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Friday, April 3, 2015
Generation J Toolbox

TV: Not just bright lights

By Jacqueline Ingles

Broadcast news, particularly in local television, is going through major changes with technological advances. That’s nothing new. Unfortunately, along with those changes, early career journalists trying or thinking of entering the field are changing too, and sometimes not for the better. I’d suggest young reporters stop doing a few things if they want to have a solid and successful career.

Granted, my advice here is particularly geared toward those in TV news, since that’s my area of experience, but the same general tips apply to all early career journalists, despite your primary medium of work.

DON’T BE ‘TOO GOOD’ FOR JOBS

I took every job no one wanted to work in TV. I worked three different times in remote bureaus,

each averaging 100 miles from the main station. There was no fancy set or studio, I set up my own live shots, drove myself to locations, and shot my own stories. My third bureau was attached to a barn, there were no functioning windows, and it was less than 500 square feet. It the summer

the smell was overwhelming. But I stayed with it for three years.

AVOID FEELING ENTITLED

No one owes you anything. You earn respect and make your reputation. Quit thinking you deserve to be given the lead story. Rather, be tenacious, and find one worthy of leading the 6 p.m. newscast and pitch it. So many of my older colleagues cannot stand young journalists who come in with an attitude, argue and don't want to pay their dues. That applies to journalists in all media. Your editor/manager isn’t apt to come to you with the “big” story of the day (or week). Prove that you can dig and find it.

BEWARE THE BIG-MARKET DREAMS TOO SOON

Don't try to simply get a foot in the door if you don't have a leg to stand on. I see many reporters who aim for higher markets to start out right from school, and they simply aren’t ready. You need to be in a small market to make (and learn from) mistakes. Those smaller markets are generally more forgiving. Make a mistake in a larger market and it could cost you your job. I started in Valdosta, Georgia, and worked hard. Everyone laughed and gave me a stare of ‘What? Good luck with that.’ Fast forward six years and I am in Tampa, Florida – a top-15 market by size.

MASSIVE MARKET JUMPS ARE HARD TO FIND

I’ve seen reporters who want to go from market 140+ to a top-20 market with a year or two experience. To be fair, I have seen a few reporters do it. However, they are generally paid low salaries (they are barely getting by financially in those pricey, big cities) and are brought in to provide filler content. They aren't given the big stories because they simply aren't ready. You can get better, more marketable experience in a smaller market where you are on those stories daily, not when everyone else calls in sick and you are the last resort. Think of sitting on the bench in the major leagues instead of riding a bus to AAA games and getting real playing experience.

REMEMBER: IT’S NOT ALL GLAMOROUS AND EASY

You will likely move far from friends and family. I’ve spent a good many holidays working. My family calls or video chats with me to sing happy birthday. Then, I go back to work. This job is emotionally tough and you need mental armor. That’s true for all journalists, but particularly real for those early in their careers.

Then, add in long work long hours. Some weeks I leave my house at 8 a.m. and don’t return until 8 p.m. or later. You will be put to the test physically, and you could end up carrying a heavy video camera, tripod and editing computer as a one-person-band.

I don’t want to make it sound like everything is dark and dire. It’s not. I love my choice of career. But there are very real considerations that those working in TV – or any medium – need to realize about what a job in journalism as an early career reporter really means.

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