Friday, August 03, 2007

Squeezing Time Into A Pickle Jar

Life has been a little complicated lately, which translates in brief into long days, with little time for writing. The expanded version includes concerns about Amy's health, doctor's appointments, computer issues (I don't even want to go there) and some rather lengthy meetings at work primarily with a young reporter who is being promoted to a much more prominent position. It's a great opportunity and she's getting a lot of advice about expectations, and how she should "study up, be prepared, etc." The net result is she's been transformed from confident to fearful, so in truth I've been playing the role of "long term survival adviser" trying to help her separate out some of the "what if" clutter that's only distracting her and get her back focused on her goals.

Anyway, it got me thinking about confidence, and how we have all been guilty of doubting ourselves at one time or another...and how we should have more faith.

I mentioned to her that for more than 20 years now a large facet of my job has been something that when I started at these radio stations I thought was my "weakest" talent - coming up with story ideas. Yet it was something that I had to start doing almost immediately and soon I was being given various titles from "Assignment Editor" to "Managing Editor" because of story ideas or approaches I developed or, quite frankly, made up on the spot. Today I rarely even "do" any of those stories, I spout out my various ideas during a morning pitch session with my boss and one reporter and shortly afterwards I leave. The next morning usually many of those ideas have been produced into stories by one reporter or another and I look for a story to do.

Any news organization can chase red lights and politicians. I believe it's the human interest, creative, or even traditional stories approached from an unexpected perspective that separate our news product from others in the market.

I may be wrong, but my key card still works at the office.

Not that I'm a font of wisdom - in truth I honed this particular story pitch skill in large part because I worked with some very annoying people for years and it was to my benefit to have things for them to work on, preferably stories that got them out of the office as soon as possible.

And it's not like every idea I pitch gets a favorable reaction...which is where this confidence thing comes into play.

Almost two months ago, I learned of the operators of a little roller skating rink in a small town not too far from San Antonio called Seguin. This couple suddenly found they'd created something of a "mini-fad." It was very unexpected and the fad appeared to be growing. I pitched the idea of doing a story on them...and their fad creation...the "pickle-sickle."

I was mocked.

Openly laughed at and it became a running gag that if, "Main pitches the pickle sickle we know we've hit the bottom of his barrel."

Every bad pun, every joke, every snide remark about my increasing senility I took in stride...and I kept count.

I also decided I would pitch the pickle sickle story every day until someone actually did it. It's not like it required Mike Wallace.

I took the abuse every day.

To clarify for those of you who have no concept of a "pickle sickle" it's basically a pickle juice pop sickle. Essentially, the skating rink owners didn't know what to do with all the pickle juice left over from the big dill pickles they sold at their concession stand and they got the wild idea of pouring the juice into molds, putting pop sickle sticks in, freezing the stuff and trying to sell them to kids for 50 cents a pop.

It worked.

Better than they imagined.

Kids went wild for them...they suddenly had a hard time keeping up with demand and the pickle sickle was the talk of least that little town...two months ago when I started pitching the idea of doing a sweet little story.


Oh, well now things have changed a little.

Apparently I'm not the only fool hardy news guy willing to pitch the idea of doing a story on pickle sickles because one of the major daily newspapers in Texas finally got wind of the pickle sickle phenomena fermenting. On Tuesday, the Austin American Statesman picked up on the story and produced a huge front page above the fold feature story about the pickle sickle. The Associated Press then snagged and distributed the Statesman's story and...well, the rest as they say is the sweet juice of in your face justice.

Photo credit:Laura Skelding: Austin American Statesman.

Suddenly, without any prompting although there might have been a bit of gloating on my part, one of our reporters was "assigned" to do the long neglected pickle sickle story. She did a good job, breaking the news that the newly designed and multi-flavored pickle sickle was now being sold internationally with the first order going to someone in London via Pickle Sickle's new website.

And today it was that same 28 year old reporter whom I told to remember my battle over the pickle sickle in a week or so...when she slips into one of the news anchor chairs at the flagship 50,000 watt News-talk radio station of the largest radio company in the world. I told her to believe in herself, filter the noise of others, and do the job everyone working with her knows she can do.

People can shake your confidence in many ways, even with the best of intentions, but if you stick to your standards, and stand up for your beliefs...most folks won't pull the chair out from under you.

Although it might, occasionally, for a little while leave a sour taste in some people's mouths.

I'm thinking in the case of the pickle sickle, it might be about two months.

The gullible believe anything they're told; the prudent sift and weigh every word.
- Proverbs 14:14-16