It’s not easy. And even that’s an understatement. In what other industry are you expected to be able to DO the job BEFORE you get the job. In other words, with NO experience, you’re supposed to perform as if you HAVE experience. What the fresh hell is that?
I’ll tell you how I got my first “real” reporting job. I had scored a job at NY1 as a News Assistant, which is basically a cameraperson, meaning I would run around the 5 boroughs of NYC with 50-plus pounds of camera equipment shooting VOSOTs and getting locator video. All for the fair wage of $10.50 an hour. In my spare time, I would beg co-workers to help me shoot standups, and I’d write news stories and edit them as if they were for on-air. (I had a lot of spare time). I’d show my reel of stories to reporters and producers for feedback, and after a year I ended up getting a reporting opportunity at a now-defunct station in Staten Island. I was paid $75 to report, write and edit each package. How I lived on that remains a mystery and, I think, a testament to my fortitude. I wanted my first real reporting job desperately. Desperately. I’d make dubs of my reel (on VHS! This was the early 2000’s, after all) and mail them to stations all over the country, and of course, never heard back. (Wait, I have a 2018 version of this for you.)
One of the many follow-up calls I made was to Dave Feuerman, the Assistant News Director at News 12 Connecticut. I found out when he was usually in his office by calling the Assignment Desk. Note: This is one of the most crucial bits of info you can have: when is someone most likely to answer the phone? Because even though we all love to communicate via email, (see, I told you I was getting to the 2018 version) we also know it is SO easy to get inundated with emails. And it’s even easier to delete an email so you can make your inbox more manageable. And that happens a LOT in this business. Emails only get you so far, I’ve learned, you have to use that antiquated thing called the phone. After several emails, and voicemails, I FINALLY got Dave on the phone. “Did you get my tape,” I asked nervously. Remember, I had yet to make contact with anyone of importance in this whole job-seeking operation. After much shuffling of papers, Dave replied, “Um…….no…..I don’t think so.” Thinking that news reporters need to be aggressive, I blurted out, “I could have a new one on your desk in an hour, are you free at 2pm?” Somehow, someway, Dave said yes. I drove to the station, we watched my tape, and the rest is history. Dave gave me a shot. And for that I thank him profusely. All I needed was that first break. I wasn’t particularly experienced, or very good, for that matter. That would come in time. But, I proceeded to work as hard as humanly possible to get as good as I possibly could. I ended up working for News 12 Connecticut for 3 years, and in that time, did many stories I was proud of, won several industry awards and was nominated for a NY Emmy.
A year later, I was sitting in Dave’s office, waiting for him to get off the phone for a meeting, my eyes wandering around his crowded office, and I spotted that tape. The original one I sent him a year prior. We had a good laugh about it, and I took it, still unopened, and put it in my desk drawer. Do you know I still have it? It’s a reminder that positive and polite persistence pays off. The stamp is dated July 29, 2004 and the stamp cost $4.30. BAM!
If you’re wondering what the fine line is between persistence and being a pain in the ass, it’s attitude. If you have one, it won’t work. It’ll get you nowhere, no matter how good you are. You can’t be thinking in your head, “damn, I called you 5 times, and emailed you 3 times, what the &%*#, man.” You have to BELIEVE it’s not personal, it’s not you, it’s them, and their inbox. They run a newsroom. They are busy. It’s not that they are rude; they can’t keep up with all the communication flowing towards them. And here’s the thing – don’t take it personally. It’s not like the News Director looked at your stuff, considered you and then rejected you. MOST times, they never even saw your email, your reel, your voicemail. You wouldn’t stop calling someone you’re trying to interview for a story, would you? Exactly. You’d keep calling, emailing, Facebook messaging until the person responded. You might even go to their house and door knock. So, be a reporter, and reach out to that News Director in a positively persistent way – knowing that as long as you are qualified for that job, that you have every right to ask for an interview.