Producer Page: February
IN THIS ISSUE...
There's a new breed of producer you'll find in many television stations around the country. It's the Internet Producer, the person responsible for organizing content on a station's news site on the Internet. That's my role at WVTM-TV (http://www.msnbc.com/local/wvtm/default.asp) in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to deciding which stories will appear on our site, and in what order, I'm also responsible for re-writing them from our broadcast reports. But I don't just re-write them, I add details, history and other useful bits of information that adds depth to what we have on the air.
In my role at NBC13, I also serve as Webmaster, meaning I'm responsible for the design and maintenance of our overall website. This combined role means I work some very long hours, but I tell people every day I can't believe I get paid to do the work I'm doing. This is definitely my niche.
My typical day starts at about 9:00 am. My official hours are 10:00 am - 7:00 pm, but I find I need to get a jump on things if I'm going to make the most out of my day. I start my day by reading any e-mail delivered to the station. I answer viewer e-mail personally, making sure every viewer gets thanked for writing to and watching NBC13. I answer their questions and invite them to call me directly with more questions. I originally thought this would be a bad idea because I'd be answering questions all day, but I only get about 2 calls each week!
Once viewer e-mail is out of the way, I read the e-mail from the MSNBC National Producer to see what kind of stories he's looking for that day. If I see we're doing a hook to a national story, I'll call him in Redmond, Washington and pitch it to him in person. I'll also look for local stories that may play big to a national audience. On average, I talk to or e-mail that producer 2-3 times each day.
After e-mail, I peruse the MSNBC site, CNN Interactive, ABCNews.com, USA Today and a few of my sister sites to see what others are doing. I usually check in with our competition's site once each day. But (without being degrading) there's not much content to check. That's good for me.
By this time it's 9:45 or so, and I check to see what kind of stories I'll have on my first update of the day. We have an 11:00am newscast, so it lets me get stories on the web by noon, when our competition is going on the air with their 12:00pm news. I'll check the rundown, talk with producers and reporters and begin to write my stories.
As information trickles in, I add it to the story. If there's no information, I'll take care of other tasks, including finding new or file video and audio. MSNBC's setup makes it easy to grab a frame of video and turn it into a relatively high-quality picture. This will either be one of my cover photos, or a larger story-level photo.
Audio clips can be "dumped" into our computer systems as well, and we have some "scripts" that turns these audio clips into Real Audio, meaning the end-user doesn't have to wait for the clip to download. Instead they receive streaming audio.
Video clips on the web, at this time, are a different story. Right now we have the ability to add video to our stories, but the clips are very large, meaning a long download. I've talked with many of my fellow MSNBC producers around the country and we agree that because of this long download time, there's not very much video that warrants publication on the web. However, there are always exceptions. Recently, fellow producer Bob Ponting at KNSD (http://www.msnbc.com/local/knsd/default.asp) in San Diego had a great clip of a firefighter getting ready to light a boat on fire when the boat exploded. It threw the firefighter on his back, and he eventually bailed out of the boat and into the water. It was truly a great clip for the web, allowing anybody in the world to see the video that happened locally in San Diego. MSNBC's national site uses a streaming video program called Netshow. Hopefully, the affiliate program will be rolling this out to the 80+ affiliates involved in the MSNBC program soon, enabling us to publish entire stories on the web.
Once the newscast hits the air, I get any remaining facts I need. If something's not clear, I make calls to clear things up and then go with the story. One of the nice things about the MSNBC system is the ease of updating stories, so if I need to add more information, I can simply update the story throughout the day and keep publishing.
The early afternoon in my shop lends itself to taking care of maintenance issues with the http://www.nbc13.com website. I usually make these adjustments over lunch at my desk. Then it's time for the 1:30 editorial meeting.
At this meeting, I meet with the dayside and nightside crews to see what everyone's working on and what we will be working on throughout the day. Then I start the whole process again for the evening update, which usually is posted on our site sometime between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm.
