that’s something you should consider addressing, especially if you have a lot of comments about it. The most common complaints about news coverage are “This isn’t news,” and “This is unfair to the subject/paints someone in a bad light/this is slander.”

Newsworthiness is a subjective thing; so long as you didn’t fail to cover another really big story, there is nothing wrong with running a human-interest piece, especially on a slow news day. Plus small stations sometimes don’t have enough hard news to fill a broadcast—but you can’t tell the audience that! Instead, respond with something like this: “We work hard to cover all the news in our area, and tonight we brought you stories about the City Council, the new zoning law, and the three-car pileup on Main Street. When we have time, we also like to report on the local person who does something noteworthy or interesting, and that’s why we covered John Doe’s yarn sculpture. Thanks for your feedback, and please let us know if you hear of any news you think we should cover.”

If someone complains that a story was unfair, the best defense is to point out all the ways in which you showed both sides of the story. For example, “Here at XYZZ, we strive to report news impartially. That’s why we included comments from both Council members in favor of the proposal and those against the proposal. We showed both sides explaining their positions so the viewers could make up their own minds.”

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Avoiding Awkward On-Air Situations For Journalists

awkward reporters

Recently, on a local news program, the show’s anchors congratulated their meteorologist, who wasn’t there because she’d had a baby that morning, and had sent them a picture of the baby to share with viewers. The anchors gave the baby’s name and weight, noted how adorable she was, and then moved on to the next story.

Unfortunately, the next story involved a man being arrested for beating his infant son to death. Obviously, it was a tragic situation no matter where it appeared in the show, but the producer’s choice to go from a happy baby story to a tragic one made the story awkward as well, for everyone involved. It appeared that the news anchors didn’t know that would be the next topic, because they both had horrified looks on their faces when they started reading it. They stumbled through the story and managed to pitch to break, looking somewhat relieved.

How Do I Avoid These Situations?

Production of a nightly newscast is always chaotic, becoming more so as you approach air. This is especially true given how programs often include multiple “live shots” in the course of the broadcast. It’s the details that kill you, so as the producer you have to maintain the ability to stand back and consider the entire program. Equally important, you have to be open to comments and suggestions from the show staff. You will inevitably miss something. Story producers and junior staff need to know that they not only are permitted, but encouraged to speak up.

Some stories are sad, tragic, and awful. Unfortunately, there is some truth to the old adage about the news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.” If you plan to be on-air, you’re going to have to report on murders, accidents, domestic abuse, and many kinds of avoidable deaths. In general, it’s best to read these stories with a somber and respectful tone.

However, you can’t read the entire newscast that way or your viewers may start to get depressed and change the channel. An upbeat tone is fine for stories that don’t involve death or tragedy. The problem comes when you have two very different stories right next to each other. It’s difficult to transition from a happy story to a sad one—and vice versa. You have to change your tone and facial expression abruptly while on camera.

Pay Attention When Producing

If you are producing a show, you should pay attention to how you stack stories. Usually, the A block involves the biggest news of the day, and the biggest story is what you lead with, whether it’s a political story, an accident, a murder, or the weather. (If you work in a small market, it may be the weather more days than it isn’t.) Usually producers will start with the most important story and add other subjects in order of importance, continuing through the A block.

This is a good system, and in general you should follow it. However, with the exception of the lead story, most other topics in the A block can be moved around to avoid awkward transitions. This is sometimes done to avoid technical problems, like going from one camera shot to another without giving whoever is controlling the camera sufficient time to move the camera, set up and focus the new shot. However, it can also be done to avoid problematic transitions on-air.

One solution is to build your A block, then look at the stories. Think about their content and how the transitions will look and sound on air. Keep in mind that typical lead-ins to segments like, “And now John’s here to tell us what’s happening in the exciting world of sports today!” may sound perfectly normal in some circumstances, but tacky if they immediately follow a particularly tragic story.

When going over your A block, if you note a very sad or tragic story is immediately before or after a relatively happy one, consider whether you could add a more neutral story between them. Stories about business, the economy, road work, and city council meetings generally don’t require an especially happy or somber tone. Inserting one of those topics between two emotionally disparate stories can help make smoother transitions for everyone involved.

Anchors and Reporters Also Play a Role

Avoiding awkwardness isn’t just the producer’s job. Producers are often extremely busy, and may not always have time to consider the emotional impact of each story in a block. Anchors and other on-air talent should look over the scripts beforehand if possible. As a reporter, you should make note of the stories before and after yours, your tag, and any possible problems. As an anchor, you should look over all the stories, the lead-ins, the tags, and note if there are any drastic differences in emotional tone. If something looks problematic, let the producer know—he or she may be able to move things around for a better transition.

Several years ago, when this writer was working at a local TV station, the block dedicated to national news always ended with a teaser of the sports segment, which followed after the next commercial break. Usually the anchor’s tease was something like, “Well, our local team had an exciting day at the ballpark!” and the sports anchor would say something in agreement.

On this particular night, the world news included a story about gas prices, some sort of political news, and a story about a pregnant woman who was brutally murdered, after which the attacker cut the fetus out of her body and left the scene with it. It was an awful story, made worse by the fact that it immediately lead into an upbeat tease about an exciting day at the ballpark.

The anchors did their best to hide their discomfort and pitched to break as smoothly as possible. Afterward, they told the producer that she should have rearranged the stories in the block so the murder was in the middle, and either the gas price story or the political story lead into the sports tease. They were right, of course, but if they’d carefully read over their scripts beforehand, they could have let her know ahead of time and possibly avoided the awkward on-air situation.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Stack A News Show

An on-air interview

What is Stacking a Show?

“Stacking a show” is a phrase broadcasters use to describe putting the segments of a newscast together. Usually the job of a producer, stacking the show is done after assignments are given—in other words, after the show’s topics have been chosen. However, new events can happen between the time of the morning news meeting and the five o’clock news, and stories frequently need to be rearranged multiple times before the show.

