Reel Answers from Real News Directors
“Can you take a look at my reel?”, budding and experienced journalists ask News Directors, colleagues, and friends all the time. If I had a dollar for every reel I’ve watched I would be able to buy my own Golden Retriever Farm (Goals, right?)
Recently I did a “Ask Me Anything” post and I was amazed at the sheer amount of people who just want some feedback. So, I got to as many as I could (and if I missed you, please “bump” me in the messages to remind me), and several responses were “Oh, you think I need that slate? I’ve heard to not use a slate?” or “Oh, you don’t want to see anchoring, you want to see reporting?” and I realized I was giving only one little slice of feedback from one person, one personality, one career of moments, that all lead me to “What JENNIFER likes in a reel”.
I didn’t want to speak for “This is the right way” when it was only the right way – for me. So, I decided to get feedback from some of the best in the business. I created a survey with just 5 questions. Posted it on several websites and Facebook groups with strong leaders who have spent years or decades looking at reels. All answers are anonymous.
You are going to love the answers. And you are going to be as confused as hell by them. You are going to realize there isn’t a perfect way to do it for all News Directors.
Good news, there are themes that came from 5 simple questions. Bad News, there are conflicting answers to some of them. We don’t expect you to custom tailor each and every reel based on our finicky and sometimes salty responses, but I think anyone who is making a reel can learn a lot from this.
First of all, this is not a scientific survey. It’s a survey of 45 people who chose to answer this and it wasn’t sent to all 200+ markets. It was just posted where many strong News Directors go. I can’t control the algorithms of social media giants. If I could you’d be flooded with Channel 8 news, flowered girly dresses, and dog pics all the time. I don’t know what market they are in unless they shared a morsel of that in their answers. I can say, the people who responded cared enough to respond, and that should count for something even if it doesn’t fulfill standard scientific study formats.
So, 45 respondents. 5 Questions.
Let’s do this.
SLATE OR NO SLATE?
That is the question. The answer? Well, see for yourself.
29 people said to use a slate. 8 said “No”. 8 others left comments.
The key thing if you do use a slate? Don’t make it too long.
“Please put a 5-second slate. I have a pause button if I want to go back and look at it. Doesn’t need to be a minute long,” one person wrote.
A small market News Director said it didn’t really matter, but “..the addition of a slate is helpful in reaching out to people who haven’t applied for positions.” See the message there? We hunt you and find you. You don’t have to apply with us to get a call, we are always looking. Get your stuff up on YouTube or whatever video-sharing service you like (but TBH we search YouTube a LOT.)
On the “No” side, someone wrote “(I am) not judging your graphic skills. Don’t care.”
Far on the “Yes” side, and I know I like this too. “(Put a) slate for each section.” I’m a fan of “don’t make me work too hard to find your packages or anchoring. The slate helps, and sorry to break the news, but we don’t always watch the reel in its entirety (you’ll find out why in just a little bit).
I took a quick detour because my constantly running mind wondered “Why do they call it a pet peeve?”. Here’s why in case you care too.
Now back to the subject at hand.
Every News Director has pet peeves. With each reel, you either scratch that itch or make us smile. The problem? We are all so different.
My pet peeves about reels. Sending me dead links or private links (this happens WAY too often). Applying for an anchor job but sending me a reel of just reporting with maybe ONE on-set shot. Not including it on your resume, email, cover letter, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I had to search a candidate’s name to find it, and I’m tiring of it. Blowing out my eardrums with bad audio.
Then there are the things I roll my eyes at from the comfort of my own office. I am glad I am not on my own in this one.
STOP. SENDING. SHOTS. OF. YOU. EATING. FOOD. IMMEDIATELY.
“I don’t care to see anyone sampling food in a montage,” one person wrote.
“Goofy standups for a serious reporter position,” another wrote.
You see, it’s great that you had a fun time at the carnival and tried to get active in it. Heck, someone might even have Misophonia (a hatred of chewing sounds). Allow me a “squirrel’ moment, I once hired a meteorologist/reporter who was just amazing. About two months into her job she told me the sound of chewing grossed her out so much. Well, we ate a meal together and I’m certain she was judging my chewing.
Most of the time, we aren’t looking for someone who can talk while eating a funnel cake or the “friend banana on a stick”. We are looking for a journalist.
This leads me to another great point made. Send a reel in line with the position you want. Know the market, the cadence, the styles, and the focus. If I’m a serious newsroom with a “no chit chat, straight to the point” style, your funny moments on set or National Doughnut Day are going to bore me and make me question why you want to work here. That might work on a lifestyle reel application, but you are in a tall stack with that one, and even then I’m not sure a funnel cake is going to win me over.
