Taylor Shold: Tell us a little about yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Joey Slattery: I’m a video journalist at CTV News Northern Ontario covering both news and sports, but have a diverse background in media, specifically sports media, ranging from play-by-play work, radio, production, podcasting, writing, to name a few. My passion for media came at a young age. Growing up, I loved playing all kinds of sports. If it were being played, I wanted in. But when it came to watching sports, I was always interested in the broadcast production, and the stories being told from different angles throughout the game, and again in the morning as I would wake up early to watch highlights before getting ready for school. Even while playing with friends, I would call the plays of our game, while adding little anecdotes (I still do this playing pickup hockey from time to time as a tactic to get under the competitions skin, mostly fictional, but it works every time). I had two older cousins who worked in the industry at a local level, one in television and the other in radio, and when I was fourteen I was allowed to shadow one of them as he fulfilled his duties as a newscaster at the local radio station. It wasn’t anything in particular, I loved that whole experience and it reaffirmed it was indeed my dream job. One of my earliest gigs was calling little league baseball games for webcast at the Canadian championship tournament, which was hosted in my hometown of Timmins, Ontario. That experience added fuel to the fire. I can honestly say, as much as I loved playing the games in my teens and throughout university, my bigger passion was sports broadcasting. So, when the opportunity to get my foot in the door came about while in university, I was all over it. It started as a member of the “tailgate team” at a country radio station in Sudbury, which turned in to a weekend news job, which led to one of my first networking experiences where a colleague put me in contact with some one at Sportsnet 590 The Fan where I ended up interning for nearly a year.
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Taylor: At SMG, networking is something we know is vital, why is it so important and how has it helped you in your career?
Joey: I can link every opportunity I’ve had in my career to a contact I’ve met along the way. Whether it was landing a job, landing an interview, or setting up an interview for an online TV show or Podcast, I can usually link it to a connection I’ve made through school or work. Access to networking is so easy these days, but to do it effectively takes some effort. While tools such as LinkedIn, for instance, can connect with you with industry heads around the world, simply sending them a connection request isn’t enough. Nor is blindly sending them your reel/resume/portfolio, etc. I think we often forget the importance of interaction. I wouldn’t simply ask them to look at my reel and give me feedback, although this is helpful. Instead, start a conversation. Get to know what they do, how they do it and how they go there. No two career stories are the same, and each one may give a new perspective which can really help you grow professionally. Be curious and ask for advice on certain situations, and if you can take advantage of an opportunity, DO IT. Maybe it’s an internship, or a job shadow, or maybe it’s simply a meeting over a cup of coffee. You would be surprised as to who may be willing to give you a little guidance. Just be yourself, and value the experience. If you take the time to build a relationship, it will have a much bigger pay off than simply having 10,000 meaningless social media connections. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a big opportunity present itself from a single cold email to someone I have no connection to. I’ve had to build it. Be confident, don’t be afraid to reach out. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a reply from someone at first.
Taylor: It takes time to get noticed in this industry and hard work isn’t recognized on a daily basis, what would you say to people still looking for their ‘big break’?
Joey: You never know when that ‘big break’ will come, or what it will lead to and when it will lead to it. I’ll be honest; this industry is a grind you need to be willing to embrace. Negativity can often rear its ugly head and the key is keeping it from becoming part of your fabric. With more and more cuts in the industry, it means more responsibility with less resources, and of course, less opportunities. This means you need to be willing to learn everything you possibly can to help you get ahead; about the business of the industry, the technical side, production side and on-air stuff regardless of what your dream position may be. I think a lot of people have an unrealistic scope of their own progression. We live in a time of instant gratification and easy access to information, but in the reality of this line of work, you don’t control the opportunities. The key is to always be working towards improvement and putting your best work forward. You can’t let yourself get discouraged if your work (whether you think it’s good or not) isn’t getting recognized, or feedback isn’t consistent. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from those who are close to you, use that established network to help you along the way. Also, you never know who is watching, and recognizing what you’re doing. I remember after I got my first TV job, I went back to where I had interned to visit some colleagues. When I was there, the one guy who ran the intern department brought me in to the program director’s office. This is the head of a national network, who I did not assume knew my name or who I was. But as I walked in to his office, he shook my hand and addressed me by name, sat me down and asked me how I felt the internship program helped me get ahead and what I thought could improve it. This was an impromptu meeting so there was no preparation for any of us. The assistant PD at the time was also there, and mentioned how far I had come since using one of the studios to start a podcast, which again I had no idea anyone knew about. I now talk to both individuals regularly to seek advice and discuss certain things, and they have even offered to serve as references. What I am getting at is be proactive, and don’t set expectations, instead set goals. Find things you want to achieve daily and see how these little things will help you along the way. These goals may be directly tried to your work, or possibly networking goals. And when an opportunity does come, you will be ready regardless of how short notice. Recently I was called upon to feed a report for our CTV National newscast. It was a story we had followed a lot locally, but its significance carried a different weight nationally. Normally in a scenario like this, we would feed our elements and a national reporter would put a piece together, which I have done multiple times in the past. However, this time, I was given the rare opportunity to have my story air on our National flagship show. And while I had to work with two different assignment desks for two different stories (local and national), learning how to become more efficient in my work from all my past experiences made this one rewarding, and not overwhelming.
Taylor: In the past, you’ve passed on different opportunities, what went into those decisions and how can people decide for themselves what might be the best fit for them?
