The Producer Page: June 1996

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • Excuses, Excuses
  • Requesting Your Thoughts on the Industry
  • Campaign Coverage
  • Internship Opening
  • Producer Training
  • Spouses in the Biz
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Alice Begs for Help

  • EXCUSES, EXCUSES
    by Alice Main (AJMain@aol.com), EP WKRC Cincinnati

    Ahem.

    • May sweeps pretty much ate my lunch.
    • Husband went to Bosnia for two weeks in May to report for his newspaper.
    • We're changing affiliations (ABC to CBS) on Monday.

    (Please insert sound of violins playing).
    Anyway, what I'm getting at is, this issue is very slim. My apologies, and I hope to do better for the next issue. :-(


    SPOUSES IN THE BIZ

    I've had a couple of suggestions over the past few months to do a piece on spouses in the biz. I know that many of you subscribers out there fit that description. Send me your stories, good and bad, about getting along at work and at home. Do you and your spouse work for the same station? Do you work for competing stations? Do you work in different cities? What's it been like? How has it helped/hurt your career? Send your stuff to AJMain@aol.com


    INTERNSHIP AVAILABLE

    We are a large international public relations firm with a thriving video production business. We produce things like Video News Releases and B-Roll packages as well as internal communications programs for some of the largest companies in the world. We offer a four month paid internship (salary plus overtime) three times a year. The intern assists four writer/producers in coordinating projects -- from setting up shoots to booking editing time. The interns also get to produce projects from time to time as their merit and experience allow. The intern also coordinates our videotape library and gains exposure to the broad range of work we do. Intern candidates can -- in certain circumstances -- advance to permanent full time employment. Candidates must be highly organized, computer literate and willing to work very hard. Those interested can drop me a letter and resume -- NO phone calls please.

    Dave Cohen
    Senior Vice President
    Fleishman-Hillard, Inc.
    200 North Broadway
    St. Louis, MO 63102


    YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE
    BROADCASTING BIZ, PLEASE
    by Steve Knifton sknifton@echo-on.net

    I'm a network news and current affairs television producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation here in Toronto. Next fall, I'm teaching a continuing education course at the University of Toronto called Dynamics of Television News and Current Affairs. I'm designing the course as we speak, but basically: It's going to be an introductory course on the form and function of TV news and current affairs production. The roots of newsgathering, the permutations, abberations and conflagrations in telling the classic news story. The politics, the agendas, the sheep herding and, yes: the satisfaction, adrenaline and exhilaration. And the bad coffee.

    I'm not teaching TV newsroom 101 from a book.This course is going to be as eyes and hands on as I can make it. And I do have most of the bona fide-legit scars to teach this course. I've done most of the jobs and grappled with all of the editorial and ethical dilemnas I'll be describing. And to compound it, I'm a real student of the broadcast industry, and the trends and the people that grew it to where it is today. Which leads me to the part about where it is today.

    I enjoy my professional work -- most of the time -- but as I design this course, I can't avoid getting cynical about the state of affairs in newsrooms today. I see snake-oil image consultants holding sway, 24 year-old anchors who've done 39 minutes of field reporting and now demand the respect and credibility that a Cronkite or a Murrow deserve. I see style-obsessed, self-promoting, self-serving pack journalists that couldn't think for themselves or make independent editorial evaluations if their lives depended on it. I see a lack of courage, confidence and conviction. Yet, I also see Frontline and Nightline and Jennings and Amanpour. And for the record, I'm not a wheezy old yellow news-dog who rails at change and innovation and whipper-snappers: I thought TV Nation was, erratically, one of the most important breezes to gust through the newsroom body politic in a long time. I believe in Hunter Thompson AND Harold Ross. And I believe with all my heart in the concept of Live.

    But ... before I warp the minds (and open the eyes) of these poor students at U of T, I want to send out a message. I hope, Alice, you may be able to on-pass it through the newsletter .. and I hope it may elicit some response.

    I want all interested readers out there to mull these two questions over, and send me a reply if you feel like it.