Where to Start

At the news meeting, the show’s producer or producers, reporters, an assignments editor, and usually the news director will discuss various story ideas. Sometimes these are continuations or new angles of news from the previous day or few days (“latest developments,” “new information,” etc.). Some are completely new events—say, a robbery in progress caught on the police scanner. On slow news days, meeting attendees may kick around human-interest or “in-depth look” type ideas when hard news is scarce. In most stations, each reporter is expected to offer at least one story suggestion each day.

The assignments editor usually decides what stories will be covered and what angles the reporter covering the story should look into. In some stations, the assignments editor chooses the general story, and the producer picks an angle. (If there is a big disagreement, the news director may make the final call.) Each story is then assigned to a reporter/photographer team. Frequently reporters are assigned the stories they pitched, but sometimes schedules and assignments have to be juggled for a variety of reasons.

Once assignments have been given, the producer begins creating a skeleton of the show, which at this point mostly consists of putting the stories in the order they are expected to air. Software varies from station to station, but generally the producer uses a program to create a show rundown (simply a list of everything appearing in the show in order), in addition to filling in each segment with scripts and directions for the production crew. Each segment can be moved if priorities change throughout the day.

What Goes First?

The A block is the first block of the show, usually slated for the biggest news stories of the day. Typically, a show will open with a brief tease of the two or three biggest subjects to be covered, a brief standard intro in which the anchors introduce themselves (“I’m so-and-so and this is your five o’clock news on such-and-such channel,” or something similar), then the top story. Some stations have a policy of doing a brief check of the weather near the top of every show, while others simply tease the weather report coming up in a later block, unless severe weather is imminent. Whoever is doing the weather usually has a small control device in his/her hand, which will change the CGI content being used. It is easier for the air talent to do it, since the CG operator might have to guess when to change given that there isn’t an actual script.

So, what’s the top story of the day? Sometimes the answer is easy. For example, if you work in a small market station (where most reporters begin their careers), where there is little hard news, you may only have one big news event a day. (Some days you may not have any, and you might have to lead with weather.) Generally, crimes, accidents, fires, and any type of new legislation from local government are all good contenders for the top spot.

If you have multiple options, you should usually start with crimes or accidents that involve death or serious injury, in that order. If there is more than one such event, go with the one that involves more people, if possible. This also works when you have multiple less-serious events, such as car accidents—if there were no deaths or injuries, a four-car pile-up beats a two-car fender-bender.

The rest of the A block should follow roughly the same pattern, going from serious accidents/crimes to more minor offenses or accidents. Local government news might go anywhere in the A block, depending on how important it is to a large number of viewers—typical city council meetings might warrant a brief mention near the end of the A block, but if a new law has been passed, that story might be closer to the front of the show. It could even lead if there was no other hard news to report. On the other hand, if the mayor was just arrested for purchasing the services of a prostitute or embezzling city funds, that story should be near the top of the show, if not the lead.

Should it be the lead? This can be a tough call. Will the majority of people be more interested in the mayor’s arrest than a story about a family killed in a car accident? Obviously both stories are newsworthy, but which one should you lead with? The car accident is sad, and involved multiple deaths, but the majority of viewers don’t personally know the victims, and won’t be directly affected. On the other hand, almost everyone knows of the mayor, who shapes or influences policies and laws all residents of the city are expected to follow. In this case, it might make more sense to lead with the local government corruption story, and follow with the car accident story.

In general, if you’re having a hard time choosing an order for two topics, it’s a good idea to think about how many people will be affected by each one, and put the story you think affects more of the viewing audience first. Some stations also take a cue from social media, teasing several stories for the upcoming newscast on Twitter or Facebook. If there is no clear-cut lead story, you can look at which one gathered more comments/shares/re-tweets to gauge audience interest.

The Rest of the Show

The rest of the show is usually divided into three or four blocks. These can vary by station, but usually one is dedicated to weather, another to national news and/or human interest type stories, and another to sports.

Weather is fairly easy to block, as the meteorologist usually ad-libs and doesn’t need any scripts. He or she will let the graphics operator know what needs to appear on the green screen, and in what order. Similarly, the sports director usually chooses the order of stories in his or her block and relays that to the producer.

The national news block should go in order of importance, although national stories, by nature, are important to most viewers. Deaths of VIPs or tragedies involving mass casualties usually lead. As we discussed in a previous article, if you end on a lighter story, try to add a more neutral topic in the middle for an easier transition.

The final block is usually brief, and involves a quick check of the weather, followed by what’s called a kicker—video of an upbeat event so the show can end on a pleasant note. Concerts, fairs, sporting events, spelling bees and other school events all make good kicker video. If there’s time (like on a slow news day), try a lighthearted national story—new world records, or human-interest stories about people doing anything unusual are good topics. The most important thing about the kicker is to have plenty of cover video, which will usually continue after the anchors sign off until the next commercial or network program rolls.

Other Considerations

In addition to choosing an order for stories, you will also need to write technical instructions for the director and production crew, letting them know what video and audio need to be “punched up” at any given time. This allows camera operators to prepare their shots, graphics operators to get graphics ready, audio operators to plan when to open and close mics, and the director to be prepared for all of the above. These technical considerations will be discussed in more detail in a future article.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Nail An Interview As A News Reporter

Broadcast Journalist Gabriela Naplatanova interviews on camera

As a journalism student, you’ve probably learned a lot of different techniques for interviewing people. Being open and friendly, putting the interviewee at ease, asking the important questions even if they’re difficult—these are all good tips. But not every technique works in every situation. It’s important to learn how to quickly size up a situation—and a person—so you can determine the best way to proceed.

Watch Body Language

Depending on the situation, your subject may be open and friendly, or closed-off and uncommunicative. Sometimes body language is easy to read, but some individuals have great poker faces.

In general, you should watch for abrupt changes in body language. A person who suddenly breaks eye contact or looks away may be hiding something. If possible, you should try to make small talk about things unrelated to the interview’s topic for a few minutes before getting down to business. This lets you see what gestures, facial expressions, and tone and pitch of voice are normal for the interviewee, so you can be aware if there’s a big change.

