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Monday, July 31, 2006

TV news director gives inside secrets

It's Monday so that means another installment of "Breaking into Journalism" on the mikemcguff blog. Today I talk with the news director of KXXV-TV/KRHD-TV (Waco, Temple, Killeen, Bryan/College Station) Dennis Kinney.

Kinney started his career as a reporter at KTEN-TV, Ada Oklahoma. From there
he produced at KFDX-TV Wichita Falls, KVBC-TV Las Vegas, KJRH-TV Tulsa, KTUL-TV
Tulsa and KTVI St. Louis. He has won Emmy Awards for coverage of Pope John Paul's
visit to St. Louis and Outstanding Evening Newscast at KXXV.

(In an effort of full disclosure, I worked as a KXXV-TV news reporter under Dennis Kinney from 2000-2001 before coming to KTRK.)

mikemcguff: Is an internship important to land a reporter job? What about other newsroom positions?

Dennis Kinney: I consider an internship experience to be important for every person I hire. It's not a requirement, but it definitely is a big plus. Many people have preconceived ideas of what TV news is like. If someone has these ideas and then takes a job in TV news, they are usually going to be very surprised -- and not in a good way. Internships help de-glamorize TV news and help people understand what the business is really like.

: Do you recommend an internship at a large or small market?

DK: I recommend people do both if they can. A large market internship will usually show you want TV news is supposed to be like. A small market internship will usually show you what you will likely face in your first job. If you only do a large market internship, you'll go to your first job in a small market and think everything is being done wrong. If you only do a small market internship, you'll miss out on a lot of advice from seasoned pros.

MM: What's your advice on putting together a reporter's resume tape?

DK: I get a hundred tapes for each reporter opening. What makes you stand out? If you do the exact same story that everyone else did (click it or ticket or high gas prices for example) then you're just an average reporter. If I were looking for an average reporter, I'd close my eyes, pick a tape and hire the person. Anyone can find a feature story. Anyone can do a walking and
talking stand up. Doing the average isn't going to get you a job in my shop. I'm looking for someone who can go out and find a hard news story. If it's shot on VHS and isn't color balanced, I don't care because technical problems can corrected through training. I want a reporter who can dig and find a story. I want a reporter who is able to come up with original hard news story ideas. I want a journalist. Put 3 to 5 standups at the beginning of your tape and then wow me with original hard news stories.

MM: Do you like it when applicants cold call the station or just show up?

DK: No. I will not see people who do either. My phone calls are also screened. Send a tape. If I like it, I'll get back with you, I promise. The overwhelming majority of tapes I get are bad so, when I come across a great tape, I will initiate contact with you.

MM: What's the biggest mistake you see people make when trying to get a job at your station?

DK: Not sending cover letters. I keep getting just resumes from job applicants. I usually have several jobs open at once e.g. photographer, editor, producer, reporter, and I don't know what job the applicant is applying for. As a result, the applicant usually doesn't get seriously considered for any of them. Do the work to find out my name (can be easily done by doing a quick search at so you can address your cover letter to me, not "Dear sir or madam" or "Dear human resources," and write me a cover letter that explains what job(s) you're applying for and why I should hire you.

MM: Are there any web sites or books you currently recommend on learning how to be a better writer or appearing in front of the camera?

DK: No. There are several websites for staying up with current developments in the business -- TV Spy's Shop Talk being the best -- but I'm not sure how much help a website can be on improving writing or delivery. There will occasionally be tips at sites like Poynter, but you will learn more by finding a mentor and getting your work critiqued.

MM: Any other advice?

DK: Try to make a friend with a news director, assistant news director or executive producer, and do it before long before you're looking for a job. I don't see job applicants who want to drop by and see me, but I will see students who make an appointment to drop by and introduce themselves. I've met several students who are making a tour of stations on Spring Break. I'll usually meet with them, look at their tape, and spend some time critiquing their work. The
difference is a student isn't someone who isn't trying to sell me something whereas a job applicant is trying to sell me himself or herself for a job. My advice for a junior or senior is to try to develop a relationship with someone who's involved in hiring decisions. If you've not sat in a room with a hundred resume tapes and looked through them to pick 5 candidates to interview, you're not going to be as helpful (read that honest) as someone who has. If you're someone I'm helping to improve so you can get a job, I'm going to tell you what you need to do because I know what the competition is like to get a job.

MM: Now the most important question, was I your favorite all time reporter?

DK: Our station still has a poor relationship with a certain universitybecause of a Michael McGuff story done years ago! When I came to Waco, MichaelMcGuff was webmaster 4 days a week and a reporter 1 day a week. I reversed that.I wanted Michael on the streets 4 days a week. That worked out well. My favoriteMichael McGuff memory is when he and another reporter, Justin Keiter, wouldcome in my office and talk shop. They were curious about everything involvingTV news. Many nights, I'd be tired and ready to go home and in would walk Justinand Michael. The conversations would go on for hours sometimes. It showed theirgreat curiosity and interest in our business, and that's one of the reasonswhy they are two of my favorite people to this day.

Thank you Dennis!

Make sure to check out previous mikemcguff blog "Breaking into Journalism" interviews:
- Taking control of TV newscasts through producing
- TV reporter offers advice on first television job
- White House Correspondent Julie Mason talks to mikemcguff blog

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