The Producer Page: January 2000

(Or The Millennium Edition, so named to annoy certain purists)

After a long nap, the Producer Newsletter resumes publication. 
Thanks for your patience.

IN THIS ISSUE...
 

  • Why we ran the video
  • Confessions of an ex-producer
  • Producers on the move
  • Story idea newsletter
  • I can't believe s/he said that on the air!
  • Producing seminar
  • Letters to the editor
  • Request for advice
  • Job openings
  • About the newsletter


  • WHY WE RAN THE VIDEO
    Matt Collins, Executive Producer, KRQE

    The Columbine video was presented during a forum for school officials and emergency workers. My station, KRQE in Albuquerque, was the only station at the meeting when the tape was played. Our coverage at noon and 5:30 p.m. that day focused mostly on the forum, not the video. When we realized the tape had never been seen before, we had to make a lot of decisions. Whether to air it again and who if anyone we were going to share the video with.

    Is the tape, on its own (outside the context of the forum), newsworthy? I think so. With 26 students and teachers killed at schools in the last two years, school violence has become the number one concern of many people. The video does not show anyone getting shot. In fact, no one was killed inside the cafeteria.

    The grainy, black and white security tape shows students huddled under cafeteria tables, then later running for an exit after teacher Dave Sanders ran into the cafeteria to warn them about the attack. Sanders was one of a dozen people killed that day. Later, gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold enter the cafeteria. The tape shows them trying to set off a large propane and camping fuel bomb.

    Is the tape sensational? Yes, but is that a reason not to run it? The videotapes of Rodney King and Reginald Denny being beaten were very sensational and much more graphic. They aired all across the country for weeks.

    We got calls from both side of the debate. Some people were upset we aired the video. Others, including a couple whose granddaughter was in the cafeteria during the shootings, were glad we did. The grandparents appreciated the fact that they had an opportunity to see what their loved one went through. Like any story, viewers could chose to watch the tape or not. If we didn't air the tape, they wouldn't have had a chance to make that decision.

    Other parents with children at Columbine had mixed emotions. Natalie Graves' son was shot just outside the cafeteria and is partly paralyzed. She said she wishes the tape wasn't out, but went on to say: "I guess it's a good thing so they (the public) 
    can see the devastation and the crime, the horror those children went through that day."

    Michael Shoels, whose son Isaiah was killed during the shootings, said he hopes the tape opens people's eyes to the tragedy. "Maybe it's good that America can see the heinous crimes that went on up at that school," Shoels said. "People need to see what happened. Maybe if people saw it we could all learn from it."

    Authorities at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Colorado were upset the tape was aired and at first said they didn't know how it got out. Apparently, they told parents of the shooting victims at Columbine that they would have the chance to see the videotape before it was released. But the sheriff's office lost control of the tape when they gave it to the Littleton Fire Department so it could show the tape at an International Association of Fire Chiefs conference. The video was copied again and taken to the National Sheriffs Association conference. It's important to note, officials at school violence forum never told our crew or our station not to air the tape.

    The day after we aired the tape, it was the lead story on the CBS Evening News. CBS defended its decision to broadcast the tape, saying its news value outweighed any negative impact the tape may have. "We decided to air it because it was something the national audience was interested in," said Al Ortiz, executive producer for the CBS Evening News.

    Some Denver stations decided against running the tape. I respect their decision and if I was in Denver, I might have made the same decision.

    The bottom line: I think every station and every viewer needed to make their own decision about the tape. One thing is for sure, if the tape was not made public, viewers never would have had the chance to make that decision.

    VIEWER RESPONSE

    Surprisingly, we didn't get many phone calls. We got a few from people who were upset we aired it. But we found a majority of the people who called and complained formed an opinion without actually seeing the tape. They assumed it was graphic and showed things it didn't actually show.

    We also got some calls from people who wanted to see the tape and thanked us for showing it. In my experience I've found people don't often call a television station with good things to say or to tell you they like something.

    We did a story on people's reaction (on a radio talk show and at a town hall meeting we had already scheduled). Their main concern was we were just showing it to be sensational. I don't think that was the case. Other people we talked with thought it would be censorship if we didn't air the tape.

    Overall the reaction we got was mixed with the small number of people who called mostly concerned about why we were airing the tape. We got the most calls from media outlets who wanted to buy the tape.

    As far as ratings go, we don't have overnight ratings yet. So I can't answer that question. We go to overnights in October of 2000.