Breaking the Ice is a Good Idea for Other Reasons, Too

Aside from granting more insight into the individual’s normal body language, chitchat can have other benefits. You may not always have time to talk about the weather or your subject’s favorite sports team, but if you do, it’s usually time well spent. Chatting about something relatively inconsequential can help put the subject at ease. It also allows you to establish rapport, and helps the subject see you as a human being rather than a scary person with a camera.

You don’t have to stick to the weather—in fact, it’s best if you can talk about something the subject finds interesting. Look around the person’s office or home for clues—sports memorabilia, movie posters, etc. People often open up when you ask about subjects that most interest them. Once they feel comfortable with you, it will be much easier to quiz them about other topics.

Again, it’s important to read the situation. If your subject seems impatient, answers all your small-talk questions with one-word answers, or suggests that he or she is in a hurry, it’s probably best to move on to the actual interview.

What If the Subject Doesn’t Want to Open Up?

What do you do when the individual at the center of a big news story won’t talk to you? Continuing to badger the person is generally a bad idea. The more you irritate people, the less they’re going to want to talk to you.

Instead, interview other involved parties. Keep going until you find someone close to the story who’s willing to talk—an employee, a friend, a coworker, etc. However, you should remember that people willing to talk to you about a big scandal may have an ax to grind, so it’s essential to fact-check their answers.

After you’ve spoken to others, another technique is to tell the person you really want to interview that you’d like their comments on X thing that Y said. Be specific enough to concern them, but vague enough that they have to ask you for clarification. For example: “I know you said you didn’t want to talk to the media about this issue, and I respect that, but I’d like to give you the chance to respond to your assistant Bob Jones’ comments about your campaign funding sources. If you’re interested in telling your side of the story, call me at….”

A word of caution: Don’t tell subjects you’re going to help rehab their image or make them look good—that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, not to mention highly unethical and an example of media bias. As a reporter, your goal is to find and report the truth in the most unbiased way possible.

Do assure the subject that you want to examine both sides of the story. This may discourage people who are hiding something from granting an interview, but it can also get great stories out of people who are simply scared or feel they haven’t been accurately portrayed by the media. You can’t/shouldn’t promise someone good publicity, but you can assure the person you’ll make every effort to quote him or her accurately (which is something you should do anyway).

Asking the Hard Questions

Sometimes it can be intimidating to ask an interview subject, especially a powerful or well-known individual, difficult questions, especially ones that involve allegations of illegal or unethical behavior. Even if you don’t feel intimidated, it’s important to tread carefully—your boss will not be happy if you start making baseless accusations and ticking people off.

Here are some tips:

  • Prepare for the interview by thoroughly checking out the information you’ve received, and considering the source. If at all possible, fact-check the story yourself. If you’ve received allegations about a criminal activity, ask the source if he or she has reported the crime, and if not, why? If the source isn’t available for comment, you may want to check with your station’s legal department or counsel, if it has one, before venturing further.
  • When you interview the subject, be specific and explain the source of your information. If it’s an anonymous source, say just that—it’s better than letting the subject think you’re just pulling ideas from thin air. “Mr. Mayor, we received an anonymous tip from someone claiming to be one of your campaign staffers. This person says you wrote checks out of the campaign fund for personal items, including a $500 barbecue for your backyard. How do you respond to that?”
  • Don’t argue with the subject or accuse him or her of lying. Do reiterate what the person said and ask if you’re understanding the answer. “So you’re saying that you never purchased a $500 barbecue out of your campaign account? Is that right?”
  • If you have evidence the person is lying, follow up with another question asking for clarification. “Then how do you explain this copy of a canceled check on your campaign account for $500 to Joe’s Barbecues? Is that your signature?”
  • Remain calm and professional, even if the subject gets angry and starts yelling. Never get angry and start yelling back. Simply repeat your question in a calm manner.
  • You may hear something along the lines of, “You’re trying to make me look bad!” A good comeback is, “I’m just trying to gather the facts. I asked you a simple yes-or-no question. Did you sign the check or not?”
  • But don’t apologize either. Your job is to ask questions. If the subject really doesn’t want to answer, he or she can simply say, “No comment.” Yelling at a reporter for asking a question makes the interviewee look bad, not you.
  • If someone tries to duck a question, there is nothing wrong with saying, “That’s not what I asked,” or “You didn’t answer my question.” Then repeat the question.g
Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Choosing A Broadcast Journalism Job: Is An On-Air Career Right For You?

Faith Abubey interviewing a naval officer

While many people choose a broadcast journalism major because they aspire to be news anchors, there are many positions in the field, and all have their pros and cons.

But I Already Know I Want to Be An Anchor!

That’s great, and on-air jobs can be exciting. As a reporter (generally the starting position for inexperienced on-air journalists—no one starts at the anchor’s desk unless a relative owns the station), you have the opportunity to pursue a variety of interesting stories every day. You’ll get to interview people from all walks of life, and you may even bring the public’s attention to an important issue in the community. You get to learn new things every day, and share your knowledge with others.

Unfortunately, a lot of journalism students find on-air positions attractive, and there is tremendous competition for first-time reporter jobs. While having a good resume and audition video is helpful, other recent grads from all over the country will also have impressive experience and audition footage.

There are things you can do to improve your odds of getting the job you want, but some factors are beyond your control. When it comes to on-air roles, hiring managers will make decisions based not only on your experience, but also on your looks, voice, and personality. Sometimes they round-file your application because you look too much like another reporter they already have, because your voice has an inflection they don’t like, or because they think you’re too bubbly, or too flat, or too deadpan…the list goes on. The bottom line is that many graduates find they have to take an off-air job just to get a foot in the door at a TV or radio station. Although there is no guarantee you’ll be promoted to an on-air role, any experience in the industry is better than being unemployed or working in a fast food restaurant, and it can help you make contacts in the business.