EXAMPLES OF SUCCESS
The Internet has given us a clear advantage over our competition on breaking news stories. In the middle of the day when something big happens, we're able to post a story almost immediately, giving viewers information they need now. It also enables users to digest the information and read it as often as they want, or they can even print it.
One example of our site really shining came late last year. A bus full of kids was headed from Birmingham to Montgomery when it was involved in an accident on one of our major highways. Several kids were taken to area hospitals with injuries. In addition to breaking into programming to report this news, parents were able to visit our website and get detailed information about the accident, including where it happened, what school was involved, what hospital the kids were taken, etc. Many parents sent e-mails saying they were at work when they heard about the accident and found it difficult to find information. But once they found our website, they had most, if not all, the information they needed to know their children were safe, or where their children were being taken.
Another example was coverage of one of the largest warehouse fires in Birmingham history. Our website allowed people to get detailed traffic information so they could get home from work without sitting on area roads for hours. We also have our "Ham-Cam" on the Internet. The image is updated every two minutes. This allowed people to actually see the fire from NBC13 even though they didn't have a television in front of them.
There are clear advantages to having an often-updated website. You get to extend your brand, and you get to give users a new level of news coverage they've never seen. If your station doesn't have an Internet Producer, you may want to consider investing in one. They can help you succeed in the online world... the way of the future.
FROM AN ANCHOR WHO WANTS TO BE A PRODUCER! REALLY!
I'm currently an anchor who also produces. I've been producing along with anchoring for the past 6 years, on and off. I actually HAVE a producer, but I end up re-producing our noon show frequently. Used to solo produce and co-anchor weekends.
Anyhow, I'm thinking it may be time soon to get off the air and focus on writing/producing. How does an anchor approach this and get taken seriously? As an anchor/producer, I'm sensitive to anchors' needs/wants but also see the "producer" side of most issues. So how does one make the jump? Take care..keep up the good work...and happy New Year!
(Please send responses for publication in next month's issue to AJMain@aol.com, with Anchor-Producer in the subject line. Specify whether you want attribution.)
(Last month, a subscriber asked about support for small market producers. )
In regards to the Producer who wonders if there is supoprt out there - I feel the pain as well. I also work in a small market (185) station where I am the only Producer.
Luckily I made it clear when I first got here (a year ago) that I did NOT want to be on the air - or report. I do, however - tend to become Assistant Assignment Editor - Writer - etc. I've found that you have to decide what works best for you and stick with it. Have a talk with your News Director. One thing I like about this small market is that my ND usually has a few minutes to talk with me when I need him.
Unfortunately - I find it hard to get critiques and I run into the same problems with reporters, etc. feeling that I have "nothing better to do" when they do not understand what I do. I take responsibility for all that goes wrong - so I have to devote more time to the details.
I think that what is working for me - as with any other market (I can only guess) is to stick to your guns - and to communicate.
Please feel free to contact me if you need a sympathetic ear.
Corinne Milligan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The "producer seeking support" (in the January issue) should take some comfort in the knowledge that neither her viewers, who count most, nor her prospective next bosses, whose opinions matter too, expect newscasts from the 177th market to have a major-market look.
But it doesn't take six live shots per show or a gyro-zoom-equipped helicopter or even an adequate support staff to improve the one thing that can make all the difference: writing. It's true that quality suffers when any one person is playing the parts of producer, tape editor, and reporter. On the other hand, those are the days that good writing is most important. And, once her skill reaches a certain level, your producer seeking support won't take as long to generate higher-quality copy. There are hints in her letter that indicate some room for improvement--even when there's no deadline looming. The best part is she herself can make it happen:
I do want to congratulate her on not falling into the "there's-just-not-enough- news-here" trap. I spoke today with a reporter from a market even smaller than 177. He began the conversation bemoaning how he feels consigned to covering 4-H meetings and similar fare. By the end of our talk he was planning a well-focused enterprise piece about discipline in schools and rethinking his opinion of farms as a source of stories. (When you think about it, they're pretty video-rich, too.)
