I can’t operate a switcher to save my life. In fact, in all the years I’ve been in and around control rooms, they’ve never failed to give me the creeps (the low light and monitors, glowing buttons and standys and takes and, of course, all that shouting) I’ve always been far more comfortable out in the middle of a hurricane or elbowing my way into the pack to get my mic in front of some indicted public official.
But the honest truth is this: if I lose my job, odds are it’ll get mentioned in the newspaper (I treasure my New York Daily News headline: No More Joyella in Mudville upon my departure from WNYW).
But lay off the entire control room, and not only will the newscasts look darn bumpy that night (you can just forget that quad box and custom wipe you were hoping for), but the people who lose their jobs will almost certainly not be mentioned in the next day’s paper.
Unless, of course, it’s “15 laid off at Channel 6–but fear not, it’s nobody you know…the wacky weatherman’s safe, the salty and avuncular anchor’s hanging on for another day, and that cute morning traffic girl will be back in the morning in that news-director-ordered tight sweater. The layoffs? Just some, you know, behind the scenes people.”
Very rarely does the firing of a longtime but unseen employee merit mention in a newspaper by name. It happened recently when Alan Henney, a weekend assignment manager at WUSA/DC put himself on “permanent furlough” and left the station with a blistering memo that suggested that the station’s longstanding tradition as a home of serious journalism was in danger, if not dead already.
It happened again when KARE/Minneapolis parted ways with a behind-the-scenes player considered the “heart and soul” of the KARE newsroom, Senior Executive Producer Lonnie Hartley. His layoff was made newsworthy when the entire newsroom, led by talent with connections to print writers, voiced their outrage.
For most, though, it’s pink slip, then silence. You walk out the door you’ve been reporting to for decades, and as far as viewers know, nothing’s even happened. I know it’s part of the downward spiral stations across the country are in. Only the lean have a shot at surviving. Got it. And yet, there’s something about all the pity pouring out for the poor dethroned anchors and reporters, who, after all, have their name to fall back on.
On this blog, the most popular comments continue–even months after the fact–to involve a laid off weatherman in Denver, and fired reporter/anchors in Washington, DC and Tampa.
This week the New York Daily News reported that former WNBC reporter Jay DeDapper’s started his own production company, DeDapper Media. I applaud Jay and wish him well. I’ve done the same thing myself, and I’d be the first to admit that having any kind of “name” is one card to play when you’re up against it. ”The jobs, they’re not just disappearing and they’ll be coming back; they’re disappearing permanently,” DeDapper told the Daily News’ Richard Huff. “There will be very few places in journalism on television for good people.”
The advantage to having a name, is being able to use it to find the next thing. ”The idea is, basically for 20-some-odd years, what I’ve done more than anything else is tell stories for a living,” he told the News. DeDapper has contacts and he’s a known entity. And when a guy like Jay DeDapper decides on a new path, that itself becomes worthy of a news article, which never hurts when you hang out a shingle and start looking for business.
The laid off TD isn’t so lucky. Brilliant in those dimly-lit control rooms, working magic on a Sony MVS 8000 (“I can give you eight boxes, but we don’t have eight live sources”) but separated from the control room, then what? No newspaper mention, and no clear next step. No, they’re not storytellers like reporters, who can find other ways of assembling information and telling stories, whether its for a production company, a PR firm, or as a TV pitchman. Had there not been an injustice of Epic Proportions, I’d be playing the role of a TV type on the new season of HBO’s True Blood (I’m not bitter, mind you, just disappointed. I don’t carry a grudge).
So how does the live truck op, the satellite engineer, the camera operator or the TD sit down, stare at their resume (which shows a clear flow from college to today that screams “I’m damn good at what I do!”) and think, this only gets me the job I just lost?
Rebecca Zucker is a San Francisco based executive coach and partner at Next Step Partners, a firm that specializes in guiding clients through career transitions. She says in the current business climate, about a third of the firm’s business involves helping clients answer that question, “now what?”
“Formulate a hypothesis,” she says. ”Even a crazy daydream.” What was it you wanted to do before you ended up in local news? Actor? Pastry chef? Try and remember. Zucker asks her clients to think back to the peak experiences–outside of work–in their lives. ”A time when you felt like you were thriving, alive, confident, competent and at the top of your game,” she said. The exercise involves looking at those times and figuring out what made them so special. Was it intellectual or artistic challenge? Was it cooperation or collaboration? Whatever it was, these are the keys to your own personal satisfaction, and knowing what they are will help you figure out what kind of work will make you happy. ”The reasons (those experiences) felt so great were because you were completely expressing your own values,” said Zucker.
Zucker urges clients to read Herminia Ibarra’s book, Working Identity, which offers tips for mid-career professionals on reinventing themselves–and enjoying the result. Key piece of beginner’s advice? ”Don’t try to analyze or plan your way into a new career,” write Ibarra. (Take that you over-analytical technical directors and producers!)
Zucker suggests trying out new ideas, even a bunch of new ideas. If you think it could be pastry chef, figure out who you can invite to lunch for an informational interview. Does it feel natural? Could you see yourself doing that kind of work? Attend a conference or a class. Small steps. ”They’ll find out which doors they want to shut, and where they want to dive deeper,” says Zucker.
Oh. And here’s a big one: don’t obsess about what others are telling you. What would you do for a living if your friends, former co-workers, spouse, and family didn’t get a vote?