By Joanne Stevens, RTDNA Contributor
A few weeks ago, we talked about some traditional paths to becoming a journalist on radio or television. This time, we'll examine the roads less taken. We are in the GPS ‘recalculating’ mode; time for creative approaches to arriving at a new, fulfilling career in electronic journalism. And who knows what you may discover about yourself on the way!
The traffic reporter road
Unlike meteorology or news reporting, there is no formal ‘traffic school’ training and no certification necessary for traffic reporters; just a whole lot of initial discipline, ability to quickly assimilate incoming video information, and an ease and facility with language. If you’re banging your head against the wall trying to land a reporter, director, producer or writing job, how about becoming our favorite, trusted traffic reporter on the radio? As one of my clients put it, you’re proving your capability of reporting live and breaking news over and over again. And if you’re on camera, you have no teleprompter and no notes!
Here are a few suggestions:
- Try contacting your local radio stations and offer up your services – any services – to get going. Be sure to share your goal.
- Learn all those streets, roads, highways, routes; their idiosyncrasies, pronunciations, interconnectivities. You might even start making contacts among traffic officials. Practice hits as you watch those many traffic cameras and put together a demo reel.
- Remember that those on-air people who drive you crazy, those who read too fast or whose delivery is overly inflected, are not ‘professionals’ but rather folks doing what they think they should do to sound like a traffic reporter. Just trust yourself to share the information as you would. And how exciting it'll be when you get those occasional opportunities to imbue a bit of personality into a hit!
The guest contributor road
It was a peaceful day. Things were going smoothly. Then the phone rang. “Help!” It was a non-journalist, professional client of mine who was often interviewed live on set to flesh out or explain ramifications of a news story. There was gleeful panic in the air. Apparently she’d been asked to fill in for a cable network news anchor. The anchor’s partner had requested her. We did a little teleprompter prep, they tried her out and she had a blast. She was ‘bitten by the bug’ and she eventually left her prior career to join ‘our side’ full time as an in-house analyst and reporter. She was even stolen by a rival broadcast network!
Here’s what can happen. If you specialize in a field, such as law, medicine or finance/economics, you may find yourself becoming a constant guest on TV. This is also very much the case for print journalists. Excellent guests may pique enough newsroom interest to become a steady contributor, which in turn may lead to a dialogue about becoming a contracted correspondent. This whole thing is a lot like dating. If management thinks they are discovering you, and they think you are seemingly guileless about just how good you are, doors may unexpectedly crack open. What’s my definition of good? If my TV is playing in the background and someone causes me to look up and think ‘who’s that?’ – you’re special.
The 'you’re in a different career and doing video for websites' road
Click. Skip this ad. Or click it. "Your video will play in 18 seconds." Ugh. I lower the volume, glance at the newspaper, then ‘hmm...!’ This is my digital equivalent of ‘who’s that?’ Clients outside of our business often send me their website links. Luckily for them and ouch! for me, they are sponsored. However, once you show up on camera via your in-house production, you’ve activated my inner hawk. Maybe you sense your struggle and want to get better. Or you may have already shared your secret: You’re wondering if you have the skill or potential to join our electronic journalism world in some capacity. Sometimes your at-the-job links can serve as a catalyst to open a dialogue with the news networks or channels you’re hoping to contact. Quite a few also have separate dot-com components that are great for entry-level consideration.
If you’re not already providing online video for your organization, business or print publication, how about suggesting to your bosses that you do so? They can be short and informational, and of greatest importance, worthy of creating enough interest to generate return visits… or even a subscription, and they can create a path to a new career on the air.
Good luck! Please feel free to contact me through my website should you have any questions.
News consultant Joanne Stevens has written extensively about broadcast writing, reporting and anchoring, including columns in the former print version of RTDNA's Communicator Magazine, and earlier versions of the RTDNA website. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and serves as a news award judge for the New York Press Club. She has returned to RTDNA.org to offer a new series of News Coach columns with tips, best practices and more. Many of her previous columns are available on her website.