The Producer Page: November 1995

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • Playing Photo "Hot Potato"
  • How to Freak Out a Producer
  • I Wish (from producers)
  • I Wish (from reporters)
  • I Wish (from reporters about other reporters)
  • Terrible Teases
  • Producers on the Move

  • PLAYING PHOTO "HOT POTATO"
    by Jim Doblin, Executive Producer, WIBW-TV, Topeka (JDoblin@aol.com)

    I'd be interested in how other markets deal with the release or lack thereof, of jail book-in photos. For the past several years, after much discussion, the media arrived at a suitable arraignment with the jail and court regarding the release of book-in photos. It wasn't the best deal, and often it seemed convoluted, but it seemed to satisfy all. The procedure was this: once a suspect was formally charged, we would call the administrative judge and ask whether he would approve the release of the black and white photo. Usually, we would have the picture in time for air that afternoon. On occasion, because the prosecution needed to use the photo for more positive witness identifications, the judge would say "no". But those cases were few and far between.

    That was then. A few months ago, the administrative judge retired. The new man on the bench says he doesn't want the court to get in the middle of the issue. He claimed release of a book-in photo should be a jail issue. Great, we said, because the jail director wants to release any and all photos. He told me he's been trying to get the paper to publish a whole page full of those who are booked in over any given weekend (a real eye-opener and circulation booster, he thinks).

    But, while the new judge is telling us this, he is also telling the jail not to release any other book-in photos. The issue came to a head recently after a Topeka Police Officer was killed during a drug bust. The man charged with capital murder(our first since the reinstatement of the death penalty) was charged on a Friday, and by the next Monday, we expected a photo. The judge wouldn't budge. We finally ended up with a photo provided by the defense (it was dubbed the "European Vacation" shot).

    Our lawyer is now involved. We applaud the judge for wanting to get out of the process and allow the jail director to make the call, but it doesn't appear that's what the judge REALLY wants. He doesn't think book-in photos are part of the public record as other jail records are. He's got some case law on his side (I believe there was a case involving the Houston Chronicle).

    I think the whole issue has become such a "hot potato" that no one wants to decide the issue, once and for all. Granted , every criminal case is unique, but we think there can be a general policy regarding release of book-in photos. My thought is, once the person is charged, let the jail release them UNLESS the prosecution objects because the release would hurt the case.

    Any stations out there have similar problems/solutions?

    (editor's note: To get a mug shot from some of the rural counties in our area, we have to wait until the roll of film is all used up before they'll get the pictures developed for us.)


    HOW TO FREAK OUT A PRODUCER (or, I MUST'VE BEEN ABSENT THE DAY THEY TAUGHT ENUNCIATION IN J-SCHOOL)

    It's Monday, October 2nd.Three hours ago in Los Angeles, the jury in what's-his-name's trial announced they'd reached a verdict. Our newsroom is in code blue alert. Our satellite truck and three crews are poised outside the courthouse in Los Angeles. Our evening producer is frantically pounding out copy at her desk.

    I am the national satellite coordinator for the most aggressive independent station in the country. We are going full force, pumping out live special reports from the courthouse every 30 minutes. Suddenly, our crew in L.A calls to tell us that the generator in our KU truck has stopped working. Our operations manager begins calling around to rent us a new one, and I start trying to find our crews an alternate path out of L.A. in the interim. I pull the phone away from my ear long enough to tell our producer: "Hold off on the next special report; the generator just died."

    A scream erupts from the producer desk that can be heard several counties away."WHAAAAAAAAAAAT???!!!!"

    "Calm down", I say. "I'm working on it now. We'll be fine in time for the show."

    Another yelp of disbelief: "WHAT??!! HOW DID YOU HEAR THIS? WHO TOLD YOU!! OH.... MY...GOD!!!"

    I turn again to my trusted colleague, and try to remain a soothing influence: "Shhhh.... it's all right. I'll take care of it. Don't worry PLEASE. Just let me make a couple of calls."

