Aug
2010

“Kill Your Darlings”

I knew I wasn’t going to become a great writer overnight, but I am happy with my progress. I see where I need to improve and accept there is so much more I can still learn.

Just being excited about something isn’t reason enough to write about it. While I do love “Doctor Who,” and I could talk about it all day, trying to write something thoughtful about is a harder task.

This was my first summer taking two classes at the same time while trying to balance work. It has not been easy. One class I loved, and the other I fought. This was the class I loved.  In the other class, I kept asking myself when am I ever going to do this work outside of class? I found it hard to summon the energy for the work, but I did and I like to think I did a good job.

The one thought I can’t get out of my head is “Kill Your Darlings.” Everyday it just screams at me. Wherever I am editing, in writing or in editing video, I think about this phrase. I just deleted two paragraphs from this essay that I adored. And just yesterday, I leveled a brilliant interview because I needed more time for my show.

My grammar is still weak, but the writing and the editing are getting stronger. They are better then they were 12 weeks ago. I wanted to gain vision in this class. I wanted to see in my writing what I was missing. I have plenty of editors for my work, but I could never understand what they were looking for in the editing process, now I have a clearer picture.

Writing is not some scary task writing can be simple. It’s ideas that are hard. I have trouble communicating clearly. I can’t figure out what I want to say, and I tend to ramble.

This class has helped me be more direct. I think more about my words. I let them sit and I walk away. I used to write something as simple as an email and then just send it right off. Now I sit with it for a moment. I ponder what I have typed and then consider what I am trying to say. Sometimes I just delete it. Other times I save it and come back to it later. No one should ever use the first draft. I trust my gut instincts.

12 weeks ago I had no idea who William Zinsser is, now I think of him all the time. I go back to his book almost every day. I am a slow learner, but the details are getting through.

While I am proud of the work I did in this class I also regret not having more time to focus. The other class ate up so much extra time. After getting feedback in this class I just wanted to go back and re-write. I was only able to a little bit. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, just a lack of time.

The work on pitch and presentation has been the most important work I have done in grad school so far. This was the idea I came here looking for. I will continue this work and refine the idea over and over again as time goes by. I hope to eventually make the idea a reality.

I feel like a writer now.

Thank you Bob.

Aug
2010

Slacktivism

Last year NPR reported on social media campaigns as being acts of “Slacktivism.” Here is how they defined it:

“An apt term to describe feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in “slacktivist” campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group.”

The article came out before the Facebook campaign to get Betty White on SNL. That was still “Slacktivism.” I joined the page and then hoped quietly as I went on with my day.

Facebook is an easy home to anyone who wants to start a fan page for any topic. When a TV show was cancelled, viewers would have write-in campaigns or physically do something to save a show. Now we just start a Facebook page like “I’m With Coco.“ Sadly, things didn’t work out too well for Conan on NBC, despite his being far more popular than Jay Leno with people on Facebook.

The statistics of these fan pages are good figures to cite, but how often do they change the world? The only mainstream one I am aware of is Betty White getting on SNL.

I have joined a lot of these pages. I “liked” a page that was working on giving clean water to kids in third world countries. They just needed to hit a certain number of fans. Once they hit this figure, someone was going to donate a large some of money.

I also joined the “Make My Dad, John Mellencamp, Quit Smoking” campaign. John’s son convinced his dad that if they reached one million fans, then John would quit. I can’t even find the page now.

The ideas behind these campaigns were generally good. These days I am seeing endless groups with the stupidest names. I have an 18-year old cousin who joins everything she finds. Today she joined ”Don’t drink and drive, you might hit a bump and spill your drink” and “Saying to your friend, ‘there’s your best friend’ when you see someone you hate.” Really? We need pages like these? We have evolved into joining hundreds of these pages for no good reason. It almost makes “Slacktivism” look good. For her it’s like a game. She has found a program that generates silly or weird groups. The program then feeds the names of the groups to her and she can “like” them.

