Here's an e-mail from a recent college grad looking for advice on how to break into the broadcast business:
I graduated college last year and have since been looking for a career where I would feel most at home. It has been hard. No one ever said it would be otherwise. The hardest thing for me, however, has not been the search, but my inability to decide what it is I would like to do.
I majored in political science and have been looking for government or political affairs positions. Now, I don't feel that that is what I want to do. I want a job where I can make a difference, where my work is not for nothing. I think as a journalist one has the best of opportunities to do good for their communities and beyond. I do not have a journalism degree, but am willing to get one should this prove to be my life's path. I understand that I cannot start out in such a place as you are and I am willing to work doing whatever I have to do to get my foot in the door and prove myself. After all of this, I guess the point of this e-mail is to ask for your advice and direction. Where should I start, how should I proceed? Please let me know if you can give any such advice. — M.W., Atlanta, Ga.
M.W., if journalism is your calling, you don't need a degree in the field per se, you can always get a master's later.
Right now you need to concentrate on getting a job, or at the very least, an internship at an establishment that meets your needs. That could be a newspaper, be it regional or citywide, a local TV station, like WAGA in Atlanta, or at a network, like FOX News Channel.
That being said, your first job in broadcast news will not pay much at all, and you'll be mostly doing the bidding of several others in the newsroom.
However, it's an exciting atmosphere and the best in which to learn the trade.
Only after you're exposed to the industry will you decide which path to take within it. You'll be a production assistant for almost two years before being promoted to an associate producer or writer.
However, during your PA days, you might decide that being a director in the control room is more for you, so in that case you'll go in that direction and become a stage manager or an audio tech on your way to that goal. Perhaps you'll find you want to go into ad sales or promotions.
Now, if you want to be on air, your best bet is to make a tape and send it to places like Savannah or Augusta or any other smaller town that has TV stations. There you cut your teeth and move up city by city until you reach your goal.
Now, you said that you want a job that makes a difference. I can tell you that is the last thing employers want to hear. Forget about it. As idealistic as it sounds, very little of what you'll do will make a difference for a long time.
If you want to get into this business, it's because you want to tell stories. Some stories will be boring. Some will be fluffy filler for airtime. Once in a while you'll come across something remarkable that might make a difference — don't count on it.
So where do you begin? Go to all of your local TV or newspaper Web sites and see what kinds of jobs they're offering. Send your resume in. Send your resume to the HR departments at the cable networks — however, I don't recommend you moving too far from home unless you're willing to go to a small market where you can afford to live on little income.
Don't move to New York City for a production assistant job unless you have friends who live here and who can rent you a cheap room. Otherwise, you'll do what I did when I was at CBS, which is work the overnight shift and have a day job just to eat. Or vice versa, working during the day at news and working as a barback at night (not even a bartender!).
In your cover letter you want a foot in the door; an entry-level job where you can learn and advance in the ranks. Do not pontificate on what you think the business is. Just keep it simple, short and sweet. "I am just out of college and would like to meet with you in the hopes of obtaining my first job in broadcasting or journalism." That's it. Once you're in, the best thing to do and the only thing you should do is be really, really good at your job.
A good attitude will help.
The only thing you will ever have in this business is your reputation. The best reputation to have in this business is not "the nice guy," not "the serious guy" and "not the fun guy." The best is the "guy who gets it done." Period.
Get it done, no matter how menial. The bosses will notice. You don't have to trumpet your successes. You don't have to remind anybody. Believe me, be a guy who gets it done and you will move up fast. And believe it or not, the only thing that obtaining that reputation takes is hard work. If you have a die-hard work ethic, volunteering for overtime when someone calls in sick or coming in on your day off when there's breaking news, you'll be noticed.
But listen, it won't be easy. It'll seem like you're spinning your wheels. But if you concentrate on the job, the time passes fast, and before you know it, you'll have made it. But you may not even notice, because you'll be too focused on the job, the next rung in the ladder, a family, whatever.
Maybe then you'll start to make a difference too.
As with any career hunt, there are no guarantees. But if you really want it, you'll get it. By the way, just one more bit of advice: The only person who will help you in your career is you. You are your own best advocate, or your own worse enemy. It's up to you.
That's it. Good luck.
Now for Your Grrrs
Michael T. in Havelock, N.C. on cruise ship waves: My Grrr! goes out to the pampered passengers on board the cruise ship hit by a freak wave. Here’s a clue, people: Life is a risk the moment you wake up! I can’t believe the one passenger complaining that the ship staff opening the bar "wasn’t going to do it.” If the wave bothered you that badly, you should have stayed home. Meanwhile, my SLD nomination goes to the cruise line for all the things they did to comfort the passengers in spite of the complaining.
Walter on Jeff Gordon: When they race at Martinsville, contact happens. Besides, how many times has Busch been the one to send someone to a wall with a little contact. No one is innocent. Get off my boy Gordon's back!
J.H. to Karen from last column: I understand your Grrr! about people leaning back in their seats on airplanes. It is a little annoying, but if you are traveling for business and doing business (opening your laptop), why are you in coach?! I’m sorry, but I’m kinda thinking you are the Oblivion here, you should be in business class. That is what business class was designed for!
Eddie in Columbus, Ohio: I spotted a personalized license plate during my afternoon commute you might like: "LIL DRMR" on a gray Honda. A fan? Or maybe a "dreamer" hopeful ... who knows?
Scott in Harlingen, Texas: Love the Grrrr column and read it every Tuesday, but I have to GRRR you for taking your hat off to NASCAR and their fans in Martinsville for being friendly “fine Americans” and behaving. Isn’t this the way people are supposed to act? We shouldn’t give praise to people for good behavior … this should be the norm, not the exception. Perhaps I’m just spoiled (and naïve) living in South Texas and being a San Antonio Spurs fan — one of the only teams in the NBA with a full roster of good role models, no criminal records and (gasp) well-behaved and friendly fans. It’s too bad I’d have to travel all the way to Martinsville, Va., in order to find a similar situation.
Kathy in Stanton, Va.: As a NASCAR fan, I just wanted to say how much I appreciated your column. My friends and co-workers always make wisecracks when I tell them I am going to a race. They picture a bunch of swearing, beer guzzling, rude and obnoxious people. As you pointed out, there are some of those at the races (can't avoid them no matter where you go), but the majority of fans are super cool. Heck, even the majority of the drinking, screaming fans (and I am proud to say I am one) are polite and friendly!
Matthew, an "Arrested Development" fan: I don't know if you are a fan, but I think you should use your considerable power to make sure "Arrested Development" stays on FOX, of all networks. It is a massive "Grrr" to me to think that the only thing worth watching on network television is going to get the ax because it is too "smart." What a sad commentary. I promise that if "AD" gets the ax, I will never turn on my television again other than to take in a few sparse viewings of DVDs. Make sure you cc this e-mail to Mr. Murdoch.
Steve S. in Lawrenceville, Ky., on Jane Fonda: Thanks for telling it like it is! Her "lapse of judgment" was giving aid and succor to the enemy. She was, is and forever will be a traitor, and no amount of air time will ever change it. What is the publishing company having to pay to "promote" this book? Every time she appears on one of the networks, it is another slap in the face to the combat veterans of Vietnam and an egregious disrespect of those who fell in the conflict. Thank God for the off switch!
Mike Straka is the director of operations and special projects for FOXNews.com, and covers entertainment and features on the Sunday program "FOX Magazine."