The Producer Page: May 1996

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • If I were the news director
  • Producer/talent relationships
  • Live Shot(s) from hell
  • Producers on Contract
  • The Producer's Challenge
  • Hire Me
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Info Swap

  • IF I WERE THE NEWS DIRECTOR....
    by Assorted, Understandably Anonymous Contributors

    If I were the news director:

    • I would promote people from within the newsroom, so that others would see there is a reward to being a hardworking, loyal employee.
    • I would bring in speakers to hold seminars on stress reduction and effective management.
    • I would stop babying the anchors! They make a ton of money and work very few hours so its time for them to stop whining already!
    • I would require that all teases be approved by the reporter working the story being teased. I'm submitting this on behalf of reporters everywhere who have ever been irked by teases which are either factually wrong or promise something their story cannot deliver.
    • I'd make all the reporters produce for a day and all the producers report. And all management positions would answer the ringing phones on the desk. What fun that would be!
    • I'd shoot myself and save my staff the trouble.


    PRODUCER/TALENT RELATIONSHIPS

    Here is the letter to the editor that I sent out to everyone a couple of weeks ago, in hopes of getting some good answers to print in the newsletter. My optimism was rewarded. The many, many thoughtful replies follow Ms. Osteen's letter:

    Dear Ms.Main,

    Concerning your next issue...I would love to learn about the relationship producers have with their reporters and anchors. It is one of compromise or conflict?

    I am a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism at Syracuse University. My career goal is to be a producer, and I would love to find out what I am getting myself into!

    Thanks!
    Tiffany Osteen
    tlosteen@mailbox.syr.edu


    For that producer-to-be... relationships with anchors and reporters are delicate creatures that must be nurtured and nurtured and nurtured... and nurtured again. I've worked at my station for 2 1/2 years, and it's only been in the last year or so that I've felt my working relationships were solid.

    What's worked for me? I respect, listen to, and trust the opinions of my anchors, reporters and photographers. If I've slated a reporter for a live wraparound vob and they come to me and say, "It's a package," I'm willing to listen and nine times out of 10, I'll change my rundown. If a photographer is particularly proud of some video and argues for a nat sound piece, I'm interested. I'm not a pushover, though. If I just can't squeeze it in, or I don't think it's right for my show, I tell them that. I'm enthusiastic about what they do, and I think that enthusiasm, over time, has made them enthusiastic about working with me on my show. I give lots of feedback, tell the managers about the good work and tell other people in the newsroom about all the great things they've done. I've worked hard to become a positive force in the newsroom, because I've seen how people are attracted to that and are willing to work with someone who's positive.

    I'm in a strange position at my station. I produce an afternoon newscast, the first one of the evening, and it's created more work for a lot of people. The respect and trust I've earned means the reporters and photographers are busting their butts to get my show on the air. I'm thanking them for it, and the cycle begins again. In terms of anchors, you have to earn their trust. Their faces are out there, not yours, and they have to know that the person in their ear isn't going to leave them hanging. Every day, I talk to my anchors about the show. I tell them what's going on, the status of the live shots, the places where the show could blow up. I have plans B and C ready, and I tell them about those plans. Over the course of time, the communication has created a level of trust that makes for a great relationship, and a great show.

    It takes time. Don't expect to walk into your first station your first day and have people listen to you. Get a feel for people's personalities. Find out what makes them tick, and what ticks them off. Some people will trust you instantly, others will bide their time. Be willing to listen, and to accept responsibility and to grovel a bit. It gets you a lot farther in the long run.

    Nikki Egan
    Producer,"Q6 430", Spokane


    I have been both a reporter and a show producer, so I know a little bit about the relationships between the two. Most of the time, experienced reporters and producers get along just fine. They understand each other, appreciate the demands both positions have and are willing to compromise. Problems develop, however, when one or both is a little green. Then there is tremendous potential for friction between reporters and producers.

    Pet peeves of experienced producers:

    • A reporter is late with a script that could have been ready hours earlier...
    • A reporter misses his or her slot for a liveshot because they "weren't ready"
    • A reporter comes back with a story substantially different or weaker than what the competition has
    • A reporter makes simple typos or factual errors (that the producer gets blamed for)
    • A reporter's story runs :30 long, but never tells the producer

    Pet peeves of experienced reporters:

    • A producer tells them HOW to cover a story
    • A producer insists on a liveshot from the outside of a dark building where something happened 12 hours ago
    • A producer won't give extra time for that BIG story, but they do have :20 for a VO about a new baby chimp at the zoo
    • A producer teases or promotes a story that grossly misrepresents what the story is actually about (and then defends it by saying, "But it's just a tease!")
    • A producer who insists a story can be turned into a package when it's a voice-over at best.