On our station’s fan page we have well over 15,000 fans. The page is a great news gathering tool. We can post a story or topic, and get instant feedback.

A few weeks ago we had some reports of an earthquake. We couldn’t figure out exactly where it was. Within 40 seconds of posting it on the fan page we got 120 comments. After 5 minutes we were able to pinpoint a rough map of where people were affected. People then started sharing images and video with us via the fan page too.

If we have an idea for a story and need someone to go on camera, we can now post a message on our page and get a response. Facebook pages like ours are not the end of journalism, they are a new tool to further journalism. A responsible reporter still needs to do journalistic work. The story still needs to be researched and well written, but now it’s easier to connect with the viewers. On our page we post regular news updates. Our competitors do too, but one also does a “fan of the day” feature. This can be hit or miss. Sometimes they highlight people who they would otherwise be reporting on.

In the same way though, Facebook makes me feel like a gambling addict, I just want to score my perfect number. 2,000 fans would give me a sense of comfort right, but then I will just want 3,000.

My “207” Facebook Fan Page only has 1,688 fans, but my “Bill Green’s Maine” Page has well over 2,000. The “207” page has been around longer and I do more for it. The BGME show has been on longer and has a better following.

The 207 Mug

Neither fan page seems able to get to the level of the station’s page. None of us can figure out why. If Slacktivism is so strong, and kids like my cousin will “like” any page in front of them, I should be doing much better. I have tried various ideas to promote the page and get the numbers up. We mentioned it on the show all the time. I give away the coveted “207” mug when I hit a big number. I have the hosts of the show record special messages just for the fans of the page. I am still under 2,000. It’s a major act of competition for me.

Our “Togus The Cat” page has at least 8,000 fans. Togus is a Maine Coon cat, owned by one of our reporters. The cat is seen during our winter storm coverage. He just sits there, but the guy running the fan page has a lot of fun with photos of the cat. He puts the cat in goofy mock-up photos and people go crazy. It’s also a page for weird news postings too.

Whether social media makes us more or less social is up to the psychologists to decided. What it does is continue the flow of information. Be it dumb things like the pages my cousin joins, or raise awareness however brief. The idea is to get a message out there and in other people faces.

Jul
2010

TV Writing

Throughout this class I have tried to beef up my writing. The time came this week to show the folks at work I have improved. Have I? You be the judge, here is a TV “package” from my show ‘207’ featuring the best breakfasts in Maine:

Jul
2010

The Interns

After screaming for about five minutes, I realized my intern couldn’t hear me. My mistake was yelling to him from five rows away, and during a hockey game.

When we got to the arena, I said, “Go find us a good spot to set up. I just need to park the car.”

I was doing a “the behind the scenes” story on a Portland Pirates game. I had a microphone on the coach for the duration of the game.  I needed to get into position quickly, before the drop of the puck. Unlike a normal sports story, the very beginning was important video. When I returned from parking the car, I walked into the arena and saw my intern sitting comfortably in a paid seat. We we’re suppose to be up top shooting down onto the ice. Since we work for a TV station, we do not sit comfortably in the paid seats. We are there to work. This was the message I conveyed to my intern as soon as the nice woman in front of him directed his attention to me.

Interns are unpredictable. I give every one of them the same speech on their first day. You get out of this what you put into it. I am here to produce TV, not to baby sit. If you want to do something speak up, and express an interest, otherwise you will spend a semester making DVD copies. When we have nothing else for them to do, we have them make DVD’s of stories we have done for the list of people who have made requests. I also explain this too can be a learning tool. Watch and listen to these stories, you can get a lot out of what you see here.

The one watching the hockey game got nothing out of it. He just didn’t care. That was about four years ago.

Over the last couple of years, I have been blessed with great interns. Three of my interns have gone on to get hired by my station, one just this summer. He is the one I am most proud of. He had just started his second internship with us, when my boss decided it was time to move him up. While I would love to take the credit for his stellar abilities, I can’t. He is a smart guy, who greeted each day with remarkable enthusiasm. He was excited about every aspect of his internship. He just absorbed information. He asked all the right questions. He just got it. He learned so quickly how to do the job and how to do it right. He has an incredible work ethic, one I have not seen too often with interns over the years.