The reel you would send to Miami would be different from the one for Denver which is different from the one in St. Louis. I once worked in a market where I told the anchor to dress like she was going to grandma’s birthday party. Not the chain-smoking, keno-playing grandma who slips you a little bourbon in your soda at your 18th Christmas. The regular grandma who always thinks your skirt is too short, your shirt isn’t ironed enough, and “why are you wearing those shoes?”. It was an older market, we needed to be a little more buttoned-up. In Miami, grandma is forgotten.
Also on appearance, I got a good piece of feedback, “As shallow as it may sound, different hairstyles are distracting. It makes you wonder who you will be hiring.”
One more, “Wearing hats, hooded raincoats, etc. looks unprofessional.”
Know the market. Apply your current work accordingly.
Now, let’s start from the front of the reel after the slate (or not slate, whatevs). Don’t let your montage get out of control. This was a constant theme in responses, and I’m just going to let them speak for themselves with the following quotes.
“Snippets, having a montage is great (keep it at a minute, please) then let me see packages for reporters and a first block and chit chat for anchors and an entire weathercast for mets.”
“Too many standups. Give me 6 at most. Let me see you in the field, in breaking news, and in the studio. Then move on to packages you believe represent you best.”
“Too many standups at the beginning. If it feels like it goes on forever it probably does.”
“Too many standups and not enough packages or stories.”
“The standups are longer than a minute. After the standup, it should go right into the package. I don’t need a slate to tell me when the package will start.” You see? More slate feedback. Yet another take? “No description of contents in reel link (ex: standup/montage/anchoring/packages).”
“Montages are too long.”
“Too many standups – give me your best 3 and get to the packages!!!” (Yes, three !!!!. We are a passionate bunch).
“Montage at front way too long.”
Wow. Theme. Take note of that – everyone making a reel.
Now, we get even pickier about what we want to see in that way-too-long-cut-it-down montage. I can see your brain working now, MMJs. You are thinking “Well, my best was that time we had historic flooding, Oh! I was on CNN, and then there was that winter storm was good, too.”
I’m going to put a salty quote from a News Director in here, and I implore you to please reach out to me if you said this, because I will send a bottle of whatever you drink just for making me laugh at the directness we think but can’t always give on the record.
“When the first item.. is a live shot in the snow, I tune out. My grandmother could do an active live shot in the snow. Show me great storytelling, live or otherwise. Make an emotional connection in your reporting and you’ve got me!”
As for that CNN live shot? Here’s one perspective.
“Candidates put what they think is their most proud on-camera moments upfront (i.e. “I did a live shot for CNN!”) rather than the clips that show them at their best. If your live shot for CNN was from the tornado where you look like a wreck, don’t show me that first. Make sure my first look at you shows the polished person (hair, makeup, clothing) that viewers will be likely to see day to day.”
Another wrote “They all have flooding live shots on them. Or a live shot they did on CNN or another network.”
MMJs, I know you are wondering why your proud moments don’t resonate. I can’t explain the psychology of the News Director mind. Hell sometimes I don’t understand it myself and I AM a News Director. I *think it all boils down to this. We just want to see what you do, day-to-day, and how you present news that isn’t such low-hanging fruit.
Pet Peeve number 45,631 – show us the job for which you are applying.
Don’t put a lot of reporting if you want to get that first anchor job. Don’t have anchoring experience or don’t have good work? You might not be a good fit. Get that experience. Buy pizza for production and shoot an A block. Ask to fill in on the next holiday. Whatever you need to do – do it.
Also goes the other way around. You have anchored a lot and want to show you are good at it but you are applying for a reporter job. Read this quote right from the survey, “Wading through anchor clips to see the reporting when applying for a reporter job.”
Another, “Reporter candidates in the studio doing packages or doing anchoring. I’m hiring an MMJ, show me in the field.”
Another, “Reels don’t reflect their skills for the job the applicant is applying for (Anchor material for a reporter job, for example.)
Another, “Have a reel that speaks to what you are applying for. If it’s reporting – reporting. If it’s an MSJ/MMJ, then don’t have a reel that clearly uses a photographer. We want to see your MSJ/MMJ skills! And don’t send an anchor reel for a reporter/MSJ position.”
Another, “Not being tailored toward the position for which they applied.”
You get the point.
Next up? Keep your stuff clean, tight, and correct. Great live shot but a typo on the graphic? Nope. Great background for the live but you fumbled words a little? Nope.
