|The Producer Page: February 2000
IN THIS ISSUE...
RESPONSE TO THE LETTER FROM THE EX-PRODUCER
Glad you printed the unsigned letter of the "ex-producer." I wouldn't sign my letter, either, if I claimed to be a graduate student who demonstrated they didn't know the correct usage of the apostrophe.
I feel compelled to respond, because the writer seems to be a stellar example of the kinds of selfish, disinterested fops whose resumes keep sailing into newsrooms and a few of whom seem to somehow get hired. It is a good thing the rigors of the television news business weed them out early, although the writer's escape to graduate school may only lead to an academic career, and further that great truism of "...those who can, do; those who can't, teach."
You can quote W. Edwards Deming all you want, but I'll quickly recall the words of Dennis Swanson, current head of WNBC-TV, New York, and, two decades ago, the best news director I ever worked for. (Hint: Swanson's credibility as a news person is about a 10--Deming is maybe a generous 1 on a 1-10 scale). Swanson told me that motivating the "foot soldiers" in a newsroom was the only way to insure quality of the product. He always said managers of car companies cared about quality, but the guys on the assembly line, in whose hands quality really rested, only cared about inserting their little part and going home each night, quality or not. He said it was just the opposite in a news environment. TV news reporters, producers, camera crews and anchors were the most important carriers of the "quality" torch in a news operation and the managers just had to steer the place in the right direction, worrying only about numbers. I never forgot the adage, and just thinking about it makes Edwards Deming's theory seem like so much baloney, as applied in a newsroom. Now on to your points.
First, you outlined an "intern-to-AM show producer" career path that never admitted to one teeny little fact. Maybe, just maybe, did they hire you because they saw some potential? Did they pile all this work and responsibility on you to be mean-spirited, or because they thought you demonstrated the ability to handle it?
You complain about the hours and the oddball schedule of a broadcast news professional. You're a beginner in a competitive business, and you have made a huge jump from "student" to "news professional." That alone is a big career hurdle...perhaps the biggest leap of all. If you aspire to higher goals in this competitive business, you should be 100-percent focused on career and self-improvement in the first job. Who cares about hours, days off, vacations or a personal life? If you are not thrilled every time you walk into the building each day, regardless of hours, then you should seek another line of work.
Adversity brings out the best in people. Or, in many cases, reveals who the wimps are. Which category do you fall under?
In my first job out of school, I worked 6-7 days a week, at least 12 hours a day and would have slept in the newsroom if they'd provided a bed. No complaints. Couldn't get enough of the newsroom life. At age 23, I moved from market #43 to market #2, quadrupled my income and felt like I'd earned it.
You claim the former news managers heaped responsibility on you without proper training, whatever the heck that means. The really successful people in all facets of this business are fast learners. Those who wait for opportunity...and training...to be handed them on a platter wait, while the very best people create their own breaks, sometimes on their own time, away from work. There are people in this news world who would kill to be given additional responsibilities. Sounds like you wanted none of the responsibility that goes with authority.
You questioned the specifics of your job description. Hell, you told us you want to anchor the "Today" show so who cares what they want you to do in the first job? It's a learning experience and if you show the broadest ability to handle any challenge, you'll be much more valuable in any newsroom and much more market-able. Saying "...but that wasn't in my job description..." is a first-rate cop-out by a slacker who has no business in a high-pressure newsroom environment.
Then you mentioned that there weren't many black faces in your particular newsroom.. Oh, you had to pull this one. Lemme tell you something pal...I look at my newsroom colleagues and I see only two kinds: good ones and mediocre ones. The good ones among management and journalists alike are black, white, hispanic, asian, male, female, straight, gay and so on. So are the mediocre ones. And the numbers look pretty equal from my 25 years in the news wars. Wasn't always that way, but it's sure a diverse environment now. Hell, we even have a guy on the payroll in charge of diversity, whatever that means.
Strive to be the best and your color won't matter, unless you make a real effort to make it a central issue. And again, that's something that will get you on the fast track to mediocrity. This is a business that is so market-driven and so starved for talented people that ethnicity just doesn't matter that much. You are good or you are average. Judging by your letter, you are a card-carrying member of the latter category and have no idea how to move to the former.
TV news in Y2K marches to a tune called "do more with less" and as we move into the 21st century, those who will survive and thrive in newsrooms large and small are those who an old boss called "good newsroom citizens"--people who can change with the business, keep a good attitude and inspire others around them. Those who want to complain and blame others for their own failings will fall by the wayside. TV newscast producers are newsroom leaders and motivators. The good ones lead and motivate in what they do and how they do it.
You want to be on the air. No problem with that, it's a noble goal. But plllleeeaase... you even say "America deserves to wake up to me." Unless you change your attitude, it's not gonna happen.
I would suggest you change careers right away and embark on a path that might get your picture on a box of breakfast cereal. That may be the only way I wake up to your image each day.
Better yet, do the industry a favor and arrange for your likeness on the side of a milk carton.
CRAIG FRIEDMAN, former Senior Producer and 6:00 pm News Producer at WBNS 10TV, is leaving Columbus to become the Managing Editor for Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc. (IBS) Cincinnati Web site. Friedman will manage the daily life of the soon to be launched Web page for WLWT, Channel 5. IBS is a rapidly growing pre IPO Internet company that develops Web sites with TV stations across the country. As part of his position, Friedman will supervise an editorial staff of four people, while planning and directing major projects. Friedman departed WBNS-TV in September and was producing local projects on a freelance basis. This past spring, the Associated Press named him the best TV news producer in the state.
TIM KEPHART became the weekend producer at WHNT in Huntsville, Alabama one week before November sweeps began. On top of this he produced both the five and ten show on New Year's Eve.
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