To my delight, the intern that followed him was exactly the same way. A fast learner who has an eagerness to learn everything we do and how we do it. I have to give this one up in a couple of weeks. He has made my job so much easier. I love being able to trust my interns. He produced an entire show for me this week, and did it perfectly.

I have a story for just about every intern. One drunk dialed me in the middle of the night. Another ate all of the food of a cooking segment before we could tape. Yet another left after a few weeks saying he could make more money in administration. A year later someone from NBC called me as a job reference for him. Then there was the one took a customer’s seat during a hockey game, when we were there to work.

They’re a mixed bunch. They come in like strangers and leave like family. I always miss them when they leave and dread the next one. When they are into it, we both have fun. I enjoy showing off how cool TV can be and I love teaching them everything I know.

Jul
2010

Quality Matters

Bill Green's Maine

Nothing screams disaster like coming back to work after a few days off and realizing your show may not make air. This week my other show, “Bill Green’s Maine,” came dangerously close to not airing.

“Bill Green’s Maine,” captures the essence of Maine, like a postcard. Each show is a snapshot of life in Maine. A typical show would have four segments. The first an action story like a Windjammers race (a special type of boat race), an interview segment with someone from Maine who has become big, like Patrick Dempsey. Then a retro, or archive, piece that Bill did long ago. The show then concludes with something of everyday life. A look into the history of Nubble Lighthouse, or a feature on The Shirners of Maine, stories like that.

The show needs to be completed by Thursday nights. It air’s Saturday at 7pm, but BGME is pre-produced. So it needs to be closed-captioned and made ready for the web. There are lots of little things that need happen in order to make the show ready for Saturday night.

We shoot the opens and closes to the show on Mondays or Tuesdays. We call them the wraps. They are the intro’s and closes to the stories. They “wrap” around the story. They should always be shot somewhere pretty. A lighthouse, rocky coast line, you name it. If it’s pretty, and looks like Maine, it will work.

Those wraps are crucial, without them, we don’t have a show. On Thursday, I started to edit the wraps. They didn’t sound right, and what the hell was Bill wearing? The day he shot them, he was wearing an orange shirt and short shorts. He looked like a pumpkin walking on the beach. He wasn’t happy with the outfit, but it was the only time he could shoot the wraps. I was more disturbed by the un-air-able audio. Bill’s voice was barely audible, it sounded like the microphone was being scraped up against the rocks.

We could have gone with what we had. We might have heard one or two bad comments, but it would have been OK. Re-shooting the wraps was going to be a real hassle. Bill’s show had once been known for it’s quality. It is the first show in Maine to have been shot entirely in HD. We have done it two other times since. Shooting the show in HD, all the time, would be very expensive for us.

My first day working at WCSH6, was spent on the rocks of Portland Headlight, shooting the opens and closes for Bill’s show. Back then we had a whole crew that would focus on making the show. We had a special “jib” for the camera (which is like a small crane), and a crew that would shoot the wraps. I would field produce and my boss would often be there too as executive producer.

Seven years later, cost cuts have hit the show. Now it’s just Bill, one photographer, no jib, and no crew. I rarely get to go out on the shoots anymore and have to focus my time elsewhere.

It was about 1pm when I asked Bill how hard it would be to get the wraps re-shot. The show needed to be done before I left for the day. Bill, unhappy with the choice of dress, was eager to re-shoot. Once I had him listen to the audio, he was even more convinced. About an hour later, he was back in the same location, with new clothes and a new mic.

The new opens and closes were back by 5pm. With assistance from my intern, we had the show ready by 6:45pm that night. Just enough time to go produce my live show at 7pm, ‘207.’

In the Internet age, when we are trained to accept lesser quality, we still need to do the best possible job. We can’t just phone it in. Management may not care, but as the producers of content, we can’t give up making good quality productions.