Okay, so it wasn't a letter, but a high school student with an interest in the business did message me with a not so rhetorical question:
“What are the 3 most important skills you use on a daily basis?”
I don’t care how good you are, if you get lost in the process, distracted by the details or overly enamored with one aspect of the job, you’re gonna miss slot - which is tee-veese for ‘Turn in your logowear” So watch the clock. Learn how long it takes you to accomplish individual tasks and shave off seconds whenever you find yourself growing comfortable. If a deskbound expert tells you it only takes an hour to drive to Bleeding Gums Junction, don’t believe it until you’ve made the journey yourself. Also, it does no good to shoot tons of footage of Osama’s library card if you leave yourself no time to travel, feed, log, edit or write the report your promotions folks are already misconstruing down the hall. Yes, proper clock administration will save your bacon every time. Take me for example: I'm a decent shooter, competent editor and serviceable writer, but nine times out of ten I get the more visual assignment because the suits know I'll low-crawl through a cesspool if that's what it takes to slay my deadline. That ain't genius; it's simple logistics.
I'm a lousy typist. They'll never write textbooks deciphering my lighting style. I used to have a raging wide-angle lens addiction. But I can swoop into a room with a half a TV station on my back and still put eight out of ten people at ease. How? By never taking myself too seriously. Too many times I witness colleagues and competitors shoot their stories in the foot by overexplaining what button they're about to press, by acting as if their upcoming lunchbreak trumps whatever the interview subject might have to say, by worrying more about impressing the bigwig in the crosshairs than whether he's even in focus. It's a simple lesson in social graces they obviously don't teach in J-School: Be Nice. So if you're berating some secretary because she insist you sign in, if you're arguing with a brain surgeon because he doesn't agree with the magazine article you memorized on the way to his office, if you're upbraiding the donut lady because she blocked your shot at the polling place, remember, you're not being clever; you're being a dick. And everyone - from the zoot-suited CEO to that guy with the phlegm on his shirt will trash you when you leave.
Hey, nobody's asking you to foretell the future, but if you can't read social cues, recognize dog and pony show patterns or learn from the last dozen assignments you stumbled through, you're not going to last very long as pursuer of news. It's an old rule of photography: be there when it happens. That means guessing which route the Governor will use to leave the room, synchronizing your pace with the mailman you're profiling, even attempting to mind-meld with the diddling Dentist who's trying to lose you in that courthouse corridor. But looking ahead goes well beyond simple camera management. Knowing the kind of questions your boss would ask the defrocked sheriff comes in handy when you got the fallen lawman in your sights - not after. Hazarding a guess as to how long those cyclists you're chasing will ride before taking a break saves alot more than shoe-leather. Realizing that three PM city council meeting can lead the five o clock news only if you get some sound before the gavel drops will make you a hero in the eyes of those who stack the shows. Maybe they'll tear themselves away from the Facebook accounts long enough to sing your praises...
And, oh yeah - always make sure the camera is in the back of the car. You don’t want to roll up to an out of town warehouse fire only to realize your rig is back at the station. Trust me.