Monthly Archives: May 2009

How Far Would You Go to Live Your TV Dream? Dispatch from the Frontlines: Brian Andrews

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Brian Andrews: Deciding to Walk Away. Walking Far, Far Away.

As the longtime lead reporter at WSVN in Miami, and later as a correspondent at CBS News and WFOR in Miami, Brian Andrews always seemed to out-hustle the competition and break stories that the other guys missed. He was the guy you knew was going places, as they say.  I remember seeing Brian one day in my newsroom in New York and thinking, “this is the guy we need–he’ll be big in New York.”  But Brian had other plans.

As you’re about to read, Brian took a bold leap that left many in Miami scratching their heads: why walk away from something you’re so good at?  And to leave the country?  Well Brian’s now forging a new path in a new place, and serving as an example for those of us who are thinking: what next?  If you’ve had a crazy dream, this, kids, might be the time to give it a shot.  (And the way to take a dream and make it reality?  Use those reporter’s talents that allowed you to talk your way in for the exclusive interview–and use them to talk your way into a job that, like Brian, maybe nobody’d even planned for.)

 

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINESBrian Andrews, News Director, RCN in English, Columbia

In December of 2007, I quit my job in Miami TV, sold my house, gave away everything I owned, and moved to Colombia to follow my dream of doing news in English in Latin America.  I got out before the collapse of local news.  I was lucky.  I feel like I was able to leave at the top, on my own terms.  I left a month into a new 3 year contract for big money.  CBS didn’t understand my reasons.  They thought I was crazy.  But, they knew my heart was in Colombia, not Miami, and were kind enough to let me go pursue my passions.

Once I got here, it took me about 6 months to get established, but I made it happen.   I pitched RCN, the largest TV network in the country on my idea.   They loved it.   A few months later, Colombia’s News in English was born.  At first, it was just me and a producer. We did everything. We translated, wrote, edited, stacked, sent, processed, converted, uploaded, and posted.  A few months later, after realizing working 7 days a week wasn’t healthy, I got more help.  We expanded to 7 days a week. I hired a weekend anchor and another producer.   And then, it just kept growing.

Brian's Team at RCN

Brian Andrews, left, and his Team at RCN

At the start, we were just one webcast a day.   Then, we grew to two.  Then, we added a third. Next, TV Colombia, our international channel, starting running our shows.  Then, we expanded to Avianca Airlines.   Last month, we revamped the whole operation, built a new website, and started posting single stories, in addition to the webcasts.  We also added weather and sports. We encourage user interaction.  We have people email us their photos for our constantly changing header.  We solicit contributions of stories from people who have the time to produce them and FTP them to us.   We’re doing it all with a staff of 5 and a budget that works out to less than $12,000 a month.   This is the future of news: digitally delivered and made inexpensively.   My staff is very young, hungry, and full of ideas and energy.  We use existing resources to make our product.  We offer the opportunity to anyone in the newsroom who is comfortable speaking English to make pieces for our programs.   We also shoot our own stuff with handheld cameras.

colombianewsFor my team, its not work, it’s our passion.   Plus, we know our project has meaning and impact.  We are showing the world there’s more going on down here than bombs and kidnappings. We are teaching others how to make Miami style TV for the internet.  We are teaching others a new language, a new way of doing things, and a new way of telling stories.   Plus, we are still cutting edge.  Right now, we are the only product of its kind being produced in Latin America.    So, when you want to know what’s happening in Colombia, please check us out at www.colombianews.tv!   In a time when dream jobs in TV news don’t exist anymore… I found mine in Colombia!

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Ex TV Exec Says Fear Not, “Internet” Nothing But Flash in Pan: A “Bamboo Raft” Compared to the Warship of TV

Itll Take a Lot More than the Internet to Sink This Baby

It'll Take a Lot More than the "Internet" to Sink This Baby

This “future” you keep hearing about? You know, the one where the “internet” is important? Well, good news, local television professionals:  false alarm! You can just forget about all that madness about competing across multiple platforms and just get back to work. The “internet” isn’t worth your time and you can stop worrying about how to make money there.  Just do what you’ve been doing and you’ll be right as rain.  So argues Kevin Mirek in a post on tvnewsday entitled, “Web Needs TV, But TV Doesn’t Need Web.”