    "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, 'SHHHHH"? THIS IS A BIG DEAL!!! HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!!!!???"

    I become mildly annoyed. "I don't know. Just wore out I guess.... maybe old age... Stop worrying. I'm handling it!" Before long, there are assignment editors and producers huddled together in what appears to be pre-nuclear-meldown panic. I shrug it off and go back to my phone, blissfully ignoring the screams in my direction:

    "DO YOU HAVE ABSOLUTE CONFIRMATION? WHERE? HOW? WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?!!!!!"

    Finally, our operations manager approaches my desk, now the official site of Armageddon.

    "DID YOU HEAR? DID YOU HEAR???" Our producer yells at him. "JANET RENO DIED!!"

    There is a pause. A perplexed look in my direction, and then a hint of a smile, as he says: "I think you mean the GEN -E- RATOR.On our KU truck.

    Utter, profound silence. Then a collective exhale. Then ten minutes of hysterical laughter. Not to mention the sounds of phones clicking off as red-faced assignment editors say to attorney generals' offices: "Oops. Never mind."

    The post script: A sparkling new generator-on-loan helped provide us with wall to wall kick-ass coverage of the verdict.

    The current US Attorney General is alive and well, residing in our nation's capital.

    A solid seven hours of sleep the following night fixed my temporary word-slurring problem, but I continue to practice my enunciation skills with important job-related phrases such as "Would you like fries with that?"


    I WISH (FROM PRODUCERS....)

    • The reporter would let me know when the story changes from what it was in the morning meeting.
    • The reporter would remember to turn off the printer so the whole package doesn't print out... instead of just the intro and tag. Crunch time during script printing is NOT the time to wait for the printer to spit out whole package scripts.
    • The reporter would make the effort to debrief with the producer when coming back from a story.
    • Reporters would let me read their scripts before they are edited.
    • Reporters understood just how important precise scripting is to production!!
    • Writers and reporters would look at the story before and after theirs and try to write a transition.
    • Reporters and writers would happily write a package straight from the intro through the tag instead of writing the body then trying to come up with an acceptable beginning and end.
    • Reporters thought about ways to tease their stories. Afterall, the story won't matter much if a viewer doesn't stick around to watch it.
    • Editors loved jumping in with suggestions about good/bad video, good/bad sound.
    • All reporters could produce for a day.
    • All producers could report for a day.
    • You wouldn't get a long, unexpected ad-lib in an otherwise scripted live shot when your show was already tight? Granted, it's the producer's own fault for not ferreting out that possibility, but a little "heads up" never hurts. (Yoohoo, weathercaster, you're gonna be tight!)
    • We could all have nap time on those comfy cut-up carpet pieces like we had in first grade, then wake up and have cookies and milk.


    I WISH (FROM REPORTERS....)

    • News teases and promos mirrored my story's actual content!
    • Producers actually had to go out in the field and do the work they expect others to do.
    • Producers decide the length of a story by its MERIT as NEWS and not because he or she needs to "FILL A HOLE".
    • More producers had actually been reporters at some point in time.
    • Producers wouldn't request "Live Shots" simply because "We have the Capability".
    • More producers were literate. (I was once castigated for using the word "amicable" in a stand-up.)
    • More producers had imagination.
    • Producers had the guts to tell the news director or managing editor to take a hike.
    • More producers were armed, so when ignorant consultants dictate ridiculous rules to them the Producers could open fire at will. (this also goes for opening fire on ignorant reporters)
    • Producers weren't afraid to bust their line-up five minutes before the show opens if there's a really big story worth going live for. (I once worked for a producer who started her show with a story on the local OPERA getting new seats in their theatre, while everyone else in town topped their show off with a live-shot from a multiple-fatality commuter airplane crash - the plane had crashed into a home, killing the six occupants of the home and 10 occupants of the airplane. Our competition led with a live-shot from the scene of the inferno and dramatic videotape of the inferno. Our audience got to see, get this, EMPTY seats at the top of our newscast. We never even went to the plane crash live.)
    • More producers weren't afraid to ruffle feathers - of politicians - of their bosses - of those we cover in general. There seems to be an attitude among some that it's best to not rock the boat. I've seen good producers give-in to lousy decisions by their bosses simply because they wanted to "go along to get along" and at the same time I've seen producers shy away from stories because they thought some politician would get angry.


