The Producer Page: November 1997

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • The Producer Book: It's New!!
  • Producers: Too Little Life Experience?
  • Input Requested
  • Embarassing Chyrons
  • Jobs
  • Hire Me!
  • Happenings
  • Web Site for Photographers

  • THE PRODUCER BOOK.
    Alice Main and Bob Stewart

    Since we began distributing The Producer Newsletter in 1995, lots of terrific material has been submitted by contributors. While reformatting the newsletter for more consistency, we were reminded of the value of so much of the material. We began cutting and pasting articles from the newsletter into an online book format, noting in the colorful left-hand column the original date the item appeared in the newsletter. We've also added two appendices, one focusing on web sites for producers, and a second with links to online articles for producers, in publications ranging from American Journalism Review to Forbes.

    The Producer Book is freely available to TV news producers and broadcast journalism students. Its main purpose is to provide a convenient source of information and advice to help producers improve the quality of the news programs they produce. Feel free to print out chapters of the book, but don't forget that it can and will be expanded on a regular basis. We suggest that you bookmark the table of contents (toc.htm) and specific chapters for easy reference. And let us know how to improve the book! By the way, if you find your own material in the book, we would like to be able to include a photo of you. Write to Bob to find out how, at stewartr@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu. If you have something you'd like to write for the newsletter/book, or you know of something or a subject we should include, write to Alice at AJMain@aol.com. The website address is http://www.scripps.ohiou.edu/producer.

    Bob & Alice


    PRODUCERS: TOO LITTLE LIFE EXPERIENCE?
    Alice Main

    In the October issue, I asked for responses to the oft-heard criticism that producers don't have enough life experience. And in this issue, a related question is posed: how does one change "tracks" to get into producing (see below).

    Here's what we've got so far:


    I hate to agree with the generalization that producers today don't have much experience, but I'm afraid, on the whole, the statement is correct.

    As a news manager, I've had to hire producers with experience levels I would have never considered two or three years ago. The problem has been the explosion in local news programming and the introduction of new broadcasters, such as Fox.

    I was offered an opportunity to start producing in '83 after four years as a general assignment reporter. I did both jobs for a couple of years. I wasn't able to break into a major market until I had several more years years of solid producing experience. That's a total of nearly seven years of television journalism before being turned loose in a large newsroom. I spend nearly six years as a line producer in Tampa before I felt I was ready for news management, in '91.

    I thought I rose through the producer ranks quickly, but that's nothing compared to most producers today. News managers are now forced to grow their own producers. I've had to do it. You take someone without a lot of experience, but potential, and throw them into the fire. You hope, with guidance and supervision, they'll develop into competent journalists.

    That's the theory. In reality, many end up with little supervision. And since they've come up through the ranks so quickly, they start to believe their own press... they're hot and happening. Many producers equate aggression, high-energy, and obnoxious volume as leadership. Generally, if I hear a producer losing their mind in the middle of the newsroom, it demonstrates to me a lack of maturity and leadership.

    Many producers today lack the depth of line producers five years ago. How many line producers do you know who spend six or nine years in the trenches covering news day-to-day? After two or three years, many feel it's time to become an EP and start directing the world.

    As for newsrooms in general, there's too much "... you don't know how hard my job is..." finger-pointing going on.

    Let me let everyone in on a little secret. Everyone's job is harder today. I hear these romantic ramblings of how much better the news was "way back when." Well, maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. One thing is for sure, newsrooms back then produced about one-quarter of the programming news managers produce today.

    The pressures today are greater, the demands are a major burden. Staff simply burn out. Managers are forced to hire less experienced people... and if they're lucky... they'll be able to keep them two years. In the 70's, television stations produced news to inform and educate its viewers. General managers produce news today because it's a cash cow. In too many stations, news has become a profit center, not a place for serious journalism.

    Television management itself is also to blame for a lack of the depth. They want the most amount of work possible for the least amount of pay. Producers are forced to jump from market to market to make greater gains in salary. My base salary tripled in less than seven years, but I had to move three times to get it.

    The whole secret to being an effective journalist is your knowledge of the market and its history. When producers breeze in and out of a station every 18 months, you may be able to find a good show stacker, but you won't have anyone on staff who has any depth or a sense of perspective.

    Back to producers. First of all, leave the ego at the door. The only thing you need to worry about is the quality of the news product. Second, listen to the needs of your staff. Whether you realize it or not, the rest of the newsroom looks to the producer as a leader. You need to take responsibility for the broadcast, make sure the crews talk to you, listen to their needs, and help coordinate the day with those over-worked assignment editors. Show empathy for those around you. Be aggressive and demanding without being insulting.

    Personally, I found producing more rewarding than reporting. But when you get right down to it, they're both journalists. The skills it takes to be a good reporter are the same skills necessary to be an effective and creative producer. And you can't do either without education, experience, and knowing your audience and the market.

    Bob Jacobs (bnjacobs@erols.com)


    Outrageous suggestion. Claptrap. Certainly doesn't fit my profile nor of other producers I know. Me:

    • Formerly married (17 years)
    • Single parent of three children for the last 6 years
    • Have worked in everything from selling cars, farming blueberries, distributing newspapers in a large city area, to working in radio and TV news, teaching, and freelance writing.
    • I make a point of grooming friendships outside the business because that gives me a touchpoint with regular folks. In fact my best friends dig trenches and lay carpet. The bonus is you can enjoy the company of others without having to talk shop. I hang out at a coffeeshop that attracts everyone from the unemployed to government workers.