If the idea of a transformational moment in journalism and the television business keeps you up at night and you really, truly, want it simply to go away, then stop reading now and let Mr. Mirek’s comforting words wrap you up in a cuddly embrace as you drift off.  But trust me, you will be dreaming, because no matter what Kevin Mirek may believe, the “internet industry,” as he calls it, will not get tired and go away.

Yes, he said “internet industry.”  Best I can figure, Mirek believes there’s a bunch of these internet companies and they’re competing with the good old television companies, and since we all work for the TV companies, it’s nuts to be doing anything to help the internet companies that intend to run us good guys out of business: “Every day we read or hear of Internet chieftains declaring that TV must restructure itself to become more Internet intensive or warning that TV is going to lose out if it doesn’t put more resources into Internet and mobile. What else would we expect to hear from the Internet industry that creates no viable video content, that pirates 90 percent of its offerings from sleeping TV owners and that intends to replace TV in the end?”

Mr. Murdoch:  TV Boss.  No, Internet Chieftan.  Wait.

Mr. Murdoch: TV Boss. No, Internet Chieftan. Wait.

Maybe it’s different at the television station where you work, but I don’t recall any of the “Internet” bullies showing up at the station threatening to destroy us if we didn’t hand over our local content.  In fact, thinking back, I’d have to say the “TV owners” I worked for–people with names like Rupert Murdoch, for instance–could also be described as “Internet chieftans,” which really messes up the Mirek math.

Mirek’s convinced that since television viewership remains high–and American Idol reminds us all of the shared-community viewing events that were common before time-shifting and DVRs–that TV’s as strong now as it ever was, and that those dimwit TV bosses need to wake up and smell the profits:  “Whenever an Internet guru refers to Internet video platforms, the image that comes to mind is that of a bamboo raft drifting aimlessly in the same waters as TV’s aircraft carrier. The impoverished skipper of the raft is saying to the aircraft carrier commander, ‘You better share your weapons with us for free, or some day we will destroy you.’ The aircraft commander is saying, ‘Uh, okay, I don’t want to be left behind.'”

It’s clearly comforting to think back to the five-channel universe and God-like local news anchor days of TV and pretend that’s the world we still live in, with television stations as ironclad and powerful as aircraft carriers (yes, Mirek sees stations as the real powerbrokers, since they “mostly rely on the affiliates to deliver the 153 hours per month of the average American’s video viewing”).  But Kevin, even mighty carriers can sink, and those bamboo rafts may be better described as “life rafts.”

Mr. Malone:  TV?  Isnt that for Old People?

Mr. Malone: "TV?" Isn't that for Old People?

Today, Liberty Media CEO John Malone was asked if the word “television” would even exist in a few years’ time.  His answer?  Well, yes, but folks who say it may smell of mothballs:  “Probably in five years old guys like me will still be calling it television,” Malone said.

And, of course, guys like Kevin Mirek.

You know, the angry guy at the end of the block with the big TV antenna on his house who’s always shouting at kids and complaining about this evil “Internet” contraption?

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“Bold, Daring and Unflinching.” Yes, Actually I Am Talking About the Future of Local TV News.

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5 May 1961: LBJ, JFK and Mrs. Kennedy Watch History Unfold Live

There were skeptics and there was lots of fear. The world as we knew it seemed to have changed forever…and the future looked as scary as it was uncertain.  That was America on the verge of the 1960s.  The Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 had sent an icy chill across the country.  We didn’t seem so strong and inevitable anymore. Was everything we thought wrong?

Sure sounds like local newsers as the icy chills of collapsing ad budgets, migrating audiences and technological changes have many of us wondering what the heck happened to the good old days–you know, like 2003?