    There are many more. And I've probably been guilty of them all!

    Pat Anson, (Pat18970@aol.com)


    In regards to producer/reporter-anchor relations, it really boils down to a matter of respect. I found reporters wanted to work with me more than against me because they knew I respected their position. I'd been a reporter. I knew what it was like. It also helped when I got into management because I could better help reporters overcome obstacles. They were much more apt to take criticism, too. They knew I held them to the same high standards I set for myself as a reporter. They knew they couldn't put much past me and that helped a bunch. At the very least, go out and do some field producing. Learn what it's like in their shoes. I also encourage reporters to learn about producing so they can understand the other person's position. It also depends on the shop you get into. If it's a reporter-run shop, you'll make a lot of compromises in your producing. If it's a producer-run shop, the compromises will be fewer, unless of course you have a group of young, inexperienced producers who really have no business taking the lead in a newsroom. Anchors are a different breed and many have to be handled with kid gloves. Every producer gripes about their anchors not working enough and being hard headed. But I learned that's the sacrifice you make for having a good on-air product. It doesn't matter what happens behind the scenes. It matters what the public sees and perceives. Grow a thick skin, bite your tongue and cultivate patience. Again, respect goes a long way. Make good decisions, include the anchors in those decisions when possible and it'll pay off.

    Gena Parsons
    Texas A&M University
    Former Executive Producer - KOTV-Tulsa


    I find that the main relationship between a producer and anchor revolves around making the anchor look good. That really should be a big priority. By making the anchor look good, I mean: making sure the writing is up to par, the story selection makes sense and everything is put in the rundown in such a way that you minimize technical snafus. Remember, if there's an on-air problem, the viewer relates it to the anchor-- and that's where you run into problems. After all-- it's their face in front of the camera.

    Aside from that, the anchors should respect your judgment and they need to know you are in charge. For them to release themselves into your hands, I find you need to prove that you have their best interests at heart (i.e.: making them/show look good) I have only found that anchors take control when they feel the producer can't. It's sort of a preventative measure.

    I work as a producer for an O & O in Los Angeles and we are a fairly anchor-driven shop (ie: big stars) However, I find the above to be true and if it works here, it'll work anywhere!

    --A fellow Orangeman (please withhold name)


    My relationship with reporters and anchors has become more compromise than conflict although it's healthy to have some difference of opinion. I've found when you quietly but firmly demand respect, you get respect. It helps to have management that doesn't let talent run roughshod over producers. A few news directors believe that conflict breeds creativity. I think it encourages burnout. The ideal situation is where everyone feels they're part of the team and have a part in the vision of news you're pursuing.

    Mike Andrews (MAndrews28@aol.com)
    Executive Producer, WRCB, Chattanooga


    How great to hear from a J-school student who doesn't want to be on camera!!! I've usually had excellent relationships with both the news anchors and the reporters I've worked with. The most difficult I've ever dealt with was the anchor who used to count how many stories he got each newscast compared to his co-anchor. He'd complain loudly if he felt shorted. But this was the same guy who went to bat for me when I got into some serious trouble. As long as you communicate with your talent and try to understand their point of view as well, you shouldn't have too many problems.

    Gina Diamante (GDiamante@aol.com)
    Executive Producer, KADY, Oxnard, California


    In response to that soon-to-be producer from Syracuse... The relationship between producers and reporters/anchors is often built on both conflict and compromise. Conflict and compromise are two dynamics of any newsroom and you'll soon find out it's not only limited to the relationship between producers and on-air types. Never be afraid of conflict OR compromise. Keep both in your producer's tool kit along with wisdom, patience and compassion. Winning a newsroom arguement may be a personal victor; just be sure that you're always on the side of your viewers. Hopefully you'll always have the support and guidance of management, but ep's get cranky and nd's get fired, so many times it will be up to you, as the producer, to keep the newsroom focused on your newscast. Conflict or compromise: you will have to make that decision given the debate. But as the producer, anchors and reporters should appreciate (and occasionally be reminded) that you hold their careers in your hands during the newscast. Just don't forget they hold yours as well.

    Greg Easterly, (east@host.yab.com)
    Executive Producer, KNVX, Phoenix


    In answer to the Syracuse student question, I'm at the NBC affiliate in Tampa. We have a great relationship with the reporters. Everyone works together as a team and there is rarely any conflict. Compromise is definitely the call each day. And reporters do their job and know what that calls for. If they're asked to do a live shot for the noon news, they do (unless the truck fails, of course). If they can pull together a package instead of vo-sot for a live shot, they will try to and let the producer know. And vice-versa if they can't pull a pack. The communication is strong between most of the reporters and producers with the reporters checking in during the day with any changes and to confirm how their story is shaping up.