Joey: When you are starting out, any opportunity to get some work is a good opportunity. But for those who are in the workforce, and have been in a position for an extended period, certain positions may seem more enticing than they should. Explore every opportunity, but you must be sure it’s a move forward, or at the very least lateral if it will put you in a better position to move ahead. I once contemplated a position that I found myself, almost justifying its benefit. It was a great opportunity for someone, in fact I’d argue it was an incredible one. But for myself, I was working within a national network covering major junior hockey with direct lines to analysts and scouts to work with on stories. The other position was a launch, and covered a specific sport which was not part of the big four, although it was growing in popularity at the time. I had a close friend who worked in that organization and was a former TV guy himself, and knowing the inside scoop, what he told me made it clear it may be a decision I would come to regret. It really came to light when the best offer would mean a huge pay cut if accepted. I think it’s always good to look in to opportunities which may look fitting, but ensure you do your research on the company, position and possibly those who may have benefitted form being there. If there isn’t a direct benefit that will lead you to your ultimate goals, you may be best suited where you are. Don’t leave what you have built for the sake of leaving it. Assess your situation, your goals and how each decision may affect them. Talk to people you have as mentors and see how they perceive it. I think when an opportunity comes up that is worth accepting, you will have little to no doubt about it, and will know when it’s a right fit.
Taylor: When self promoting online, creating demo reels and trying to stand out, what can people do to really differentiate themselves from the pack?
Joey: As strange as this may sound, I think the demo reel, websites, social media platforms can become too much of a priority to some, to the point it can distract you from what should be your number one priority; your work. With social media, I would suggest identifying what your brand is and use the platform to add context to what it is you do. Delivering breaking or developing news on Twitter, maybe give your audience a behind the scenes look of what you do while on assignment (I mean what we do is considered pretty awesome to those, not in the industry) It will help build that connection with your audience. At the end of the day, when it comes to demo reel, I’ve had some looked at for as little as 15 seconds, and some views lasting over three minutes and got callbacks, as well as no calls. The one common thread here, is rarely do those hiring look at a demo reel in full. Through my conversations with some executives across the country, I realize everyone is looking for something different, but all say to put your best work forward. You should be constantly tweaking your reel and manipulating it based on what you’re applying for and where. Don’t overthink it. If the focus is on improving a little bit every day while putting out the best work you can, the progression is natural. Your recent stuff where you look and sound the best should be your lead, that would be my rule of thumb if you are an on-air personality. But again, the key is networking. You’ve got to think that with fewer jobs available, there are more candidates flooding Executive Producers and Program Directors with resumes and demo reels with each opening position. They will be looking at plenty of pretty website and some highly produced reels. But unless you are looking to be their web designer or production specialist, they will be more interested in the content within those things so make sure it is good. If you have an idea of where you would like your career to go, start contacting hiring managers in those areas. Get to know them, get to know their programs and see what they are looking for. This way when it comes to applying for a position, you will have a better idea of what they are looking for in a reel, you can make the appropriate adjustments and they will already recognize your name when they see the application. That is the best way to stand out.
Taylor: Finally, what is your best advice for someone looking to have success on-air in broadcasting?
Joey: If you’re just getting started and trying to break through, realize there are opportunities well beyond where you are situated. I remember while interning in Toronto, being told that if I was willing to move away to get my start, I would have no problems getting a job and launching my career. It shocked me to hear how so many people thought that if they stayed in Toronto and interned long enough their time would eventually come as if it was owed. Most national and large market on-air people made their start in a small market. You really learn the ropes having more responsibilities, and learn how to problem solve. And when big news happens, you may find your break. When I started at a CTV bureau in Timmins, there were a number of stories which drew national attention and I was the reporter on the ground doing live hits and interviews regularly for National and big market outlets for both TV and radio stations. While in Timmins, it was also eye-opening to see the old tapes of National Reporters like Peter Akman and Omar Sachedina and former TSN reporter Kate Dolan who all made their start there. Even Hockey Night in Canada’s host David Amber started in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario which is also associated with CTV Northern Ontario. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and possibly move far from home for your first break. It may be a risk, and while there are no guarantees, it could very well lead to a rewarding career. These are usually the toughest times as salaries are very low, and you are often in small communities, but you will get the unique opportunity to live and experience different parts of this great country and learn the stories of the people living here. If you unwilling to do something like this, you may not want this career as badly as you think. While on your journey, try to not get wrapped up in reaching your goals in a limited timeframe. It takes time, and once you reach the top, no one wants to voluntarily come down. You are not in control of the opportunities, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment. This industry requires a combination of timing, talent and luck to move a head, and you can really only control one of those things which is trying to improve on your talents. Try to enjoy each step along your career path and see each day as a chapter in your career story. What it is you are doing matters to someone and it’s your duty as a journalist, anchor, or host to deliver the stories they rely on. There are plenty of hard times along the way, but they build you up. Always be willing to connect and ask for help, and never be afraid to help someone along their path either. As I was once told “be nice to everyone on your way up the ladder because you’re going see them again when you are on your way back down”. It’s a small industry and one that can end an opportunity in a moment’s notice. Listen to what others have to say and be open to criticism, it’s how we improve. Staying in the moment and learning from any opportunity big or small goes a long way, and being appreciative of having the chance to do what you love every day will make this a dream well worth chasing.
You can follow Joey on Twitter @JoeySlatteryCTV
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