    FINAL THOUGHTS

    I believe the context in which we aired the video was proper. In our first day of coverage, we presented the video within the context of the school safety forum. The next day we did a little more analysis of what the tape showed and reaction from viewers who saw it. We decided against running the video in its entirety because we thought that would be sensational a move.

    Airing the tape was a tough decision. Do we air a tape that some may think is sensational? Or do we choose not to, which may border on censorship? We thought the tape was newsworthy and just as we had to decide whether to air it, our viewers had to decide whether they wanted to watch it. If we didn't air it, our viewers never would have had a choice. If I worked in Denver, the decision would have been a lot tougher. I respect and understand why stations in Denver decided not to run the tape.


    CONFESSIONS OF AN EX-PRODUCER
    or WHAT I WISH MANAGEMENT HAD TOLD ME
    Anonymous Contributor

    Statistician Edward Demming, the father of Total Quality Management, said that managers are responsible for 85% of the quality of products, workers are responsible for the rest. While Demming's work is more applicable to the assembly lines of America and the globe, I like his approach. For 15 months I worked as the Saturday Morning Producer at a station in my hometown. I worked as an intern there the summer before my senior year in college, which is how I made contacts. I was offered the position just days after I graduated. I was thrilled. Tell people 
    you're going to be a news producer and watch their eyes light up. Everyone is impressed, although very few know what you actually do. (You produce the news? So does that mean you're a director?) After a few months of working at the station, the thrill was gone. Long gone. Disappeared. Nowhere to be found. By my 23rd birthday, I felt overworked, unappreciated, and just plain frustrated. I began looking for a way out.

    Regarding the issue of fairness, I must say that I was to blame for some of my disillusionment. From my internship, I knew what producer's did and I knew that although I was a pretty good writer, I desired a position in front of the camera. (I still do. My long term goal is to anchor the Today show. America desires to wake up to me. But that's a different story). So I knew going into the position that it wasn't my true calling. But, you've got to start somewhere, and the station was 
    in a great market to start in, so I accepted the position, which meant signing a two year contract. At this point, I could bore you with story after story about how I was treated or mistreated. I decided to take a different approach. The following is what I WISH I was told before being hired.

    1. We're lying about your hours. I know we're telling you that you're working a day side (9-6) shift, but that is subject to change at a moments notice. In fact, we'll change you're schedule anytime we feel like it and don't even think of asking for an explanation. We're going to call you at 10 o'clock at night asking/telling you we need you to be in at 3am because the morning producer is sick. We'll forget to mention she called several hours ago, and we just sat on our hands until we thought of you. We'll call you on your days off and tell you to cancel your plans (unless it's a funeral) because heaven forbid WE have to produce a show, and truthfully, we really only know how to do the important ones, the 6 and 11. We expect you to work late when there's breaking news, but we'll question you when put it on the time sheet. We hate paying you overtime, although we ask that you work ten hour 
    days. We'll make changes in your schedule and tell everyone except you until we feel you're ready. After all, we're management and we've got better things to do like: changing the screen saver on our PC.

    2. We won't train you for your position and we're only going to give highly critical, negative feedback. Yes, we know that you just graduated from college and have no professional experience. We know that when you were an intern, you wrote a few stories and ran errands, but we're going to ignore this and pretend you know how to build a show, win the lead, time out a show, and produce in the control room. Instead of taking the time to show you the very basics ourselves, we'll put you off on some of your colleagues. Sure, they are going to ignore you most of the time because THEY have a show to produce as well, but maybe they'll have a few minutes to teach you how our format works. We'll let you shadow them, and when they feel you're ready, maybe they'll let you produce the cut-ins. Oh, did we forget to tell you that you're probably going to make some mistakes? Yeah, you will, and your anchors will come to US complaining (they're so sensitive), but we won't tell you this. We'll save it for later use. This means in the course of say a week or two, 
    you'll pick up just enough information to get a show on the air. When you get to that point, we shall completely forget you exist. You can learn the finer points on your own. It is your show after all. But along the way we'll let you know we are thinking of you. We'll call during the middle of your show yelling and asking for explanations, we'll embarrass you in front of the entire newsroom by pointing out what a poor choice you made in choosing a certain lead, and remember those complaining anchors we'll point that out during our beloved producer lunches. I 
    mean, sure, managers are supposed to train people and all, but we've got better things to do like: going to Starbucks for a half hour each day.

