Why Do Some TV Stations NOT Show the Olympics, or use Only Photos?

You’ve probably been watching your local news station, and depending who they are, you’ll either be seeing full Olympic highlights (on NBC or Canada’s CBC), or… not much at all.

There’s a very good and simple reason for this: money.

Some stations, just one in each country, pay DEARLY for the rights to exclusively broadcast Olympic events and content.  With that, they also get the rights to use the words “Olympics”, “Sochi 2014”, and to show the rings.  When TV stations purchase those broadcast rights, part of the deal that’s inked includes provisions that say no other broadcaster gets that content, unless, until, and only with very specific criteria laid out.

In The USA, NBC has the Olympic rights.  In Canada it’s CBC.  Each broadcaster writes a lengthy and iron-clad contract that outlines (basically) that no one else can use footage or video of the games.  Sometimes the rights-owners will allow use of video 24 hours after an event has occurred, i.e. when no one is interested any longer.  Frequently, only still photos are allowed to be used, and those can be used within minutes of an event taking place. The words “Olympics”, “Olympic games”, “Sochi 2014” etc are all also trademarked terms.  And you gain their use exclusively when you pony up.  So that’s also why you see the terms “2014 Games” or “Winter Games” or similarly generic terminology in non-rights-holders graphics.   You’ll also NEVER see them use the sacred rings.  Trademarks and hyper vigilance of olympic committee members is also why many news outlets not directly affiliated with the games will largely ignore it, or at least minimize their coverage.  After all, who wants to watch TV when it’s like reading the photo captions in the newspaper? More about the trademarking and those who watch over it?  Read this.

“The Game”; playing with words when you can’t borrow the branding.

Interestingly, even after paying millions (NBC reportedly paid $775 million for Sochi  Global News tried to find out what public broadcaster CBC paid, but.. well.. they didn’t find out much from the uber-secretive taxpayer funded network.  You can read their saga here.), the rights for use of previous Olympics footage usually expires after a year or two.  That’s because the Olympics itself retains the rights to the footage and each games.  Meaning if you want to use more video, you can –anyone can, really– but you’ll need to pay. Big time.


Got more questions about Olympic news coverage, or the media in general?  Ask away in comments below.

Book Burning or Fact Fudging? What I Found Out Researching the DFO “Book Burning” Claims

20140105-110903.jpgI was shocked recently to read an “article” a couple friends had linked to on Facebook about the Canadian Fishieries and Oceans Library and Archives being “simply sent to landfill or burned”.  Why would the government want to destroy centuries of archival research I wondered?  “Article” is in quotes because I quickly realized it was not a work of news, but a blog post, but many people don’t realize there’s a difference.  You’re about to see why there is.

This blog on a site called Boing Boing –which not helpfully links back on its own website, at least when the links actually work –claims there is a Conservative, “war on the environment”, that “An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger’s 19th century expedition went to the landfill”, and disturbingly, “Some of the books were burned”, and also “The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.”

Wow.  Book burning by a major G8 government in 2013/2014?!  This is truly shocking. Decades of research being dumped? Stunning.  Libraries that are just “gone”?  Awful.   But as I kept reading, I realized none of these claims are backed up by anyone.  They’re not attributed to any identified person.  They’re not quotes.  The article contains a boxed link to something, again, not attributed, or linked back to its source that claims scientists are being “muzzled”.  It names someone called only “Hutchings”.  Who is this person?  Why are they mentioned?

So I decided to do a little investigating for myself.  (Incidentally, something I always recommend people do before posting something for all your friends and family to see.) As a journalist, I deal in facts.  Not hysteria, not hyperbole.  When you’re screeching, “The sky is falling!!”, I’m liable to go outside and see for myself, instead of running around with the other people who are now terrified simply because someone told them to be. You can have an opinion, just make sure you’ve done your homework.

Let’s look at the claims made here, one by one, for fact checking:

Claim 1.  “The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.”

Fact 1. I looked at several reputable news sources, and also went right to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website for their handy FAQ on Libraries Consolodation.  While, yes, they are closing both those libraries, they say, (a news article on the Winnipeg closure here) “The Department’s 11 library locations will be consolidated into 4 locations, composed of 2 primary locations, the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney BC, and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth NS, as well as 2 specialized collections residing at the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) College library in Sydney, Nova Scotia and the CCG technical library in the National Capital Region.”

So what’s happening to the collections, you might ask?  From DFO: “Consolidating Departmental libraries will result in minimal change for external users. There will be no changes to the size or scope of the collection,” and “The Department may remove only content that is duplicated at one or more libraries and, in rare instances, materials which fall outside the subject disciplines pertinent to the department’s mandate from its collection.”