    Delinda Higinbotham, (Delindah@aol.com)
    Producer, KTUU Anchorage


    LIVE SHOT FROM HELL
    by Doug Stewart, Producer, Hartford CT, (Dphotog@aol.com)

    Though I only watched it, one of the funniest live shots I ever saw was on a Florida station. I would guess that this was in December 1990. Anchor tosses to a reporter at a crime scene. Reporter standing on front of yellow tape with a condo complex in background. "We're here at such and such Condominium, where Police have discovered a body they believe to have been murdered. Details are few, and the name of the victim has not been released yet, but we can tell you that the victim was a midget pawn broker from Ocala." All I could imagine was some couple turning to each other and saying, "Honey do you think that's our little person?"


    (Another) LIVE SHOT FROM HELL
    by "Anonymous in a Top-30 Market"

    It's a multimillion-dollar complex that's about to be built downtown and the groundbreaking is happening right before the noon show. All three stations have crews out on the scene to go live at noon. It's 12:02. The live hits at 12:05 and all I can see is that the camera is lying on the sidewalk. I ask the photog to power up. The reporter has called in his IFB; everything is set to go. Thirty seconds to air and the photog picks up his camera and wipes the lens (did i mention it's hailing?) the anchor gives the toss. "Let's go to Joe Schmo, he's standing by live, Joe??" We go to Joe, and immediately, the lens is completely covered with hail, rain, and slush. (It's April, by the way).

    The director and I wait for his rollcue to video. He doesn't give it. We toss to video anyway, because we can't even SEE him at this point. The EP calls me in the booth "Dump the live! It looks like crap!" I get in Joe Schmo's ear "Wrap now! wrap now!" It takes him another :45 to wrap out of video. Not that we can even see him. Here's the kicker: the news director is sitting in his office, watching all three noons at once, and wondering why our photog, whose been in the business more than 10 years, doesn't know enough to bring an umbrella when it's raining. All the stations went live at the same time, from the same spot. Yet, we were the only ones who looked like a low-powered cable station in the 200th market.


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    John Myers, from morning show producer at WTKR-TV in Norfolk, VA to producer/reporter for a new nightly newsmagazine at KVIE-TV in Sacramento, CA.


    RTNDF/Pew Center for Civic Journalism Conference

    June 7-9 -- "Tapping the Hidden Stories in Your Community," workshop for journalists presented by the Radio and TV News Directors Foundation and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, the Marquette Hotel, Minneapolis. Registration is $35 ($25 for RTNDA members) and includes lodging, meals, and workshop materials. Participants are responsible for their own transportation. For information contact Kathleen Graham, RTNDF, or (202) 467-5216.


    THE PRODUCER'S CHALLENGE
    by Valerie Hyman, Director, Program for Broadcast Journalists
    from ENG: Television News and the New Technology, 3rd edition Reprinted with permission

    What a privilege it is to produce news programs, and what a challenge. To decide what goes in and what stays out, to influence reporters and photojournalists as they work, to determine how to present stories most effectively, to shape the way news programs are promoted.

    Lots of details and pressures influence those decisions on a daily basis, but at their foundation must be the principles of journalism and the role of journalists in a free society: to seek truth and report it as fully as possible, to be independent of associations that could compromise editorial integrity, and to minimize the inevitable harm reporting news causes.

    It's hard to remain true to those principles in today's competitive environment. You may enter a newsroom that has chosen to do "happy, warm, fuzzy" news, perhaps to the exclusion of important, albeit unpleasant, stories. Or your first job may put you in the swirling middle of a tabloid- style approach, emphasizing high story count, violence, and sex. My advice: stay true to your principles and you'll never go wrong. In fact, you'll gain a reputation as a leader to whom others look for guidance.

    Your job as a producer is to reach beyond overnight ratings to long term success, to reach beyond glitz to substance, to reach beyond format to responsiveness--all in the service of journalism that empowers citizens by informing them. To inform audiences, you must first engage them with compelling material, presented in a form that makes sense, in a context that shows you understand not just what happened, but what it means.

    Lots of journalists think they have a lock on what their audiences need and want to know, but the most recent and comprehensive research shows they don't. That isn't surprising, considering that journalists as a group are younger, whiter, wealthier, and better educated than the public as a whole.

    And to make matters worse, they spend most of their time talking to each other. Keep that in mind when you make decisions about what stories get covered and which don't, where to place stories in newscasts, and how much time to devote to them.

