Deadlines and Dead Ends

April 20, 2010

I’ve been at KPAX for 2 1/2 months now, and I feel like they see me as a real reporter there, not just a student who is trying to get some job experience.  My news director, Dennis, even offered me a full time job (with benefits) at their sister station in Kalispell after I graduate.  I said I’d think about it.

Since I was a freshman, I always imagined myself returning to my home state of Colorado after I graduated and reporting for the Altitude Network in the Denver area.  I have adjusted my expectations a little, but I still stand my ground on one thing: I want a post-grad job outside of Montana.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Montana and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to go to school here, but I miss being near a big city.  Even more so than that, I miss living in a state with professional sports teams!  I feel that in the nature of my profession, I owe it to myself to find a job in a state that has a multitude of sports ties and affiliations.  Montana doesn’t meet those criteria for me.

There are a few problems with wanting to find work outside of Montana.  First of all, my professors have strong connections with people and stations that are in Montana.  One advantage that I would have had going to a larger school near a big city would have been making connections in places that I actually wanted to work after I graduated.  And there’s one more problem that I seem to be encountering…oh yeah, I’m not hearing back from the stations I applied to!

So far, I have applied for 2 full time jobs as a weekday reporter/weekend sports anchor–one in Grand Junction, CO and the other in Elmira, NY (both of them are smaller markets than Missoula).  Never heard back from them….

I also applied for two part time sports photog/producing/reporting jobs–one in San Diego and one in Seattle.  Must have lost their job offers in the mail…

I did hear back from the Sports Director at the FOX station, who was also offering up a part-time sports photog/producer/reporter job.  He sounded interested, which got me very excited at the idea of working for a size 57 market right out of college.  Never mind the fact that I would have to get a part-time waitressing job on the side to make some extra money, it would be great experience.  But my ego was deflated a few days later, when I got an e-mail saying he had narrowed down the 70 candidates to a few finalists, and I was not one of them.

Now I know five tapes isn’t that many to send out, and I’ve already started applying for more jobs, but it’s hard not to get discouraged after being “professionally” rejected.  I’ve worked my ass off this semester to get all A’s and to balance my schoolwork with 30 hours of work a week–and it’s been really hard.  I never have time to go out and enjoy myself anymore.  I barely see friends that I used to see four or five time a week!  I literally have to plan lunch and dinner dates with them weeks in advance.  Some of the people that I considered friendly acquaintances, (who I would talk to on occasion) I haven’t heard from in months.  And to be honest, I think some of my good friends are getting a little tired of inviting me out every week, and me always having to decline.  But all semester, I’ve told myself that my hard work and sacrifices would be worth it because I was going to secure an amazing job after I graduated.

But that wasn’t the case–instead, I had no attractive job prospects and I felt like my once fun and vivacious “party girl” persona had become dull and lifeless.  I felt defeated.  So I did what any person in my position would do at that point—I went downtown with my friends for a night and got hammered.  After the morning haze cleared, I developed a better solution.  I decided it was time to step it up even more at work.  It was a chance to learn what my weaknesses were now and build upon them for a future job.

I agreed to come in early for my Sunday shift so I could shoot some lacrosse highlights for our weekend sports guy.  It was good experience for me and ended up being a nice filler for the 5:30 and 10:00 show.  But I knew I needed to improve in areas beyond sports.  The following weekend, I was sent out to do  vo/sot on some of the local police and forest service officers who were volunteering at Red Robin for the day to raise money for Special Olympics Montana.  I immediately knew that I could make a full news story out of this.  Yes, editing a package would be very time consuming, but it’s where I need the most work.  At school, they give us days to write and edit our packages.  At work, the package has to be turned that same day so it can air in the evening.  I figured taking on this challenge would be a great way to train myself on how to manage time well in a real work environment.

The shooting and interviews ended up going very well.  I mic’d up one of the officers and followed him around to different tables while he introduced himself, bussed tables, and served drinks.  The real challenge came when I returned to the studio.  I edited a couple other vo’s for the 5:30 show, and then got to work on my news package around 6.

Jump ahead to 9:45 p.m.: I’m still in the editing bay, frantically trying to finish my news package.  I had run into technical difficulties in the audio booth while I was recording my voice over.  The problems continued in the editing bay.  I am still adjusting to KPAX’s editing program (it is different from the one I’ve used at school for the last 3 years), which set me back even more under my tight time constraints.  But by a completely random stroke of luck, our weekend producer popped her head in my editing bay to let me know that we were going on air late that evening.  The UFC “Strikeforce” fight was running past its scheduled time on CBS, forcing our 10 o’ clock newscast to be postponed until closer to 10:30.  Thank God.