By now you are getting frustrated, I know. Mistakes happen. “EVEN NEWS DIRECTORS MAKE MISTAKES!” Yep, we do. But we’re looking through dozens of MMJ reels and we don’t understand why anyone would put an error when having a chance to showcase their best work.
“The resume reel is known to be your offering of your best work so I know what I can expect if I hire you. Do not include glaring errors, or you’re telling me glaring errors are your best work”, is one comment.
Another, “Grammar errors, poor enunciation, unprofessional look.”
There are some basics mentioned, just good quality control notes. Make sure your contact information is correct and easily accessible. Make sure your link works. If you have your own website, make your reel easy to find, ideally front and center. Also, don’t show too much of other people in your reel. We want to see YOU.
WHAT MAKES YOU STAND OUT
Ok, we’ve addressed the pet peeves. Now let’s go after “What is a sure attention-getter?” and I made sure to clarify this wasn’t in the “Oh Lord you have to see this train wreck” attention-getter. The good kind.
Another “squirrel” moment. I once watched an anchor reel and I had to call everyone in who I could possibly find, even a random janitor, to show it to them. The sweet anchor who was applying was happily reading scripts on a two-shot. The co-anchor just looked like she was seething with rage. I mean, if looks could kill, me and the janitor would have been dead. The sweet anchor tried some cross-talk, and the demon anchor was like “Yeah…… riggggghttttt” in the most condescending tone, as her eyes grew redder with rage and narrowed with every exaggerated consonant. I had the random experience later in life of meeting the sweet anchor and asked about it. She said that woman was very hard to work with and just didn’t like her at all. She didn’t realize it came across so obviously on TV.
Back on point. What can you do stand out once you’ve mastered the maze of pet peeves? I’m going right to the responses here because it’s good stuff and there is a LOT.
“Unique reels. For example, I saw this reel… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvaHzZzqStM from a young lady who applied with us. It stood out.”
“Strong voice. Strong camera presence. Strong writing/storytelling skills. I often play reels in the background while I’m doing other things. Make me look up and want to hire you.”
“Demonstrative live shots, stuff you broke.”
“A compilation of “active” live shots or standups that show the reporter as an effective communicator and storyteller. A piece or pieces that show the reporter as someone who can connect with people, gain their trust, and tell their stories in a way that respects the fact that the person is putting themselves out there. I hope that’s not too old school. But reporters have to be able to do both: run and gun on breaking news, and get the interviews that other reporters won’t get because of their ability to connect with people.”
“A quality, well-told story.”
“Good writing and good storytelling.”
“Creativity from the first frame, not a traditional stand-up.”
“Professional look, mature look not I just got out of college. For producers, writing to video skills. Produce for impact not flow. And use good anchors on the reel. Sometimes good show with a bad anchor is hard to get past.”
“Active, creative, purposeful standups.”
“Amazing interactive live shots — especially at breaking news scenes. For MMJs — great stories they shot on their own.”
“Things that make you laugh ( not a blooper – but perhaps good feature story) or emotional stories that really grab you.”
“A brief montage helps me understand if you have the ability to connect with the viewer thru the camera. Next, get right to a story that will make me care about the subject or the central character of the story. Catching the emotional edge of the story early will snag me and keep me.”
“Hard news/breaking news live shot right off the top. Hardly any entry-level people do that. The reels are 90% soft features.”
“Dynamic stand-ups, proper use of nat sound weaves throughout a story.”
“Creative stand-ups! Get rid of the walk to nowhere and get rid of the desk reads from your college anchoring. Show me that you can think and do something different.”
“Interactive stand-up, great video, showcasing when producing.”
“Dealing with a technical problem and emerging from it OK.”
“Show me a powerful moment you captured or a powerful story you told.”
“Creative stand up in the montage. That will get attention over your tornado, flood, hurricane live shot.”
“Strong voice, strong camera presence, strong writing, creativity.”
“Moments with co-anchors or in the field.”
“Action. Engagement. A compelling sound bite is one thing but it’s much better to hear the reporter’s question.”
“Strong standup montage with active (but logical) movement in a variety of settings.”
“Active live shots.”
“Active live (that tell a story) but again are not silly!”
“A montage is still acceptable so I can see your standups but don’t make it 3 minutes long. Hit me a hard news story. Put anchoring at the back.”
“Standups and live shots that show a clear plan with motion or action. Something that shows in addition to tells.”
“Creative multiple part standup.”
“Action live shots or unique reels that step outside the box. A few good “narrative” reels out there.”