    • What's the worst trend/characteristic/habit/attitude of TV News ? ( ie what's wrong ?)
    • If people are cynical about media --- and they are --- how does television news (and/or current affairs) influence that ?
    • Jeez. We must do something right. Or well. What is it ?

    I look forward to your replies. I would like to reserve the right to reproduce them in whole or in part for my class .. If I bind them into a best-seller, I'll ask your permission beforehand.

    If anyone has any experience in teaching such a class, I'm all ears.


    CAMPAIGN COVERAGE

    June 14-15 -- "Election '96: Unconventional Ideas for Campaign Coverage," advanced election workshop for journalists presented by the Radio and TV News Directors Foundation, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the National Press Club, Washington, DC. Contact Cy Porter, (202) 467-5219.


    PRODUCER TRAINING

    NewsProNet announces Boston and Atlanta Producer Training Forums.

    The next NewsProNet Producer Forum is scheduled for Friday, July 19, 1996 to be held on the campus of Boston University's College of Communication. Our highly acclaimed program provides an opportunity for television newscast executive producers and producers to share ideas, see creative new production approaches, network with colleagues and learn important new information about how today's audiences respond to the newscasts they produce. Another NewsProNet Producer Forum will also be held in Atlanta on Saturday, September 14, 1996. This session will be held at the Stouffer Waverly Hotel.

    PROGRAM SCHEDULE

    Among the sessions on the program schedule for the Boston and Atlanta sessions of the NewsProNet Producer Forum: Television News Today-- A presentation and discussion of new production trends and ideas as seen on a sampling of television newscasts from across the United States. Understanding the Audience-- We'll reveal new television viewer trends, including insights into issues related to crime coverage, newscast image, branding and production techniques that will help newscast producers create programs with more audience impact and relevance. Live Storytelling-- A program that provides guidelines for producer involvement in the development and presentation of more memorable and meaningful live coverage. Higher Impact Teases-- A review of creative production options, writing that entices viewers without hype and strategic tease placement strategies within newscasts. Also included in this session: The NewsProNet Newscast Development Interactive Workshop.

    REGISTRATION

    The fee to register for either session is $375.00 per person, which includes breakfast, lunch, program materials. The opportunity to network with colleages is included at no extra charge!! The deadline to register for the July 19 Producer Forum in Boston is July 8, 1996. The deadline to register for the September 14 Producer Forum in Atlanta is August 24, 1996. To register, send payment along with name, title and contact information about who will be attending to:

    NewsProNet Producer Forum
    380 Pilgrimage Point
    Alpharetta, GA 30202

    For more information call 770-475-2667 or e-mail mshoer@aol.com

    NewsProNet Producer Forums are presented in associaton with Boston University's College of Communication. Sessions are lead by NewsProNet consultants and professors of Boston University College of Communication.

    ALSO FROM NEWSPRONET

    The best news series ideas in the world don't mean a thing without powerful promotion & marketing. Now on NewsProNet, promotion & marketing consultant Dick Weisberg shares his ideas about how the news department can make sure the promo folks have the tools they need to create killer spots! Check out HOW TO GET THE BEST MARKETING FOR YOUR NEXT NEWS SERIES under "Promotion Tips" on NewsProNet on TVNet.


    PRODUCER PAT ON THE BACK

    KNXV-Phoenix producer Luke Funk won first place for Best Newscast by the Arizona Associated Press Broadcasters Association for a newscast in October that lead with a double-fatal accident on a Phoenix highway where more than one witness claimed they couldn't get through on 911 phone lines. He was also awared a third place Spot News award for coverage of the sabotage of an Amtrak train in the Arizona desert that left one dead and almost 100 injured.

    (Producers: You don't have to wait for your boss to announce you've won an award. Write it up yourself and send it in to me! - AJMain@aol.com)


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Alice:
    Congratulations on starting a good conversation about contracts. Here are a few things that crossed my mind as I read the May edition:

    I am not a lawyer (nor would I even play one on TV), so don't take any of this as legal advice. I am also not trying to drum up business for law firms, but do remember that a lawyer WORKING FOR THE STATION (or group) probably wrote that contract your boss is asking you to sign. Spending a few dollars to get an attorney WHO REPRESENTS YOU can save you money and anguish in the long run. My suggestion is to get the lawyer to look it over, but do your own talking. Progress comes much faster that way, and you'll preserve an important relationship or two.