I finished my package at 10:15.  It looked pretty good, but it could have been better had I given myself more time to edit it.  While the package was sent in on time for our delayed newscast, it wouldn’t have been finished if we had gone on air during our regularly scheduled time.  That is unacceptable, both in school and in work.  While I was disappointed in myself for not meeting my deadline, I was also happy  that I had found my biggest weakness now instead of during my first real job.  What’s great about the job I have is that it’s a learning experience—my boss expects me to make mistakes and learn from them.  He’s giving me this opportunity as a chance to exploit my weaknesses and then learn how to strengthen them.  Having that realization has reaffirmed my faith in my job and time commitment at KPAX and makes me a little bit more optimistic for my future.

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A Little Eavesdropping Never Hurt Anyone…

March 29, 2010

I have been putting in a lot of extra hours at KPAX for the last two weeks in preparation for Spring Break this week.  By this past Friday, I was pretty worn out, to say the least.  Just as I was finding a balance between school, the sorority, and 30 hours/week at KPAX, job resumes and the pressure to pick which markets to apply at were thrown into the mix.

So here I was, four hours into my Friday shift, looking at a blank news board, with no assignments on it for me for the rest of the day.  People around Missoula seem to “check out” on Fridays by noon, leaving me with very little to film in the early Friday evenings.  I sat there, pondering what I could possibly do for the next four hours (which is when my shift was scheduled to end).

The words “basketball game” and “drive to Pablo” snapped me back to reality very quickly.  Our main sports anchor, Phil, was on the phone, trying to convince someone to film highlights for two high school all-star basketball games in Pablo (about an hour away from Missoula).  Phil’s desk is easily 30 ft. away from mine, so I had no choice but to eavesdrop on his conversation, a skill which I perfected in my high school days.  It sounded like whoever Phil was on the phone with was less than thrilled at the idea of driving an hour away just to cut a couple highlights.  Phil ended the conversation by saying, “It’s not a big deal, I understand that you have other things to do tonight…”  MONEY!  Thank you lazy, mystery guy on the other end of the phone for not stepping up on this one!  This was my chance to swoop in.

I had cut basketball highlights for Phil once before when he was short a cameraperson last month (during high school regionals).  He said he was impressed with my footage and thanked me numerous times for covering for him, but the truth was, I was the one who was most grateful for getting the chance to shoot some sports.  I got hired as a news reporter, not a sports reporter, so it was extremely considerate of both my news director and Phil to let me shoot highlights at all.  Before that night, I hadn’t shot sports highlights since my internship last summer and was desperate to start back up.

So there I sat at my desk—I had a choice…stick around for another hour, and most likely get let off early, where I could catch up on some much needed sleep OR offer to cut sports highlights in Pablo and not get off of work until 10:30.  The choice was obvious to me.

I walked over to Phil’s desk.  “I’m going to be straight with you, Phil, I was eavesdropping on your conversation and it sounds like you need someone to film the all-star game.  I don’t have much going on over on the news side, I’d love to film it for you…”  Phil was thrilled by my offer.  Luckily, his excitement/relief seemed to overshadow any recognition of the fact that I had completely violated his privacy.

Despite the heavy weight of the camera on my right shoulder (which is not my dominant arm), I love filming sports.  Every time I drive to a sporting event, I get excited–it’s the same type of adrenaline rush I used to get before one of my high school soccer games.  I don’t get that on my way to news shoots.

I drove 90 mph the whole way back from Drummond last weekend to get some fire footage into the station before the 5:30 show.  My producer didn’t ask me to do it–I just wanted to.  I felt an obligation to my station to make the deadline.  It made me think that maybe news was a career I could learn to love.  But when I sped back from the all-star basketball game to make deadline for the highlights I had just shot, I felt such a high after cutting and sending the highlights 5 minutes before Phil went on air–more so than the high I had felt racing back to the station from the Drummond fire.  That only reconfirms that I need to keep pursuing sports, and not just “settle” for news, even if that means doing a little eavesdropping from time to time…

Tripod inflicted injury count: 7 this week alone…7!  Damn these cheap tripods!