Of course, John Kennedy responded to Sputnik with his momentous 1961 speech setting the nation on course for the moon, saying “we must be bold and daring and unflinching.  There will, I assure you, be hours of set-back and frustration.  Others will record milestones before we do…but I believe we have the courage and the patience that are needed.  We have the intellectual and the financial resources–we have the will and the energy and the vision–and fate has provided us with the challenge.”

8792629126644257BD0BA41556020112It could almost be read as a rallying cry for despairing journalists in 2009, couldn’t it?  (Well, okay, maybe without the “financial resources” part)  But the mission–and the moment in history–is the same.  We don’t have a choice.  We’re here whether we want to be or not.  We can roll over, or we can take on the mountain, reinvent our jobs, and take one of those small steps/giant leaps that propel us into a new world we couldn’t really have imagined just years ago.

I’ve written about my own frustrations and setbacks as I’ve walked away from the security of a local tv news job.  Others have experimented with new ways of telling stories, covering the news, and maybe–just maybe–finding a new financial model for local television.  Part of me wants to run back to a safe, secure, known entity. A news job like I’ve always had, a place to wait out the transition from what I’ve known to what will be.  But as JFK suggested, fate has provided me with this challenge:  there are no safe secure local news jobs.  

And so it’s time to sit in the module and let somebody light the fuse.  We’ll either make history, or we won’t. But as Kennedy said on that day in 1961, “we cannot afford to shrink from it now.”  And I applaud those of us who are out there trying things and risking their own butts doing so.  In my own way, I’m going to do the same thing, trying something absolutely different from anything I’ve ever done before, without really knowing what will happen.

Where No Journalist Has Gone Before...

Where No Journalist Has Gone Before...

Instead of working for a television station, I’ll be signing on with a nonprofit.  My role will be to serve as an experiment–a “community sponsored journalist” tasked with finding out if communities of people–whether they share a geographic community or a shared interest–will be willing to pay to have a journalist on the job, covering stories that affect them.  Could it be a model for the future?  It could.  Do I know how it will go?  I do not.

“So let us make ready to sail on this unknown sea,” Kennedy said.  And for the first time in my career, I feel like I truly am setting out on a voyage that is both thrilling, humbling, and scary.  I’ll tell you all about it soon.  But for all of us looking at the collapsing world we’ve known, remember, there is the world we don’t yet know.  And that may just be the most exciting parts of our careers.

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And Now, at the Risk of Sounding Insane, Let Me Say It: All is Well

Yes, It Does Look Bad.  No, We're Not Doomed.

Yes, It Does Look Bad. No, We're Not Doomed.


It’s going to be okay. One way or another, we will all be fine. Take a moment and let that sink in.

Now, sure, yes. Spend a day in a newsroom–TV or newspaper, doesn’t matter–and you’ll find most people are just not in the “it’s okay” mode right now. The news at the top of nytimes.com at this moment? “G.M. Notifying 1,100 Dealers That They Will Be Dropped.” That’s 1,100 fewer sources of revenue for local television stations across the country, and not exactly the gust of desperately needed fresh air the sales folk were lighting candles and praying for. And yet, today, I insist, it will be okay.

Ariane de Bonvoisin’s new book, “The First 30 Days,” suggests that times of change happen–because we either make the change or, in local news these days, it’s made for us. And yeah, that’s scary. When P. Kim Bui was laid off last year, she feared for more than just her career: “When I got laid off, my whole world crashed. Journalism was and is my life. This is what I was meant to do and all of a sudden, I had someone telling me I could no longer work.”  And she’s not the only one, not by a long shot.  I received a lot of supportive feedback for my recent post about the loss of a my journalist’s identity and the fear that I might never get it back.

Ariane de Bonvoisin:  "The First 30 Days"

Ariane de Bonvoisin: "The First 30 Days"

Ariane de Bonvoisin argues “life is on our side,” and that if you can get through the first 30 days, you can not only survive, but thrive. “The first few days and weeks are often the hardest, most emotional time. It’s when we have the most questions, emotions, doubts and fears, and when decisions need to be made. This is also the time when we are most in need of direction, information and support.”