Small markets do drive some good people prematurely out of the business, and that's a shame. But lots of very successful people I know look back five or ten or even twenty years later and decide they learned some of their most valuable lessons and skills back in the land of the triple-digit DMA.
Make the most of it.
Just wanted to shed a little light on the non-compete issue. One of your letter writers in the January edition (editors' note: see response #3) did have an interesting point about the "out clause" for talent while the producers had none. Contracts are negotiable instruments before they're signed. It's not unusual to find quite a bit of variation among the contracts in just one newsroom, depending on who the news director is dealing with, how much the ND needs that person, how replaceable that person is, and what the station's position is in the market. Negotiations not only depend on these things but also on how much money the station has compared with how much the guys across the street are throwing around. I would like to dispel the myth fostered by that same letter writer who wrote that non-compete clauses are not common in any other place in the business world. Not true. Even the attorney we deal with here in this small agriculture-oriented city says he's dealt with several non-compete cases, dealing with sales, medical, and other professional fields. In fact, when he was advising us on what he felt would be an enforceable length of time in our contracts, he was drawing on the experience he's had with judges in this area on that issue. I believe you'll find more stations these days even in smaller markets requiring contracts, complete with non-compete clauses. It's just another evolution of the business. I agree with the advice already rendered in this column to have an attorney review your contract with your interests in mind. And make sure you feel OK about the people and the company you'll be working for before relying on any contract.
[NOTE: This writer is responding to a letter she read online in The Producer Book, Chapter Two, under Reporter-Producer Relations. The letter ran in the newsletter several months ago, and recounted one producer's frustrations with his co-workers.]
I don't even have time to write this, but I am adversely "moved" by this producer's comments, forcing me to pen something. I stumbled on this website totally by accident. But I happen to be a ten-year veteran television reporter. The producer who authored this note said reporters didn't get stories "usually" because they were "relaxing" on lunch/dinner break. If I had a penny for every missed lunch/dinner, I'd be a billionaire. I know few reporters who are afforded the luxury of eating one meal during work time once a month! Producers are often unreasonable in their story requests if they have never before reported. They don't know what obstacles get in the way of getting stories. Things are often far easier said than done. However, reporters need to keep communication lines open, and good reporters call in frequently with story status, so producer/reporter can brainstorm alternatives. And if a reporter, midway, can't complete the story that was pitched by the producer, the reporter should be required to say, "I can't get this angle, but.... I can do a story on ...." A reporter should never come up emptyhanded, and a good reporter can turn a story, even if no one agrees to go on camera.
Lyn Veazey Plantinga moves from Senior Producer to Executive Producer at WTVF in Nashville.
Harry Peltz moves from WITN in Washington, North Carolina, to WGHP-FOX8 in High Point, North Carolina, where he is the new weekend producer and newsroom computer systems administrator.
Freelance Cameraman, 18 years experience with national network, cable, documentary, corporate and sports credits and fully loaded Betacam camera package looking for assignments and projects to work on with Producers. Based in the northeast working Boston to New York as a local and will consider travel. Producer friendly, flexible rates looking for interesting projects... e-mail: email@example.com call: 203-452-1985 or page: 888-692-0504
Austin is the site of the next national "roundup" on civic journalism. June 5-7, "Civic Journalism: On the Air," is a workshop exclusively for television and radio reporters, producers and managers. Sponsored by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, at the Sheraton Austin Hotel, Austin, TX. Registration is $50 ($40 for RTNDA members). Contact Kathleen Graham, RTNDF, (202) 467-5216. Visit the RTNDF website for a registration form and information <www.rtndf.org>
Have you seen this new website yet? It's for radio, TV, and film people, and debuted about two months ago. It includes job listings: www.airvibes.net
Last month I asked you to send in stories about experiences with your affiliate news services. NewsPath, NewSource, NewsOne, NewsChannel, etc. Good stories, bad stories, whatever. Stories from producers.. stories from the services, etc. I haven't received enough responses to write anything yet, so I repeat the plea for submissions. Send 'em to AJMain@aol.com, and specify whether you want attribution.
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