It can be very stressful as a future college graduate to apply for a first job in the TV industry. News directors from TV stations all over the South give advice on how to make a good candidate.
The news directors present in the panel were James Finch (Director of News Services for Gray Media), Pat Peterson (News Director at WTOK in Meridian, MS), Brad Kessie (News Director at WLOX in Biloxi, MS), William McLain (Assistant News Director of WAFF in Huntsville, AL) and Mark Little (News Director at WLBT in Jackson, MS).
The first thing they tackled is reels. The news directors agree that the first 7 to 10 seconds are the most important in a reel: you need to grab the attention of the audience. If the first seconds are compelling, the viewer will keep watching.
“We’re a visual medium. So you need to tell great stories with a video that compels me to keep watching, and you need to figure out a way to blend audio into that storytelling because television and digital storytelling is more than just your words and the words of other people,” Kessie explains.
“We don’t want newsreaders. We want storytellers who know about the topics they’re reporting on,” Paterson adds.
One great way to produce a compelling reel, mentions McLain, is to research what a great reel looks like, and get inspiration from excellent pieces of work. Doing research, doing the leg work is essential. When applying to a TV station, taking the time to watch their productions and get acclimated with their type of work is important. If you can show a news director that you know your subject, that you have been paying attention to their coverage, and that you know who you are addressing within the station you will increase your chances of scoring a job within their workforce.
“There was a candidate who was from Penn State, she applied for a reporter job here [WLOX]; the cover letter doesn’t necessarily mean that much but I happened to read the cover letter from her and her first sentence quoted me from my bio. … She used that quote in setting herself up. I watched the entire reel, I didn’t give her 7 to 10 seconds, I watched the reel from beginning to end because she took the time to learn something about me and I owed it to her,” Kessie recalls.
Just coming out of school and having little experience should not be too much of a source of concern: some news directors prefer reels that have been filmed and edited while in school, stories from campus, rather than workpieces from internship experiences.
Moreover, students who come out of school are coachable. It is important to get as many experiences as you can during your college years, like getting involved with the campus TV station or doing internships. Practical work is always good to have. But it is not necessary to have years of experience in the field to get hired.
“Any hire we have, whether that person has experience or they’re coming out of college, I always assume that we’re going to have an INPS training period. It’s very natural, it does take a little time to learn, but that’s expected. It’s built-in,” says McLain.
The industry is short on talent, as students are welcomed to fill that need for talent… especially as producers. It is a position that is still too seldom demanded by candidates, and the industry is lacking.
“We need producers. Not everybody can be an anchor, not everybody can be a reporter, but the producing route is a great way to go. … And I would strongly suggest you consider that if you’re good storytellers, good writers, and good with time management,” Paterson advises.