The Producer Page: April 1999

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • Lame Leads
  • Memo (To: News Producers Under 30...)
  • Happenings
  • Producers on the Move
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Training Future Broadcast Journalists
  • Executive Producer Requests Motivational Ideas
  • Job Openings
  • Hire Me
  • About the Newsletter

  • LAME LEADS
    By John M. Hayden, WZZM- ABC Grand Rapids

    1) I wrote this one:

    "A popular downtown nightspot is closing its doors, due to lack of business."

    Now in all fairness to me, the club was really mismanaged, and it was packed on weekend nights.

    2) This one I heard while I was getting ready for work one afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I wish I had paid attention to the station that was on.

    "Living legend Joe DiMaggio is dead."


    MEMO
    By Nancy Popkin

    To: News Producers Under 30
    From: News Managers Over 35
    Re: Our Communication Gap

    Thanks so much to those of you who get up in the middle of the night to produce the early morning newscasts. When we were coming up through the ranks, most of us never had the opportunity to oversee an hour, an hour and one-half, or two and one-half hours of news in the morning. In most of our newsrooms, the earliest full newscast started at noon. We hope you feel lucky to have this experience. And by the way, were sorry that we rarely see any of your newscast that airs before 6 a.m. Its just too early for us to get up. However, if you are unable to make it in to the station by midnight to get the show together, well be really angry. Oh, and sorry about the lack of support staff. When we started in the business, we were unpaid interns willing to do anything to get even a part-time job in news. We worked our tails off, unlike those ungrateful paid interns who come in to stations now expecting to be handed their big break. Of course, we cant get any paid interns for your shift. They dont want to work the horrible hours.

    We also want to apologize if weve criticized your inability to correctly time a newscast, and ridiculed your dependence on the newsroom computer system. You see, when we were producers, we had to learn to back time ourselves, in our heads. Then we used back-timing calculators just to check ourselves. Were very proud of our back timing ability, even though its a little embarrassing when you balance your checkbook, pump your gas, or add up a restaurant tip in base 60. Back then, knowing how to back time was as important as knowing how to use a Web browser today. Were actually very happy that you have a computer system to do the work for you, so you can spend your time researching more information for stories on the Internet. By the way, one of these days, youll have to show us how to produce a newscast on our new upgraded computer system, just in case we ever need to help out.

    And, last weeks memo criticizing you for taking incorrect information off the wire let us explain where were coming from. When we started in TV news, we had AP and UPI. Their stories printed out on separate machines simultaneously. We compared their copy and gave attribution when they differed. Wed like to get Reuters for you, but its just too expensive.

    One of our top priorities before the next rating book is to get you all trained on how to cue live shots, move satellite time and use the RTS system in the control room. I know we complain that some of you dont know how to do all of that correctly. We probably should have thought of that before we just threw you on a newscast.

    Wed like to schedule the next producers meeting for next Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. I know thats not a good time for most of you, but that really works out best for us.

    Thanks again for all your hard work!

    (As Vice President of Caruso & Company, Nancy Popkin represents news managers, producers and on-air talent. She was the assistant news director at WRAL-TV for 7 years, and is over 35. In her youth, Nancy was a producer at KABC in Los Angeles and many, many other newsrooms. You can contact Nancy at lilykins@prodigy.net or 215-369-2952.)


    HAPPENINGS

    PLAN NOW to deliver the best political coverage in the year 2000 in your market. Learn tips your competitors won't know about the candidates and issues. Attend RTNDF's "Gearing Up for the 2000 Elections," April 23-25 in Berkeley, CA (just outside San Francisco).

    News managers, producers and reporters will learn to develop new research techniques and story ideas for your state and local election coverage. Learn the latest hands-on computer assisted reporting training from NICAR/IRE experts. Take away tips from top political reporters and election coverage experts from the California Voter Foundation, Center for Responsive Politics, Project Vote Smart, Center for Public Integrity, Federal Election Commission and the National Institute on Money in State Politics and more.

    Registration is only $50 (40 RTNDA members) and INCLUDES workshop materials, meals and a shared hotel room for out-of-towners at the Radisson Hotel Berkeley Marina. Click on http://www.rtndf.org/prodev/beats/sanfran99.htm for a registration form. For more information, contact Avni Patel, Radio and TV News Directors Foundation, at 202-467-5215 or avnip@rtndf. Space is limited, register today! Additional "Gearing Up for the 2000 Elections" workshops will be held July 23-25 in Chicago and October 15-17 in Washington, DC. It's not too early to sign-up.