Direction, information, and support rarely comes in the pile of paperwork HR hands you on your way out the door.  It can come in the form of loving support from friends and family, and with the help of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, it can come from social media connections and networking. There is power in talking and brainstorming.  It can also come more directly from a coach.

Coaching, in this case, does not mean picking up the phone, calling your agent and bitching about the lack of leads, the loss of work, and the generally sucky state of the business.  And it’s not necessarily surfing the couch at your therapist’s office.

It can be refreshing a resume that’s looking a little too, well, 1999.  Deborah Brown-Volkman, a coach to senior corporate executives, says “no one is going to give you a chance to explain yourself. If you want a job, it’s up to you to prove that you can do it. Your resume is your proof.” And if you’re trying to translate a reporter’s skill set to a new line of work, like PR or social media, re-writing your resume to make your case will be critical.  A little professional help couldn’t hurt.

As Brian Curtis at KXAS/Dallas reported this month, an executive coach can help you reinvent yourself by developing a personal brand beyond the “guy/girl from the news” and, as Curtis writes, “understanding who you are and what you need.”

Julia Stewart

Julia Stewart

A coach can help you leap from what you know–to what you never thought possible. As coach Julia Stewart puts it: “your skills are just as valuable as ever – maybe more so – the need for your skills is just showing up differently.”  Stewart says the trick in coaching laid off journalists is getting past the past–and to the future.  “I might shift the conversation away from what’s being lost to what you really want. That’s usually where the opportunities are and there are probably more opportunities than ever for journalists.  Or I might ask, what do you see as the biggest problem that the media has and how could you help fix it? Or what does the world/your
community/your family/etc need most and how could you help with that?  After the big questions, you can narrow down to actual opportunities and that’s where it gets fun.”

Maybe it’s the dream you put off–and off–because you couldn’t break away from what always seemed like a pretty decent gig: bigshot TV reporter or anchor or news director.  “But I’m Channel 7’s…” Well, now you’re not.  So what are you? Maybe it’s time to get back to that crazy dream.  What was it?

P. Kim Bui:  Loss, then a New Direction

P. Kim Bui: Loss, then a New Direction

For P. Kim Bui, it was a move onto the internet, though she made the move without the help of a coach.  “I write a lot about feeling lost in my own journals and I wonder if having someone to help me think things through would help. It definitely would have helped with my initial panic and depression.”  Those feelings, coaches like Stewart say, are absolutely part of the process:  “Self image can be the biggest hurdle and it can take some time to get over it. It’s not unusual to feel grief over something like this, although it may show up as anger or depression.”

I had a chance the other day to spend some time with a Coney Island sword swallower and fire eater. Not a personal or professional coach by any stretch. But she helped me see something nonetheless.  If I sat down–by myself–and tried to think my way from reporting local news to eating fire, I’d never get it done.  I could read a thousand books on the process and the history and the economic upside, but when it got down to the nitty gritty–the you know, eating-the-fire part, well, that might’ve been a problem.  As it was, I needed the one-on-one stop-thinking-and-just-give-it-a-try motivation to actually light that thing and put the flame in my mouth. The result:  euphoria.

The Power of Coaching:  a Journalist Learns to Eat Fire

The Power of Coaching: a Journalist Learns to Eat Fire

I did it twice more. The rush came in part from doing something I would have–on my own–thought my way out of trying.  My coach, covered in tattoos and ever so patient, showed me I had a talent inside I never knew was there.

We’re all going through massive change.  We will find our new paths.  Some of us will even create the new model of local news and become very, very rich. Others will just hit the jackpot by discovering ourselves. Whatever:  All is well.

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Local Newsers: You’ve Heard “Feed the Web.” But Beware Throwing It Scraps.