The Winnipeg Free Press article linked above also goes on to say, “DFO scientists had already cannibalized what was left of the library, but hundreds of books, journals, maps and reports remain.”  So what appears to be happening, is the good stuff from the library was sent to one of the remaining libraries.  What they didn’t deem valuable was kept by other DFO scientists.  The leftovers were opened up to the public. This stuff is not being trashed willy nilly, from the research I’ve done.  And just as an aside, when scientists and librarians have deemed the stuff not valuable enough to keep, doesn’t that make you wonder if it’s truly as historically irreplaceable as some might suggest?  My grandmother kept years of old newspapers, but does that mean I need to become their custodian when no one wants them?  Might the DFO be getting rid of some stuff, as we all frequently do when years-old bills, used post-it notes and 9 year old greeting cards start to clutter up the home office?  Yes.  Are they dumping their vast collections in the garbage, and are they “gone”?  It would appear not from the facts at hand. They are digitizing and consolidating their collections.

Now, if you’d like to merely brush this stuff off by saying, “the government is lying!!!”, then knock yourself out.  But can you prove it? Merely being distrustful of an entity, government or person, “just because”, is not a substitute for a well-reasoned, fact-based opinion.   I can claim to be 21, and say I have a 23″ waist.  Can I prove it?  Nuh uhh.  In my world of journalism, you have to be able to back up what you publish or broadcast, or you get sued, or fired.

Claim 2.  “An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger’s 19th century expedition went to the landfill”

Fact 2.  It’s hard to figure out where this one comes from, and thus fact check it.  Mainly because it comes with no other information, no source, no proof.  I can find no proof or evidence online this has happened. No one’s mentioned it.  I looked on the website for the HMS Challenger Society.  Surely an organization dedicated to and named after the very ship these logs came from would be decrying this loss of history?  Not a mention.  Then I found an article on canada.com that states, ”

“The libraries are home to the 50 illustrated volumes from Britain’s Challenger expedition that sailed the seas in the late 1800s exploring the mysteries of the deep…. history that is being packed into boxes as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans “consolidates” its world-class library collection.”

Huh.  So it’s being moved.  Not dumped.

But they’re still burning the books and maps and archival papers, right?

Claim 3.  The Big, Scary one:  “Some of the books were burned”

Fact 3.  Since the blog doesn’t tell me where this book burning went down, finding witnesses is a bit of a needle in a haystack.  And there’s not quote from any DFO employee, even anonymously, that they were forced to incinerate this stuff in the basement of a stuffy old building in Ottawa.  So what really happened? Another round of searches turns up this article from a BC online newsmagazine called the Tyee, whose headline reads, “Dismantling of Fishery Library ‘Like a Book Burning,’ Say Scientists”.

Well.  How about that.  Add the word “Like”, and it kinda changes everything, doesn’t it?  This phrase comes from a quote, from an unnamed scientist.  “I was sickened,” said one prominent research scientist who had worked for the federal government for 30 years, and who did not want to be identified. “All that intellectual capital is now gone. It’s like a book burning. It’s the destruction of our cultural heritage. It just makes us poorer as a nation.”

So I get it.  Scientists say this library consolidation is bad.  And again, having the info online or on paper, keeping a dozen libraries or just 2, those are all separate discussions you can have. All I’m doing here is looking for facts.  And “book burning” doesn’t appear to be one of them.  But hey, it makes a good blog headline, and gets it passed around, right?

Journalism vs Blogs

Now all of this fact checking is just what I had time to do in an hour at my kitchen table.  If I were doing this at work, we’d have people out there doing interviews, chasing witnesses and videotaping everything.  So before anyone discounts this mini investigation as just some internet searching, and says it barely scratches the surface, you’re right.  This is what I spent an hour on a Saturday doing: reading.  Fact checking.  And now it’s time for a glass of wine.    But bring me proof anything claimed in the original hysterical blog is true, and not only will I write about it, I’ll bring it to the major-market TV station where I work and share it with everyone.

Bottom line here, friends, before you repost stuff, do a few things:

1.  Check the facts.  If a neighbour tells you Joe Smith is killing babies in his basement on your street!!!! on Facebook, might you want to call the cops, ask how the tattler knows that, or even knock on Joe’s door yourself, before you join the lynch mob or molotov his house. Google search stuff.  Read reputable news articles about it.  Speak to someone in the know.  When you read something, see if a person has been quoted.  Does that person actually exist? Google them.  Who are they?  What do they do?

2.  Check your sources. Don’t confuse blogs with real news.  Don’t confuse bloggers with obvious agendas and hate-ons as journalists.  Get your facts from real media. If it hasn’t been covered yet, send a friendly e-mail to your media outlet of choice inquiring about it. People who work in media are not omnipotent, we need tips, and to know about what concerns you, our customers. Or–better yet–get the facts for yourself.

