Reporter 101: How to Land That First Job

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It’s not easy. And even that’s an understatement. Where on earth are you supposed 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. Make any sense?

I’ll tell you how I got my first “real” reporting job. I had done some work at NY1 as a cameraperson, meaning I would run around the 5 boroughs of NYC in a car 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 to 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 story. 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.

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, we also know it is so easy to NOT email someone back. 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 be, given my level of experience. 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.

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 – whether you believe it or not – get believing that it’s not personal, it’s not you, it’s them. 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. Yes, you and I know that it is rude to blow someone off, no matter the excuse. But if you take it personally, it’s like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It doesn’t serve you, or your goal.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. dalfarone says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:

    So many people thanked me for this – pls share!

  2. mikedragonetti says:

    Love this story. Reminds me of when I was trying to get into radio in the early 80s. But somehow it happened and I was able to last 11 years there. I’m going throughsimilar these days with voiceovers, so I can definitely relate to your story. Thanks for sharing, Debra, and more to come on this end!

  3. mikedragonetti says:

    Thanls for sharing, Debra. Reminds me of when I was trying to get into radio in the early 80s. But somehow I got in, and managed to stay in for 11 years. And these days I’m going through it all over again, but this time it’s for voiceovers. I’ll keep you posted.
    Mike

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