|The Producer Page: March 2000
IN THIS ISSUE...
I am in the process of writing a handbook for broadcast journalism students about to embark on a television news internship. I am looking for advice, suggestions, anecdotes, etc. on the following topics:
Email me at ElliottReports@aol.com with your best and worst intern stories, your advice on any or all of the above topics, along with your name, title, station, and phone number so that I may contact you for any follow-up. You won't be paid. But you may be quoted, with attribution. So don't email me if you want to stay annonymous. The next generation of newsroom interns -- and the professionals who'll have to work with them -- will thank you for it.
HANNAH CUMMINGS SPRINGER has moved from weekends at WBRZ in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to weekend producer at WOFL Fox 35 in Orlando.
Help your newsroom aggressively cover stories while making better, more confident decisions. You are invited to this interactive NEWSROOM DECISION-MAKING WORKSHOP - San Francisco, April 7-8, Hotel Nikko. Enhance your ability to tell stories that deal with privacy, graphic video/audio and contentious issues. Discover sound ways to approach coverage of crime, live tragic events and children involved in a story. Take home a workbook and actual cases studies to lead a newsroom workshop. Facilitators: Ramon Escobar, Executive Producer, MSNBC; former Vice President and News Director, WTVJ, Miami. Jeanine L'Ecuyer, Broadcast Trainer and Producer; former News Director, KPNX-TV, Phoenix. Contact Avni Patel, RTNDF, 202-467-5215 firstname.lastname@example.org. $50 per station ($40 RTNDA members). See:
Future dates and locations:
San Francisco, April 7-8
APPLY NOW FOR RTNDF's GERMAN STUDY TRIP! If you are a full-time working American radio or TV news journalist, you could be eligible for the summer 2000 study program in Germany (June 17 - July 2). Selected applicants will travel to cities throughout Germany including Berlin, the new capital of unified Germany, west German centers of industry and commerce such as Frankfurt am Main and eastern cities such as Leipzig and Dresden. The program is a two-week exchange, which can be extended for one to fourteen additional days to pursue individual research projects, file stories for your station, or serve a fellowship at a German radio or television station. Applicants are not required to have German language skills. The RIAS Berlin Commission will pay for qualified expenses (travel, lodging and meals). The application deadline is March 15, 2000. For more information, please contact Michelle T. Loesch, (202) 467-5206, email@example.com. Please refer to RTNDF's web site at: www.rtnda.org/rtndf/index.htm or the RIAS web site at: www.scripps.ohiou.edu/RIAS for application instructions.
The tenth of January was the kind of day that makes parents anxious, taxpayers angry and administrators defensive in the Cincinnati Public Schools district. The State of Ohio awarded the school district failing grades because too few of its students were meeting state standards in subjects such as reading, math and science. Attendance and graduation rates were also dismal.
It was one of the big stories that day in Cincinnati. It also presented a test of sorts for journalists, finding a fresh way to present a story that has been extensively covered. Like many school districts, Cincinnati Public Schools have struggling for a long time. It was the perfect opportunity to take a chance on enterprising an unexpected angle.
That was the goal of our afternoon meeting for the 11pm newscast at WKRC. Many stories have been done on the crumbling buildings, the problems students face outside of school and the problems teachers face in the classroom. We did not want to build a reporter piece around the facts and figures of the report. The anchors would handle that.
Instead of detailing everything that is wrong with the schools, we visited one of the best schools in the district. Reporter Paul Adler found that the district's problems make it even harder for it's success stories to get the credit they are due. It turned out, the school was being presented an award that night for academic excellence. We did not know that when we went to the school. Sometimes you get lucky.
The story worked on many different levels. It was fresh, it provided balanced to our overall coverage of the issue from the rest of the day and it was promotable. As I watched the piece, I could not help but think that if my child was in a Cincinnati Public School, I would be grateful that someone had found a legitimate reason to say something positive about the district my child attends.
There are many other examples of how exploring alternative angles on stories can help your station win the lead.
Crime stories often present the same problems as the ones posed by education. It's a big issue that needs to be covered in many communities. But finding new ways to talk about an issue that has been around a long time can be challenging.