    In fact, people across the country, in big cities and small, in North and South, tell researchers pretty much the same thing, and it goes something like this:

    "I want to see stories about issues that make a difference in my life, presented in a way I can understand. Don't just show me crime after crime -- tell me trends or patterns of crimes in my community so I can get a clearer sense of what the problem is. Don't just show minorities as criminals and victims -- incorporate people of color throughout the news, regardless of whether the story involves race. Don't pander to what you think will draw my attention to your news program -- sex and violence -- show me you care about my community by spending the time and resources to explain even the most complicated issues in a clear and compelling way. And include the good things in our town as well as the bad."

    It's good advice. And it's time we journalists started to follow it. Here are some ideas on how to get started:

    Write a mission statement for your news program, in keeping with the overall mission for the newsroom and the station. Include such things as your target audience, the program's general pace and style, and mix of local, national, and international news.

    Treat reporter/photographer "crews" as teams. Coach them at the front end of their day, by asking what they anticipate to be the focus of their story, and what interviews and visuals they think they'll need to tell it. Encourage them to emphasize interviews with people directly effected by the story, and play down the "talking heads" of experts and government officials.

    Encourage reporters and photographers to look for details to help describe what it was like to be in this story, the "telling tidbits" that recapture the experience for viewers.

    Be flexible with your format. When a reporter comes up with an enterprise story and it's compelling, let it run long. Break out an important element with an anchor voiceover and a graphic. Tease a sidebar to the lead story for after weather. Be open to 45-second packages from reporters on matters that require no more than that to make their point. Remember: let the content determine the form.

    Don't let crime stories slither into your newscast. That's how we've come to have segments full of unrelated crimes, complete with body bags, bloody sidewalks, and blacks and Latinos in handcuffs. Instead, make deliberate decisions about each story, make each meaningful, and put each in context. That could mean grouping certain crimes for a brief overview once a week, or using graphic maps to show where crimes occur over time.

    Become familiar with a wide range of computer databases, and do your best to ensure your newsroom uses them. It's especially important to gain access to city and county government, police, and judicial public records. They can enable you to break important stories 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Make sure your Rolodex of news sources includes lots of people of color in a variety of areas: a black pediatrician, an Asian chef, a Latina principal. Go out of your way to offer those sources to reporters at the beginning of their reporting day.

    Know what equipment your graphic artist and/or technical director has available, what it can do, and how long it takes to create the most-used graphics. Get specific ideas and photocopies of maps to them as early in the day as possible.

    Disclose your process to your audience. If a grieving family has invited you to cover the funeral of a child, tell that to your audience in the lead to the story. Make sure whenever you use pictures and sound of distraught people, that your audience knows you did not exploit them, but rather followed their wishes. And then, of course, make sure you're telling the truth!

    Be the best writer you can be. Use the active voice. Be sparing with adjectives. Eliminate cliches. Use short sentences to tell complicated stories. Remember, clarity comes from selection, not compression, so make sure everything you write is central to the focus of the story.

    Encourage creativity. Consider a regular feature written by and for teenagers from local high schools, or a photoessay to close a newscast, or a spot for guest commentators from the community, or letters to the newsroom.

    When you face a difficult decision, create options beyond, "We either use it or we don't!" For example, if you decide to run some especially sensitive or potentially harmful video, consider calling the people involved, and letting them know about your decision before the story airs. The idea is not to ask their permission, but to be sensitive to their feelings. The editorial decision is yours.

    Be generous with praise and stingy with criticism. Consider mistakes-- especially your own--as learning opportunities.

    Always remember, the journalist's primary responsibility is to the public.

    When you become a journalist, you answer a noble call. Nobody else does what journalists do in our society. No other professionals are responsible for revealing information, for holding the powerful accountable, for giving voice to the voiceless. Only journalists carry that burden. With it comes certain obligations and, potentially, the ability to make the world a better place.


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Alice,

    Found your piece on Web pages of interest, since I've just finished my own pointy-headed academic study of the same thing (I'm a Ph.D. candidate at Penn State, who hasn't produced a newscast in years). Your impressions seemed to jibe with my findings, altho I'll add this: From the home page, 82% of stations offer feedback in the form of e-mail to the station, 77% have a link to program info, either schedules or individual shows, 74% have links to a news page, 65% have links to weather. Weather pages sometimes contain live radar images.

    On the news page, 34% offer current news in text form, 22% offer archive news in text form, but only miniscule numbers have anything like graphics, audio or video. In fact, only one station in my sample offered news video on its site, and it was archive video, not current. Obviously, providing this stuff takes time and people, with no immediate payoff. But if your station wants to supplement its on-air product in the new media, it might be worth establishing a web presence while the powers that be figure out how to make it all work.