Griz make basket in final seconds, stay alive in NCAA play; Laura makes deadline in final seconds, stays alive at KPAX

March 12, 2010

**This post was written 3/10, but was unable to be posted until 3/11

I have to start this post off by congratulating our boys–this is the first time in four years that the men’s basketball team has made it to the NCAA tournament!  I encourage everyone (all two of you who are probably reading my blog at this point) to send those same vibes to the Lady Griz.

I got hired at KPAX (the CBS-affiliated station here in Missoula) as a part-time news reporter last month.  Ideally, I would have been hired as a part-time sports reporter, but neither station had an opening for that position, and any experience is good experience when it comes to TV.  And beyond that, I really like KPAX–my news director, Dennis, is probably the best boss I’ve ever had, and I feel like the employees have been very accepting of me as a newcomer.  I respect my role as a news reporter, but I also haven’t been shy around the station about the fact that I want to go into sports.  Surprisingly, my news director is very open to the idea of letting me help out with sports when their department is short handed.  He has also gone out of his way to find sports-related stories for me to cover, which is extremely generous.

I walked into KPAX tonight, and was instantly greeted by Dennis and our weekday producer, Mel.

“We’re going to have you do a VO/SOT on Griz fans who are at bars tonight watching the game on ESPN.”

“Sweeeeet,” I thought to myself.  True, the story was still considered “news,” but it was my chance to write a sports script and have a little fun with the filming.  Dennis suggested I go to Paradise Falls or Press Box to shoot; everyone goes to the Press Box for TV sporting events, and I didn’t want to punch out another cliche story.  So I went with Paradise Falls, which is in a much less centralized part of town than the Press Box.  I figured by doing this, I’d be able to find a fan who not only loved watching Griz games, but also had a special attachment to the venue they watched them in.   Sounds easy enough, right?  Well let me tell you how it actually played out:

I headed out to Paradise Falls during halftime.  The first thing the manager told me when I arrived at Paradise Falls was, “The reporter from KECI just finished up here, but have at it.”  I mean come on!  Of all the bars in Missoula, what are the freakin’ odds?!  In the journalism world that’s the equivalent of arriving upon a tainted crime scene.  Now the pressure was on: not only did I want to get better shots than the mystery KECI reporter, I also had to find a different angle on the story.  I could only pray that the Griz played a better second half than they did in the first half when the KECI reporter had been here (my prayers were apparently answered, in that respect).

When I first started shooting, I couldn’t get any good reaction shots from people sitting at the tables.  No one seemed to even be paying attention to the game!  A couple people waved at the camera, a few others hid their faces–typical.  So I decided I’d grab someone for an interview.  After four different people told me “no” using four different excuses (“It’s my birthday, I’m drunk” was my favorite), I finally found someone who agreed to talk on camera.  He was a freshman at the University, which made me wonder if he was even allowed at the bar at all, but I wasn’t about to ask a question that would scare him away.  So I proceeded with my interview–or tried to at least…

Since I’ve started working at KPAX, I’ve managed to find almost every way to do something the wrong way.  It’s truly a gift.  I was able to add something else to my list this evening.  I hooked up the wireless mic to my interview subject, but I couldn’t hear any sound coming from the other end when I asked him to do a mic check.  I changed the batteries on the camera and in the wireless mic and even hooked up the portable mic that looks like it came straight from a 1970’s game show–still nothing.  Damnit.  So in the end, I had to shoot his interview with him standing really close to the camera, so the boom mic could pick up his voice.  (I would find out back at the TV station that for some unexplainable reason, someone had programmed the wireless mic to a different channel than what the camera was on, which would explain why there was no sound coming through).  I didn’t think things could get worse…until I began interviewing him.  He was very polite and respectful during the interview, but most of his answers weren’t more than three words long.  As someone who has interviewed my fair share of people, I’ve learned how to keep rewording a question until you get the answer you’re looking for, or until your subject is able to gather their thoughts and convey them coherently on camera.  That just wasn’t the case tonight.  The only thing I could get him to really talk about was the fact that one of his best friends was on the team.  “How am I going to use that for the news?” I thought at the time.

I finally called it quits on the interview, because at the time, I figured the sound off the boom mic would be too poor to air on TV anyway.  I went back into the main room of the bar to film again, and by some miracle, the crowd seemed as if it had been hit by a surge of energy.  Every time the Griz scored, I had plenty of different reaction shots to choose from–people cheering, high fiving each other, or just shouting for no reason.  It was perfect.  At least I would have some good shots to bring back to the station.

Flash forward to 9:34 p.m.: I’m back at the station, my footage has finally uploaded after two infuriating consecutive error messages.  The audio for my interview sounded pretty decent, but I still had no idea if there was even a useable sound byte in there.

