Your name is Tacoma Newsome. You’re the new kid at WAGA. OK, you’re no kid. You’ve paid your TV reporter dues elsewhere. You’re polished. You’re ready for the big time.
Careful what you wish for.
WAGA is a big happy family. Nearly all of your co-workers are lovely and agreeable people. Many of them are downright entertaining. Like most families, there’s a certain element of dysfunction. At WAGA, it’s pervasive enough that one veteran reporter continually refers to “the waga way.” It’s not a complimentary reference.
You probably have a three-year contract (with windows at each anniversary, effectively making it a series of one-year contracts). Settle in, but don’t get too comfortable. Here are some helpful tips from a guy who spent 21 years in the family.
* The general manager, Gene McHugh, is a prince and perhaps the nicest guy in the building. Don’t cross him.
* The news director, Budd McEntee, is super-smart, talented and quick-witted. He will be the first to tell you that he’s not a nice guy and he’s not there to be your friend. Believe him.
* Expect to hear the term “Budd wants…” frequently from Mr. McEntee’s embattled, well-meaning middle-managers. You’ll almost never hear it from Mr. McEntee himself, however. As the guy running eight and a half hours of local news programming each weekday (soon to be 9 1/2), he’s very busy.
* You’re working a 3am shift. That’s not as terrible as it sounds, because it minimizes your exposure to the army of managers who show up at 9am each day. Expect the final three-plus hours of your shift to be the most painful.
* Understand that the middle managers are every bit as overworked as anybody in that newsroom. They take a lot of abuse. They’re actually nice people, but can get a little crazy. They’ve all drunk the local TV news Kool-Aid, and expect you to enjoy its taste each day.
* Respect your show producers. You’ll hear the reporters at the other stations gripe about their producers, but you shouldn’t. At WAGA, your producers are bright and capable. They’re under pressures comparable to yours. And unlike you, they’re stuck in the building.
* Eventually, you’ll work a day shift. Expect to cover news with one hand tied behind your back. You’ll be expected to work on tomorrow’s news today, while beating the competition on today’s story. By 3pm each day, an individual known as the “planning editor” will call you to ask what exclusive story you have planned for tomorrow. S/he isn’t kidding.
You’ll get similar treatment for nightside and weekends. If you work nightside, expect your phone to start ringing hours prior to the start of your shift. Nightside can be crazy-pants.
* As a daysider, producing separate pieces for the noon, 5pm and 6pm newscasts is de rigeur. Learn to breathe without a lot of oxygen.
* When the EP for Special Projects asks you for ideas for sweeps, give her a half-dozen each time. If they’re recycled from your previous job, that’s OK. Special Projects will provide your most consistent opportunity to produce stories that you’d actually be proud to show people. Take advantage.
* Don’t let your managers see behind the curtain. If you’ve got a story idea that came from your next-door neighbor, don’t volunteer that. Let ’em think you develop stories by working sources day and night.
* If you want to become an investigative reporter, you’ll probably have to do it without becoming part of the I-Team. The last reporter to move into that unit did so about 12 years ago.
* If you’re expecting to become an anchor, don’t hold your breath.
* Don’t expect anything resembling “job security.” You were hired because your audition DVD landed at the top of a large stack of applicants. The stack is refreshed daily. You can be replaced, and they don’t mind saying it out loud.
* Read Kafka. It probably won’t help you understand your workplace, but it might make you feel better.
Like most young TV news folks entering “the big time,” this experience will hit you in unexpected ways. You’ll be amazed at the trivial pursuits of big market news. You’ll find the feeding of the beast to be exhausting. Learn to revel in the fact that you work small miracles each day. You and your photog will be the only ones who fully appreciate it, however.
You’ll learn that your 3am shift will frequently become a 12-hour shift. As the new kid, you won’t feel comfortable asking for relief. Do it anyway.
When your contract expires, you’ll probably search your soul for an answer to the question: Do I want to keep doing this?
Funny thing is, TV news needs good people. The audience appreciates them. But that doesn’t mean your employers necessarily will.
Keep up the good work, kid. You’re doing a great job.