KMSP/Minneapolis:  Great Story On TV, Not So Hot Online

KMSP/Minneapolis: Great Story On TV, Not So Hot Online

If you’re working at a local news station worth anything, part of your job these days includes reporting for the 5:00, 6:00 and maybe the 11:00 and filing a version of your story for the station website.  Maybe you remember, as I do, the emphasis put on this part of the job by your news director in memo after memo after threatening memo:  “you must file a story with the web before your day is over,” etc.

Some of us take this multiplatforming as a way to reach new audiences and flex new writing muscles (I, for one, love translating my broadcast voice into “print” format for the web, even if sometimes, it seems like rolling a boulder up a hill while riding in a livetruck back to the station at the end of a long day.  (Oh man…what was the name of the hotdog vendor we interviewed at noon?) What about leaving the job to an overworked web editor? Ah, my friend, beware.

For that part of today’s life lesson, we turn the blog over to WCCO’s Jason DeRusha, who not only worked for broadcast and filed for the web, but also responded to a Brooklyn blogger’s last-minute request for a guest post. And he offers some damn solid insight into the risks and rewards of telling your story–and keeping control of your story–across all platforms.  If you’re banging out the web version as an afterthought, or leaving it to someone else, you’re playing with your own reputation.

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES:  Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV/Minneapolis  

As a guy who started in Davenport, Iowa in 1997, my job was clear. I was a television news reporter. My job was to go find out stuff and put it on TV. Maybe I’d write a VOSOT for 10, or the morning news. But that was it.

Today, my job is to do work across multiple platforms. I blog, I have webcam a at my desk, I Tweet and I turn my nightly TV news report “Good Question” into a story that can live on the web.

Writing my story for online publication may be the most important and least appreciated part of my job. I learned this a couple years ago, when a Google search of my name turned up a Pacific Business News article ripping me for a story I did where I supposedly referred to Hawaii as the “big island.” I did no such thing, on the air. But the online version of my story, published under my byline (and written by a web producer), got it wrong.

Fox 9s Story on Twitter: Great on TV. Online: FAIL.

I bring this up, because a local Minneapolis Fox station took a great deal of heat online for the text version of a perfectly fine TV story. They should have expected that a story on Twitter would get a lot of attention on Twitter. The story I watched on the air was a perfectly nice introduction to Twitter. It was well-written and well produced. The story online was not. No links to the people in the story. No quotes from anyone in the story. With no disrespect intended toward the person who probably had to post two dozen stories that night, it appeared to be written by a child. The story was annihilated online: with Tweets like this: “That Fox Twitter story reads like a piece on the CB Radio craze submitted to me in 1976 when I edited the 6th grade paper.” Not good.

At WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, several years ago management decided that reporters and field producers would write their own stories for the web. We had seminars, reminding us that writing for the web is different. Online readers expect you to get to the point right away. On-air, you might build your story to a climactic point. Online readers expect you to cite your sources, specifically. Online readers expect you to link to source material.

WCCOs DeRusha:  Live on the Street, Live at his Desk

WCCO's DeRusha: Live on the Street, Live at his Desk

 

Some of us are pretty good at this, others need quite a bit of editing. But the web producers can work on editing, rather than trying to figure out what we were talking about when the TV script reads, “SOT: In: bob went…. OUT: pizza parlor.” At first, I hated writing my web scripts. It jams more work into the end of my work day. Now, I love it. I love adding the extra information that I had to leave out because of time. I love the challenge of coming up with a provocative headline to attract viewers. And I’m proud of the fact that when people link to my stories, they get a well-written story, under my name, and under my station’s brand.

If you wonder about the value of a well-written web story, go to your web team and ask to see some web traffic statistics. I’ll bet you the text versions of stories get at least ten times more views than the corresponding videos. And unlink the television story that went out into the ether and disappeared, your online version will live nearly forever. So make it count.

