The Producer Page: January 1998

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • About Contracts
  • Mad City
  • Another Producer Who Used To Do Something Else
  • Producers Ask for Help/Advice
  • Happenings (Seminars for Producers & Managers)
  • Job Openings
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Next Month
  • How to Subscribe

  • ABOUT CONTRACTS

    Last month's letter:

      I just started a new position with the agreement that I would be under contract. Several months into my stint...still no contract. Yes, I signed a letter of intent. Yes, it is for more than one year. But without an actual contract...where do I stand? Can management let me go without notice? Should I hire a lawyer to look over my letter of intent? If another offer comes along should I consider it? Has anyone else done this and are there any serious consequences?

    Response #1:

      I am not a lawyer, nor do I even play one on (or in) TV... How many notes and conversations have I started with those words over the years? Still, I can answer your anonymous writer's bottom-line question about her contract status: Yes, there are "serious consequences" to this sort of thing.

      She might end up needing to talk to an attorney. An initial consultation, which is probably all she'd need, is cheap compared with the heartache she could endure if she doesn't sort out her status. But before she goes to even that much expense -- in fact, before she lets another day go by -- she should make an appointment to talk with her boss. It sounds like they aren't communicating at all, and that's a really bad way to start off a work relationship.

      I say make an appointment because this is not a conversation they should have while passing each other in the hallway, while the boss is in anyway distracted, or in any setting other than face to face, in private, with the door closed. Get on the boss's calendar. In ink. It doesn't need to be a long, drawn-out session; 15 minutes might be all it takes.

      The "letter of intent" may or not be binding on her, on the station, or on both parties. That all depends on its contents. But the time to find out is not when she decides to test it. And remember: Her boss has dozens of people to worry about, each of whom has unique circumstances. The producer has only herself. (Kind of sounds like what producers normally envy about reporters: They have only themselves to worry about.) Yes, a perfect boss would have taken the initiative to settle this months ago. But, for those working for less-than-perfect bosses, looking out for yourself is part of the job.

      Scott Libin (libin@poynter.org)
      The Poynter Institute

    Response #2:

      1) Get a lawyer to look over your letter, just so you know where you stand legally. Next time, have a lawyer read over anything and everything a station wants you to sign. Remember, every state has different laws regarding employment, so make sure you get counsel that's appropriate for where you're working.

      2) In your own mind, go beyond the written words of a "letter of intent". Do the RIGHT thing. Think back: when you took this job, do you feel you reached an understanding (oral, written, implied) with the station to work a certain amount of time before considering another job? Would you be happy with yourself leaving the station before the terms of that agreement were fulfilled? Just because your attorney might say the station might not have any recourse against you, if you left... is that reason enough to make a move?

      You might not suffer any legal consequences if you left the station under the circumstances you stated. But indeed there may be other consequences -- somewhere down the road, if that is the road you choose.

      You bring up a great question, and I know this dilemma will be shared by many more people in the years to come, given the current trend to put more and more people under contract. Good luck with your decision.

      Chip Mahaney
      KDFW FOX 4 News
      Dallas/Fort Worth, TX

    Response #3:

      I'm sorry I can't shed any light on your writer's dilemma. But since you bring up contracts--allow me to vent on non-competes for producers. An investigative reporter in this top-20 market recently went 'across the street.' This person had a non-compete that evidently specified only being on the air as competition. This reporter is 'working' at the new station, drawing as far as I know full salary, as an investigative producer. Another reporter fronts the stuff. Producers realistically, in a big market anyway, can't do anything else, unless they want to move, which I don't. So to say I can't produce newscasts at the competition for six months after ending my employment at one station essentially means I can't earn a decent living in that time. Yet the talent has an out. Maybe that is just a perk for being a big time great investigative reporter, which this person is. But it makes me inclined to pass on any job which has a non-compete attached. I think this is just management trying to take advantage with a practice that is not common in any other place in the business world. I would advise your writer to keep his/her mouth shut and work his/her butt off. Producers are hard to come by and if you do a good job, your position is secure, or at least you know another job won't be too hard to find. Then when you want to leave, you can. I would question any station that tries to lock you into a long-term, tight contract. If they can't keep producers, you might not want to work there. Do your homework on the place.

      Name Withheld


    ON A RELATED NOTE.

