Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bad News is Good News!

good news is bad news, generally speaking, if you want to break into the life of a news stringer.* (See Nation Master) Essentially you are working "on spec"* (doing work for free, hoping to get paid) with the thought that something you videotaped, photographed, wrote or reported got past the local broadcast television, cable, or web news channels, or newspaper, news magazine desks and staff.

And, that your information (news) is unique, hopefully a "scoop", "first in", or "exclusive"* (you are the ONLY person on the planet who has it; you are the FIRST person on the planet to report it; or, you have something HOT that you are offering ONLY to one news outlet - the "badder" the better!)

While personality profiles, human interest, interviews (unless you have an exclusive on-camera interview, and signed release, with, say, President B.O. regarding a 12-year-old affair with a waitress at Denny's), are solid "filler"* (in print, the articles filling the space remaining after the ads; on television/web video, the audio/video/print elements giving the station/site content and substance) material for most news outlets. These are routinely planned content assigned to staff, and based on the news outlet's general political position, philosophy and approach.

This leaves you with a few decisions to make regarding your efforts to establish yourself as a reliable, valuable, professional news resource who works outside normal channels,* (See TruTV) and maintains a high level of accuracy and integrity. I know, I know, doesn't sound much like many of the news people you know about. On the other hand, this would still be the direction I suggest you take to get yourself inside most news rooms. Initially.

• Do I purchase a powerful mobile and home scanner with all the bands necessary to chase ambulances, fire engines and police cars?
• Or, do I simply run the roads, prowl the neighborhoods and case the capitalists, looking for that event, situation or happening based on being in the right place at the right time?
• Or, do I focus on a specific area - hang out on Hollywood Boulevard, California, for example; or the state capitol, provided I live in the right city?
• Or, do I roam the bad areas of East L.A. at night, my camera my only concealed weapon, confident that I can handle myself in life-threatening situations and get another side of the story - whatever "the story" may be?
• Or, do I focus on area industry, keeping constant vigil on the local brewery, manufacturing plant, or strip mall odd-ball, looking for an EPA violation, or unethical business operation?

While murder, rape, armed robbery, multiple alarm fires, major accidents with death, cop/suspect beatings, as well as airplane crashes ending in death for all certainly crowd the prime time airspace for broadcast, cable and often web news video, as well as the front pages and covers of printed news, there are certainly elements of good news that can make you a dollar - first video footage of a plane landing safely in the Hudson River, for example. (See Stringer)

would want to research your potential area news outlets. A good place to start might be HERE and do a local search for WHAT? news televisions, WHERE? your city, state, but a simple Google search should get you more than enough lists/resources to approach, even offering other articles related to this area of work. You will have options, or not, depending on the size of your coverage area and the dominance/size of stations available to you. Some larger stations have a special department or agency that fields stringer inquiries/offerings. (Check out Know It All Video. and Kick Apps)

You will also need equipment that meets your news outlet's quality requirements. While a Second Coming headliner might make your footage valuable (remember the Zapruder film?) no matter what format you shot it on, the lighting or audio quality, or lack thereof, you will want to get something that proves generally acceptable, quality-wise. Ask the stations for whom you wish to work what their minimum requirements are.

The more "depth" your report has: getting releases where possible, getting officials/eye-witnesses to state their name and spell it before doing interviews (yes, interviews with clear audio, where possible can enhance the "sell-ability" of your news. Make notes regarding time, location, circumstances, etc. Be accurate and when you contact your preferred news outlet tell your contact what you have without blowing it up out of proportion. Experienced news persons will have a high sense of perception, or can often judge the BS level, for what you are telling them.

primarily hours outside regular daytime shifts. Evenings, all "nighters", weekends and often holidays are your best bet for running into something the news people have not covered. If you are a night owl, workaholic, freaky zealous news hound, aggressive, bold and determined, your efforts will pay off over the long haul.

It isn't going to work for you if you attempt to compete with the regulars, or even alienate yourself with them by stepping on their toes during a major news event. While you can work these events it is not very likely you will get something they missed, especially if you were not first at the scene. Get in and get out, unless you do establish some contacts with the local officials or first-on-the-scene witnesses, people willing to talk on camera and where possible, sign a standard release. I know it's news, but still you want to get all the CYA backup you can, even to the extent of getting a verbal release on camera during the process of getting their names and proper spelling. And, for goodness sake, if you were successful in getting an official to contribute, get the official's job position - officer, sergeant, fire chief, city commissioner...

occasionally, lose to somebody first on the scene, come in second and waste your time, and on exceptional days even get something that will bring you a few thousand dollars. The range of payment is from zero to several thousand, but a significant portion of your checks will be well under $100 as a rule.

It all depends on your business acumen, your production savvy, your boldness and determination, your competitiveness and the quality, consistency and accuracy of your work. I am repeating myself but, in time your attention to these qualities will begin to pay off. You could even, if you wish, wind up being offered a full time position with your favorite news station, news publisher or working for a salary with a web news group.

Generally, stringing for television, radio, publication or web doesn't pay much. But the opportunities for stringers are better now that many news outlets are also experiencing budgetary/income difficulties, even laying off regular staff. If these organizations want to survive they will need to develop news gathering resources somewhere. This is where independent professional capable and consistent you, the stringer, comea in. Stringers, while even detested by some, whether or not the "big guys" like it, are essential to today's social craving for instant news.

by realizing you are likely new to this arena. Just as it is suggested that you read and lurk a bit on various forums before joining in and offering your two-cents, do the same when approaching news event coverage opportunities.

There is, of course, room for belligerent, aggressive, obstinate and physically/mentally dominating individuals who are willing to step on any and everybody to get there first, steal the scoop or demean the competition - but room only because they are professionally challenged. You will be resented, black-balled and even aggressively put into your place by other experienced alpha-types if you elect to go this route.

Practice deference as well, and respect the emergency rescue, fire fighters and law enforcement officials present who are there to do a job. Even if you perceive they are NOT doing their jobs, or are unnecessarily restricting your access to the event, there are ways to work around this without chest- (or head-) butting with them. You will absolutely, positively get nowhere fast otherwise.

How you approach major news events such as multiple-alarm fires, airport bomb-threats, major vehicular accidents, train wrecks, hostage situations and more will mean the difference not only in becoming a productive and successful stringer. It also will affect your life, health, personal safety and legal risks. Keep safety and common sense right up there with determination and professionalism when working this kind of opportunity.

regarding development of a successful stringer career is huge, and well beyond the scope of this blog article. In my humble opinion the single, most effective learning resource in preparation for pursuing a career as a stringer is to watch, read and listen to every news source you can, every available minute you can; research every resource you can find through the web search engines regarding news stringer jobs/positions; and prepare yourself mentally for a potentially dangerous, exciting and rewarding gig.

Other information links include this site, and ehow. Also, while at local dot com, do filter searches there for cable TV Companies, Television (TV) broadcasting companies & stations, satellite television, etc. You can also go to Writer's Market, if you prefer to check out news publication markets for submitting written news articles. There's a bounty of other options, check out Sell My Video for starters.

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