By: Jacqueline Ingles
The other day, I had the opportunity to see how someone in a hiring position for on-air talent went through demo reels. Let me tell you, it was eye-opening.
I always thought it was a myth that news directors only watched demo reels for an average of 10 seconds. I was right. It is more like 7 seconds. This person zipped through tapes quicker than I could blink.
Here is what had on-air hopefuls hitting the road instead of landing an interview:
1) “Not enough energy” That is all this person kept saying tape after tape after tape. Bottom line, if you are not interested in what you are talking about and telling viewers, the person who is watching your reel can tell. If you are on the scene of a breaking fire ACT LIKE IT. Don’t just stand there, move around. It is understandable that sometimes you simply aren’t allowed to walk and talk because of dangers, but how about directing the cameraman by saying,” I am going to go ahead and have Scott zoom in on the roof. You can see where it caved in. Directly under this portion of the roof is where the twins were trapped.” Sure, you are not walking and talking, but boy are you showing something. Nothing screams amateur like standing in one spot looking into the camera. If you are live, you are live for a reason. Show the viewers why you are live or why you are doing a standup.
2) A Glamazon NOT a Grinder With newsrooms turning into multi-platform shops, you want to show that you are a grinder. This means you can churn out stories and not do it to seek on-air glory time. One applicant created an entire biography page and they had a picture posing with an award. The minute this person saw the picture he asked, “Who poses with an award? Really?” He couldn’t get past the picture The applicant’s demo was not even watched. Awards and recognition are great, but they shouldn’t be the shining star of your demo reel or homepage. Definitely highlight your success in a cover letter, resume, etc. I believe the word used to describe this applicant was “HAM” and he is still the butt of jokes.
3) Lack of Variety- Broadcast is a visual medium. The more action packed your tape is the better and the more enterprising stories you can tell the better. This one person’s tape was literally meeting after meeting after meeting. There simply was not enough to keep the person watching interested, let alone awake. The tape was a snoozefest. Show some breaking news, have a cool feature on there and toss in something enterprise. What I found was that not one of this applicant’s stories were different than the next. A broadcast story should be something can watch even when audio is on mute.
Also, think variety in terms of shots. Not everything needs to be shot on a tripod. Not everything has to be a sequence of wide, medium, tight. When you are out shooting, don’t be afraid to rest the camera on the ground or to balance it at an angle on your hands. During one shoot, I actually climbed on to the roof of my news truck along with my camera and tripod just to get more of an aerial view. Bottom line, if you are at a fire, show me flames, firefighters pulling hoses, etc. Do not get stagnant shots of a fire truck sitting and go tight on the fire department emblem on the door. In grad school this was called sign journalism and no one liked it.
There are some tricks to getting an interview too.
1) Drop your demo off in-person My former colleague decided to get her demo reel out of the pile and showed up at the station she wanted to work at in person. They did have jobs open and she kindly asked the secretary if the news director could come to the front office. It worked. He admired her bold move, sat down with her, watched her entire reel and then asked her to send more links. Four weeks later, she was the new reporter at that station. At 23, she was in market 40.
Don’t get me wrong, do not go booking tickets all over the nation to drop your demo off. If you are close to a few markets go ahead and take a drive. Or, if you are on vacation, pack a suit and go for it. It puts a face to a demo reel. You are no longer a link or a DVD, you are a human being. It also shows potential bosses you are aggressive and persistent. Both are attributes all reporters need to have to be successful.
This can also work if you have a friend at the station. They can act as a reference and put your tape in the right hands. Then, they can casually stop in and remind your news director to take a look or allow for another opportunity to bring your name up.
2) Save a Stamp/Think Outside the Box. Long gone are the days of mailing hefty VHS tapes to news directors. Upload your demo reel to YouTube and send everything via email. It is the quickest and easiest way to get your work out there. Also, you do not have to cold call, write endless letters or hope you hit the demo reel lottery. The way I landed my job in Austin: Facebook. That is right. I contacted my news director on Facebook. Crazy, right? A lot of my friends thought I was nuts and that I looked unprofessional. Well, I got a call three days later about their multi-platform job. I was also told they thought it was neat that I used social media for my job search. It has been 18 months and I am still here. The lesson: in broadcast, nothing is off limits. So, get on Facebook and tweet that ND a link to your demo.
3) Be Persistent, Very Persistent. I spent 9 months conversing with my second boss via email. I wanted in to WCTV in Tallahassee so bad because I knew it was a reputable shop. Every few weeks, I sent links, pitched my own story ideas, etc. I never gave up even though I had questioned being a pest. The news director would write back sometimes, other times he wouldn’t. Finally, after almost one year, he called and told me there was a job open and how he appreciated my dedication. He also made note of how many reporters would find out there were no jobs at his station and disappear into the night never to be heard or seen from again. The simple message is do not give up. Stay on someone’s radar. Again, email is free.
4) Find Common Ground. Googling a news director is not hard. You can easily find out where they worked in the past, where they went to school, etc. Anything that you have in common with that person will help you. When you go out on a job hunt, do yourself a favor and spend five minutes on google or Linkedin, etc. Also, research the station’s web site and watch the station’s newscast. Provide a little commentary on certain packages and voice your likes and dislikes. Maybe there is something you would have done different. Doing this will show how deep your interest runs in that shop and that you are a go-getter.
Also, there places that are simply destination markets to work in. Think Tampa, Phoenix, Miami and San Diego. Everyone and anyone wants to work in these markets and get the added bonus of fun in the sun. One news director in Florida told me when they had a reporter opening, 450 people applied just because it was Florida. You do not want to walk into an interview and not have good reason why you want to work in that market. Maybe you are an excellent crime reporter or strive to be and see opportunity to cover the international drug trade and corridor in Miami. Watch how the station covers crime and tell them how you would do it. Maybe you are fluent in Spanish and could get them the scoop on stories easier. Bottom line, find some way to make yourself memorable.
Jacqueline Ingles is a multi-platform reporter for KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas. She writes, shoots, edits, fronts her story and then provides a more in-depth story version on her station’s web site daily. She founded the blog “In Ingles Please” in early 2010. A native of Chicago, Jacqueline received a master’s in broadcast journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She also graduated Summa Cum Laude from Loyola University-Chicago.