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Dispatch from the Frontlines: VidSF Co-Creator Steve Cochrane

Trying It a New Way:  San Francisco's VidSF

Trying It a New Way: San Francisco's VidSF

Clay Shirky (who got a nice nod in Frank Rich’s Sunday Times piece) has noted that the next evolution of journalism will emerge one way or another, whether it’s the creation of a known monster like Google, or “some 19-year-old kid few of us have heard of.”

Steve Cochrane’s not 19, but he may be one of those “kids” who figures it out.  And even if he doesn’t, he’s one of the braves one out there trying something new, instead of rolling to work every day obsessing over whether we’ll be fired that day, and bitching about the fate of local news.  So on principle, Cochrane and his partner, Kieran Farr, deserve a lot of credit.  But what, exactly, are they doing? And is it showing signs, you know, of working?

So to start this week with something to ponder beyond Frank Rich’s “American Press on Suicide Watch,” we offer our first Monday Morning Dispatch from the Frontlines.  And thanks, Steve, for being the kid in class brave enough to share his project first.

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES:  STEVE COCHRANE, CO-FOUNDER, VidSF

Hi, I’m Steve Cochrane, and I co-founded VidSF with Kieran Farr. First, I’d like to thank Mark for letting me have the run of his wonderful blog here. It’s extremely encouraging to hear such interest in our project.

So, why did we start VidSF? We noticed that our friends weren’t watching local news anymore. Kieran and I are both in our mid-twenties, and if anyone our age is watching news, it’s probably from The Daily Show and not from a local offering.

We had also worked together on a television station that Kieran founded while at college, Indiana University Student Television . It’s still going strong and we learned a great deal from the project, so we decided to try again with local news for the web. We’d like to say we predicted the collapse of local TV news, but we just got lucky.

What’s the difference between news for TV and news for the web? As you all know, back before you had your Internet Blogs, and your Tweeter and MeSpace, making local news required a horrifically expensive studio and a time slot on cable. Because of this scarcity, a local TV news station only had to compete with maybe two or three other stations for viewer attention. At least, that’s what I’ve pieced together from multiple viewings of the historical document Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Today, with compact cameras and dirt-cheap webhosts, the days of limited options are over. The level of competition has gone way, way up, and viewers are likely to flee a site if they have to watch even one sub-par video. When viewers are held in contempt, like the classic “bait the viewer with the most interesting story and withhold it until the very end of the broadcast,” they don’t have to stand for it, because they can get their news elsewhere. So it’s important that we really respect our viewers, value their time, and edit relentlessly. That’s why we have a rule that our videos can only be two to four minutes in length. There aren’t many stories that need more time than that.

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Cochrane: "Being the Little Guy Has Never Held Us Back"

What’s working for us? We’re really happy that we decided to go the all-video route. There are many, many local news start-ups popping up, but they’re predominantly text-only. While a video site is harder to set up and more expensive to maintain than a text site, it definitely has its advantages. Video advertising generally performs far better than traditional banner ads, which viewers have trained themselves to ignore.

As for content, event coverage has been working great for us. There are lots of fun and quirky events in San Francisco to cover, like the Bring Your Own Big Wheel race and the Valentine’s Day pillow fight . So instead of the inane reporter stand-up , we interview the people involved and let them tell us why it’s important. We’re not going to be winning Pulitzers any time soon, but these events are fun to watch and quick to produce.

It’s also surprisingly easy to gain access to events, even if no one’s ever heard of us before. We’ll just send a polite email and almost invariably we’ll get a nice reply with a press pass and free drinks. Being the little guy has never held us back.

What’s not working for us? This one’s easy: user-generated content. When we originally started VidSF, we had the crazy idea that “anyone can be a video journalist!” We soon found that when you get a bunch of random people from Craigslist without any journalism or video production experience and have them tape what they want with no oversight, the end product is not very compelling.

So we’re changing our approach from user-generated content to more of an edited publication. Having to make that transition has slowed us down a bit, but that’s how start-ups like these go. In order to survive you can’t just set a plan in stone, you have to bob and weave.

This may be disappointing to some, but we’ve also noticed that our more laboriously produced and researched “serious news” videos are generally less popular than our lighter, more entertaining ones.