At WMOL-TV in San Antonio, journalists put a unique spin on the annual reports of crime statistics. Rising crime rates are a big problem for that community. Producer Deborah Stanley says instead of going to areas where the situation is most dire, they looked at neighborhoods where the situation had improved. Stanley says that examining even isolated success stories can suggest ways to help solve the larger problem.
A lack of spot news material forced KSTP-TV in Minneapolis to take a different approach to a story. A passenger was arrested after a shoving incident on a Northwest Airlines flight from New York. A noisy child during the flight triggered the confrontation with the child's parents and then a flight attendant.
The only available materials to cover the story directly were generic b-roll of Northwest Planes and official soundbites. To make the story more interesting and relevant, News Director Scott Libin says his reporter focused on the larger issue posed by the story. "She went to places where kids can be problems: theaters, restaurants, and the like." Libin said. The reporter then spoke to a parenting expert to get ideas on how to best control children when they decide to have minds of their own in public places.
There are many places where you can find ideas for alternate angles on stories. The best are often from the people you are reporting on. A telling detail from a conversation can give you a new way to tell a story. Many photographers are also astute observers of their communities and can have good story ideas. Coworkers outside the news department are often very plugged-in to what is happening in their neighborhoods and their children's schools.
A great resource to check for alternative story angles is Newslab.org. You'll find many examples of how stations have solved the challenge of coming up with new story angles. The winners of various awards, such as regional Emmys and AP awards can also be a source of new story ideas. But most of all, don't be afraid to take a chance on an unusual approach to a story. It is one of most creative ways to make your newscast standout from the competition.
I started an internship at a local tv station (market size #66) right out of high school in 1997. I interned at that station just to see if television is something I want to do. I fell in love with producing.
I interned at that station 6 months before moving off to a bigger market.
I started an internship at one station then accepted a job as a tape editor at the competition just to get my foot in the door.
I left that station and returned to the first station I started my internship at. I interned under a Producer.
I do not have a college degree, but I have 3 years of producing experience. I am only 20 years old.
Any advice on how I can get a job without the almost mandatory degree now and the age discrimination?
(Readers, please send your replies to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: FOR YOUNG PRODUCER, for publication in the next issue.)
I am the assignment editor at a Top 100 Southern market station. I love my job, but there is one huge frustration. I am the only one on the desk from 8am-6pm. My station gets at least 50 calls a day from viewers wanting to know more about stuff we've run and so on. Trying to get news crews out the door and react to breaking news is a hard task because I am on the phone SO MUCH. Often times co-workers will transfer the calls from some of our "psycho" viewers to me to handle instead of dealing with it themselves. Is it normal for a TV station to have one assignment editor dayside? It seems to me that if there were some help, we would all be more efficient and we would have better coverage of the stories everyday. Does anyone have some advice on what I can do to be more efficient while I spend a lot of time on the phone? I would really love some helpful words.
(Please send replies to me at email@example.com, subject line: FOR ASSIGNMENT EDITOR, for publication in the next issue.)
This may be sound like a tech-support question, but I thought hands-on producers may already have the answer. In November our newsroom upgraded to the Windows NT based AP news software from the older DCM system. The problem is, we have several years of tapes and scripts archived on the DCM. All of the DCM terminals have been replaced by nice big personal computers, leaving only one lonely DCM hiding in the back. All recent stories are now saved on the new system. The AP's constantly need the "old guy" for pulling video, but it locks up frequently and is probably on the brink of crashing for good. I've asked DCM for help; all we get is: "eeehh well I'm sure there's a way eeehhh...let me get back to you." No help on their outdated web site either. My question: Has this happened to anybody else out there?! Is there a way to back-up the DCM archives into some form to be used in Windows? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. I'm hoping someone can point us in the right direction.
From Scott James
If you attend any news industry meeting these days there is one common refrain.
"Know any good producers?"
News directors live in fear of losing good producers, knowing the quest for qualified replacements will be arduous, if not impossible.
When I started as a producer there were 20 people who wanted my job. Now stations are lucky if they receive even a handful of applicants, many of them not qualified.
How did we get here?
I spoke to a colleague recently who worked at a very successful network affiliate in a top ten market. He called the producer situation at his station a "revolving door." I was surprised, since the station was one I considered to be among the best in the nation.