3.  Don’t buy into hype.  If something sounds hysterical/unbelievable/insane, it’s probably because it is.  Don’t buy into the also oft-screeched paranoia of “the media are being blocked from covering (insert whatever story here) by the government/advertisers/shadowy men in black.  It just doesn’t happen.  Want one tiny example?  Google Air Canada.  Read all the stories of complaint and troubles and problems that come out monthly about them.  Don’t you think if this media/corporate conspiracy was real, all Air Canada’s news stories would read more like Westjet’s? I’ve worked in three major Canadian markets, for every network, and never once has myself, or anyone I’ve ever worked with been ordered to kybosh a story because a corporation asked.

And yes, I obviously see the irony in writing this on my blog. Comments welcome.


Meet the Producer!


I was asked recently on Twitter, “What does a producer do, anyway?”  It’s a common question I get, so this week’s blog is devoted to the answer.

If only job descriptions could be printed on a business card;  it would mean a lot fewer questions.  I work as a producer, and have been in many of Canada’s largest newsrooms.  But outside these walls, what I do is a mystery.

Journalism schools teach a lot of things; ethics, writing, editing, and even camera operations.  But the one role that is often left out is the one that is, in the end, most key to any TV newsroom; the Producer.  Even within journalism schools, the role of producer is vague and intangible.  Most student hopefuls hold dreams of being a reporter, anchor, or writer; something that puts your name up in lights.  Almost none covet the producer job, yet it is the most common,  and most powerful position in TV. And almost no schools that I’m aware of teach you how to be a great producer.

To liken it to more familiar jobs, the producer is not unlike a project manager, wedding planner, or store manager.  If you’ve ever seen Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” you’ll know the kind of crucible you end up in when it’s your job to oversee every aspect of a project.  And in essence, that is what the producer does; we lay out, guide, organize, adjust, write and chase all stories, video elements, as well as evaluate editorial and content decisions in any TV show or news broadcast.  While an anchor or host may be the public face  of what goes to air, by and large it is the producer that leads the charge that makes it happen.  Every piece of tape that plays back, every map you see, whether there is an interview or ‘clip’ from a subject or not, every line of script that anchor reads…comes down to decisions made by a producer.Erin_shawvan_studios


Producers need to fill more roles than any other person in a news room.  They need to be a writer, legal expert, critic, ethicist, counsellor, shrink, troubleshooter, and cheerleader.  They also need to know how each of the jobs that support the broadcast—what it’s like to be in the field reporting, how satellite feeds get from Kandahar to Kelowna, as well as  basic video editing skills, and increasingly, web editing software programs and just about every social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Photoshop… the list goes on.

chopper erinProducers decide which stories go into their particular newscast.  They decide whether a certain story gets a full 2 minute “package” with a reporter to narrate and research  it, or if it gets a “vo-clip”; in essence a quick bit of video and an interview clip that lasts about 45 seconds.

Producers are also often people who mine for stories; talking to the public, trawling websites and events for interesting potential stories.  We make calls, organize interviews, find statistics, or the ‘real people’ that make lasting impressions in stories.  Reporters do this too, but frequently enough it’s a producer who starts the ball rolling.  As a producer, you need to be able to make cold calls without thinking twice; calling up a business owner and asking them about their burned-out restaurant, calling the people living around a train derailment to get an early phone interview from someone who saw what happened, even calling the family of someone involved in a tragedy, and offering them the option to tell their story–and being gracious if they don’t want to.

006956-R1-041-19.Disclaimer time: each newsroom is different.  Some reporters always do all their own research, digging and writing,  Others rely on producers to to most of that, and the reporter is just the ‘hair and teeth’ on the story. I’m providing a bit of a laundry list of what various types of producers do.  It’s by no means meant to reflect how things are at every news station, for individual producers.

20131205-073335.jpgProducers are also often Jacks-of-all-trades; we can anchor, we can report, some of us can even shoot news. It depends on the person, and the kind of professional experience they’ve acquired for themselves.

There’s a definite personality type that is suited to being a producer; the Type-A Go-Getter.  You need to be proactive to be good in this job.  You need to be fearless, have an eye for details, enjoy deadlines, and never, ever panic, no matter the crisis.

There’s a also component of producing that –even if they DO teach you about this job in J-school–no one will tell you about.  It’s being a salesperson.  You need to sell subjects on being interviewed.  You need to sell reporters on a story and its potential for greatness.  You need to sell the news director on the fact that sitting outside someone’s house for two days will yield a lead story.  You need to be able to sell a PR flak on giving YOU a story before everyone else.  In some extreme cases you might need to be able to sell someone on not suing you, because they didn’t like your story.erin top 40

So that’s it in a nutshell.   If you have questions about what the media –or producers specifically–do, please write.  I’d love to tell you more about it.