What about the whole “money” thing? This is probably the thing that readers most want to hear about, and unfortunately we don’t have much of an answer yet. We did recently build a custom advertising system that serves pre-roll ads — brief video ads that play before a feature — similar to the ads on Hulu . Currently we’re thinking through how we want to make sales, and we haven’t approached any local businesses yet, but we’re close. Will it work? We don’t know yet, but we hope to make lots of money, and we’ll see how that pans out.

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Why I’m Questioning My Career, Questioning Myself, and Perhaps Unfairly Angry at Alan Ball

Alan Ball:  Unfair, Yes, but Its All Your Fault

Alan Ball: Unfair, Yes, but It's All Your Fault

Alan Ball probably doesn’t even know I’m angry. I mean, why would he? But I can’t shake it. See, I loved “Six Feet Under,” and have always considered Ball to be one of those unpredictable, bold, and truly brilliant storytellers that are just so rare in film and TV today. When Ball’s new show, “True Blood,” hit HBO, I watched, and thought it was amazing. Weird, funny, unforgettable.

So why am I mad? Oh yeah, sorry. Well, since I left my nice warm reporter’s job in Miami at WPLG, I’ve been blogging away and engaging with new media gurus and pondering a digital future–all from my perch here in Brooklyn. Exciting, rewarding, but financially draining. I’ve put in hours freelancing at the New York Post, and started work on a new online channel devoted to wine and travel that will launch this summer, but as for the bottom line, well, it’s been tight.

How is any of this Alan Ball’s fault? Sorry. I’m getting to that. You see, I’ve been swimming in the ice cold water of New York’s media world, where there are lots of journalists on the verge of hypothermia, but not many rescue boats with warm blankets. Nobody’s hiring. And the gigs that come up–the interesting ones–well, they don’t pay. (You know that “next financial model” stuff we’ve all been talking about? Yeah, well, the folks out there experimenting and trying new things…they’ll let you in on the proverbial ground floor, and you’ll feel connected to creativity and the thrill of maybe discovering a new way of telling stories, but the cell phone bill still won’t get paid.) And that brings me to Alan Ball.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve met with marketing and ad agencies, figuring a good storyteller is a good storyteller, and reporters know how to boil things down and explain them, and the good ones really know how to write, right? Well, try telling that to someone even at a funky SoHo marketing shop. You get this odd stare and head tilt, as if they were a puppy that’s just heard a strange sound. “But… you haven’t worked at an agency…” And they can’t get past that.

Oh. Rats. Alan Ball. Sorry. I’m getting there.

A friend who was unceremoniously dispatched from his reporting job at WNBC recently shared his experiences finding work as a talented reporter and writer in this environment. He thought to himself, “if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s look into a camera and talk.” He’s found work doing commercials and acting.

HBO's True Blood: I Coulda Been a Star

So there I was a week ago in the oh-so-strange world of waiting my turn to audition for Alan Ball’s “True Blood.” The new season’s in production, and one of the characters is a news anchor who does a weekly segment on vampires. Now, like my WNBC friend, if there’s anything I know how to do, it’s be a news reporter or anchor. I wouldn’t really be “anchoring” so much as “playing one on TV.” (And I wasn’t the only out-of-work local newser who had that idea. Scanning down the sign-in sheet for the HBO audition session, I noticed five well-known names who were also giving the fake news a try)

While I have no real acting training, I thought I sounded just like an anchor during my audition. The casting agent sent me off with a cheery “have a great weekend” and a reminder to leave my phone number so they could reach me over the weekend if I got a callback.

And you now see where this is going. No callback. And I’m left to wonder: am I not even qualified to pretend to be a journalist now? I can’t pass for one in fiction? I must admit it had me questioning everything, from whether I’d ever hold a mic in my hand again as a reporter, to whether I could hold out long enough for my inroads into new media to finally produce a paycheck.

Or, I could just blame Alan Ball.

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