The internet has changed the way people apply for jobs in the television news business. No longer do candidates send news directors VHS tapes or DVDs of work examples via the postal service, instead they forward links to YouTube accounts. No longer do applicants go to the library to research TV stations, instead they search station web pages and peruse LinkedIn profiles.
Still, there are some tried and true elements to landing a TV news job that are timeless. One of the sometimes overlooked elements is the cover letter.
KPIX TV News Director Dan Rosenheim admits, when he’s looking to hire a reporter at his CBS station in San Francisco, the cover letter isn’t his most important criterion. “There are basically three dimensions that I look at in a candidate,” Rosenheim said. “One is their work record and resume, the second is the interview and the third is references.”
Still the cover letter does have value as a professional presentation tool. “A lot of stuff comes in unsolicited at times when I’m not necessarily looking,” Rosenheim said. “And that, in particular, is where a cover letter has an opportunity to pique my interest.”
Here are four tips Rosenheim suggests to make sure the cover letter helps win the job and doesn’t just end up tossed onto the “better luck next time” pile.
1. Don’t oversell. Candidates can say whatever they want in the cover letter, but don’t think the news director isn’t going to find out the truth, eventually. By reading the resume or calling the references, it’s not that hard to discover an applicant was a production assistant writing for the morning show and not the producer writing for the morning show.
Rosenheim recounts a recent experience he had with a candidate who oversold: “I got an application from somebody the other day who said, ‘I am a great reporter, I’ll make a difference for you. I’ve worked in Los Angeles, New York, for the network.’ And I looked [at the resume] and all those jobs were internships and apprenticeships. But from reading the cover letter it made it sound that they’d been the lead reporter at those stations.”
Rest assured, news directors who feel they’re being subjected to a bait and switch will move on to the next applicant.
This even applies to students looking for that first job. “Be transparent, be straightforward, be truthful,” Rosenheim said. “Don’t pretend you can do more.”
He suggests something like this: “My experience as an intern has given me invaluable experience that I now want to use as an entry-level reporter. Going to school in Professor Perez’s class has provided me with a great academic grounding and now it’s time for me to get my feet wet in the real world. And I’d love an entry level job where I could do some reporting.”
2. Be authentic. It’s only natural for applicants to lay it on a little heavy in the cover letter, pointing out why they are the right choice and everyone else isn’t. In fact, that’s kind of the point, right? A cover letter is designed to get the news director to pick the person who wrote it. But Rosenheim says self-promotion can go too far.
“The cover letter is an opportunity to get my attention, but it’s very tricky, because if it’s at all gimmicky or self-serving, it has the opposite effect,” Rosenheim said.
The KPIX news director is in search of authenticity. “You don’t get authenticity when somebody says: ‘You really want to hire me.’ I get letters that say, ‘You will be so happy that you hired me. I make news directors happy everywhere I go.’ Come on.”
Instead, Rosenheim prefers a more hard-nosed approach that avoids – let’s call it what it is – BSing the news director: “I’m an experienced journalist with a track record of breaking stories and I’d love to bring that to your station. I love San Francisco and I admire KPIX. You’re a place I’d really like to work.”
3. Be direct and get to the point. Rosenheim makes a connection between writing in the newsroom and writing the cover letter - the styles are similar.
“Most of what we write [for the newscast] is expository, it’s direct, it’s straightforward, it’s not fiction,” Rosenheim said. The same goes for the cover letter. “You want it to be short, but, just as when we promote a news story, we look for a nugget. Think of the sell. What’s your strength? What are you selling?”
Someone who can get to the point in the cover letter is also showing an ability to write a clear, tight 20-second voice over.
So what is the point of the cover letter? That’s Tip 4.
4. Give examples. All employers want to know what the candidate sitting across the table brings to the table. What is that person going to add to the enterprise? It may be the ability to cover all kinds of stories. Or perhaps she’s an expert in aviation, applying for a job in Houston covering the Johnson Space Center. Maybe he’s the ultimate number cruncher who can do government budget stories better than anyone else. Whatever it is, highlight it in the cover letter.