Prison: Not Your Average Day Trip

I have, and now I can say I’m glad it’s a one-off.

I once made a trip to Saskatchewan Pennetentiary  to visit an inmate convicted of killing his daughter’s boyfriend.

<Aside: it was for a documentary I was working on some time ago for a local company. To my knowledge the film has yet to come to fruition>

The family had accused the boyfriend of hooking their daughter on drugs, injecting her with morphine, sleeping with her (even though she was 14 and he was 22) and selling drugs to the town.
Sask Penn is old–a building of those old brick and stone walls that seem to tower above you to the clouds. The rough and rugged walls are topped not just with barbed wire, but with that extra-painful looking razor wire. Guard towers man every corner and double borders of chain link hug the building creating concentric circles of security.
Even so, security seems deceptively low key, even for this medium security facility; but maybe that has something to do with my media pass, camera-crew-entourage, and the presence of a minder. We sign in, present ID, go through a metal detector and have a guard look in all our bags. He shrugs as he paws through wires, lights, tripods and stacks of tapes. “How am I supposed to know what half this stuff is?” he says, But satisfied there’s no contraband, even among things he doesn’t recognize, we’re allowed to pass.
Three sets of steel and heavy glass doors keep the outside world safe. Each opens remotely with a loud “thunk” and an electronic buzz. Guards nod to

each other as we pass.
I see no other inmates, and only two other visitors. They seem like they belong here, in that they’ve probably been here many times. They are seated at small round tables bolted to the floor and with chairs attached to those tables by rigid arms.
We set up our equipment in a tiny visiting room. There are exactly three chairs and a faux wood folding table.  Inmates who are not generally considered to be a problem are allowed to come here, with the priviledge of more privacy than is afforded others. More dangerous types use the single plexiglass boxes with phone connections in the room next to us.
I’m unsure of what to expect when I meet our interviewee. After all, he shot a man to death by firing 10 bullets at him and hitting him with 50% of them. The man bled out on the floor in front of him and his drug addicted daughter as he shakily dialed 911.
We’re here because there’s more to the story; the man believed his daughter was one injection away from an overdose; that the boyfriend had threatened to “make her disappear” as revenge for the parents intervening in the relationship. The father told us that when he arrived at the boyfriend’s house, he was threatened, and the boyfriend, a former bodybuilder, charged at him.
In so many ways this could be a self defense case. The jury didn’t see it that way.
The father shuffles towards the door with his head bowed, looking at the floor. He’s not wearing handcuffs or orange coveralls, but simple jeans, a white t-shirt and black runners. His red hair is still visible among the grey; mostly poking though his full beard. He definitely looks like the Scottsman he is. Dressed this way, he could be a plumber or a carpenter.  Instead, in this context, he is simply his label; a killer, an inmate, a man to be locked up

and kept from society.

We shake hands; I can see he’s visibly nervous. His hands shake, his voice quivers, his eyes dart. He sits and fidgets with one rolled up pant cuff.
I can tell he’s frightened. The camera and bright lights will do that to people.

How interesting that a man convicted of murder is afraid of me, and the questions I’m about to ask him beside the unblinking eye of the video camera.

-Originally written for friends in 2006

“Any race except Caucasian” CBC Job posting: Reported For Twitter.

A curious new aspect to my job has emerged; stories that are not necessarily local to our city, and may not be on our nightly newscast, or on our website, end up running their course instead on social media.  This means increasingly,  I report news or stories to my Twitter followers, without it going out over our traditional broadcast media.

Case in point, Tuesday;  I saw a Tweet about a “racist” CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Television job posting asking for  “Any race except Caucasian” to apply.

Original Job Posting, before it was altered to remove racial reference.
Original Job Posting, before it was altered to remove racial reference.

Having worked at the CBC, I’m well aware of its diversity policies.  But I was a bit surprised they’d be so… blatant in a job posting/casting call for a new Kids TV host. Curious, I went to look at it immiediately. But before Tweeting about it,  I first wanted to make sure the post was legit.  I did a few checks; looked up the casting agency that was handling the job posting and auditions,  “Larissa Mair Casting”,  and did some basic verification on them.  It’s always good to make sure these things aren’t hoaxes before re-tweeting and weighing in.

Seeking further verification, I called the business number, and was surprised when Larissa Mair herself  answered the phone. Before I could even get a question out, she told me, You’re calling about that posting… It’s a terrible terrible mistake”.   As I was on the phone with her, someone across the newsroom hollered that the original posting had just been changed to remove the racial reference.