If You Do Get That On-Air Job

Sometimes new grads think they want a job in front of the camera, only to get one and discover it’s not for them. Here are some things you should know before deciding this position is right for you:

  • Contracts can place all sorts of restrictions on what you can do—not just at work, but also in your personal life. They often specify that you can’t make major changes to your appearance (like a new hair color or a tattoo that would be visible on camera) without a supervisor’s permission. There are often clauses that say you can be terminated if you do something to embarrass the station—getting arrested, embarrassing pictures on social media, etc.
  • People will recognize you as “that TV reporter” everywhere you go, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. You will have to be nice and polite to those people at all times—even if you’re having a lousy day and they’re pestering you about a story you covered two months ago and don’t remember. You will have to nod and smile if someone wants to tell you about seeing a UFO, until you can find a polite way to excuse yourself from the conversation.
  • Most of us have had a bad day and snapped at someone when we didn’t mean to. But if you’re an on-air personality who has a regrettable moment and says something rude in public, there’s a good chance someone will post it on social media. You won’t just be that anonymous jerk in line at the grocery store who snapped at a cashier—you’ll be that rude, snooty, stuck-up TV reporter who told off a cashier.
  • Despite the personal sacrifices you’ll have to make to keep your job, you won’t be well-paid. The median salary for an entry-level TV reporter is $35,000, with some making as little as $22,000. (Generally stations in smaller markets pay less, but jobs in smaller markets are slightly easier to obtain.) Reporter salaries do get higher as you gain experience, and/or work your way up to a bigger market (although your cost of living may also go up if you move to a bigger city).

Preparing For An On-Air Career

The list above isn’t meant to discourage anyone from pursuing a role on-air. All jobs have downsides, and many people find careers in front of the camera very rewarding. If you think it’s right for you, here are some suggestions:

  • Spend as much time as possible in front of the camera at your campus TV station, beyond what you’re required to do for class. This will help you build a good audition reel while improving your skills.
  • Ask teachers and other student-journalists who have spent a lot of time in front of the camera for constructive criticism.
  • You will probably be required to produce packages for some of your classes. When you get them back, don’t just look at the grade—read your professor’s suggestions and try to implement them. Often these will help you with things hiring managers look for—reading at an appropriate pace, enunciating clearly, not fidgeting, appearing comfortable in front of a camera, and more.
  • If possible, try to get an internship or part-time job at a local television or radio station. While your campus station is a great place to learn, working at a local affiliate can give you real-world experience. Not only will this look good on your resume, but you’ll also have the opportunity to watch the reporters and anchors, and learn how they handle various situations on-air.

I’m Not Sure I Want To Be On-Air

If you’re not sure being in front of the camera is for you, there are many other broadcast journalism careers to consider. Producers help reporters with newsgathering, generate new story ideas, “stack the show” by deciding what packages go where in a broadcast, and sometimes even interview people—all without ever being on-air. TV stations also need a variety of technical people to run studio cameras, act as photographers in the field, edit packages, control the audio during live broadcasts, produce graphics, and direct the show.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Cover Weather News

Meteorologist explaining the weather

As a reporter, there will likely be many times when you will have to go outside and cover a weather story. While this is normally the weather forecaster’s job, that person usually has to stay inside with the green screen and radar equipment. In a larger station, there might be multiple on-air personalities in the weather department, some of whom can stand outside while others remain in the studio. But in smaller stations (where you will likely end up after graduation, as discussed in last week’s post), this job often falls to someone in the news department. This is especially true on a slow news day, but depending on the severity of the weather, it may happen at other times as well.

What to Do When You’re Standing Outside Stating the Obvious

Frequently, this is not the most interesting type of story to cover. You may be pointing at the sky and explaining that it is raining, in case your viewers haven’t noticed. Worse, you’re unlikely to have a direct quote from Mother Nature about today’s activities.

The best thing you can do is try to plan ahead of time. Big weather events can usually be predicted, so you should get your assignment for this kind of coverage at the daily news meeting. Plan a list of weather-related things you can talk about that don’t include the obvious. Coordinate with the weather forecaster to make sure you’re not both talking about the same things, as viewers get bored easily. Most meteorologists mention standard reminders like bringing pets and plants inside when it’s cold and taking shelter in a severe thunderstorm or tornado threat. You should try to come up with other talking points.

Here are some general suggestions with examples:
• Effects the weather is having on the local economy (for example, no one is venturing out in the snow to shop; the drought is affecting local farmers)
• Problems for specific segments of the audience (community cooling centers or low-cost fan programs for people who are homeless or can’t afford to air-condition their homes; how people who have to work outdoors deal with extreme weather conditions)
• Tips about things related to weather that viewers may not have considered or had time to deal with (how to winterize your car; what to do if your basement floods; inexpensive temporary fixes for a leaky roof)
• Look for information that is relevant to viewers, which is “news you can use.” Compelling characters are at the core of every successful news stories, including the snow pile driver, the mother with the flooded basement, and the volunteer firefighter.

As with other types of news stories, you should always try to include a quote—on camera, if at all possible, but using audio from a phone conversation can work if an in-person interview isn’t going to happen. You may not be able to interview Mother Nature, but you can get a quote from the local police about road conditions, the increase in accidents they usually see with this type of weather, etc. Or you can interview a local business owner about how the weather has created challenges or opportunities for her store.

“As You Can See Here…”

Avoid this phrase. Viewers already know what they can see on the screen. If you think a visual might be confusing, just explain it with specifics. For example, “Those green bars your see in the middle of the water are actually the rails of a childrens’ slide in the park. The creek is so swollen from the last three days of rain that water has covered almost the entire slide.”

Don’t Be a Hero

You may have seen exciting viral videos of reporters clinging to traffic signs in hurricanes, shouting to be heard over the pounding of a heavy rainfall, etc. While these videos sometimes get shared a lot on social media, and might look good on your audition tape, you should still proceed with caution. Many TV stations have policies in place to prevent reporters from doing anything extremely dangerous in the name of getting a great shot. After all, no one wants to read the story about how their colleague was killed chasing a tornado.