    Talent bios are featured on 62% of the stations' pages.

    FYI, my sample consisted of the 123 stations I was able to access from the Yahoo directory on Feb. 14, 1996. There may well be other stations out there that do more with their Web pages than I found.

    Ray Niekamp
    ran5@psu.edu


    Alice,

    The April issue had the clearest examination I've seen yet of the online challenges most TV stations still have to overcome. No form of "interactivity" -- a term so trite it makes me wince -- is worth your customers' time if the news providers don't make a concerted, conscientious, unrelenting effort to maintain it. Whether it's a Web site, interactive phone lines or any other secondary avenue of distribution for your product, dated news is virtually worthless. As a news director, I used to make a point of checking our weather phone lines at least once a weekend -- more if severe weather threatened -- and my normally sunny dispostion could cloud over fast if I found a forecast 24 or 36 hours old. (I had to check frequently to stay a step ahead of the general manager, who couldn't survive more than a few hours without a weather update.)

    It's true that some news doesn't get "dated" too quickly (I myself was that way in high school) -- it has a longer shelf life. But most people, like you, want something at least as current as the last newscast -- and ideally more current. If not, why not just wait till the next show comes on?

    On my own timid forays into cyberspace I encountered much the same sort of thing you found in your research: a heavy dose of promotion, lots of expired goods and a very modest helping of actual news -- even less of it local. You might be interested to know that this problem is not peculiar to TV. Our very own St. Petersburg Times, progressive as it is in print, typically lags days behind on the very items that most desperately deserve updating. I went in a full day after a big Tampa Bay Bucs game to read more about one of the team's few victories, and found nobody had bothered to update the page since the previous Friday. I haven't been back.

    Anyway, these are the very issues we grapple with here. What's the answer?

    I don't know yet, but simply being there on the Internet isn't nearly enough. In fact, news organizations unwilling to devote the resources required to keep their sites timely and relevant shouldn't go there at all.

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


    Alice,

    I enjoy the producer's newsletter, especially the "behind-the-scenes" stories. We all have them and enjoy hearing them again with a different twist.

    My request is an unusual one. Instead of looking for a job as a producer and making a jump to the next market, I want to switch careers. I'm looking for leads, contacts, etc., for public relations jobs or corporate communications opportunities in Minneapolis. Can you help -- anything would be appreciated.

    Scott Seiler
    701-777-4345
    sseiler@badlands.nodak.edu


    Alice,

    Just wanted to take a minute to congratulate you on your publication. I just found it 2 days ago and have already made sure every one of my producers has the most recent edition. The tips, insights, humor and shared experiences all create a real sense of camaraderie. My folks now know "they're not alone" with their ups and downs. (Especially my overnight producer!) As a 24-hour news operation, I'm always looking for ways to help my staff improve themselves. Your page will play an integral part in producer development from now on.

    Thanks again,
    Pete Dobrovitz
    News Director/R News
    Time-Warner/Rochester, NY


    HIRE ME

    A dedicated news manager with 10 years' news experience is available now!

    I most recently was executive producer and news manager for the NBC affiliate in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Before that, 4 years of on-line producing and 4 years as managing editor and assignment manager for a CBS affiliate in Orlando, Florida. I know what it takes to create compelling shows that move and have purpose. I'm as far away from a show stacker as you can imagine! The producers that worked under me in Tulsa have now moved on to Kansas City, Miami and Tampa. They learned how to be confident and produce visually creative newscasts. I live for local t.v news! Call me for a resume, 10 steps on how I have made my shows better and a complete list of references.

    John O'Loughlin (known as "Johno")
    918-599-7023 or contact me at johnol32@aol.com


    I am a Mizzou graduate and have been in business for three years. Two years as a reporter and one year as a producer. I believe I would be the ideal candidate for an associate producer since I know what both reporters and producers go through. You can either call me, write to me or e-mail me. My Address is:

    Nick Iannitto
    15 Friend St.
    Port Reading, NJ 07064
    (908) 541-7870
    My E-mail address is: IANNITTO@aol.com


    INFO-SWAP

    Are you interested in what other stations are doing outside your market? Do you need inspiration from outside sources? We are a supper-hour newscast in a major Canadian market, and we'd like to see what your station is doing: How are you using graphics to help tell your stories, what are you doing for your viewers, what innovations have you come up with that are unique to your station's look. Send us a tape, preferably with examples from the top three stations in your market, and we'll return the favour.