Knowing this story didn’t really have a Calgary angle, it was clear we probably wouldn’t be putting it on TV tonight (that would be left to our National news partners).  But still I was curious and tweeted about the posting.   There was immiediate and visceral response.  At the time, I also screen-grabbed the original posting, which was still up on my computer  in its unaltered form.  (Thank goodness I hardly ever close an internet tab until the end of the day!)

I tweeted the posting right away, and again moments later that the posting had been altered.  More fury from Twitter.

I asked Larissa about how this criteria had come to be in a CBC (government-funded for those of you outside Canada)  job posting.  Here’s what I Tweeted as we talked:


JUST IN Larissa Mair tells me “this is an error on my behalf”. “I want to be just sick right now.” This was “innocent error, no ill intent”


Larissa Mair tells me by phone she’s horrified about what she calls a “mistake” in CBC kids host job post that only non-whites need apply.


Casting agent taking full responsibility for “mistake”.


Casting agent Larissa Mair says “Any race except caucasian” line in CBC job post was “mistake”. She can’t explain to me just HOW it happened.

Immiediately I got a tweet back from someone in the industry telling me he had e-mailled to ask about that “Any race except Caucasian” line in the CBC posting earlier today, and was disappointed with what he heard.  He sent me his e-mail:

On 2013-04-29, at 3:19 PM, Joseph morris wrote:
Hello Larissa,

I am curious to know why your recent ad on craigslist excludes an entire race.
On 2013-04-29, at 3:24 PM, Larissa Mair wrote:
The only race is Caucasian.  The show has been ongoing for years and this is another role they want to cast.

I’m the casting director and this has been requested from the production.
If you have further concerns, why don’t you give me a call.
Since you’re a producer, I’m sure when producing something for a show, you’re seeking something specific.

e-mail from Tweep regarding his complaint about the original posting.
e-mail from Tweep regarding his complaint about the original posting.

I contacted the casting agent again to ask about this letter, and why she told the writer this had been “requested from the production”. She remembered it, and provided this explanation:

“Absolutely, It was a complete mistake on my part.  In the casting profession we are often asked to find specific types for different roles. In this particular case we were asked to seek a cast of diversity. We mistakenly took that to mean that the production was not seeking Caucasian actors. This was a mistake that was made entirely by the casting company and not the broadcasters, who are seeking actors of all ethnicities for this role. We deeply apologize for our error and anyone we may have offended.”

So in very short order after the posting was first brought up on Twitter, we had outrage, explanation, acceptance of responsibility, an apology, and more outrage.  Also interesting – Twitter users are tweeting the original posting far more than my follow-up tweets with the  explanation/admission/apology.

So what’s the CBC saying about all this?  Nothing.  Requests for comment or an explanation, or an answer about what exactly was asked of the casting company have not been returned.


Thoughts on this story?  Does the casting agent’s explanation satisfy you? What does the CBC’s silence say to you?  I’d love to hear from you.

Journalism: How to Pitch Your Story to the News

So why does some news get covered and some doesn’t? That’s a whole blog post in and of itself.  But I can say with certainty that getting a story–any story–covered starts with a good pitch.
breaking news2

Got a big event happening and want to invite the news?  Grandparents celebrating their 60th Anniversary and you think it deserves to be on TV? Community golf tourney, BBQ or fundraiser?  Maybe you’ve been the victim of a crime or a rip-off.  It you want to get the word out to the media there are some simple do’s and dont’s.

(Disclaimer:  I work in TV news, so most of my suggestions are geared at pitching to MY industry)

First: Does Your Story Fit The Key Criteria? The DO’S

Stories should :
-be unique; something that doesn’t happen daily, weekly, monthly or commonly
-should involve real people
-be new, happening NOW, or soon (not days or weeks old)
-have people willing to be on camera, on the record, or otherwise willingly go public, or be in the public eye

-is there CONFLICT? All good stories have winners & losers, heroes and villains, tension, injustice, outrage, or a battle.  It could be as simple as “woman fights parking ticket error”, but there needs to be something.

-Should be relevant to a large number of people in some way, or be directly affecting a large group

Where’s this happening?

All good TV stories need a visual location.  Boardrooms are bad, factory floors are great.  You actually working in your environment (Falafel shop, shoe repair man, chef) is even better.  And all pertinent people should be available together or at least on the same day.

Is this an Ad for Your Business?

If that’s all you’re looking for; airtime about a product or service, then my TV newscast is not for you.  There are limited exceptions, but your pitch about why YOU should get one, better be really really good.  See above. And below.


The When/Where/How of Getting Me Your Pitch

The When:
If you’re calling a TV station; do a wee bit of research; don’t call while a newscast is on the air.  Staff is usually busy at that time and won’t have much time to hear you out.  In most newsrooms you can ask for the assignment desk–those are the folks tasked with assigning news stories.  You could also try pitching a reporter directly, but they’re much, much harder to get in touch with.