“Short, sweet and to the point,” Rosenheim said. For example: “I’m really good at coming up with original stories, here are three I’ve done in the last six months – bullet, bullet, bullet.”
Let the cover letter direct the news director’s attention toward what the candidate adds to the newsroom.
To be clear, the cover letter is not going to convince a news director to hire someone to fill a TV reporting position if the resume reel is unpolished (blue video and poor grammar) and the work history listed in the resume isn’t appropriate (trying to jump from, say, Macon to Manhattan). Still, job applicants should remember cover letters are another opportunity to persuade and to demonstrate the skills and expertise that might land the job.
“Why should I hire you and not someone else?” is the essential question Rosenheim asks himself when he’s got a job opening. “Some of it may be I like the way you look on tape,” he said. “But the cover letter is your opportunity to say ‘I can get you scoops,’ ‘I’m a self-starter,’ ‘I have great story ideas.’ That’s something I look for.”
Simon Perez is an assistant professor in the Broadcast and Digital Journalism Department at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Before teaching, he spent 25 years reporting for newspapers, magazines and TV stations across the United States and in Spain. In the summers of 2012, 2014 and 2015 he returned to his former job as reporter for KPIX TV in San Francisco. He has chronicled his newsroom experiences and the lessons he hopes to bring back to the classroom at http://www.simonperez.com/blog-1/.
News Reporter Cover Letter
News Reporters research and write stories for various publications and television channels. A News Reporter is usually specialized in a certain field, like politics, art, science, or business. Specific responsibilities for this role are: interviewing people, collecting data from the field, building contacts, reading press releases, investigating stories, attending press conferences, taking phone calls at the news desk, collaborating with photographers and editors, and uploading news content to websites.
A well-written cover letter sample for News Reporter should focus on the following skills and qualifications:
- English proficiency and excellent writing skills
- An investigative nature
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Stamina and perseverance
- Computer competences
- Integrity and work ethics
- Being able to explain complex issues in an accessible manner
- Self-motivation and determination
Comparable skills and abilities can be seen in the cover letter example provided right below.
For help with your resume, check out our extensive News Reporter Resume Samples.
For more information on what it takes to be a News Reporter, check out our more complete News Reporter Job Description.
Dear Ms. Rust:
When I learned of your need for a seasoned News Reporter to join your team at KPWM, I was eager to submit the enclosed resume for your consideration. As a highly experienced, motivated, and detail-focused professional with more than 13 years of experience in television news production and coverage, I feel confident that I could vastly exceed your expectations for this role.
My background in researching ideas, investigating subjects, checking facts, and covering events prepares me to substantially impact and benefit KPWM. With my history of success in covering and producing news for television—along with my commitment to forging beneficial relationships to encourage future connections and stimulate story ideas—I am ready to extend my record of reporting accomplishments to your news team. Furthermore, my ability to excel in high-pressure environments with tight deadlines and irregular schedules is sure to render me an immediate asset.
Highlights of my experience include…
- Achieving professional recognition and success as a News Reporter for WCSJ in Olympia, researching and gathering information for live shots and taped news reports; writing, recording, and editing stories for use on the air.
- Conducting live on-camera interviews, producing weekend newscasts, and contributing to daily editorial meetings.
- Writing breaking news stories for immediate upload and publication to WCSJ’s website and Facebook page.
- Serving as a fill-in news anchor for morning, noon, and evening newscasts as requested.
- Traveling extensively to cover events on site, ensuring a personal understanding and knowledge of event details, occurrences, and overall significance.
- Developing trusting and lasting connections with peers, management teams, and community members to facilitate future partnerships and spark story and contact leads.
- Demonstrating outstanding oral / written communication, time management, and team collaboration skills with a keen social perceptiveness.
- Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Washington.
With my expertise in news production and reporting, combined with my exceptional interpersonal skills and my commitment to exploring innovative story ideas and comprehensive topic coverage, I am positioned to significantly benefit your news team at KPWM. I look forward to discussing my qualifications in more detail. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Rebecca V. Thames