If it isn’t too dangerous to go outside, you should still exercise caution and consider the picture and sound quality you’ll have. Even with a windscreen on your mic, sometimes weather conditions can make audio unintelligible. A news camera is an expensive piece of equipment that should be protected from rain with an umbrella—but remember that if it’s not only raining but windy, water might fly onto the lens. This probably won’t damage the camera, but it can make for a blurry live shot. Viewers at home don’t want to see the photographer’s fingers wiping the lens and doing so with wool gloves will scratch the lens. Also consider using compressed air, but never blow on the lens as eventually saliva will get mixed in, harming the lens.

One solution is the “back door” shot, where the photographer positions the camera inside the station with the back door propped open, and the reporter stands outside under an umbrella. Another alternative is to place the reporter in front of a green screen, which can have an image from the station’s permanent outdoor camera (often used in weather or to show the sunset at the end of early evening broadcasts). Yes, it will be obvious to discerning viewers that the reporter isn’t actually outside, but this is sometimes a better solution than poor picture or sound quality, and the reporter can still point out specifics in the shot.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Deal With Slow News Days….Weeks…Months?

Screen shot of a slow news day

When you decided on a career in journalism, you may have imagined yourself working for a large TV station, or even a national network. However, unless you have a friend or relative who can get you a cushy job at a big-city TV station, chances are your first job will be in a small market.

Nielsen Television Markets

Nielsen divides television markets in the United States into 210 distinct regions and ranks them by “TV homes.” According to Nielsen’s latest rankings, number one—the largest market—is New York, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. Of course, not every journalist wants to live in a large metropolis like the top three markets, but many aspire to work in a “Top 100” station.

Although some grads get lucky and land in a Top 100 station, students who have just graduated from a journalism program are most likely to find a job in a smaller market—sometimes, a very, very small market. Even students with a 4.0 average and an excellent audition video will find themselves competing with similarly impressive students from all over the country when applying for a first job in the industry. You may very well find your first job in a small-town station.

Reporting News When There is No News: Life at a Small Market Station

When you arrive at your new job in a small market, you’ll probably find that there are some days when there isn’t any news to report. It is the sad reality of any journalist who attempts to report news on a daily basis in a small town—some days nothing newsworthy happens. Sometimes those days become weeks. But you can’t just go on the air and say, “Nothing happened today, here are some extra commercials to fill the time until the national news comes on.”

Most station managers at smaller market stations will never admit this, or spell it out to employees, but your job in this situation is to make things that aren’t that newsworthy seem like they are, or to spend far more time on a single story than you would if there were other items to cover.

It goes something like this: Nothing happens. No car crashes. No fires. No one knocks over a convenience store or sues a local business or grows the world’s largest pumpkin. If you’re working on a morning show, this happens even more frequently, but even dayside reporters may find themselves victim of the news-less work shift.

So what do you do? If you’re a producer, you have to build the A block for your show. (Sometimes reporters also share this job in smaller stations.) If you’re an assignment editor, you’ll have to send reporters out to cover something. If you’re a reporter, you’ll be expected to pitch story ideas to said assignment editor.

What is an A Block?

As you may have learned in school, the A block is the first segment of the news, dedicated to the most important stories of the day (or night, if you’re blocking a morning show). What do you put there when nothing happens? Well, you’ll always have weather, the savior of TV stations on slow news days. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the meteorologist is predicting some rain.

And if you’re not lucky? Then your weather forecaster gets to tap dance, and the anchors get to make small talk with him or her. Unfortunately, this can seem forced, and can’t go on forever.

Help the Weather Forecaster Out

You can help by looking at the forecast and attempting to find weather-related stories the meteorologist can talk about. You may even find package material. For example, hot, dry weather is dull to talk about for more than a minute or two, but it may coincide with ragweed season (depending on your location, of course). You might be able to interview a local allergist about treatment options for allergies, when they should see a doctor, etc.

You can also send a photographer out to collect video of anything happening outside, thus giving the weather forecaster and anchors something to chat about.

For example: “It was so nice out today that a lot of our viewers felt compelled to have a picnic. Look at that video from Such-and-Such Park. The kids seem to be having a great time playing outside, don’t they? Look at that dog playing frisbee…”

This sort of thing isn’t groundbreaking journalism, but it provides an interesting visual, and prevents your weather person from struggling to find forty synonyms for “nice,” “pleasant,” and “warm.”

I’ve Spent as Much Time as Humanly Possible on Weather, Now What?

At some point, you’re going to have to stop talking about the weather, or viewers are going to start changing channels until they find a reality show rerun to watch. Sadly, you’re not even done with the A block.

At this point, u can start thinking about taking an in-depth look at stories that have been in the news recently, even if nothing new has happened. You don’t want to just rerun the last package on a subject, especially if you ran it three times yesterday. If you have time (and you should if there isn’t any other news), you should explore the story further. Are there other angles you haven’t considered? Are there other people you could interview? Did you do any person-on-the-street interviews previously? If not, now might be a good time to do so.

Of course, news droughts can go on for days, sometimes weeks. You may find that you’ve had only a few juicy stories in the past month, and after extrapolating and creating a new package on each of them, you still need to fill time.

At that point, start looking at localizing national stories. Resist the urge to just write an intro and tag to a package pulled from the national network. Instead, explore local angles. Find out how nearby businesses are or will be affected by new legislation. If there’s a big health story in the news, see if you can interview a local person affected by the disease or treatment. Person-on-the-street interviews can also work just as well for national stories.

Slow news cycles are also good times to do profiles on local officials or political candidates, although, as always, you have to be careful to cover them in an unbiased way. If you’re profiling the town’s mayor, don’t just repeat the PR buzz from his or her website profile. Try to get an interview with the mayor, or at least a quote from his or her publicist. Be sure to investigate what the mayor’s detractors have to say—if possible, interview one of them, and ask the mayor’s staff to respond.

You can do profiles on long-standing issues, as well. Again, you’ll want to cover both sides of proposed legislation or legal battles, and make every effort to interview local supporters and opponents.