When calling the assignment desk, call mid morning.  Early morning, we’re trying to get the reporters out the door and get up to speed on the day’s events. That’s usually done by 10am.

EVEN BETTER: e-mail us.

All stations have a viewer response, or story ideas email addresses.  Give it a short, catchy, descriptive headline in the Subject field that will grab our attention. “News Release”, “Big Story”, or “Important News Event” are lame, amateurish grabs that rarely get opened.

The benefit of using email is that we can read it when we have time to focus on it; and if it has a good headline, we will.

In the body of the email:

-keep it short; a page is more than enough

-Don’t give me details I don’t need

-Include the 5W’s of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How if relevant.

-Include contact info including a cell phone so we can reach you.

Pitching Don’ts:

Don’t tell me “all your friends are interested in your business, event, problem  or product, so you think all my viewers should be too”.  Of course they are, or they wouldn’t be your friends.  I get hundreds of pitches a week; yours has to be truly unique, not just popular among your friends.

Don’t send a press release or e-mail out and then be unavailable, or unreachable.  If I call you, its likely because I’m going to want something on the day you reach out, ie. TODAY.
Don’t go on and on on the phone.. practice giving me your pitch in 3-4 sentences.  If you can’t do that, I’m going to have a hard time giving it to my viewers in the minute or two that we have on TV.
KNOW who you’re pitching to.  I can’t tell you how many free cd’s I get mailled to me, with follow up offers to have a band come on my newscast.  We don’t run music news or entertainment. It’s good practice to watch the newscast you’re pitching to and make sure there’s a fit.
If not, check around for other programs that might be suited to what you have in mind.
Don’t take rejection personally. I get hundreds of pitches… so the bar is pretty high.  If I don’t like your story, ask if you can send me your contact info to be kept on file.  We often call people about future stories.
Don’t pitch a feature on a busy news day, ie Election Day, or on a day when there’s been a triple murder.  BUT if you have something relevant to a breaking story today (ie. you’ve witnessed election fraud or ballot box stuffing, or know the victims in that murder)–call in. Please!
NO JARGON!  Distill your story down to what would interest regular folks…  If I can’t understand your release or e-mail, I can’t expect my viewers to either, and  I’ll probably file it under “g”.
Don’t expect veto power, or for the story to turn out as you expect.  Journalists almost never let people see their stories before they’re done.  If you’re concerned about how you’re going to be included in the story, ask the reporter to clarify.
Don’t Spam me. Please don’t send a copy of the press release, or your email every day, and/or call every day.  That gets annoying, clutters up my inbox and my voicemail, and takes me away from other work.  Me personally, I like one email, and I’m ok with one call on the day-of. The media will always call you if we’re interested– If you’re phone’s not ringing, it’s likely because we’re not.

Also, don’t expect a reply to your request, email and/or news release.  We get literally HUNDREDS of requests for coverage each day.  We can’t possibly reply or RSVP to each one. Sorry.

How to use Social Media to Pitch the Media

I troll Twitter all the time.  I will frequently Tweet out when I’m looking for a person, someone who’s had an experience related to a news story that’s in the works,  so follow me (@TVChick13), and other journalists and engage with us.  And again..if I tweet today, know that I probably need it today.  Be available… or suggest someone else that might be good.  Another good way to be in touch with the media is to “Like” media FB pages, as frequently we ask for input there too.

One final note; always take photos and video of news you see, problems you’re having, battles you’re fighting or other important happenings.  Examples would be, you find black mould in your hotel room, you see a house fire, you think someone’s trying to pull a fast one on you, or you find a finger in your chili.  Photos and video make the story MUCH more than it would be if it was just your words after the event is over.  You know the saying, “a picture’s worth 1000 words?”  It ain’t a cliche for nothin’.

Courtesy fineartamerica.com
Courtesy fineartamerica.com

-Erin is a Calgary-based TV News Producer.  I’m happy to answer your questions on this subject.  Please post ’em in the comments section.

We Want VIDEO! The Draw of the “Pitch Drop”

Ever heard of the Pitch Drop? Probably not.

It’s possibly the world’s slowest experiment, and one cursed with some poor timing and maybe a bit of bad luck.  But people all over the world are checking it out on livestream, in hopes of being one of the few who have ever witnessed this event.


What is it?  It’s a live shot of a solid you can smash with a hammer, that is actually a liquid, that takes about 12 years–TWELVE YEARS–to drip just once.

No one has actually seen the drip, drop.

A camera installed in the year 2000 failed at the critical moment, and the drip detached unseen by human eyes, again.