“The reporter breaking news / exclusive information.”
“Live shot off the top where I can clearly see and hear the talent.”
“Active live shots – great sound – creative writing.”
“Active live shots, even if it’s for an anchor role.”
“Strong enterprise reporting, a well-written anchor intro.”
“Active, demonstrative, and creative standup/live shots. I can’t tell you how many reels I get, from beginners and those with experience, if the reporter just standing there, or worse, in studio.”
“Active stand-ups – multi parters, show me something.”
“Quick great montages. Something that tells me to pay attention to this reel. Kinda like how to start a great story. Go figure.”
WE DID NOT FORGET THE PRODUCERS
If I haven’t lost the producers already in this vast world of MMJ/Anchor feedback, here’s one for you.
16 “Yes”, 3 “No”, 23 “Not a deal-breaker, but I’d like to see their work in some aspect” and then three comments.
“Producer candidates need to be ready to review our shows. I’m not really all that interested in what you can do in Omaha. In Denver, I have WAY more resources. What COULD you do here?” (I’m sure no offense was meant toward Omaha, my Nebraska brethren.)
“If possible, but in a market my size 147 we are hiring right out of college so not needed.”
“Yes, but I also like a shot sheet of what exactly they produced. No shame incorporating other ideas; we all need help.”
I think this last one is an excellent point. When a producer sends a reel, we need to know what you produced, not what your EP did, or what your anchors changed. Walk you through your fingerprints on the newscast. Where did you have a say? What did you influence? Did you produce, write, and do graphics for the whole thing. Tell us.
Also, don’t send a newscast from the “big” news day. We know most producers (with the help of the whole team) can crank out an incredible BIG NEWS newscast. However, we need to know what you are going to do on a random Tuesday with 4 items in the planner and down two reporters. How can you make THAT work? It’s going to happen much more than the BIG STORY. I’m a fan of when I like a conversation with a producer and want to see more, I say “Ok, send me yesterday’s show with a written explanation of what went right, what went wrong, and how you were involved in all aspects.”
THE FINAL ANSWER
The last question I asked was “What is a definite ‘Do Not Do This’ piece of advice you’d give candidates?”
Buckle up for 40 responses. I might add some color commentary.
“Do not forget to include your contact info on your reel.” Duh. But it happens.
“Do not contact me to ask me if I have openings. It only demonstrates laziness. You did enough work to find my email address, LinkedIn page, phone number, etc. – just not enough work to find the job postings on my company’s website? What kind of reporter will you be?” SERIOUSLY. Find out yourself or question your life choices.
“Don’t make a one-size-fits-all video resume. Make sure you’ve researched the station/market before you choose what to put on your reel. In this day and age of being able to change out video elements with a simple edit, candidates should customize a reel just like they would with a resume or cover letter. If breaking news, hard-driving and live is what the market/station expects, make a reel with more of that. If the market/station is looking for lower key or more thoughtful, include more of that. Make sure your “look” fits the station or market you’re pitching.”
“Form letter/email with another station’s call letters and mistakes in general… check your work! If you can’t get that right, I worry about the rest.” This happens often, and I feel it because I did it once applying in a “destination market” – via snail mail. Knowing an error was in the mail and I couldn’t stop it made me cringe.
“Do NOT get the potential employer’s name wrong! Do your homework, check the correct spelling of their name and also get their title right.”
“Email incessantly. If an ND is interested they will reach out.” If you don’t understand this, read the book “He’s Just Not That Into You”. Summary? If he’s not calling, she’s not texting back, they just aren’t that into you. End. Of. Story.
“Do not overthink and try and out a bunch of “see I’ve got personality” stuff on there. You’re a journalist, not a feature reporter. Also, try and pay attention to what you’re applying for. If it’s an MMJ position don’t put a bunch of sports stuff on there, news only.”
“Don’t bore me.”
“No “too cute’ headshots. Don’t make it look like you are trying out for a movie. Also maybe don’t send me your reel if I ask specifically for five years of experience and you have two. Don’t send me stories a photographer edited if you are an MMJ.” I once had a News Director tell me he hated headshots, based on advice HE once got from a News Director. The reason “You never know when you might look like the ex that took him to the cleaners in a divorce or the guy who broke her heart. You are over before you had a chance to show you are nothing like those losers.”
“Apply for anchor and then I see no live or reporting work Apply for msj (MMJ) yet every story is shot by someone else.”
“Don’t ever tell a news director that your long-term goal is to become an anchor. I have ended some interviews at that point. It sends a message that you are more interested in being a star than wearing out your shoes on the street as a reporter. We need great storytellers. Try that as a long-term goal.” We are SO salty!