    I WISH... (FROM REPORTERS ABOUT OTHER REPORTERS)

    • Reporters had more intestinal fortitude to go out and get the REAL story.
    • Reporters weren't so damn lame and ignorant.
    • Reporters were seasoned enough to know what a REAL story IS and ISN'T.


    TERRIBLE TEASES
    by Charles Matthews, Producer, WRIC-Richmond (CMatthewz@aol.com)

    At one station where I worked, bumps for upcoming stories were written on a standard form by the newscast producer, under the headings "video" and "font". This informed the production crew what writing (font) was needed for banners, and the video description assured them the correct footage was supplied. One day, the noon producer was in a hurry and transposed the sections. Teasing a package on a special aerobics class, she wrote "Pregnant Women Exercise" under the video description, and "Pregos Exercise" under the FONT description. And it aired that way! So, while showing obviously expectant women in leotards moving their bodies to music, we plastered "PREGOS EXERCISE" over the bottom third of the screen.


    Anonymous Contributor

    Overheard on the competition: After a story on self breast exams, the anchor is heard teasing the upcoming story by saying "Next we'll have a touching story on a woman's fight with breast cancer."


    EXTREME BADNESS IN TV NEWS WRITING
    by Don Ennis, Producer, WFTS 28, Tampa Bay News (Dse5@aol.com)

    Back in the days of TYPEWRITERS, when the stock market crashed, I was typing page three of a script when I looked over to the monitor, and saw the anchor begin reading page one. Worst feeling of deadline pressure I ever had! Now as a producer, I've seen bad writing, but the topper was the writer who told me I made her script incorrect when I changed New Hampshire to New England. She mentioned the state by name five times in 20-seconds, so I thought for first reference we could be a little generic. But when she told me it was wrong, I looked askance for a few seconds to see if my leg was being pulled, and then said, "New Hampshire is IN New England, you know?" And she said, "Well, I didn't know that!"


    LIVE SHOTS FROM HELL
    Anonymous Contributor

    One rainy, windy day, our 6 a.m. anchors were tossing to our reporter downtown. Just as we went to the two-box, the engineer, attempting to keep a light stand from falling, bumped the camera. All that was seen in the live box was a rapidly approaching view of the ground and a startled gasp from the reporter as the picture went black.


    Another Anonymous Contributor

    We were having trouble with both our audio and IFB for the liveshot with our lead pack. I aired the pack, and communicating by 2 way with the liveshot photographer, told them we'd come out to them when our audio was fixed for a debrief and Q&A with his interviewee. Well, our audio was fixed by the top of the second block, so the anchors tossed to him, and what did the reporter do but intro his pack which we'd already aired. I still did not have IFB so over the 2 way reminded the photog we were supposed to be doing the interview. By that time, the director had gone back to the anchors while the reporter started his interview. Needless to say, by that point, we did not go back to the reporter.


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    Regarding producer move announcements, here's a more unusual category: Producers who HAVEN'T moved. I started producing at KXJB in July of '76. Except for a 10 month interruption, I've been at it the whole time. (18 years, 3 months total) Any other former film splicers still on the same job out there? S. Wood, KXJB Fargo (skip@pol.org).


    ENR USERS UPDATE

    New readers of The Producer may not be aware of the User Group for newsrooms using Comprompter's ENR computer system. To get on the mailing list, e-mail KX4@pol.org