The Producer Page: May 1999

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • Website Survey
  • Advice for an EP
  • Covering Crises
  • Happenings
  • Job Openings (seems like it must be hiring season out there)
  • About the Newsletter

  • WEBSITE SURVEY

    It's been a few years since I tried to do a website survey. I'd like to try it again, but I need several helpers this time. If you volunteer, here's what you'll do:

    • On a prespecified night at a prespecified time, you'll read the websites of every TV news organization in the market to which I assign you. It won't be your own market.
    • You'll write a short article on the websites and send it to me. Your name WILL be on it.
    • I'll compile all the articles into one big article and publish it in the June issue.

    Okay, are you with me? I'll select the markets. We'll all review the markets on the same night at the same time so it's as fair as possible. When I tell you what night it is, and what time, you'll agree not to tell anyone else.

    Email me at AJMain@aol.com, and tell me where you work now so I'll be sure not to assign you your own market.


    ADVICE FOR AN EP

    In last month's issue, an anonymous executive producer asked for ideas on motivating producers. The letter:

      "Managing seven producers can be tough. I can accept that. But sometimes it can drive you crazy. How do you fire-up your producers? How do you re-ignite the creative flame snuffed out in over-worked producers? How about hiring producers, can you offer some special words?"

    Here are some ideas from the readers:


    From anonymous subscriber:

    After years in local news and years now as a freelance producer I have some suggestions.

    1. Do not micromanage.
    2. Do not box creative people into a format which they cannot deviate from.
    3. Do not say stupid things like "what part of NO do you not understand."
    4. Allow your early morning, noon and weekend producers to step up to the plate occasionally and produce your higher profile newscasts.
    5. Allow your show producers to occasionally produce special projects.
    6. Ask your producers for their advice on improving their shows and those of others.
    7. Get all your producers together from time to time to brainstorm.
    8. Do not beat your producers up about the overnights.
    9. Give your producers a say in the marketing of their shows.
    10. Watch their shows closely and tell them what they do well. Don't only notice the things that are screwed up.
    11. Do not put your producers in a position where all they are is stackers.
    12. Let your producers develop new concepts for their programs.

    I hope you find these tips helpful. I produced at affiliates in three cities. I saw many lousy managers and some terrific ones. I applaud you for your interest in helping producers be all they can be.


    From Valerie Hyman, valhyman@aol.com:

    It was easy to relate to the quandary the executive producer is struggling with ñ it's familiar because it's so widespread. Here are a few ideas that have worked for newsroom managers who want to boost the morale and energy of the people they lead:

    • Delegate. As busy as they are, people consider it a sign of praise when their supervisor asks them to take on a new task: it works like a vote of confidence. So pass around some of your work, but only after consultation with the producer, perhaps giving him or her a choice among two or three tasks, such things as scheduling producers, overseeing the progress of interns, mentoring a newly hired producer, choosing a computer software program, or identifying a pool of candidates for potential future hires. You and the producer agree at the outset on a finish date and how you will check in from time to time to make sure the work is on schedule.

    • Empower. Ask the producers as a group to come up with ideas to improve communication among producers, and between producers and other newsroom staffers. This deflects bickering and whining, and puts responsibility where it belongs: with the producers responsible for pulling newscasts together. It enhances teamwork among producers. So the next time a producer approaches you with a problem, you may say, "That sounds important. How can I help you solve it?"

    • Learn. One of the surest ways to show a producer you value his or her experience and abilities is to ask that person to give you feedback on your own work. It's scary, but a nearly foolproof way to help yourself and the people you lead to do better work and smooth communications. To get started, consider being quite specific in your requests for personal critiques. Possible openers: "I've been trying to give more praise over the past couple of weeks. How do you think I've been doing?" "I'm trying to remove passive voice from my writing and use only active voice. Could you please check these scripts I wrote and let me know what you find?" "How well do you think I'm doing in representing the interests of producers to the news director? What else should I be doing?" "How can I help you?"