      Dear Alice, I am hardly a rookie in "the business," but I've not earned quite enough stripes to count myself among the veterans yet, so I thought I'd toss this out to your readers and get some feedback. What's the general feeling (of those who do the hiring and firing) when it comes to producers and agents? I have worked at three top 50 market stations and have always represented myself in salary/contract negotiations. Unfortunately, the end result has often been that promises implied have not always been promises kept. I am not one of these producers with an eye toward on-air work... I love what I do and hope to do for as long as possible (or until the stress kills me). So is it worth my time and effort to seek representation or should I just go into my next interview armed with lessons learned? I'd prefer my current station management not know I may be in the market for a new job, so please do not post my name/e-mail address.

      NOTE: Please send responses for publication to AJMain@aol.com with Producer Agents in the subject line.


    RESPONSE TO MAD CITY
    Last month, we asked for opinions on the movie. Here's a response:

      I saw Mad City a couple of weeks ago. Great cast, fine acting, yadda yadda...but it took me about 2 hours after the movie to unwind. I manage a small news department that allows me to fool myself into believing that "we just aren't like that". But deep down, I knew the portrayal was basically true, at least industry wide. Funny thing about the experience, I also happen to anchor our 6PM show - have done for over 16 years. So, it's a little hard for me to go anywhere in this small town unnoticed. One man finally broke the ice and said to me, lightheartedly, "See, first you guys kill Diana, and now you've killed John Travolta. Sheesh!" Just the same, I wanted to skulk away and be invisible.

      Doug Maughan KMVT, Twin Falls, Idaho


    A LITTLE MORE ON PRODUCERS WHO USED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE

      I'm a producer who used to be a scientist. In fact, I trained as a scientist for about 10 years, starting with high school summers, through a biochemistry major in college, and into graduate school, where i spent four years trying to earn a Ph.D. in neurobiology. I didn't. After 4 years, I realized the pace of lab science was too slow for me. With the support and help of my neurobiologist colleagues, I called the health reporter at a local station and asked if she wanted an intern. The internship became part-time freelancing, then a full-time associate producer slot. Two years after I started interning, I was producing noon shows and helping create a Sunday morning newscast!

      I remember two pieces of advice that helped me make the transition:

      1. During an internship, make youself indispensable. When it's time to leave, they'll find something for you to do.

      2. (more applicable to this conversational thread) It's a lot easier to learn TV than science. Because I brought years of expertise in another field, I had an advantage over interns and other people looking for entry-level jobs.

      I think the kind of radical career leap I made is unusual, but not rare; I know several people for whom TV is their second career. It's one advantage of TV-- your ability to succeed (and be recognized as successful) is based much more on performance than education or some other more abstract measure.

      Anyway, I hope this adds a little to the duscussion. Even though I'm now a producer/reporter with an eye on reporting, I still enjoy the newsletter.

      Tristan Davies
      KYTV
      Springfield, MO tdavies@ky3.com


    PRODUCER ASKS FOR ADVICE

      I have a problem. I work for an extremely small market (177) and producing good newscasts are hard when I am the writer, the editor and the producer and sometimes the reporter. My question is how do I put together good newscasts that are worthwhile and interesting when I wear so many hats? I was also wondering if producers ever get support? Many times I feel like the "lazy stepchild." "Oh Kim doesn't have anything to do so she can write and/or edit this story." I guess it's my fault for not putting my foot down but at times our reporters are loaded down also. The reason I want to know about the support is because when I was a weekend producer in a 122 market it was the same way. The news director could care less how a show looked as long as we had more stuff and more packages than our competition. I think I am just getting insecure and worry about getting stuck here. I have no desire to be on air (at one time I did but after much soul-searching I realized producing is more important to me.) I would like to get to a medium-sized market and get my feet wet in a place who has the staff to do better news. I know I asked a lot of questions but I would appreciate any sort of answer. Also... I love the web site. I am glad to have found it and will continue to read the book and all the information. I am glad to finally find a support system.

      NOTE: Please send responses for publication to AJMain@aol.com, with 'Support' in the subject line.


    INFORMATION NEEDED!