You don’t have to stick to politicians and legislation, either. Slow news cycles are also good times to do human interest stories about any local resident who’s doing something interesting—maybe a person who is training for a national sporting event but hasn’t qualified yet, someone who plans to audition for a national reality show, a person who started a new community program, etc. Well-produced human-interest stories and profiles of interesting people can attract viewers to your station, while giving you something impressive to put on your audition video—and the better your audition video is, the better your prospects of moving to a larger station, if that’s your goal.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Sound Like A Professional Journalist

Judy Woodruf interviews Chuck Hagel on PBS News Hour

Writing and speaking like a professional have always been important concerns for journalists. But today, with advertorials cluttering up TV station websites and social media alike, it’s even more pressing to set yourself apart from the fake news that constantly bombards your audience.

The Confusion of Advertorials or Native Content

An advertorial—sometimes called native content—is an ad in the form of editorial content. In other words, it’s an ad made to look like a real news story. You’ve probably seen many of these. Don’t think so? Browse a local TV station’s website. Look along the sides and scroll down to the bottom of the page. See any ads for anti-aging creams that “plastic surgeons don’t want you to know about,” or investing advice that “makes bankers crazy?”

The reason websites (including media organizations) can make money off these advertorials is that they don’t really look like content native to the website; most people can easily tell an advertorial is not a legitimate news story. For one thing, the picture quality is usually horrible, and real news stories don’t contain badly edited animations—dancing pumpkins, flickering lights, mouths opening and closing to name just a few.

The other giveaway is the language, and that brings us back to the importance of sounding professional as a journalist. Every time I see one of the following sensationalist words of phrases, I know I’m looking at an advertorial: “Shocking,” “jaw-dropping,” “you won’t believe,” “this is amazing.”

Choosing Your Language Carefully

Obviously, you don’t want to use any of the above words or phrases when writing headlines for your station’s website or social media posts. But it’s also important to keep them out of your vocabulary when you write scripts or ad-lib in a live shot. Your job as a reporter is to sound like you know what you’re talking about. This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert on everything, but you should be knowledgeable about general topics. You should also be able to ask questions, learn about a subject, and be able to describe it accurately in layman’s terms to your audience. Otherwise, your viewers will have no confidence in your ability to report the news.

If you start describing stories as “shocking” or “jaw-dropping,” you’re going to sound naive and inexperienced. Or audience members might think you’re trying to make a story sound more sensational or newsworthy than it actually is. (If you’re working in a small market without a lot of hard news, that may in fact be the case—but you don’t want it to be obvious to your viewers!) Additionally, whether or not something is “shocking” depends on the individual, and many of your viewers won’t be surprised at all.

If you need to point out why something is unusual, explain with specifics. For example, don’t say, “This pumpkin is so huge, it’s jaw-dropping!” Instead, say, “This pumpkin that Mr. Smith grew in his backyard weighs thirty pounds. By contrast, the average size for pumpkins of this variety is between six and eighteen pounds.” Let your audience members decide if the pumpkin’s size is jaw-dropping or just mildly surprising.

This doesn’t mean that you have to sound jaded or act like nothing surprises you. It’s okay to express genuine surprise, but do it in a way that doesn’t sound over-the-top. Again, giving specifics instead of interpreting a situation as “shocking” works better.

For example: “I knew our meteorologist predicted six inches of snow tonight, but I was surprised by how quickly it accumulated. Look at how much snow is piled up on the hood of our news van. You can see on the ruler that it’s almost four inches of snow. Just thirty minutes ago, when we parked here, there was no snow on the hood at all.” This sounds better than, “It’s just shocking how much snow we’re getting!” or “My jaw dropped when I saw the parking lot!”

But Don’t Sound Like a Professor, Either

Sounding well-informed does not mean sounding like you have an advanced degree in every subject you cover. As you may have learned in some of your classes, using unfamiliar, big words without explanation is also a good way to alienate some audience members. Some stations have their own standards and may recommend writing for a sixth- or eighth-grade vocabulary, but in general you don’t want to use words that go much beyond the junior-high level.

Words the average person uses in conversation (aside from profanity, of course) are usually good choices, but sometimes it’s necessary to use jargon when covering a scientific or medical story. In that case, just make sure to explain the word’s meaning. You don’t have to go into a lot of technical details—just sum up what the word means and how it relates to the story. For example, “Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that can be fatal, and often results in patients like Jane Doe needing a heart transplant. Jane told us she’s been on the waiting list for a transplant since April….”

Relating to Interview Subjects

You may have learned in one of your classes that talking to people in their own language—parroting the words or phrases they use—is a good way to establish rapport and get them talking. Sometimes this works, but it’s also possible your subject may think you’re trying too hard or being disingenuous. You might even come off that way to viewers, too. An adult trying to use the latest slang popular with twelve-year-olds is probably going to look silly, and the preteen subject might respond by rolling his or her eyes. A better alternative is to restate what the subject said when leading into questions. For example, “You said, in your own words, that you were ‘down with that sick beat.’ How long have you been practicing this type of music?” By maintaining that distance, you retain both that professional tone without sounding insincere, which, ultimately, is the goal here.

Image Source

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

What To Do When A Live Broadcast Goes Wrong

control room during live shoot

If you’ve spent any time watching news blooper videos on YouTube, you’ve probably seen a wide variety of live shots going wrong. But how you should deal with unexpected events on live television when you graduate and get a job in broadcast journalism?

Live Shots: A Million Ways Things Can Go Wrong

There is no shortage of possible problems you might experience during a live shot. Teenagers sometimes get a kick out of screaming profanity or making obscene hand gestures on live TV. Adult hecklers who don’t like the subject of your story might try to make their opinions heard. People being interviewed can become flustered, have a meltdown, or decide now is the time to launch into a diatribe about a subject unrelated to the story you’re covering. Then there are unexpected weather problems, animals running into shots, etc.