    I have been party to many employment agreements -- on both sides. As a news director, I thought signing producers to contracts was just as important as signing anchors -- more important, in one sense: Good producers are harder to hire. I still think so.

    I'm not defending the truly lopsided contracts some stations impose on their employees, like those that commit you for a year or two, but the station for 30 days. Still, I have to differ with you on the "non-compete" issue. Such a clause is pretty worthless if it automatically terminates at the moment the employee leaves his or her job, even if the contract period has expired. Think of it this way: A producer is a key player for any newsroom, with access to a lot of information and insight the competition would be happy to have. She may also have gained a lot of her training, skills, and experience on the job -- other advantages the competition would love to lift from you, instead of recruiting or growing its own producers. I do think it's reasonable to say that if the station chooses not to renew you, and does so "without cause" (which does carry a somewhat specific legal meaning most places), your non-compete term should be a lot shorter -- maybe only a month or so. But I don't think you can blame managers for wanting to protect their investment in you.

    On the other hand, there are certain legal restrictions on non-competes. These vary somewhat by state, but generally I don't believe any employer can prohibit you from making a living at your craft somewhere out there. As long as your non-compete is market-specific, it may be inconvenient but won't rob you of your livelihood.

    A word about "outs." They should go both ways, or not at all. I don't understand outs for things like job offers in bigger markets. People don't generally want to leave for the same job in a smaller market. And how would you feel if, in the middle of your contract, your boss came to you and said, "Gee, we really like you, but we just found somebody moving here from a top-20 market, so we're giving him your job"? You want an "out"? Be prepared to give your station the same option.

    Personally, I can't believe any station owner would permit contracts that are contingent on the continued employment of a particular news director or general manager -- although I can understand why crafty executives might want such a thing. ("Oh, Mr. Owner, you're firing me? Okay, but I hope you're ready to lose all your anchors, producers, and reporters at the same time, because their contracts are all void if I go.")

    Of course, almost everything is negotiable. I say "almost" because, no matter what your contract says, the station cannot deprive you of your rights under law. If, for example, you signed something that says you get no overtime pay, but the courts say (and I believe they do these days) that line producers should get overtime, you are entitled to overtime, and your station would be putting far more money at risk by denying it to you.

    Finally, take your contract as seriously as you expect the station to. Don't accept the generally better salary and benefits that come with a long-term contract, and then ask to leave or to renegotiate long before the term is up. Stations -- and the managers they employ -- have as much right to outrage at bad-faith negotiating as you do.

    I rest my case.

    -- Scott Libin
    The Poynter Institute


    Alice,

    I wanted to thank you for this fabulous resource and, if I may, pose a question to other readers of this newsletter. I recently finished my senior year at Ball State University and am currently enjoying my final internship at KMGH-TV (ABC) in Denver. I am very interested in producing and wanted to know what was the greatest difficulty most producers have starting out. What do you wish you had more experience with before filling out that first rundown? Scheduling satellite windows? Working with the assignment editor? Maybe just figuring out the computer system? I've got until the end of July here and I want to try to make the most of it.

    Thanks!

    Kurt Christopher, KChristopher@wow.com
    Intern, KMGH-TV, Denver

    (Editor's note: please send replies directly to Kurt at his e-mail address. Thanks.)


    ALICE BEGS FOR HELP

    I'll bet you'd love to write a story for this newsletter. I'd like to suggest a running column on Star Producers. Get in touch with a very successful news producer and interview him or her. You can format the column as a Q & A, or as a story. A place to start might be with a producer or EP for the network news, or a top-five local market, or someone who works for 60 Minutes or Dateline or PrimeTime Live.

    If you're interested, contact me at AJMain@aol.com or (513) 763-5472 and ask for my voice mail if I'm not there.