      Hey Alice,

      I am interested in any newscast that is using what we are calling a "constant key." As the name suggests, it's a key that is on the screen for the duration of every story, so that viewers who are channel-surfing can instantaneously ascertain what a story is about, and, we hope, choose to tune in and find out more. We have been using these keys since mid-September but we are currently in the process of redesigning them, partly due to concerns over how much screen-space they are using. I would like to hear from any show producer who is also using so-called "constant keys," hoping to hear descriptions, any guidelines, and if it's possible, examples on tape.

      Thanks for your help. I can be responded to directly, via wendy@globaltv.ca


    HAPPENINGS

    The Producing School (sm) at The Broadcast Image Group is presenting two workshops for Producers at our training facilities in San Antonio, Texas:

    THE PRODUCING STRATEGY: Do you cover the news... or UNCOVER the news? Learn how to impact every story in your newscast as a Producer, create customer- centered stories that make people watch, produce teases that keep them watching, and create memorable moments that will bring them back for more. Workshop is April 3-4, 1998.

    DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION: February 3, 1998.

    FINISHING TOUCHES: Sure you can produce a good newscast, but can you train others? This workshop is designed for your station’s top Producers, E.P.’s and managers. Learn how to transition for Staff Member to Staff Manager, manage talent to accomplish your specific goals, create “buy in” to get your plan executed, and how to locate, recruit, and land Impact Players for your newsroom. Workshop is June 25-27. DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION: March 25, 1998.

    For more information, contact Paul Dughi at 210.828.6664 or e-mail at pedbig@aol.com.


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Opening the eyes of producers.

    All too often I see newsletters from producers exhibiting high frustrations. Just for a moment, let's forget the anchor tiffs, the run in you had with a reporter, and that live shot you lost. BUT, please take the time to recognize your co-workers for a job well done. Whether you work in a 100+ market or the top 20, your goal should always be the same: Reaching the viewers. Don't let personality conflicts get in the way. Confront difficult people. Let them know they are being unreasonable. STICK UP FOR YOURSELF! People will respect you for it! Believe me.. I've been there .. done that. But, if you find you are too sensitive to take constructive criticism.. maybe you should consider getting out of the news business.

    Kate Collins
    News Producer
    WESH-TV, Orlando, FL


    My name is Rick Sykes and I am an associate professor at Central Michigan University. I teach the broadcast news courses at the university. I have just discovered the Producer Book and I must say I think it is very good. It has been difficult to find a text book that is current and at the same time does a good job of discussing key issues involved with producing television news. This book does that. I also like the fact that it is continuously updated and you can e-mail the contributors. Thank you very much.

    I intend to have this book become a required part of my student producers' reading assignments. I also intend to encourage them to e-mail the contributors if they have additional questions. The broadcast news division at our university produces a live local newscast four nights a week during the school year.

    Thanks again.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Sykes (34trhoi@cmich.edu)
    Associate Professor Central Michigan University


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    Chris Gegg from WTVG (ABC) Toledo Ohio, to WFLA (NBC) in Tampa Florida.

    AARON WISCHE is joining the morning producing staff at KOTV in Tulsa. He moves from morning producer at KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi, TX. Aaron is a 1997 graduate of Syracuse University.


    NEXT MONTH

    Let's talk about affiliate news services: the good, the bad, and the LIVE SHOT IN JEOPARDY. Write to me with or without attribution (please specify) at AJMain@aol.com. Any of you official-types who work on these services are more than welcome to share your 58 cents. (Thank you to the subscriber who suggested the topic.)


    EXPLAINING 'THE PRODUCER' FAMILY OF STUFF
    The Producer Newsletter/Page/Book/etc.

    You've been reading The Producer Newsletter, edited by Alice Main, EP, WLS-TV in Chicago, and e-mailed monthly by the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. The Producer Page is an online archive of newsletters past and present, with updated job openings. The webmaster is Robert Stewart, associate professor of journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

    The web address is http://www.scripps.ohiou.edu/producer.

    The Producer Book is a more cohesive (not to mention attractive) compilation of articles from the newsletters, with some value-added, only-on-the-web material. It's available free on our website, and yes, you can print out the articles you like.

    TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER:

    To subscribe automatically, write to: listserv@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu subj: (anything) message: subscribe producer Firstname Lastname <email.address@goeshere> Also, send me a chatty note to introduce yourself, if you'd like. (AJMain@aol.com). To sign off, follow the subscribe directions, changing the word subscribe to UNsubscribe.