    For more info, contact
    Wendy Vreeken
    Producer, U.News at Six
    180 West 2nd Ave
    Vancouver BC
    Canada V5Y 3T9
    comments@utvnews.com


    PRODUCERS ON CONTRACT
    by Alice Main, Executive Producer, WKRC Cincinnati

    There's certainly nothing wrong with signing a producer to a personal-service contract. In theory, anyway. But to hear the terms of the contracts being offered to producers, you'd think producers were actually making some big money. Nearly all the contracts I've heard about are one-sided (in the station's favor) and offer almost nothing beneficial to the producer, unless, of course, you count the tiny paycheck. What's the deal with this non-compete thing, anyway? I can understand not wanting a producer to work at a different station in the same market before her contract is up. But these contracts are demanding that producers not work in the same market, AFTER THE CONTRACT PERIOD RUNS OUT, many times even if the STATION chooses not to renew the contract.

    I'm appalled. But see for yourself. Here's a sampling of what I've heard:

    CONTRACT TERMS
    (cities, names, call letters disguised)

    The one I just escaped (actually was released from) since I was miserable. SO I'll give management credit for eventually being human. But in _________, I was signed to a one-year contract that basically matched the one given to talent. One year, non-compete for a year afterwards (officially for any other signal entering the market, although I doubt they could have stopped me from taking a network job.) The station refused to give anyone any kind of out clause, even for a Top 20 market or something like that. Now I've moved into a bigger market, and have no contract. I understand the two-way street with the contract. Small-market stations are sick and tired of losing their talented young producers to bigger markets once they get better. But where I am now, producers stay because they want to, not because someone has locked them into a contract. In some ways, I see the contracts at some stations (and the fact that every contract my old station put together got tighter and tighter) as a way to keep producers without ever considering how to improve their working conditions. It's true in starter markets that contracts are becoming more and more a fact of life. So first job takers need to realize that there are a lot of unfair contracts out there that they need to watch out for -- with one-way clauses, etc., etc. Make sure if your contract identifies the limits that the station is going to have with you, like salary no overtime, that the limits of what you are responsible for are equally well-defined. It doesn't mean that you say "Sorry, I'm just a nightside producer" when they need someone to fill-in dayside. But you can't be told you have to do it because it's in your contract.


    I'm very fortunate to have a great contract, something good for me and I guess they felt it was good for them. I was the first producer put under contract at my station, according to my boss. It's a one-year contract. No raises in it, I'll assume that would be worked out with a new contract in a year. I have a one month out, just by giving 4 weeks' notice. The best part, if they fire me, they have to give me 4 weeks, too. I've never seen that. Normally it's one of those "you're stuck, no outs, but we can fire you on a moment's notice." Also, I don't have a non-compete. I will say after I was offered a job across the street, now they're taking a closer look at the producer contract to get rid of the easy 4-week out. When I was offered an EP job in _________, it was 2 year, no raise in it. No non-compete, and the only out was one I insisted on, that if the ND left, I could, too. (What happens if you don't like your boss) (If a GM and ND are confident, they'll give you this and understand, because if you get new management you'll probably be replaced). It was what I called a typical contract. But it was long, 4+ pages and had a clause in it that if I was disfigured, they could fire me. I think it was an anchor contract with producer filled in the blanks.


    Producers often joke about their contract as "their sentence." I've worked as a producer with a contract and without. And, by far, I prefer to work without one. When I'm without a contract, I just work and don't think about when I'm going to leave. But there's a some psychological effect about a contract that makes you continually think about when it's up and what you're going to do. My original contract was for 2 years with a several thousand dollar increase on the second year. There were no "outs" for myself. The company, of course, could pretty much terminate at any time. I did have to sign a non-compete clause. I believe it was for 6 months. The station paid a certain amount of my moving costs and if I left within the first year, the contract stipulated that I would repay the entire amount. My advice, don't sign unless you have to, and unfortunately, I see more and more stations putting producers on contracts.


    My contract is for one year with an option after the year is up (I told my parents it sounds like I'm a ball player or something!) Coming right out of school, I did not expect to have a contract, but now that I do have one, it kind of feels good, I have at least a little security. My 90-day probation period ends soon, then I get the official title of EP of news, and a raise. As far as no-compete, it is for one year after the contract is expired, and it is for a 35-mile radius around the station, pretty much our ADI. The market is in the mid-100's, and even my professors from college were surprised I was offered one. I plan to stay here until it is up, then go back East, unless they offer me A LOT more money. I'm making around 16 right now, but the cost of living is a lot less than back East.


    At the ABC network level, personal service contracts are discouraged. In fact, union contracts really are THE only network contract. As non-union, managerial people, you're hired and fired at will. Raises depend on the success of the company as a whole, and not on merit, and vacations are set corporately. Such is life as a small fish in a big sea.