    RTNDF sponsors a JOURNALISM ETHICS workshop April 9-10 in Atlanta. Friday night begins with a facilitated discussion between a small cross-section of the local public and journalists. Saturday is a full day of ethical decision-making training. Attendees leave the workshop with a videotape, written curriculum and training to lead discussions back in their newsrooms. Workshop is restricted to local television and radio news directors and their staff in GA and neighboring states. Total cost per station is $50 ($40RTNDA members). For details or to apply call Kathleen Graham, at 202-467-5216 or e-mail kathyg@rtndf.org.


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Alice,

    I was just looking back over your last two issues, and the discussion of news and news producers got me thinking. The following ... well it followed: I wrote my first news story in August of 1959. It was a newspaper feature on a dozen of us going to the Philmont Scout Ranch near Raton, New Mexico from the hills of West Virginia. It was a two-part feature, with art.

    Today I oversaw the production of several pieces on the resignation of a hometown mayor on corruption charges. We did a piece on the thwarting of the RICO laws that allow confiscation of personal property items of drug suspects. Suspects now use borrowed cars and rented houses (which is forcing law enforcement to cut their narcotics budgets, since their "take" of druggie assets is dwindling.). A third story was about a small Alabama town recovering after losing its main employer.

    Am I a part of my community? Just because I don't have time to "smell the roses" doesn't mean I don't know and care about what goes on in my town. Would I want to be a laid off Wrangler Jeans worker? No. Do I care my narcotics units don't have the money they need to control drugs. Damn right. How about the mayor? Sure surprised the hell out of me. I didn't think the little wimp would jay-walk, let alone break some tax and mis-use of power codes.

    I suppose, since I am not in the stories I write, edit and produce, some would say I have no life. But I do. I watch the noon news, executive produce the 5, 6 and ten, then go home and catch Nightline and the late night repeat of the ten, so I have a second shot at critiquing it.

    Life is good. On the weekends, I allow myself to miss the late Saturday newscast so my wife and I can go to dinner or a movie or entertain...or just sit and read.

    I made these choices at about 18 and they've been good to me. I talk with my neighbors,listen to what people are talking about at the barber shop and the grocery store. I know every hot spot in town and every good restaurant and visit one or more every month. I know the cop on the beat, the UPS guy and every day engage in some of the best discussions and conversations imaginable with some of the most intelligent, hyper-active, inquisitive people in the world... the people who work in television newsrooms.

    I've lived in 12 cities, helped raise 5 kids, done a heap of homework and been at least a pretty good husband. I get bored after more than a long weekend.

    Now what did I miss?

    I work 55 to 60 hours a week, yet consider myself a part of the community my newscasts reflect.

    I was raised to believe you work harder than you play. That you dedicate yourself to something other than you. News and my family are what I dedicated myself to, and I've not been disappointed.

    People who want to dabble at their jobs and spend their real energies in their avocations usually don't succeed at either. Television news, especially local television news, suffers from too many people who don't want to get down and roll around in it, they want to put on a newscast and go home---all nice and tidy. Those who do more, get more...more raises, more promotions and more satisfaction.

    I agree with one writer who said much television news doesn't touch his life. That's because the people at the station he watches take the easy way out, or HE is not in touch with his community. But generally speaking, there are too many people working in the business who would rather be somewhere else than producing, writing or editing a really good local newscast. Until that changes, there will be those who say local news is awful, and they'll be right.

    But producing a good newscast means knowing your community, not going fishing, or puttering with your garden. It means listening to what people are saying, questioning them about their beliefs. It means poking your nose in the corner bar, or going to the flea market on Sunday. It means learning to feel your city.

    "I'm a Detroiter now" "What does that mean?" Eat the local food, listen to the local music. Listen to the local radio stations. Read the local newspapers. Being part of a community doesn't mean joining the country club, or going to the yearly city festival, it means taking part in the DAILY LIFE of the community. Then you can qualify to produce that community's newscasts.

    Me? I've got the world by the tail. I get to do the whole thing again tomorrow, right after I drop off the cleaning, see what that new building down the street is going to be and grab a bite to eat.

    Al Volker


    Alice,

    I think Barb Raab hit it right on the head when talking about the lack of issue-oriented coverage relating to breaking stories. The biggest gaff in the coverage of last year's school shootings was the lack of acknowledgement by local and national news alike that there was a common theme, not just of young, adolescent males, but of males in certain pro-gun, moralistic environments. Obviously, this could break the objectivity ceiling, but as a viewer, I was wanting that aspect of the story covered.