    3. Remember that job description we gave you? All lies. See, when you first get here, you're going to get adjusted to the job we told you about. Then, we're slowly going to start to pile more work on you. See, we really need a third producer for the morning show, but instead of hiring another producer, we'll just have you do it. So, you'll produce the Sat am news, and co-produce the weekday morning news as well. Sure, it's more work for the same pay and title, but think of all the experience you'll gain. Oh, yeah, this means you can say goodbye to that 9-6 shift we told you about. 2am-11am is pretty easy to get used to. Sure, it will give you less time to work on the show you were hired to do, but we've got to cut corners here. Oh, did we mention we'll need you to sit at the assignment desk during the morning news meeting? Again, we need to hire an office manager for that, but you can do it for us. I mean, you only produce Sat am. This means that the phones will be ringing off the hook, so you won't be able to get much work done. While you're up there, go ahead and update the station web site too. Yeah, I know that it's a 38 
    step process (yes, 38 steps) and 1 slight error will mean you have to start all over, but the web is important, and we don't want to do it. By now you've guessed it, with all the "empowerment" opportunities we've piled on you, you'll only have a scant few hours to work on your own show. I guess we should have told you this, but we're managers, and we've got better things to do like: giving ourselves the best vacation weeks and stiffing everyone else. 

    4. Get used to being one of few people of color in the newsroom. Oh yeah, race. Well, even though you're Black, we assure you that you won't be treated any differently than anyone else. In fact, we'll stay just as homogeneous as before. We'll ignore the fact that you're in the room when we talk about how "scary" that murder suspect, who just happens to be Black, is when we're putting in our still store CG of him. We'll ask you important questions like, "how do you pronounce that name?" and "Do you think Louis Farrakhan is a maniac or do you believe in that stuff?" (and my personal favorite) "How'd you get your hair that way? Can I touch it?" I mean there are a lot of Black people who work here, although most of them work in production which means they are part time, earn minimum wage, and have little to no power when it comes to real decisions. But that's not our fault. We hired YOU didn't we? I mean, as managers, we could try to actively recruit minority applicants who can do more than operate a camera, but we've got better things to do like: re-arrange the items on our desks. 

    These are just a few of the things I wish I knew before signing my life over to the station. I do hope that my experience isn't a common one. I would hate to know the kind of anguish and suffering I endured was commonplace. But I can't say I left there without learning anything. At the time I left, I was a good producer. I had figured out how to make things work and I had a great relationship with the crew. They felt like family. I've moved on now, and I'm currently a journalism grad student.

    As for the management at my old station, well, I hope God has mercy on their souls.


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    (Editor's note.. some of these are a little dated, due to the Newsletter's 'nap'.)

    KIM NOVIA-DAVIS leaves WCBD to become the 9pm producer at KVHP Fox 29 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

    DEREK BROWN leaves his producing position at KESQ in Palm Springs, to become the morning producer at KVBC in Las Vegas.

    MATT COLLINS is the new executive producer at KRQE-TV in Albuquerque, NM. Previously he worked as 6pm producer at WTSP-TV in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida. Matt is a 1993 graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

    JEFF BALLOU moves from CONUS Communications where he was White House Producer to Planning Editor, WTTG-TV/FOX-5 in Washington, D.C..

    (Send notices about your own moves to AJMain@aol.com. Type the notice up as you'd like it to appear.)


    I CAN'T BELIEVE S/HE SAID THAT ON THE AIR!
    Anonymous Contributor

    I work in market #99, producing a 90-minute morning show. We like to have fun on the show, but sometimes I think the talent can take it a bit too far.  Two examples: 

    1) Female co-anchor is out on a live shot at a local high school, profiling band members who'll soon travel to Monaco to perform for the prince. She decides she wants to practice her tuba playing, on-air. Fine. Male co-anchor says, "You're watching the only morning show where a co-anchor gets to blow a tuba." He realizes the gaffe, and weather guy loses it for rest of segment. 2) Announcing the 
    winner of a trivia contest whose name is Eric Lowenberg, she says, "Congratulations to Eric Lowenbrau."  That left many of us wondering if she'd had a few too many herself before showing up for work.


    FREE STORY IDEA NEWSLETTER NOW AVAILABLE

    After publishing for nine years via "snail mail," the IdeasADVANTAGE Newsletter is now available in a free weekly E-mail edition. The IdeasADVANTAGE Newsletter is published every Monday by JBA, Inc., Media Consulting in San Francisco.

