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
if that process isn't tough enough, you actually have to work
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
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.