    • 10 percent raise the first year, 5 percent for the second and the third.
    • No "outs" the first year. 45 day out for the next two, provided the final day falls outside a rarings period.
    • 13 weeks severance
    • A non-compete clause for the market that runs six months past the end of the third year.
    • A guarantee of a thousand dollars the first year for outside training for things like RTNDA or Poynter seminars.


    I just finished my contractual obligations to a station in _________. The contract was for 18 months, with a one year no-compete clause and an out clause that allowed me to pursue professional acting opportunities if they arose. It also guaranteed a Monday through Friday evening newscast, except in emergency and fill-in situations.


    In order to get my producer position I had to sign a non-compete. It's actually pretty simple. I signed it in November '95 and it's for two years, so I won't be out of it until November '97. If I quit my station, I cannot work at any other station in my market for 12 months, after that time period I can do whatever I want. At anytime I am free to go to another market. The only way I COULD go to another station in my market would be if I make a career change: if I decide to be a reporter, a sales rep., an accountant, a janitor, etc. Yearly raises are standard at my station anyway, so there is not a special raise of any sort written into the non-compete.


    As far as contracts go, mine is fairly cut and dry. I have a one-year contract. 90 days before my contract expires I am told if they want to renew or not. If they do, I have to exclusively negotiate with them until 30 days before the contract expires. After that point they have the right to match any other offer I get. Now, I have only been here two months, and it's my first job, but from looking at those before me it doesn't make that much of a difference. The producer I replaced left after six months.


    I now work at a station where it appears a few but not all of the producers have contracts. In my case, I presented myself as a candidate with special skills, and I pushed for a salary higher than they were at first willing to pay. The News Director asked me if I'd consider a contract. I said "no problem". Here are the basic terms:

    • 3 years, no "out"
    • Flat salary, no overtime
    • No-compete clause that only prohibits on-air appearances (they gave me a standard form contract that is used primarily for talent -- I don't think they read their form too carefully, and I certainly didn't bring it up).
    • Prearranged salary raises built into 2nd and 3rd years


    I have had three types of contracts during my 8 years of producing. The first contract taught me a lot because I see now that I made some mistakes. The contract I had was a two-year one. At the time I signed it, I was my station's morning-show producer. But my news director insisted that my contract just say "producer" so that he wouldn't have to write a new one for me every time I did another show. During those two years, I was promoted to two other shows, so I think I actually lost out financially because my $2,000 automatic raises went into effect instead of my getting what the promotions actually paid. If I had been smart, I would negotiated the amount to include promotions. That same contract gave the employer an option at the end of the first year to say if he wanted me for the second year. My non-compete clause said that I couldn't work anywhere within a 50-mile radius within a year after my contract ended. I also had a moral clause which basically said that I could be out of a job if I did anything morally wrong to embarrass the station such as ending up in jail or drunk or on drug charges, etc. Since I also do some freelance writing for publications, I insisted that my contract say that I am allowed to do that and that any money I make from it is mine. My out said that if I got a job in the top ten or network I could leave immediately (i was working in the 32nd market at the time.) This contract was the strictest one I've ever signed and my boss held me to it (I had other offers along the way). But I refused to sign another one and left the day it ended. My second contract was just the opposite. The news director had set it up so that everyone's contract expired on the same date, Dec. 31. No one had more than a year contract and it ended on the same day! When I decided to work there, it was July, so my contract was only for five months. It simply stated that I was a producer and would be responsible for any producer-like duties that occurred during my shift. My news director's philosophy was that if someone found something they wanted to do better than the job they had, he'd let them go. I left 2 weeks before my contract officially ended to work in _____________. In ____________, I was asked to sign a three-year contract, but negotiated it down to a two-year one. It was pretty much like the first one I mentioned except it listed me as the producer of a specific show. The only problem with this one was that the news director kept forgetting to give it to me to sign, so I never did. I left to take a job with a national show. I'm still a producer for a network overnight show and the only thing I had to sign was a paper stating that I would pay back my moving expenses if I left before a year had passed. No contract. And now that I've been here a year and a half, I can take any job I want, when I want.


    I signed a non-compete clause when I started working at my current station ten years ago. Since then, my job responsibilities have changes, I signed another document outlining responsibilities and the terms of my employment. Since then, the station has broken its end of the agreement, others have gone to competitors without any trouble. I'd like to know if I could switch channels without facing legal action.