So now, with three cameras unblinking at every angle, what will be just the 9th pitch drip in about 80 plus years is imminent.  And  the  live webcam means it’s no longer just up to the lonely professor overseeing the experiment to bear witness to this event.

Waiting for the pitch to drop
Waiting for the pitch to drop

How many people are tuning in?  The University of Queensland tells me last Friday’s visits to the PD page (Feb 14th, yes, Valentine’s Day, randomly selected as an example) peaked at 18,111 page views.  14,958 of those were unique page views.  In one day.  To watch a drip–potentially, maybe, but not very likley–let go.

Proof positive that video on your website–any video– is a draw.

Check out the Pitch Drop Livestream HERE

 Check out the Pitch Drop Livestream here.

Debunking those Troubling e-mail Forwards: Why I do my homework

targetDid you get an e-mail about what a terrible company Target is?  And how they hate veterans, and they’re French owned?  Maybe the email suggested to you Canadians that since Target is about to open HERE, you should consider not taking your business to them. 
I got that email, but before I forward emails, I like to check them out. So here’s the original e-mail.  Read this first, then follow me along…

Subject:  Target Stores Coming to Canada Soon – Please Read!

 Good to know

Target Stores what a surprise!  Wasn’t it last Christmas that Target refused to let the Salvation Army ring their bells in front of their stores?  Dick Forrey of the Vietnam Veterans Association wrote.Recently we asked the local TARGET store  to be a proud Sponsor of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall during our Spring recognition event.  Remember there are Canadians occupying space on these walls. We received the following reply from the local TARGET management:Veterans do not meet our area of giving. We only donate to the arts, social action Groups, gay & lesbian causes and education.  So I’m thinking, if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and
Veterans in general, do not meet their donation criteria, then something is really wrong at this TARGET store.  We were not asking for thousands of dollars, not even hundreds, just a small sponsorship for a memorial remembrance.As a follow-up, I emailed the TARGET U.S. Corporate Headquarters and their response was the same.  That’s their National policy!!!  Then I looked into the company further.  They will not allow
The Marines to collect for Toys for Tots’ at any of their Stores. And during the recent Iraq deployment,they would not allow families of employees who were called up for active duty to continue
their insurance  coverage while they were on military service.Then as I dig further, TARGET is a French-owned corporation.  Now, I’m thinking again.  If TARGET cannot support American or Canadian Veterans, then why should my family and I support their Stores by spending our hard earned American or Canadian dollars in their stores???  And, have their profits sent to France.Without the American and Canadian Vets, where would France be today?

They, most likely would be speaking German and trading in Deutsch Marks.Sincerely,Dick Forrey
Veterans Helping Veteransps:Please send this on to everyone you know to let Target know we don’t need them either! we’re all in a position to reduce sales to these stores as soon as this gets around….SO THERE IS POWER IN THE PEN AND THE COMPUTER EMAILS!!  NOW THESE PEOPLE ARE INTRODUCING THEMSELVES TO CANADA – WOW !!!

No virus found in this message.”

So, here’s the TRUE story:
This email was written by an American man in 2004. And he’s since recanted it. 
Most of the points he makes in it are FALSE.  Such as: Target is NOT French owned, it’s a publicly traded company (Target Corporation NYSE: TGT). Even if “France” owned Target, which is doesn’t, France is NOT “Muslim Controlled”; what does that even mean?.
Target is not anti-charity, in fact they’ve recently pledged to donate $1million to Canadian charities:  here’s the story from a reputable news site.
The one thing that IS true is that they have decided to no longer allow the Sally Ann kettle folks outside of their stores.  But plenty of other companies (Home Depot, Best Buy, etc) do not allow this either; mainly because they have total “no solicitation” policy which prevents ANYONE from asking you for money, including the homeless, and fringe charities, or the Scientologists, for example.
Here’s a LEGITIMATE news article about the Kettle ban and the reasons for it.
And here’s a link to a website that debunks urban myths like this one.

Now, this all took me about 15 minutes to check out and write up.   It’s not a full scale investigation, but it gives you a good idea of how important it is to do your homework before spreading misinformation.