    Unfortunately, like Barb, I always found (I'm not currently producing) it difficult to get issue stories covered, for two main reasons: visuals and sexiness. What a shame.

    Sincerely, Joe Zefran Madison, Wisconsin


    HIRE ME

    Freelance Writer-Producer-Director. 20-years experience in TV News/ Programming/Production. Currently doing documentary work on History Channel Projects. Live in the Pacific Northwest. Will Travel. AVID & Newstar 3 literate. Spiffy reel. Terrific references, too! Mark Mohr (509) 455-3424 markmohr@earthlink.net

    Senior Producer seeks position in San Francisco Bay Area. 20 years experience in LA and Silicon Valley in entertainment, corporate and documentary production. Complete knowledge of pre, production and post analog and digital technologies, incl. video, multimedia, and web. Award Winning. Please email Michael at mlf@well.com or call 415-641-5255.


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    BRUCE LAYMAN has left behind eleven years of television in Tennessee to join FOX O&O WGHP-TV in Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point, NC. Bruce previously anchored and produced at WJHL-TV in Johnson City, followed by a stint at WVLT-TV in Knoxville.

    CORINNE MILLIGAN moves from producer at KDRV in Medford, Oregon to producer at WJZ in Baltimore, Maryland.


    TRAINING FUTURE BROADCAST JOURNALISTS

    The following is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

      Producer: "So Sally, you want to work in television news."

      Sally: "Yes. I want to be a reporter. That's why I got an internship here."

      Producer: "Okay. Now I understand you're a second quarter senior at Somewhere College."

      Sally: "That's right. I'm majoring in broadcast production."

      Producer: "Okay, but you want to be a reporter. So what writing classes have you taken?"

      Sally: "None."

      Producer: "Okay, how about English classes?"

      Sally: "No."

      Producer: "Have you taken any journalism courses? Reporting classes?"

      Sally: "No."

      Producer: "So what classes have you taken?"

      Sally: "Editing and studio."

      Producer: "Are you going to take any writing classes?"

      Sally: "I think I can take one my final quarter."

    How many of you veteran producers have had this same conversation? Energetic, seemingly bright interns who are DYING to be on the air, yet don't have a clue about how to write, report or even the fundamentals of journalism, but feel they can be reporters because they can edit tape.

    Editing tape is a great thing, but I worked in television news for nearly 11 years (including a top ten market) and the one thing I don't know how to do is EDIT TAPE.

    In my opinion, the key to being a success in broadcast journalism or any media field for that matter is WRITING.

    This spring I will teach a course in broadcast news writing at the University of Cincinnati. I plan to stress my opinion about writing, but I'd like to hear from other TV veterans. What skills and/or qualities do you see lacking in the next wave of TV reporters, producers, etc.? What ideals do you think should be emphasized? What do you want your future news room staff members to know?

    I would love to hear all your ideas and hopefully pass them on also to my students.

    I would also like to hear from news directors about what they want/like to see on resume tapes. Many of the students in these classes are working on resume tapes and I'd like to give them some hints on producing a tape that will make a news director stand up and take notice!!

    Please feel free to e-mail me at TVdeb@aol.com.


    EXECUTIVE PRODUCER REQUESTS MOTIVATIONAL IDEAS

    Here's a letter from an E.P. who chooses to remain anonymous. Can you help?

    Suggestions from producers AND managers are welcomed. Send responses to me at AJMain@aol.com, subject line: EP Advice. Be sure to tell me whether you want attribution, and if so, exactly how.

    "Managing seven producers can be tough. I can accept that. But some times it can drive you crazy. How do you fire-up your producers? How do you re-ignite the creative flame snuffed out in over-worked producers? How about hiring producers, can you offer some special words?"


    ABOUT THE PRODUCER NEWSLETTER

    The Producer Newsletter is a free publication for TV news producers worldwide, edited by Alice Main, executive producer at WLS-TV in Chicago. All opinions expressed by me in the newsletter are mine alone, and aren't meant to represent the views of ABC or Disney. The newsletter has been around since 1995, and now back issues have been compiled into book form on the internet (http://www.scripps.ohiou.edu/producer/thebook) thanks to Professor Robert Stewart of Ohio University's EW Scripps School of Journalism. Subscription information is also available online. All submissions should be sent to AJMain@aol.com.