    As an academic working with students, I've found that recent graduates are being asked or encouraged to sign contracts for reporter or producer jobs at several small- to medium-market stations. While the contract may initially guarantee a job and afford some job stability, the recent graduate is also locked out of other opportunities. Employees move on not necessarily because they are unhappy but because local stations appear to offer so little future for them. Low salaries sometimes associated with contracts create substantial burdens for recent graduates as well. A monthly salary of $1,200 ($14,400 a year) nets the student only $850-900---barely enough to pay meager living expenses, provided the recent graduate does not have significant student loans to repay. One of my advisees, who was recruited by several larger markets, left broadcasting to attend law school because she couldn't see herself continuing her low-paying producer career. Part of my time is devoted to helping students find internships before graduation and jobs after graduation. My worry is that contracts (especially buy-out and non-compete clauses) may lead some very good students to pursue other career paths. Unfortunately, both the student who abandons her/his career plans and the news industry are the losers.

    From the keyboard of gpitts@kiowa.astate.edu
    Greg Pitts, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Radio-TV, Arkansas State University


    I am news producer in the _______ tv news market. I signed a three year contract that includes a 5% annual raise built in, but also includes a "no out" clause for the first year, as well as no-compete for a year after the contract ends. I was told this was "standard" procedure for that type of news market.


    I am a first-time producer in a medium-size market. When I was offered the job of producer, I was told that I would need to sign a contract. The news director wanted me to sign on for two years, but he also said that one year would be fine. Not knowing whether I wanted to devote two years to a place I had so far spent 2 weeks, I opted for the one-year commitment. When I received my copy of the contract, the ND advised me to go over it for a few days before signing it. Luckily, I have a friend who works in entertainment law, and he looked it over for me. I had no idea what was right and what was wrong! I didn't know whether the terms were acceptable or not, because I had nothing to base it on. Anyway, here are some of the terms of the contract: I can be fired for "cause." Cause is described as, in laymen's terms, any reason they really see fit to fire me, ranging from my not living up to the responsibilities of a "Producer," to drinking or doing drugs on the job. I cannot work within a 75-mile radius of this city for 6 months after my contract expires. (on the advice of my lawyer-friend, I had them change this to read that if they decided not to re-sign me after a year, I COULD work within those constraints, however if I chose not to re-sign with them, I could NOT). I was told that this clause was mainly used for talent, and that they would not be likely to sue me if I chose not to honor it. But I guess they could if they really wanted to. The only other real issue on the contract was my salary, which had been discussed prior to the contract negotiations. Okay, so now, after nine months within this contract, I see a problem with it. I have been given additional shows to produce than I was not initially signed on to do. But no raise came with those added responsibilities. In fact, there are no raises in between contracts at all. The only way for me to get a raise right now would be to sign another contract right now, and that would lock me in for another year and three months, again, on the same salary. The good news about signing a contract is that you don't have to worry about losing your job to the next hot-shot who walks into your newsroom. They don't only have you there until someone better comes along. And likewise, they don't have to worry that you're only there until you find a better job. In other words, there's a good feeling of loyalty, on both parts. I have to say that I feel lucky, and that the station I work at should, too. What if I, like the two other producers they hired just weeks prior to myself, didn't work out? What if I just couldn't "cut it" as a producer? (They really had no way of knowing whether I would, or wouldn't, seeing as I had only been training for two weeks when I signed). I have seen the station I work at get burned too many times to think it's a good idea to sign a new producer onto a contract. A better idea would probably be to discuss contracts after 6 months. That way, both the producer and the station know whether or not it's working out.


    As far as I know, the producers here at _____________ are locked into three year deals. 4-percent raise, no out-clause, and a non-compete clause of 90 days. We've basically sold our souls to the station.


    WHY CONTRACTS CAN BE GOOD, if the station wants you badly enough: This from a network insider:

    -You should probably choose an attorney rather than an agent to represent you. -"Your deal" may not be cut with The Big Guy but with his Hired Help (and part of this is to preserve the Big Guy's deniability, nasty as that sounds)... -During negotiations -- when They REALLY want you -- is the time to nail down whatever protection and freebies you can, and to see what, if any, special or executive perks might be available. Some of the "perks" sometimes granted: a car-'phone paid by your employer, one day off or one day's pay for every day over 5 worked per week and company-paid subscriptions (to, at least, the three newsweeklies, the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and "the local paper)." Oh, and if you're on-the-air, get the boss to pay for clothes, or, at least for one anchor I once knew, 5 identical blazers, in different colors. (But be careful here; some "apparel" runs into tax qualifications on use & deductibility.) Oh, yeah, get 'em to pay to do your taxes! Some folks have that, too, along with things like a leased "company" car. First Class travel & accommodations -- unless you're a pretty big on-air or executive "star" -- are going away at lower levels throughout the networks, but they're still worth asking for.