My Mentor

How To Get A Job In The Media

Posted March 20, 2019
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When I graduated from the J-school at Columbia, I needed a job.

The problem was, that even though I had my freshly minted sheepskin (I think it was paper), that said I had earned an MS in Journalism (whatever that meant), I really did not know how to do anything.

OK, I could identify a 'nut graph', and if that is not worth the $76,000 a year they are charging now, I don't know what is.

The one great thing that you got out of Columbia, even then and still now, I assume. was contacts. 

In my case, I had met Fred Friendly. He became my mentor. While I was a student at Columbia, I started to work for him on his Media and Society Seminars on PBS.

When I gradauted, I asked him to help me find a job.

He called up a woman named Joan Konner, who was a Vice President at WNET/13, the local PBS station in NY.  (Later she would become the Dean of the J School - small world).  

I got a meeting with Joan in her office at WNET/13 and she sat me down and showed me a video tape of a local TV show, Mainstream, about New Jersey local public affairs.  It was one of those unwatchable monstrosities that aired at 6:30 AM on Saturday mornings.  Two New Jersey politicos seated in two swivel chairs with a plant and a flag.  

When it was over (whch was pretty interminable) she asked me what I thought of it.

"Worst piece of crap I have ever seen in my life," I said.

She looked at me for a minute.

Then she said:  "You're hired".

And so it was that I got my first job in TV as a Production Secretary at Mainstream.

My job was to cut the bagels and make the coffee for the guests.

Now, Mainstream was produced for a purpose.

WNET/13, as it turns out, is licensed not in New York, but rather in Newark, NJ, even if almost all the shows on Channel 13 are produced in NY.

Except Mainstream.

So Mainstream was produced from a kind of Potempkin studio in Newark, to protect the license.

Being out in Newark, away from the Mother Ship, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted.

And so, slowly, I started taking out the 'crew', who also had nothing to do, and we started to produce little documentaries about New Jersey that we shoved into the show.

Soon most of the show was documentaries. One a week.

It was like a surgeon working in a MASH unit.  Meatball TV, But a great way to learn.

I won a bunch of local Emmys, and then, finally I got hired by CBS for Sunday Morning, their flagship show.

What is the lesson here?

If you want to be successful in the business, go out and make stuff.

The more stuff you make, the better you will get.

In those days, to make stuff I had to get hold of Dale Vennes, the camerman and Nick Pavichivich, the sound guy. Then I needeed Freddie Rodriguez, the editor.

That complicated life.

Today, all you need is your iPhone.

Now, get to work.

If you can learn to shoot and produce and edit on your own, the world is yours for the taking. And, just to help you take it, we have more than 1,000 VJ jobs posted on and they are hiring right now. 

You don't even need Fred.  Though he was great to know and learn from. 



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