“No grammar errors. None. Zero. That’s Journalism 101. And no mispronunciations. It’s so unprofessional.”
“Do not post inappropriate pictures of yourself on your social media feeds. You need to look professional. The kegger at a frat party, or smiling for a selfie at a homicide scene do nothing for your brand or our companies brand.” Don’t include social links that don’t reflect your work. You send me an Instagram that shows partying all the time? What does that have to do with your life a journalist? Great you post daily, but your life isn’t what I’m interested in. I want your work.
“Don’t ask for an extension on a writing test. We work in a deadline-driven business. Unless you have a death in the family, I expect you to meet the deadline.” And meet the deadline you are given, no matter how far you got into it. You have to write under deadline in this business. Just is a thing. Get better and then apply for other jobs when you are ready to crank it out.
“Call, email, LinkedIn, stalk me on Facebook to let me know you applied.” I’ve had a few candidates I was certain were going to end up knocking on my bedroom window and whisper “Did you get my reel?” Just don’t overwhelm us, or our colleagues. Believe me, we know you applied.
“Don’t call. Email only.” Calls take so much time. And our time is on our team. We’ll arrange a call when we are in a headspace and time frame to talk. Cold calls are just annoying. You aren’t showing your tenacity, you are showing us you feel you are the priority at that moment. You aren’t.
“Please do not reach out to me on my personal social media and ask me for a job.” Would you go to a family BBQ to approach a News Director? No (Gosh, I hope not), don’t do it in a social space either.
“If there’s a technical glitch, leave it off the reel. Even if you think it’s your greatest story or stand up, it could eliminate you from the position. Men, shave and look presentable. Women, dress appropriately for the situation. If you only have a minute’s worth of quality material, that’s fine. Leave college material off if you have professional material.”
“Do not email me/call me asking if I have openings. If you are unable to figure out if I have openings with all the different tools we have for this in the year 2021, what kind of a reporter will you be?” Truth.
“Drop the “look at me” material. The content where the applicant does an “I tried this myself” story. And any story that involves gas prices and gas pumps.”
“Go too long on the montage or showcase other talent/people. Especially celebrities, I don’t care who you have interviewed on camera.”
“Do not start your reel with an anchor montage when applying for a reporter position.”
“(Don’t) Try to be cute or funny.”
“Cold call the news director, especially for an anchor or sports position.”
“1) Attempt to Friend me on FACEBOOK. 2) Apply for a reporter/MMJ job and tell me you’re only doing it to get in the door so you can work in Sports.” We see journalism as a calling, not a job. We believe in the very First Amendment our forefathers created giving us a constitutional right to do our job. You will “slum it” in news until you can do sports? Next.
“Do not call me if the listing says do not call me.” Follow instructions.
“Send me a sports reel for a MMJ position. I will assume you only want the sports job that I hire for every 3 or 4 years.”
“Don’t add stand-ups where you are eating food.”
“Have fake or re-created stories on the reel. For example, don’t stand in front of a green screen and pretend you are on location.”
“Don’t apply for a job if you’re more than 60 days from being available.” What is this new trend with applying 6 months out? We can’t wait that long, and if we can, we might not REALLY need that position.
“Know the station. Don’t load up on features if the station is focused on hard news – investigative.”
“No beauty/glamour shots. This isn’t a pageant.”
“YouTube reels—- Many fail to include an email address or other means of contacting them.”
“Don’t tell me what my job will do for you. Tell me why you’re the best candidate for the job.”
“No matter how much you like what you wrote, if there’s a spelling mistake in the lower third DO NOT include it in your reel.”
“Don’t use a glam/model shot or video of you talking about yourself. It says to me you’re more interested in yourself and being on tv than being a journalist.”
“I can’t stand ‘eat at the fair’ standup, (and) if you do a crime story with no attribution.”
“Do not force me to hit the forward button. In other words, don’t bore me with a four-minute piece of video. I don’t care how great it is. Keep things short and to the point.
“Make sure your reel showcases you as the reporter you want to be for me, not just what you had a chance to do at the old station.”
That’s the end of the survey. 5 questions with 500 more questions now in your mind. I hope this wicked maze of answers and feedback help you re-think your reel and how you approach your job search and reel updates. I hope you know you are never going to make all News Directors happy with one reel, but at least you are better poised to make *more of them happy. I hope you see how much we care to even respond to a random person asking for feedback to better help journalists in their quest.
There you have it. Reel questions. Reel answers. Good luck!