26 minutes until the news airs.

I sat in the editing bay, asking myself what the hell I was going to write about:  Griz fans go to bar; Griz fans watch game on ESPN; Griz win; fans cheer; fans go home–what more was there to say?  And then, in the spirit of tight deadlines and journalistic pressure, something just clicked.  The final script and edited video ended up being sent at 9:59 p.m. (hey, if it’s before 10:00, it’s on time!).  Here is what the final script looked like, I don’t think it was half bad:

Anchor Intro: A few Griz fans were lucky enough to watch the game in Ogden, Utah, while others got to watch it in Paradise

Take VO: Paradise Falls, that is.  It was a place for Griz fans of all ages to eat, drink, and cheer for their boys, despite a shaky first half.  It also proved to be a place for Griz fans to witness the men moving on to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.  For one UM student, it was a way to be closer to his best friend.

Take SOT: “I went to all the home games that I could.  My best friend, he plays for the Griz.  His name is Ryan Nelson, he’s a walk-on from Seely Lake.  And AJ, I talk to him a lot, he’s a really great guy.”

The anchors tagged out of the VO/SOT by giving more details on the game.

I left the studio feeling my first “I just barely made my deadline but everything still went great on air” feeling.  My high was prolonged when I got a text from Dennis, telling me that  1. my story and shots looked really nice, and 2. most of KECI’s shots were dark…bonus!  It always feels good to gain the approval of someone you truly respect.  I can only hope that Dennis’s satisfaction with this story will make him want to continue to stick me on sports-oriented stories.

It’s funny, though, because that was just one little 40 second news clip–all that work and stress over one little clip, probably overlooked by some viewers all together.  You would never see that on that news and think, “Wow, that must have been a bitch to put together!”  But the thing is, I still feel like I contributed something unique to the newscast tonight, and that’s really what matters.

Tripod-inflicted injuries to my body count: 8

Errors made involving camera and/or editing technology: lost count, but there’s a good chance I’ve actually learned something from some of them

Until next time, Laura

A Little Introduction

March 9, 2010

Anchoring for UM News

My name is Laura Wilson, and I am currently in my final semester at the University of Montana.  When people think of University of Montana, they usually don’t say, “Wow, that is a very prestigious school.”  I know I didn’t.  When I began my search for the perfect college, I was looking for a few specific things:  Must be an out of state college, must have a women’s soccer team, and must be no more than day’s drive from home (which is Evergreen, Colorado for me).  The University of Montana immediately piqued my interest.  I had every intention of playing soccer when I came to college–it had been my dream since I was six years old.  But after receiving an academic scholarship to UM and discovering their Top Ten ranked journalism program, I knew I had found my true calling.  But that was just the beginning.

I have spent countless nights at the journalism building, feeling as though I had reached my last ounce of sanity.  Then the morning would come and shed new light on all that I had learned and accomplished throughout the program, and suddenly things felt right again.  That’s the thing about journalism–it can spin you through a whirlwind of emotions in a matter of hours, but at the end of the day, I know I’ve done something that’s brought meaning to my life and the people around me.

The University of Montana’s journalism program has done an excellent job preparing me for a career in journalism.  The problem is, I don’t want to be just any kind of journalist–I want to be a sports journalist.   I have played every sport imaginable since I was a little kid.  As an athlete, sports were a huge part of my life.  They inspired passion in me that, for a long time, I never knew I had.  As a fan, I was always drawn to the dedication and commitment that a person makes to their team, and the fact that one team could unify thousands of people, based on one common interest.  As a fan, you feel a connection to the players you’re supporting–their pain and their gain sometimes feel as if they’re your own.  The bottom line is this:  I am passionate about writing and I am passionate about sports, and I am determined to make a career out of the two things that I love.

Sports education in the journalism program seems to be lacking all together.  As I began realizing this my junior year, I sought out to find an internship that would teach me all about the world of sports from the eye of a journalist.  I got hired as an (unpaid) sports intern at KXLY in Spokane, Washington.  I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.  The internship taught me how to film sports, write highlights and sports stories, and tailor my voice to that of a professional sports anchor.  My mentors showed me tough love during my 9-week program, but I came out of it a stronger, more confident journalist.

Now, as I go through my final college months, I am beginning to search for a post-college career.  This blog is about my pursuit to become a successful sports journalist and all the steps in between that will take me there.

Hello world!

January 28, 2010

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