People

Remember that your job is to report the story. Try to ignore hecklers—engaging with them only encourages more heckling. Stay on track with what you’d planned to say. If the heckling gets worse anyway, you may want to wrap up quickly and pitch back to the anchor. If someone is screaming profanity, pitch back to the anchor immediately—chances are, someone in the control room has already killed your mike anyway and didn’t have time to tell you.

Obviously, those working in the control room should also be ready to cut away from a live shot at a moment’s notice if things go wrong. If you’re sitting at the anchor desk, you should be prepared for unexpected problems, as well. If the reporter has a live shot script in the prompter, it’s best to scroll through it with him or her instead of cuing the prompter to your tag—that way, you can finish reading what the reporter planned to say if it becomes necessary. If there isn’t a reporter tag in the prompter, briefly apologize, read the anchor tag, promise to have more on the story later, and move on.

Sometimes people cause problems with live shots unintentionally. Your interviewee might have a sudden attack of nerves upon realizing he or she is on live television and people are watching. You don’t want to look like the heartless reporter who embarrassed someone on TV—and some people might interpret the situation that way, even though the reality is that you don’t control other people’s emotions.

You can, however, try to make things easier on your subjects. If an interviewee seems nervous before the live shot, try to distract them from things like lights and cameras. Make small talk with them. Getting your subjects talking about things that make them happy—their families, pets, hobbies—can help put them at ease.

You may not always have time to talk to the person you’re interviewing before the live shot. If, despite your best efforts, someone gets visibly flustered, starts stammering, or babbling about nothing, help them out. Asking a long-winded question can give interviewees time to collect themselves. You can repeat some facts about the subject of the conversation, and gradually lead back into a question for the subject. Although it’s usually better to ask open-ended questions so you can get more than a one-word answer, if the subject is flustered, you might try lobbing them a few yes/no questions. Having someone nod or stammer, “Mm-hmmm” may not result in the most brilliant interview ever, but it’s better than having the subject clam up completely or walk off in the middle of the interview.

Weather, Animals, And Other Unforeseen Events

Sometimes things just happen beyond your control. The good thing about these kinds of calamities is that they can actually make for great viral videos—meaning more publicity for you and your station—if you handle things well. Try to roll with whatever happens. There’s no need to pretend things didn’t go wrong—acknowledge it and keep going. “Well, as you can see, it’s very windy out here, but that hasn’t stopped the crowd of people who came out for this event….”

Remember, the reporter who laughs off a mishap and continues to report the story will be remembered in a more positive light than one who gets upset and flustered.

Microphones, Cameras, Lights, Technical Difficulties

You’ve probably learned in school that the best way to deal with technical difficulties is to prevent them by planning carefully and checking out your equipment beforehand.

But in the real world, sometimes you just don’t have time, or everyone is busy dealing with one problem and overlooks another. Even with the best preparation, electronics can fail spontaneously.

If you’re a photographer or part of a camera crew, you’ll need to master the art of getting the reporter a new mic without completely distracting him or her. Usually the best bet is just to hand it to them, or wave it in the air just off-camera. At least they’ll have an idea what you want them to do. Random hand gestures, waving frantically, or a producer yelling in the reporter’s IFB (a small earpiece that allows you to hear the off-air signal and sometimes the control room) can result in an inexperienced reporter getting distracted and stumbling through his or her script.

If you’re in front of the camera and think your mike or camera isn’t working, pretend like it is. Just keep reading your script or talking about the story. If your mic suddenly starts working (or someone in the control room remembers to turn it on after all), you don’t want to be complaining about your station’s crummy equipment at the exact moment that happens. You also don’t want to be making a face, rolling your eyes, or looking panicky when they finally get a picture to go with the sound. If the problem can’t be solved, someone in the control room will eventually let you know you’re clear, either by communicating through your IFB or having the photographer tell you.

Image Source

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

4K UHD TV: How To Prepare For The New Standard

4K comparison chart

The latest HD television technology is called 4K, or Ultra High Definition (UHD), sometimes also called 4K UHD. Previously, there were three ways to describe definition in TV: Standard Definition (480p/540p), High Definition (720p), and Full High Definition (1080i/p). By contrast, UHD is 2160p. Each UHD TV has a minimum resolution of 3,840 pixels wide by 2,160 pixels high. Essentially, a UHD TV has about 8 million more pixels than a 1,080p HD television.

More Pixels, More Problems?

While more pixels result in a better picture, most broadcasters and streaming services have not yet converted. Why? Because 4K video takes up much more space on a hard drive, and streaming it eats up a large amount of bandwidth—in fact, people who wish to stream 4K content like House of Cards on Netflix will need a 25mbps download speed that many viewers don’t currently have. While there has been talk of broadcasting the 2016 Olympic Games in UHD, the current options for true UHD content are limited to some content on a few streaming services, mainly Netflix and Amazon.

Is Upconverting The Answer?

Despite the limited programming currently available for UHD, 4K televisions are still flying off the shelves. While there will be more shows available in the future, another selling point is “upconverting”—changing an HD 1080p signal, for example, into a 4K image. This is done by using additional pixels to recreate the fewer-pixeled original image. To do this, the television guesses at what should go in those extra pixels; often the result is an image slightly sharper than 1080p, but still softer than true 4K UHD. So while upconverting results in a good picture, and possibly a better picture than you would have had with regular HD, most people won’t reap the full benefits of their new 4K sets until they watch UHD programming.

What Does This Mean To My Future Journalism Career?

When you graduate and begin working in the field of broadcast journalism, presumably some time in the next few years, you may work for a broadcaster that is making the switch to 4K UHD. If not, it’s likely your employer will do so eventually. In the meantime, UHD TVs and cable/satellite providers will be upconverting your video.

So I Should Get Ready for My 2160p Closeup?

Yes, but not just you. Remember that everything shot in 4K and, to a lesser extent, upconverted to it, will be seen in greater detail. If you currently intern at a TV station, some of the journalists you work with might remember the transition from standard definition to HD several years ago. At that time, many on-air reporters and anchors were advised to rethink their makeup strategies. Some stations even hired skincare experts to advise on-air talent how to improve their look in HD.