He gave me an example. The producer for one of the station's top broadcasts earns just $40,000 a year. This is in an expensive city where even the most basic apartment costs $1,500 a month.
People who wait tables make more in that city.
I asked my friend: how in the world could the station pay such a wage?
His answer: because they could. The producer was naive about his value. They took advantage.
And we wonder why there is a shortage of good producers.
Smart people have always been in demand. Today the demand for smart media people comes with a new twist. The dotcom world loves hiring young journalists and lures them away from print and television with decent base wages and stock options. When was the last time you heard of a rank and file person in television news getting stock options?
If we continue on our current path the results will be disastrous. The producer pool has traditionally been the place to grow the next generation of television news executives. Now that pool has a tremendous leak that needs to be fixed. We risk losing the investment so many of us have made to make this a great profession.
It's time to reinvest.
Television journalism is still an exciting and rewarding world. Few businesses can offer a daily creative challenge with the potential to effect our world. We still have that lure.
For outstanding journalists, our profession is a calling - not just a paycheck. Our challenge now is to keep finding those people and grow them for the future.
There are some innovative stations already meeting that challenge. They actively recruit for the best and pay decent wages. They understand good news producers are just as much journalists as reporters. They go out and find their star producers, not just wait for them to drop on their doorsteps.
But how can a station effectively recruit?
One new way is a company called ProducerSolution.com (www.producersolution.com). This online venture tracks the careers of good producers around the nation and helps to match them with good stations. This headhunting service focuses only on producers. Nothing else. I have a role in this new company.
Stations get advice on how to narrow their search for qualified candidates. That criteria then goes into a huge databank to search for matches. Stations then get names and resumes and are advised on how to make their pitch to get the right people.
The hope is this new service will make everyone, stations and producers, more knowledgeable about their options.
Having that knowledge is just the first step in turning around the shortage of good producers.
After all, we're hurting ourselves when the person who serves us a sandwich in a restaurant is more valued financially than the person who serves us the evening news.
WASHINGTON-Television news producers are in great demand today, and news directors all across the country are scrambling to fill the need. Now, a new handbook is available to help news managers train new producers, and to help producers do a better job.
"Power Producer: A Practical Guide to TV News Producing" shows producers how to write better; come up with great story ideas; keep up with news in the community; build and organize a quality newscast; use graphics wisely and well; coach the news team; deal with conflict and difficult personalities; and write teases that sell. Other chapters cover ratings and research, ethics and decision-making, and more. The appendix is loaded with information about helpful web sites, publications, training opportunities and career advice.
Author Dow Smith outlines the seven roles of a Power Producer: journalist, news writer, production expert, promotion writer, team leader, researcher and lawyer/ethicist. He gives producers and producer wannabes loads of practical information they can use at once, to further a career in producing or to help them decide if producing is the right career choice.
"This book tells television producers and aspiring producers how to perform better in a job that is incredibly important, increasingly complex, and in big demand," says Barbara Cochran, RTNDA president. "This book not only shows students why producing is a smart career path; it also gives news directors a tool for grooming and training producers and getting them to the next level of performance."
To order a copy of the book, contact Regina Toye at 800.80.RTNDA. You can read the introduction and opening chapter on the RTNDA web site at www.rtnda.org/shop/powerproducer. The 150-page book costs $27 for RTNDA members and $30 for nonmembers, plus $4 shipping and handling. Organizations ordering 10 or more copies get a 40 percent discount off the nonmember price.
RTNDA is the world's largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. RTNDA represents local and network news executives in broadcasting, cable and other electronic media in more than 30 countries.
Subscriptions to The Producer Newsletter are free. Check The Producer Page website for info on how to subscribe or unsubscribe. The address is www.scripps.ohiou.edu/producer. The newsletters are on the website, along with The Producer Book, which is a compilation of some of the best articles to appear in the newsletters since 1995.
If you'd like to write for the newsletter, send your ideas or finished product to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I'm open to all kinds of producing topics. And we could use some fun stuff, too: I CAN'T BELIEVE HE/SHE SAID THAT ON THE AIR, or MY WORST SHOW EVER, or MY BEST SHOW EVER, or TERRIBLE TEASES.. you get the picture. Send em all, but omit names if necessary to avoid embarassing anyone.