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Weekly Features
Agent of Change
Scott Orr is entering his third decade in TV news. Starting from his first job as a studio cameraman back in the very early 1980's, Scott worked his way up through the ranks, and managed to do every job in the newsroom (for at least a short time), and eventually made it all the way to small-market News Director. Now, he's President of a talent management company, The Scott Orr Agency, Inc., based in Denver, Colorado. His goal is to help clients learn, grow, and advance their careers. Scott is originally from Phoenix and attended the University of Arizona--which is where he got his start in TV, at the University-operated PBS station. Visit his web site by clicking here.

April 11, 2005

In this column, the first of what I hope will be many on a semi-regular schedule, I'll address the TV news newcomer-the student who is graduating in a couple of months and needs their first TV job. There's a lot to understand and accept about the process of getting into your first station…and if that process isn't tough enough, you actually have to work there!

This list is a variation on one I talked about at the January APTRAprep event in Las Vegas. After over 20 years in TV News, I've learned some things are universally true. Here we go:

1.Be willing to drive yourself to interviews for your first job. Yes, they "should" fly you in, but in the small markets you're looking at, they may not. And even if it's possible, you score big-time if you save the News Director the cost of a round-trip ticket.

2.Be willing to go where they'll hire you. Beggars can't be choosers, and when you're just out of college with thousands of other would-be journalists, you're a beggar. Suck it up and go to market 170 or 180 if you must. You'll get good experience there, whether you end up liking the station or not.

3. Be willing to accept a bad schedule and low pay for your first job or two…or three. That's the reality of this business. The news is on TV in the evening, and on holidays, and weekends, and someone has to make that newscast happen. You will work hours that cut into your social time, at least at first. And you won't make much money, either. You have to accept those two facts or you may as well not even bother to look for that first job at all. (And, NO, you may not take time off during Sweeps. Just deal with it, because you aren't going to change that.)

4. Be flexible about changing your hair style-or about not changing it. The News Director who hires you will either send you to a hair stylist to make your hair look the way he or she likes, or you will have to keep your hair the way it was when you were hired. Either way, you just do it-this business is based on appearance. If you don't draw the viewers into the tent, they'll never see the show.

5. Understand that you may have to change your name. No two AFTRA union members may work under the same name, for example, so if you're Bob Smith, you're out of luck. And if you have a name that the ND thinks won't go over well, you'll be "asked" to change it.

6. Dress professionally, not trendy. The clothes you wear when you go clubbing on Friday night (and you can forget about that for a couple of years, too) are not appropriate to wear on the air. Whether you are given a wardrobe allowance or not, your clothes must look good on TV. They don't have to be expensive, but they should be conservative. Low cut blouses, shirts with loud or sparkly designs on them, short skirts-inappropriate. Don't wait for the viewers to tell your boss you dress poorly. Just avoid the problem.

7. Watch your weight. As petty as it sounds, you will end up in the boss's office if you gain weight. Honest. So just be watchful. You don't want to have that conversation in the first place.

8. Understand that, as a reporter, you will have to shoot and edit. Nearly all small markets, and some medium-sized ones, require reporters to shoot their own stories. It's a way to save money, but it can be a plus for you, too. Get good at shooting and you'll never mistreat a photographer later in your career.

Finally, the most important career advice of all:
If one station's management treats you poorly, do not assume everyone is just the same and quit the business. That's cheating yourself. Don't assume everyone is equal when it comes to managing, because they certainly are not. You just need to find the right place to work.

Now, if you can deal with all of that, you'll go on to work in a great shop with a reasonable salary and maybe, if you are very lucky, a Monday through Friday dayside schedule.