When I graduated from college, my first job was as a production assistant at a television network affiliate in Boston. I worked nights and weekends to help put on a 10 p.m. news program every night. It was a small team, so I really got to learn a lot from the second I walked through the door. Here are five lessons I learned at 22 that I still use today.
Deadlines matter! In the newsroom, every day we had a meeting at 3:30 p.m. to figure out what stories we were covering and what events or developing stories reporters were being sent to that day. My job was to assist assignment editors, producers and writers—which on any given day could include calling sources, finding the best 15-second soundbite out of an hour-long video interview, or finding the best video to match a writer’s story. I had to work quickly and efficiently, because we were going on air at 10 p.m. every night, whether you were ready or not. Because of this I understand reporter’s deadlines and try to make sure I’m getting them what they need well before their deadlines. If reporters can count on you to come through in a clutch, they will continue to use you as a resource.
Visuals are important to your story. As I mentioned, I went through a lot of video as a production assistant. If new video was not available for a story, I had to search stock video, or video from previous newscasts. While it was tedious, I always wanted to find the best video to match the story. Because of this, when I’m pitching a story, I’m always thinking about what visuals I have to offer the reporter and what is the best fit for each medium. Are there photos I can offer? Is there a video that will help illustrate the story? As news department budgets shrink, having visuals at the ready can help you land that story.
Practice makes perfect. The scariest part of my job was running the teleprompter every night from 10 – 11 p.m. It sounds easy, but each anchor reads at a different speed. I was so nervous, I started going in early to practice (with an intern to read while I prompted), and before I knew it, I was getting better. I was even asked to run prompters for other shows. Now when I’m getting ready to do an interview or training others to do interviews, I always emphasize practice, practice, practice. Answer questions in front of the mirror, videotape yourself and see where you can improve. Have someone else videotape your interview and critique your answers, body language, and yes, even the outfit! Make sure it’s someone that will be honest with you.
Be adaptable. It’s live television, not everything will be perfect. People may miss a line or two, or a photographer might walk through a shot. (Yours truly may have walked through a live weather shot once, and then kept on talking after the commercial break was over.) It happens. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out these children walking in on their dad’s BBC interview that is taking the internet by storm. The same applies to media relations and public relations interviews. A client is late for an interview, or the source you provided gets cut from the story. Be honest about what happened and try to make it up to them with kind email or note. Keep them in mind for future interviews.
Take time to unwind. We are always connected to technology these days, between our cell phones, lap tops, and tablets. I used to get out of work at 11 p.m. and most of the time I would have a second dinner and read or watch television before going to bed, and on Thursday nights the whole team at WB56 would go bowling. (My colleagues even bought me my own shoes for my birthday.) Now my workday does not end at 11 p.m., but I do work from home, and have to set limits and boundaries. You need to be able to shut off work at the end of the day and spend time with family and loved ones and do things you enjoy: reading, cooking, exercising, and, for me, the occasional bowling night.