Producer Page: November
IN THIS ISSUE...
Remember those early days of SNG? When KU was just coming into its own? Our station had bought a KU truck but hadn't taken delivery yet. However when a big local story broke out of state, the bosses couldn't wait to use an affiliate truck to bring it to our viewers. That way they could claim the first KU live shot in the market. Small problem, not only was the truck still being built so was the downlink at our station. So we couldn't see the shot if we wanted to. That is, without some help. We contracted for a hop with a regional news service that had access to both KU & C-band and figured everything would be dandy. The shot started on KU, came down at the regional svc. on KU, then microwaved across town to the C-band uplink and then we took it in on C-band at our station. Oops, another problem, we couldn't hear the reporter. Turns out the KU to C hop didn't have the right audio transponder (they'd never heard of 5.76!) So the shot's a bust right? Wrong!! Still anxious to be first, the managers decided to take the audio over telco lines. Yep, the poor reporter opened his mouth to do the story, we saw his lips move and then heard him about 2-3 seconds later on a crackling phone line. Watching this was painful and those of us in the newsroom were glad to hear the reporter finally wrap up several minutes later. We just prayed the anchor, who had to know of our problem, wouldn't ask a question and prolong the un-synched report. But you guessed it, the poor reporter got tossed a question and we waited another 2-3 seconds to hear his response.
It happened during a promo for the 6pm show during the final segment
of the 5pm news. The anchor was supposed to tease a medical story about
the discovery of a deadly organism when it came out something like "Researchers
are shocked by the discovery of a deadly orgasm..." She finished the
promo, tossed it back to the 5pm anchor and started giggling off-camera.
In fact, most everyone in the studio (including about a dozen VIP guests
of the owner) was losing it under their breath -- except the composed 5pm
anchor who had to read a 20-second lead to the kicker pkg. Don't ask how
she did it in a studio full of people biting their hands, but she pulled
it off. However, once that tape rolled, she and everybody else let loose
Here's one for the Blooper Reel: A couple of weeks ago, a Meteorologist who shall remain nameless, was coming out of his weathercast particularly light. Having gone into weather a bit light already, I definitely didn't want to come out too quickly. I gave him a resounding "stretchhhhh!," in his IFB. He immediately stopped his weathercast in midforecast, turned to the camera and said, "my Producer just told me to stretch." He then stretched his arms out like a big tomcat just waking up from a long winter's nap, and then resumed his forecast. It was all good for an extra 15-seconds, and a huge laugh in the booth. No word on reaction from viewers. Next time however, I'll give the extra time to Sports.
The October issue got wiped off the face of the earth, along with everything else on my hard drive, by 2-year-old Thomas Main. The computer is in the basement. Thomas is not allowed in the basement. Thomas got into the basement anyway. Thomas managed to hit the exact sequence of keystrokes that makes it possible to wipe a hard drive clean. Thomas is a beautiful little blond-haired boy with huge cobalt-blue eyes and long, dark eyelashes. Naturally, we love him dearly. But until this episode, his father and I did not expect him to become the Einstein of the family. He's a late talker, so we have no idea what's going on in his head, other than the occasional "wee-ah-poo." That's Winnie-the-Pooh, by the way. But now we know, and we'll be taking all appropriate steps to fertilize this amazing mind, to steer him toward great works, and above all else, to keep him the hell away from the basement.
Much newsprint and bandwidth is given to debating the best type of resume tape for on-air talent. Today, it's our turn. The off-air people. The untalent. The producers.
I must confess, the idea for this article sprang into my head after watching resume tapes submitted for some producer openings in my own shop.
I wanted to shout, HEY! PEOPLE! QUIT EDITING OUT THE PACKAGES! It's
maddening to start watching a newscast, get interested in the story, and
then get to see only the first and last five seconds of the reporter's
"Don't omit anything inside that newscast. I want to see your work...all of it. How you make it move, make it flow, connect it together, and put your stamp on it," says Paula Pendarvis, Director of News & Local Programming at WGNO in New Orleans.
"I want to see the packages, because a good producer had a lot to do with it, talked to the reporter about it. Or maybe was disappointed with the package," says Pendarvis.
Tom Dolan is a former news director, now Executive Director of News & = Talent Development for The Broadcast Image Group (translation for our purposes: he helps find producers for his client stations).
He says including the body of the package is important, because it demonstrates your ability to manage the packages.
Equally important is the critique you enclose with your tape.
"Always prepare a cover letter explaining the tape presentation along with your current resume. Ideally your tape should contain a full newscast from an average day where your imprint makes the difference. Explain the point of view and the approach with your daily newscast and make sure there is clear evidence of it on the tape. Identify the key stories("A" lead, "A" closer, "B" lead and kicker) and how you selected them. Include how you shaped them from the morning meeting through the course of the day. Make it clear how much of the writing as well as teasewriting you contributed. Talk about how you collaborate with reporters in both shaping their stories and editing the copy," says Dolan.
Pendarvis wants the critique, too. "Tell me what worked and didn't in the program that night, including the packages," she says. "Tell me what you'd do again or what you'd change if you could do the program over again. "
The tape format you use really depends on the recipient. But more and more people who hire, are more than willing to look at VHS.
Dolan says The Broadcast Image Group handles all formats, but "VHS may be preferred so we can take them home in more casual environment!"
Pendarvis is even more direct: "I like VHS because I like to watch producer, reporter, and anchors in my living room, the way the viewers watch them. In my office with phones ringing and people walking in and out the door, it's not the optimum atmosphere. If you can't make a VHS dub at your station, I'd rather you set your VCR at home and tape from there."
