Like most Americans, I was crying last week when American treasure Tom Hanks gave his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. After I dried my eyes and stopped tweeting quotes from my favorite Hanks movie (The Burbs), I realized how much of what he said applied to what journalists need to succeed every day.
As he accepted the Cecil B. deMille Award, Hanks quoted a past supervisor from an internship, his first paid job in the business. The supervisor said to the interns, "You have to show up on time and you have to know the text and you have to have a head full of ideas."
It’s good advice for all of us who spend our days working in news.
Be on Time: It's probably the most important thing we can do. Being on time is being ready when your shift starts. Gear ready, rundowns loaded, ideas fleshed out, etc. Being on time is one of the few things we can (mostly) control. You're racing a deadline every single day. Begin with being on time and give yourself a head start. It also applies to hitting those deadlines. Whether you’re a producer, a photographer or a reporter, backtiming your day and creating deadlines before the actual deadlines can save your assignment – and save the show.
Know The Text: Of course, anyone in the field needs to know what they’re going to say in a live shot. Anchors at the desk need to know their copy well enough to read with emotion and emphasis – and be able to adlib if, and when, the prompter goes down. Those things absolutely matter. Knowing your text also applies to everyone working behind the scenes and knowing that the copy is sound. It’s more than just sharing facts and getting them in the right order. If someone said "What does that mean?" could you answer? If not, you don't know the text. It also means the production staff fully understands the rundowns and how to execute them.
A head full of ideas. This is the most remarkable tool we bring to the table. It starts with story ideas. What are people talking about? What does it mean in context with their lives and the community? What are the stories the community needs to know about, even if they may not be aware of that yet? Beyond the story pitch, it becomes a question of how you tell it. How do you go beyond standard broadcasting tools to make the story interesting and compelling? What can YOU do in YOUR role to make the viewer look up? What can you do that goes beyond the traditional Vo/Sot/Vo or package to best tell the story that day? Finally, it comes down to big-picture strategy. What ideas do you have beyond the day-to-day that can move the content and the station forward? It's up to all of us to use our voice in that discussion, which starts with a head full of ideas.
I could write advice for the world every day based on something Tom Hanks has said, and I wouldn’t feel bad about it. He also said in his speech that you have to be a dope to not "steal" from every person you've ever worked with, so I feel like he'd be glad I'm paying homage.