    • Praise. Whenever you see evidence of good work, especially work you've been trying to encourage, praise it publicly. That could be a good handoff from one producer to the next; a newscast written free of subjective adjectives like incredible, tragic, or horrific; an original story idea coached into fruition. Make sure the praise is quite specific, because "good job" can feel insincere. And every once in awhile, get as many members of the team as you can together for pizza or bagels to celebrate what's going well.

    • Relax. You're doing a fine job as a newsroom leader. Recognize what you're doing well, figure out how to strengthen your own perceived weak spots, and praise your own boss from time to time.

    These ideas will help you grow your own producers, especially if you choose to allow the producers you have now to recruit and help hire new producers.

    Good luck!


    From anonymous subscriber:

    In reference to your questions re: producers, I just left a job where I was supervising 15 people. As to firing them up and motiviating them, as a manager, I believe it is each individual's responsibility to motivate themselves. If they no longer have a passion for the business, then it may be time for them to move on. This is a business of constant burnout for people (me included...this is why I just took 6 months off). I believe it is really important for producers and other staff to involve themselves in outside interests and create a balance in their lives. As for hiring, I always look for attitude. The desire, the hunger, the want to succeed and producer top quality programming. Exceptionally strong multi-tasking, organizational & time management skills. It really is a crap shoot when you hire people as I am sure you are aware. Some work, some don't.


    From anonymous subscriber:

    Acknowledging hard work can go a long way.

    Give talented producers the opportunity to do another show every once in awhile. Understanding the priorities of someone else's show can inspire producers to add something new to theirs. Plus, it never hurts to have a pinch hitter.


    From JJ Murray, jjmurray@kstp.com:

    If you're not having fun in the business, get out before it takes you out. I've been reading letters from Producers trying to balance work and family. It can be done. I've been in TV for 11 years. I've been a one-man-band photographer, photojournalist, and producer. I offer these tips for rookies and veterans alike.

    I just started producing the Midday news at my station in the Twin Cities. I'll get to that reason in a moment. How's that for a tease. I produce 2 morning shows when I was single. Talk about no life. But I found a way. Go out for breakfast, go out for coffee. Make friends first. Then after a while, you'll set things up for later in the evening and go to sleep earlier. For me, it was easier to go out, then go to work ... than it is to get up and go to work.

    Producing the 10 or 11. These are great hours for single people. When you get off work, there's still time for a life, and you get to sleep in off, or get chores done in the morning. After I got married and my wife got pregnant, that show did not mean as much to me anymore. Our 5pm producer left, and I asked for the show. My bosses were surprised that I wanted the leave "The Money Show." I don't need to feed my ego with the prestige of a show. I'm good producer. I give every show equal treatment. Family is more important than ego.

    Now our Midday producer quit. Guess who was first in line to move to that show? When I got the show, people in the newsroom asked me if I had ticked someone off to be put on the Midday show. When I tell them it was my idea, they're stunned. Guess what folks? I'm still getting paid, and I have even more time with my boys. Sure I have to get up at 3am, but you learn to sleep in shifts, and budget time. I also have more time to get connected in my community.

    Fortunately, I live in the same Twin Cities suburb where went to high school. The key thing to remember, always keep your eyes and ears open. News doesn't happen in the newsroom, it happens on your street. Be enterprising. Find out what your neighbors are talking about. Have them over and BS. Don't tell them you're looking for stories. But listen to what they're saying. Read the Letters to the Editor in your city paper. Go to community events. Meet people. Become their friend first, they're contact second.

    Watch out for burn out. It hits hard and fast. If you lose it at work, you'll lose it at home. Make peace with the demons in your newsroom, and look forward to your life. It is far more important than your career. Good luck.


    HAPPENINGS

    ATTENTION WOMEN AND MINORITY TV NEWS PRODUCERS…

    Are you currently a TV news producer interested in additional training and meeting other talented producers? If so, you don't want to miss this special opportunity offered by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation.

    RTNDF is hosting a Producers Workshop on June 18-20 in Syracuse, NY. This workshop, in partnership with the S. I. Newhouse Journalism School, provides hands-on training in writing, people skills and production techniques. A $50 dollar registration fee ($40 for RTNDA members) includes two nights of housing, meals and seminar materials. Register today -- the deadline is May 14! Only 30 full-time news producers accepted. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, with only two spots per station guaranteed. Refer to RTNDF's web site to download a registration form at: http://www.rtndf.org/prodev/rtndf/producer/index.htm.