It also bears repeating that you need to send an extremely recent tape. Many ads will specify, "send last night's newscast," but even without such an admonition, you should send a newscast that's no more than ten days old. Your coverage of the tornado that hit your town last year won't cut it.
Okay. So you've taped last night's newscast. It was a good example of your day-to-day work. You've written the insightful critique. You put the thing on VHS. Now, how do you really make your tape stand out?
Why not add a montage?
Consider the following from Dave Gonigam, news director at Fox 28 in South Bend, Indiana.
"I have a hard time believing I'm the only person who ever dreamed up the producer-montage thing, but I've never heard of anyone else doing it, either. It all got started when I was the 6 PM producer at KSNW in Wichita, where I'd really hit my stride as a tease-writer. I was proud enough of some of my preshows and cold opens (either the writing, some creative pre-pro, or both) that I started saving them on a tape, just as most producers save a favorite newscast even if they're not looking for a job at the time."
"When the time did come for me to start looking, I realized that much the same way reporters start their tapes with a montage of standups, I could take the stuff I dubbed off over the course of several months and put the very best of it together into a montage, demonstrating to a news director one of a producer's key skills -- grabbing the viewer's attention right off the bat. Since I figured it was a rather novel idea, I always pointed out in my cover letters that the tape started with this montage, and I also attached a log to the tape with hit times for the montage and the newscast, just in case the news director didn't read the cover letter."
" I don't know if it was a turn-off at those stations that never called me. (It was almost certainly too long, in the neighborhood of 2:00.) But during the summer of 1990, the montage was one of the things that got me interviews in Sacramento, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Denver. I ended up going to KCNC in Denver, where I got together a whole new bunch of preshows and cold opens to help land me at WTVT in Tampa nine months later. "
Whether you choose to use a montage or not, it is important to make the submission accessible. Some easy steps:
Just use common sense about the time of day when you place the call. A producer candidate who calls between 4:30 pm and 6 pm isn't thinking. And no one wants to hire a producer who can't think.
I've been admonished by a network field producer to include more about his kind of job in the newsletter. I think that's a great idea. I pay attention to who's subscribing to this thing, and so I know there are dozens of you network-types who are reading this right now. Honestly, I don't know squat about what you do. So I need help. Please send ideas for the kinds of articles that would interest you, because I think all the readers would enjoy knowing more about what you do, what issues you face, etc. As always, send your stuff to AJMain@aol.com.
Q: Tell us about your typical day.
A: It begins at 2:30 p.m. I head right for the afternoon editorial meeting for all of CNN, also attended by supervisors of CNN, Headline News, various producers and assignment editors. We go over what the network is producing for the evening and other goings on. Then I head to my newsroom where the producer has been working on a rundown of what our crew will do throughout the night. I tell him/her what I've learned at the meeting, we decide which stories are priorities and which features we'll do. While he/she is putting the rundown together, I'm "reading in": reading the wires, CNN info files, the stories on the CNN Web site, my e-mail, newspapers (sometimes), CNN reporters' scripts. We have a staff meeting between 430p and 5p to discuss the rundown, how to treat some stories (graphics, multi-media elements, extra research, etc.), and which writer/associate producer team will do which stories. The rest of the night I keep up with the news, troubleshoot, answer questions, approve stories after they're completed -- I "supervise."
Q: How did you get to this point in your career?
A: Well, I've spent my entire 11-year career so far at CNN. A week after graduation from college (Auburn University, where I served four uninspired years), I started at CNN Radio. I did everything from editing tape to making calls to writing copy and anchoring newscasts. After three years, I moved to Headline News, where I wrote and edited copy, and produced a little. Headline News is a great place to work to learn the basics of television news; I wouldn't trade my three years there for anything. Then I moved "upstairs" to CNN for four years, where I did nothing but write anchor copy (and other stuff), and loved it, and had no desire to leave until I was recruited to help start CNN Interactive's Web site. I had worked with the head honcho when he was at CNN and he talked me into becoming a "cyber-journalist." I signed up to be a writer but within weeks I was producing and last spring became a senior producer. (It helps being on the ground floor of a new venture!)
Q: What's the most challenging part of your job?
A: For me, the news is the easy part. The most challenging part of my job is keeping up with all the high-tech bells and whistles and new technology that changes, I swear, almost daily. I had never even "surfed the Net" before I came to work here -- I was intimidated. But my progress shows just how easy it is to use multi-media and to adapt to a different medium for news production.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: Hmmmm, the part I like best would have to be the constant exposure to the latest computer stuff. I learn something new practically every day and that part is a challenge I look forward to.
Q: Where might you go from here?
A: I can't believe more than a year has gone by already -- CNN Interactive has grown so quickly and our product has changed (for the better) so much during that time. I really have no idea where to go from here -- I had no idea I'd ever be doing cyber-journalism in the first place! I guess, though, the natural progression would be to continue in the news biz when computers and TVs are one and the same. I'll go where technology takes me.
Luke Funk, producer at KNXV Phoenix, moves to KSTU the Fox O&O in Salt Lake City to produce the nightly 9PM newscast.
The election is over. No more 96-hour acts of desperation. No more bridges to the 21st century painted a different color six times in one day. No more prissy media wranglers. No more profanities shouted from misguided citizens. No more jabs at the "liberal media elite" by the candidate. No more cheap beer and airplane aisle surfing. No more free "GOP-TV" caps.
DCi News hopes our colleagues in the press get some well-deserved R&R. To that end, we've prepared a special edition of our Webzine which will help everybody wash that rhetoric right out of your hair. Check it out, and find out what Bob Dole will do back in Russell, Kansas. Will he run for commander of VFW Post 6240 and fix a broken hinge on their wet bar? Or will Dole replace David Brinkley on "This Week" and score the first post-election interview with Bob Dole?
Surf on over to