By: Kristyn Caddell, SPJ Gen J National Writer
Television Reporter Lindsay Cohen says she owes her first news job to a painting dog, while Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh feels it was her enthusiasm that sealed her first tv deal. And, for me, I have always credited landing my first gig to a cross country journey and the ability to carry around a 75 pound DVC pro camera even when I had no clue how to turn the thing on…
We all remember the moment it happened…when we got the long-awaited, much anticipated call, and maybe the person on the other end said something like this. “ Sure I will give you a shot…it will be on the 3 am shift, on the weekend, you’ll be standing in the freezing cold weather and you might have to shoot your own video and oh, by the way you’ll be living in Presque Isle Maine ( DMA #206) with a paycheck totaling a whopping $13,000 a year….but THAT my friends was all we needed!
While teaching and mentoring journalism students I am constantly asked the same question how did you get your first job and what do we need to do to break into this ever-changing industry. Some journalists are fortunate enough now and don’t have to move to the smallest market in the country and can even score big and get their own photographer, but all still have to catch the eye of a news director.
So what better way to find out what it is was that made the news bosses of journalists around the country give them their first jobs than ask them. And, this a step further and compare notes with what we journalists have long thought the answers were.
So back to Lindsay Cohen, probably one of my favorite reporters to watch because of her way with words..Just when you think she can’t possibly squeeze another subtle pun into her storytelling she does it beautifully and without the cheese.
Lindsay Cohen Anchor/Reporter
First Job: Reporter
First Boss: Paul Conti
Station: WNYT, Albany, New York
Why Lindsay thinks she got the job: “I often joke that I owe my first job to a painting dog. It was the kicker on my resume tape. Paul wasn’t looking for a reporter when I sent him work, but I called him up and asked him if he’d take a look. When I asked for feedback a week later, he gave me his overall insight, and told me he was impressed by the writing on that piece. He then threw a pop quiz at me. Paul was famous for that. He asked, “how many senators does New York have? Who are they? What’s the top story in the country today?” He asked this of all his candidates. I think he wanted to make sure his employees had some basic smarts — and could also talk on the fly about the top news of the day. After making my way through that, he told me they just had a part-time job open up for a weekend reporter. ”
Why Paul Conti says she got the job: “ I hired Lindsay twice!!! The first time was for a vacation relief position at the TV station. During my tenure as news director staffing was not as great a challenge as it is now. Normally when I hired a vacation relief reporter I hoped that individual could do basic reporting on some simple spot news. In a short period of time I could tell that Lindsay’s talents exceeded routine accidents and fires. She is great at enterprising stories, which is not easy to find in a reporter. And she is a great story teller. I liked to tell my middle managers at the station that you can coach a young journalist on how to do a more appealing standup or how to tighten up a script but you can’t coach smart. Lindsay is smart. As the vacation relief job wound down I lobbied to get a full time reporter position. I must have promised something horrible to the budget people because investing in additional payroll positions was never an easy lift. Everything I knew to be true about Lindsay as a vacation relief reporter was certainly evident during her time as a full time reporter. As an experienced, veteran reporter in Seattle her Emmy wins are a testimony to her skill set.
Jay Cashmere Anchor/Reporter
First Job: One-Man Band Reporter
First Boss: Rebekah Caldwell-Mason; Mike Sullivan
Stations: WJRD Tuscaloosa, Alabama ; WTOC Savannnah, Georgia
Why Jay thinks he got the job: “I think my first bosses gave me my jobs because I was motivated and eager to get experience and that’s what it’s all about. My first job was at a small start-up WJRD in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was a one-man band reporter making only $13,000. After about a year Mike Sullivan at WTOC in Savannah, Georgia gave me a shot in a bigger market. I consider both these bosses as giving me my first shot in the business because of how quickly I moved from one station to the next. It’s not about the amount of money you make; it’s about how much experience you can get that will help push you into your next job in a bigger market.
You have to be hungry for experience and not feel entitled to it. This industry has humble beginnings, but can give you a front row seat to the world’s biggest stories.”
Why Mike Sullivan says he got the job: “Jay had a fantastic attitude. He showed us that energy and positive outlook when we interviewed him and he never lost it. Our initial appraisal held true . He grew professionally and just as importantly he was a great person to have in the newsroom. A young reporter may not have the best audition tape in the stack, but if he or she demonstrated motivation and enthusiasm we could always work with them to improve their skills. ”
Kristyn Caddell, Reporter
First Job: Photographer
First Boss: Scott Howard
Station: KHSL-TV Chico, California
Why Kristyn thinks she got the job: “I graduated from college, packed up my Mustang and headed west with all of my belongings and the resume tape I made during my internship. By the time I got to the station, Scott had no choice but to give me a job because the reality was I drove 3,000 miles to pursue my passion. After two days he offered me a photographer job ( I had no clue how to shoot at the time) and three months later; I was on-air reporting. I always listened to every critique from anyone who had something to say and knew there was always room to get better. So, whenever I was told to ditch the large man blazers with shoulder pads, I did!
Why Scott Howard says she got the job: “Kristyn was hungry for the job and hungry to be good at it. And ,the clincher was when Chico had its only high-rise fire ever (Chico State ninth floor dorm fire) and she was my only option to go live… (Main anchor Matt Keller broke his hand playing basketball on his break). Kristyn didn’t blink an eye when I said “we need you to go live.” We packed up the live truck, headed down to the campus for her first official spot news live shot and she nailed it. I say “official” because I’m not counting the time she took (snuck) the live truck out on her own to do a Saturday live shot
at some psychic fair!!!! That’s being hungry, I guess….”
Lynn Walsh, Investigative Producer
First Job: 4PM Producer
First Boss: Pat Casey (Pat Casey passed away in 2011.
Station: WKEF, Dayton, Ohio
Why Lynn thinks she got the job: “I was enthusiastic, passionate and eager to work. I showed my willingness and ability to do just about anything they might need in the newsroom.”
*Pat Casey spent thirty years helping propel television newsrooms and programs around the country. He not only worked at WKEF, but also at stations in Baltimore, Washington, Los Angeles and Cincinnati.
Renee Lavine, Photographer
First Job: Photographer
First Boss: David Williams
Station: KLPC, Lake Charles, Louisiana
Why Renee thinks she got the job: “They had a photographer position open for four months. I was local and was able to take the low-paying salary and live at home with my parents. I had just graduated and had a resume tape with three packages that I shot and edited.”
Why David Williams says she got the job: “As you can probably imagine hiring employees in such a small market can be difficult. Thankfully, Renee was a native of the area and knew a lot about Lake Charles. She also had a great attitude and was willing to do whatever was needed for the position. Small market TV needs people with a positive attitude like Renee had early in her career.”
Up until now, we never thought to ask our bosses why we got hired… For many of us it’s twelve years later hearing what it was that got us our first gigs.
The running theme here seems to be a good attitude and the will to do whatever it takes. You might not know how to turn the camera on, but you can figure that out. You might be scared to move to the middle of nowhere, but you’ll be fine. You might think ad-libbing the fire of the century is impossible, but it isn’t. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, because you always can.
Be different. Be versatile. Be YOU .
**Thank you to all of the journalists and news managers who contributed to this article.