    For more information, contact Michelle Thibodeau at (202) 467-5206, or e-mail: michellet@rtndf.org.


    COVERING CRISES

    RTNDF sent the following to every news director in the country after the school shootings in Littleton.. But I think every producer should read it as well.

    Guidelines for Covering Hostage
    Taking Crises, Police Raids, Prison Uprisings or Terrorist Actions
    By Bob Steele, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies (Courtesy of the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation)

    In covering an ongoing crisis situation, journalists are advised to:

    Always assume that the hostage taker, gunman or terrorist has access to the reporting. Avoid describing with words or showing with still photography and video any information that could divulge the tactics or positions of SWAT team members. Fight the urge to become a player in any standoff, hostage situation or terrorist incident. Journalists should become personally involved only as a last resort and with the explicit approval of top news management and the consultation of trained hostage negotiators on the scene. Be forthright with viewers, listeners or readers about why certain information is being withheld if security reasons are involved. Seriously weigh the benefits to the public of what information might be given out versus what potential harm that information might cause. This is especially important in live reporting of an on-going situation. Strongly resist the temptation to telephone a gunman or hostage taker. Journalists generally are not trained in negotiation techniques, and one wrong question or inappropriate word could jeopardize someone's life. Furthermore, just calling in could tie up phone lines or otherwise complicate communication efforts of the negotiators. Notify authorities immediately if a hostage taker or terrorist calls the newsroom. Also, have a plan ready for how to respond. Challenge any gut reaction to "go live" from the scene of a hostage-taking crisis, unless there are strong journalistic reasons for a live, on-the-scene report. Things can go wrong very quickly in a live report, endangering lives or damaging negotiations. Furthermore, ask if the value of a live, on-the-scene report is really justifiable compared to the harm that could occur. Give no information, factual or speculative, about a hostage taker's mental condition, state of mind or reasons for actions while a standoff is in progress. The value of such information to the audience is limited, and the possibility of such characterizations exacerbating an already dangerous situation are quite real. Give no analyses or comments on a hostage taker's or terrorist's demands. As bizarre or ridiculous (or even legitimate) as such demands may be, it is important that negotiators take all demands seriously. Keep news helicopters out of the area where the standoff is happening, as their noise can create communication problems for negotiators and their presence could scare a gunman to deadly action. Do not report information obtained from police scanners. If law enforcement personnel and negotiators are compromised in their communications, their attempts to resolve a crisis are greatly complicated. Be very cautious in any reporting on the medical condition of hostages until after a crisis is concluded. Also, be cautious when interviewing hostages or released hostages while a crisis continues. Exercise care when interviewing family members or friends of those involved in standoff situations. Make sure the interview legitimately advances the story for the public and is not simply conducted for the shock value of the emotions conveyed or as a conduit for the interviewee to transmit messages to specific individuals. Go beyond the basic story of the hostage taking or standoff to report on the larger issues behind the story, be it the how and why of what happened, reports on the preparation and execution of the SWAT team, or the issues related to the incident. In covering a pending raid or law enforcement action, journalists are advised to:

    Be extremely cautious to not compromise the secrecy of officials' planning and execution. If staking out a location where a raid will occur or if accompanying officers, reporters and photographers should demonstrate great caution in how they act, where they go, and what clues they might inadvertently give that might compromise the execution of the raid. They should check and double-check planning efforts.

    (Reprinted from www.rtnda.org)


    ABOUT THE PRODUCER NEWSLETTER

    The Producer Newsletter is a free publication for TV news producers worldwide, edited by Alice Main, executive producer at WLS-TV in Chicago. All opinions expressed by me in the newsletter are mine alone, and aren't meant to represent the views of ABC or Disney. The newsletter has been around since 1995, and now back issues have been compiled into book form on the internet (http://www.scripps.ohiou.edu/producer/thebook) thanks to Professor Robert Stewart of Ohio University's EW Scripps School of Journalism. Subscription information is also available online. All submissions should be sent to AJMain@aol.com.