While you don’t need to do anything that extreme, you should be prepared for a very sharp picture if you plan to work on-air. When shooting video for class, experiment with closeup shots in different angles and lighting situations, so you can get an idea of how you look your best. You can also try different kinds or amounts of makeup. If you can borrow a 4K UHD camera, you’ll have an even better idea of how things look in the new medium.

Practicing Recording Video in 4K

Shooting video in UHD (if you have the opportunity) is a good idea even if you don’t plan to be in front of the camera yourself. Future photographers and editors will need to know what works and what doesn’t when shooting in 4K. A few years from now, you might be capturing video both indoors outdoors, at varying times of day or night, in varying weather conditions. You’ll need to use the right lighting techniques and camera angles to capture images for UHD. Remember that too-harsh lighting, combined with too many pixels, can result in an image that’s either too blurry to see clearly or downright blinding to view.

If you don’t have access to a UHD camera, see if your school has a 4K TV where you can stream UHD, so you can see examples of video shot in 2160p. Also check your phone, or your friends’ phones—many new cell phones can now shoot 4K video. While most phone cameras won’t have half the features of a dedicated video camera, you may get some ideas about shooting in UHD.

Don’t Forget To Prepare For Space/Bandwidth Constraints

Remember that whether you take video with a dedicated video camera or a cell phone, you’ll need a decent amount of storage space for any video longer than a few minutes. Because UHD uses so many pixels, it uses a lot more storage space than HD. If you can shoot in 4K, consider investing in a larger memory card than what you have currently.

Also be prepared for slow upload/download speeds when working with UHD in a future broadcast journalism job. Hopefully this will improve as internet speeds become faster. However, after graduating, you may work at a station that’s still improving its technology for 4K or waiting for its ISP to offer higher speeds. This might mean that you’re asked to upload only a few minutes of video at a time, instead of sending back fifteen minutes of cover video for the producer to pick through. You may also be required to do more editing in the field so you can just send back the final 30- or 60-second package.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

2016 Elections And TV’s Need For A Millennial Social Media Strategy

Donald Trump speaking at a presidential rally

According to a 2015 Pew Research report, almost two-thirds of Millennials (61%) view news on Facebook, more than any other news source. Only 37% say they acquire news from local TV. By contrast, Baby Boomers consume news from local television at almost the same rate that Millennials get news from Facebook (60%) and Gen Xers fall in the middle, with 51% getting political news from Facebook and 46% from local TV.

A Wide Array of Political News on Social Media Keeps Millennials Engaged

Not only are Millennials more reliant on Facebook and other social media sites for political news, they also see it throughout the day at high rates, as opposed to a few times a day on a local news affiliate. Twenty-four percent of the age group said at least half the posts in their feeds were related to politics. (To be fair, it’s unclear whether all those posts are from legitimate news sources. It is possible users were counting memes of Donald Trump jack-o-lanterns, shares from The Onion, and other humorous content about politicians.)

The report goes on to show that Millennials are less aware of broadcast news sources like MSNBC and NPR, and more aware of online sources  like Buzzfeed and Google News.

Where Does This Leave Local Television for the 2016 Election Cycle?

Is this cause for concern for TV stations that rely heavily on political ad spending in election years? Not necessarily. In April, Carl Salas of Moody’s told The Los Angeles Times he predicts 2016 will see a 20% increase in spending over the 2014 mid-term election spending of $2.9 billion. He added that he thought about two-thirds of that money would go to television.

Other political ad spending analysts agree. In July, The Cook Political Report predicated total TV ad spending for 2016 would hit $4.4 billion.

That’s not just going to national networks, either—a July Washington Post article pointed out that older viewers are more likely to vote. Research firm BIA/Kelsey’s senior vice president Mark Fratrik is quoted as saying that local news viewers tend to be voters—all the more reason for political spenders to buy time on both local and national TV.

Should TV Stations Focus on Older Viewers?

Since Gen Xers and especially Baby Boomers are more likely to both watch local news and get political news from television, it might appear that the simple solution is to focus on older viewers when planning political coverage for the 2016 year.

This strategy isn’t difficult to implement. While you should cover all the issues of both local and national news, you can also run special reports on issues that are primarily of interest to older viewers—a package detailing where candidates stand on Social Security, for example.

That doesn’t mean you should abandon hope of reaching Millennials. They may be less likely to vote, but the 18-34 age demographic is still important to advertisers, as they’re less brand loyal and more likely to try new products. And since they’re more active on social media in terms of their news consumption, broadcast journalists are increasingly using social media itself to measure the impact of their reports.

How to Reach Millennials with Political News

Facebook and other social networks are the ideal places to reach Millennial news consumers. If you can engage with younger viewers on social media, they’re more likely to watch your station when they do turn on the TV for news. And try experimenting with newer streaming video social media networks like Meerkat and Periscope which can add an extra dimension to a news story, allowing journalists to provide behind-the-scenes commentary that wouldn’t fit on TV. You can also earn ad revenue from pre-roll ads when people view videos of political news online, and even more revenue if they visit your website.

While political issues that affect older Americans may be a good idea for special reports, your social media posts should focus on issues of interest to younger consumers, like unemployment rates and student loan debts. Did a political candidate just announce he or she has a plan to reduce higher education costs? Get the package from your national network and retweet it, asking followers what they think. This kind of engagement will help you earn ad revenue online thanks to younger viewers, while still collecting on-air ad dollars for the 2016 election cycle.

Institutions like NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism program are training the next generation of multimedia journalists (MMJs). Students learn how to become content creators, with an eye towards cross-platform distribution. Usually a local news story shouldn’t be posted “as is” on social media. Instead, it needs to be crafted to meet the expectations and needs of a different audience. One reason why so-called “explainers” have become popular is that they can be viewed on a smartphone or a similar device minus any sound. That’s exactly what Now This did recently with a powerful Halloween-themed story.