Success–what works for me

-Adapted from a presentation I gave at an askNancy.ca women’s networking event. I was asked what some of my own “Secrets to Success” are, and how I’ve gotten ahead in life and my career.
Many of us know that hard work and sacrifice are some of the keys to success.  If asked, we could probably name a few more.  But all too often it’s the “little things” that help pave the long, cobbled road to success, that we forget.
Don’t underestimate the way you dress, how you write an e-mail, the way you speak, and your attitude towards those smaller,  even menial tasks, as small steps to making a great impression.
ru tired of not knowing WTF is up in msgs?  hrd 2 decifer thoz emails? 
As we struggle to get more done, faster, and with less, it’s all too easy to dash off a quick note to someone sans capitilization, without spell-checking, and with the ubiquitous smiley face.  This is not professional.  If you want to be taken seriously, write like you did back in school; properly punctuated, spelled correctly, and in full sentences that make no mistake about your meaning. Doing otherwise may make you seem rushed, unfocused and minus attention to detail. I’m not saying pull out your CP Stylebook, but put it this way:  you’ll never be faulted for perfect e-mail-writing skills.  You could be for sloppiness.
“Like, I thought I’d be anchoring the 6pm news by now.”
If your job came with a fully-written job description, Congratulations!  Most of us don’t get so much clarity.  While you’re likely clear on the basics of what your job entails, make sure you don’t draw any lines that may put you at a disadvantage.  Case in point; We had a 20-something intern  in our newsroom who was there to ‘learn the ropes”.  Our newsroom manager– whose job also consists of taking viewer phone calls and sifting out story ideas–was sick, so we were all swamped and had to pitch in answering the phone.  As it continued to ring off the hook with most of us already on a line, I asked the intern to please pick up the phone.  She looked at me and gave me a huge eye-roll, and mumbled “I’m pretty sure I’m not here to be a receptionist” before reluctantly picking up.
She made a classic misstep… elevating herself above what she thought was a meaningless task, when in fact story sifting is a huge way we get new and enterprise news stories.  And this girl was hoping to be a reporter.
Bottom line; don’t assume something is beneath you.. especially when you’re learning a new job, company or career. 
Her debut flip-flopped
We had just hired someone to run an aspect of our newsroom.  A newly created position, the job was evolving with the employee.  As she stepped into our first news meeting and flopped into a chair, her sweatshirt-grey yoga pants and flip-flips said it all.  This was a job, not a career.  It was something keeping her from the sofa at home, not a position that she could use to work herself into a promotion.
You may think no one cares what you wear, but it makes a huge impact.  The above mentioned outfit says you’d rather be lounging, not “I’m here to make this new job kick-ass!”  Similarly, if your toddler spilled juice on you and you just can never be bothered to change, or mop it up, it says you don’t care about how you present yourself.
Yes & No
Successful women know to say yes to new challenges and opportunities.  Volunteer to learn new things–especially things you think are impossible to learn.  In my line of work, TV is an extremely complicated technology.  I’ve tried to learn as much about the technical side as I can.  It benefits me in that I can carry on a discussion or contribute to troubleshooting with an engineer or technician and really get a sense of why something’s not working, then help make suggestions in how to fix it.  In one case my new-found technical knowledge allowed me to save a live national broadcast because I found a way to hook up the news anchor to the control room using a blackberry instead of relying on the crashing technology on board the remote satellite truck.
So maybe you don’t need to know that much.  But can you fix your own e-mail when things go wrong?  Can you pull your own computer out from the blue screen of death?  There are easy things you can learn or have your IT expert show you so that next time you can save yourself… or maybe even others in your office. Your value increases exponentially with each new skill you learn.
“No.  Well I mean I could, but it’s just that I have to go to the doctor and pick up a back rest for my lower spine, I well… ok yes.  Yes I can. I guess”
Knowing when to say yes to is important.  But knowing HOW to say “no” is equally important.  Have you ever been asked to work overtime and tried to say no, then felt so bad about why you were saying no that you relented and ended up working?  Don’t offer excuses .  If you can’t do something, say no, plainly and firmly.  You don’t need a reason, an excuse, or a story.  Just a firm, “No, sorry, I’ve made other plans,”  with a follow up, “No, I really can’t change them” if required is all you need.  I’ve heard so many women launch into a full story about why they can’t do something, and it only undermines them.  People at work don’t need to know your life story.  Just say no and get on with it.
Be on PAR
No matter what you do; if you work in an office, a lab, or if you’re at home with your kids, you’ll be successful at what you do if you remember to be Polite, Appropriate, and Respectful. In any situation if you don’t know how to act or react, remember those three things  You can never go wrong. I got this advice from a mentor and it’s served me well.
Keep Calm and, Well, You Know…
One other thing has served me personally very well:  be the voice of calm in the storm. There’s rarely ever a reason to freak out, swear, raise your voice, or panic. Always keep your tone, even, calm and measured.  Being the calm, reasonable, thoughtful person in the midst of chaos calms others with a ripple effect, and says that you’ve got things under control.
Lastly, in the middle of  a frenzied day, each time the phone rings, take two deep breaths before you pick it up.  The oxygen will help you think clearer. The relaxed voice you answer the phone with will say you can handle anything.
-Erin is a TV producer & task master, writer, silversmith, and former newsroom manager and reporter/anchor in Canada.