    Each week editors track the work of the most innovative media outlets in North America and highlight story ideas that might be useful to news organizations in markets beyond where the reports originated. These breakthrough ideas often 
    showcase investigative reporting and special assignment segments, with sources noted so readers can obtain further information.

    The IdeasADVANTAGE Newsletter includes analysis of story trends and is intended for news media professionals only. There is no charge to get on the mailing list. In order to keep the newsletter a tool for professional idea exchange, 
    subscription is proprietary and limited to working members of the media and educators only.    

    To subscribe, please send your e-mail address and state your media affiliation to: vobite@aol.com.      


    PRODUCING SEMINAR

    Attention Newscast and Executive Producers: a recent letter writer to ShopTalk asked, "What's happened to common sense?" and wondered if somewhere in all the seminars and workshops that broadcasters can attend if anyone teaches
    common sense about handling difficult situations. Check out Poynter's upcoming seminar called "Producing TV Newscasts" (the application deadline is January 5). This seminar will help you learn how to achieve the proper balance between
    competitive business and journalistic values by: improving your ability to make tough ethical decisions on deadline, showing you how to coach colleagues to stronger performance and giving you tips for writing clearer stories and more
    memorable teases. You'll learn from some of your most talented colleagues: Deborah Potter, former CBS and CNN Correspondent and now Executive Director at NewsLab; Alice Main, Executive Producer WLS-TV Chicago; Patti Dennis, News Director KUSA Denver; and Poynter's Al Tompkins, winner of more than 100 awards. The seminar dates: March 5-10. For more information and an application form see Poynter's website: www.poynter.org or email Sandy LeDoux at sledoux@poynter.org.


    REQUEST FOR ADVICE

    Dear Alice:

    Firstly, thank you for creating such a great resource for producers. Secondly, I have a question, which I hope you can either answer, or send me in the right direction. I got into producing about six months ago, not that much experience I 
    know, but I really enjoy it. Somewhere along the line I decided to search my desires, identify what I want to do and set the goal.  A few months ago I decided that I really want to be a field producer, either for a network or major market 
    station. Maybe I have a glorified vision of what a field producer does, but I think that it would be great to focus on a subject, travel around to the places you need to in order to get the story, and put it all together.  

    However, in looking into making that next step I keep wondering what current field producers did to get to where they are. I haven't been very successful in finding any information on this subject and I was wondering if you or anyone who reads the 
    newsletter could give me a few pointers on what type of background is really needed to produce in the field.  

    Thanks so much for any help that you can provide.

    Russell Jones
    russell_jones24@hotmail.com

    (You can send replies to Russell at his address, or to me for publication at ajmain@aol.com, or both.)


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Ms. Main,

    I teach television production at the high school level. My students learn how to write, shoot, edit, produce and direct. We produce a 7-minute newscast daily, with varying degrees of success.  I'm always looking for real-world information about the business and your articles are dead-on. I'm assigning my Seniors to select different chapters of the Producer Book to read, think about and then report back to the class on what they learned, along with their comments and questions. What's interesting is that we're a beta test site for a company called ParkerVision. They're launching an educational version of a live automated studio environment. In their broadcast test markets, the staff composition is shifting. The focus is on people who are capable of writing, reporting, shooting, producing and directing. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. Preliminary data suggests that it is working, at least at one station in New York City. Gone are the studio cam operators and floor directo, and the producer/director job has been combined. They're putting more "feet on the street" and covering more stories. I believe content, however good or bad it may be, is what keeps people watching. My goal is to teach students to distinguish the gold from the garbage and try to emulate the good examples of news that still exist. I want them to be prepared to do more than "just report" or "just shoot." I believe they're going to have to be skilled in several areas to be competitive. As my students go on to college, I hope they'll visit web-sites like yours to get some balance to a business that looks pretty but often isn't. Thanks for the great information. 

    Susan Szczepanik


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    ABOUT THE PRODUCER NEWSLETTER

    It's a totally free, supposedly monthly publication for and about TV newscast producers and their ilk. You can get it on the web or by e-mail. For information on how to subscribe, go to http://www.scripps.ohiou.edu/producer.

    Job openings are posted there as they are received. To advertise a job opening, write the ad as you'd like it to appear and email it to me at ajmain@aol.com. I'm Alice J. Main, editor/publisher/procrastinator, and, in my spare time, executive producer at WLS in Chicago. You can send me letters or articles or whatever you like for publication. I consider everything and publish almost everything.

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