    Now that's how you stay in touch! I didn't catch the Shoptalk start-point of this, but if it smells like rubbish and feels like rubbish- bury the damn stuff.

    Dave Biro
    CHEK TV Victoria BC, Canada


    I don't believe that producers are out of touch because we are 1) single 2) childless and 3) only worked in tv. I fit all three and believe that I am a better producer who is more in touch with what's going on in my community and the world than those that are 1) married 2) have children 3) have only worked in TV. I find that married producers with children are more wrapped up in their children's activities and husband's business or personal life. There is probably a reason I am successful and all of the above. It's because I am dedicated to my career. I spend my time keeping current on what's happening. I work the long hours. I don't take sick days because my kids are sick or in a school play. I get stuck working holidays because I'm single and management doesn't think I have family. Apparently parents and siblings and nieces and nephews don't count. Actually I have nieces and nephews and friends' children that keep me in touch with children's products, programs and illnesses, etc. I believe that most news watchers are single or divorced. Married people tell me all the time their children dominate the TV. They see cartoons instead of the news, they don't have time to read the paper. They don't have time to read the latest novels, catch the latest movies, or keep up with what's happening in the world. So I believe that single producers with no children make the best producers. We, as you all believe and some of us know, don't have lives and so we devote our time and energy to our career.

    Anonymous


    "News people, especially producers are out of touch with real life because we're 1)single, 2)childless, 3) probably have only worked in TV" annoyed the hell out of me. What an insult! Money problems, relationship problems, car problems ... we all deal with them, no matter our marital status. Single or married...each have their own blessings ... and curses. And, frankly, we all have our own concepts of what we think is real life. Steven Spielberg is married with children ... but I imagine his concept of real life is quite a bit different from the rest of us eeking out a living on 5-digit incomes. A much larger, and more crucial issue is employees (single or married) who are out of touch with our society as a whole. Their only exposure is work and home. Both are important, mind you. But, to be so tunnel-visioned is an easy trap and a huge mistake for someone in the "news" business. They don't read a wide variety of newspapers, magazines...and are web illiterates. I have a real problem with employees unaware of certain mainstream pop culture facts that everyone should know...like current movies and hot chart-topping music acts. I still remember an anchor of mine who didn't know who Howdy Doody was ... and pronounced Marlene Dietrich as Mar-leen instead of Marlayna. (She, of course, is now anchoring at one of the networks.) Bottom line ... don't pigeon-hole people. Just because a fellow employee may not have a wife or husband to go home to ... or children at daycare doesn't somehow mean they live in a vacuum. Believe me, that full house can be a vacuum as easily as an empty apartment. It's important for all of us, no matter our marital status, to be aware of what's happening in our world.

    Andrea Clenney (aclenney@ackerley.com)
    Assistant News Director, WIXT-TV Syracuse, NY aclenney@ackerley.com


    Although I'm almost past qualifying for being younger than my anchors, I recently 'crossed the line' from directing to producing, so feel I am quite the rookie producer. But, I think I am 'in touch.'

    I guess I break the mold; while I am single and childless, and my only 'profession' has been television... I actually have a LIFE... I volunteer two or three days a week at a homeless shelter where I work with children of families in the shelter system. I also have horses, cats and two dogs. (Responsibilities?!) I've held jobs in customer service, waitressing, ranching, and teaching. All seasonal or part-time, but all with valuable lessons for a producer...

    As a director and freelancer I learned a lot about television--NOT news-- which also helps to keep a perspective. I think every producer should spend time with each member of the production team, understanding their concept of the show...

    It is only the hiring manager's fault if the producer has no grasp on what the real world is. We've moved away from the part of our resumes which highlights CURRENT volunteer work and/or outside activities... your high school counselor wasn't so wrong when they said your extra-curriculars made you a better prospect! This job is so consuming, it's a struggle to fit in anything else, but it's important. How do I judge what Joe Viewer will find interesting if I can't even relate to Joe Viewer?

    Having said that, I'm pretty sure my reporters think I'm quirky at the least, a red-neck at the worst... but I have a life to go home too after the show!!

    Can't wait to hear what others have to say!

    Jaeme Ahern
    Producer, Channel 7 News, Bangor, ME


    I'm afraid the above statement touched a nerve with me here when it listed the three things above as obstacles. Yes, I'm single (divorced, not by choice), childless (again not by choice) though I have worked outside TV . Because my lifestyle is different from others, or what society feels should be the norm, DOES NOT mean I am out of touch or just now right weird. First of all I believe you need as many viewpoints as possible in a newsroom. This will help you keep in touch with the real world. The problem is, once the ND or who ever decides who the viewer is, all other views are ignored. I was told so to my face that no one cared about what people in my demographic are concerned about. I was pushing for a story on planning for your retirement (a story that could also apply to married people) and for a story about what to do with aging parents. (I guess us single people only have this problem.) I also had friends tell me they didn't watch my newscast because nothing in it applied to them. I understand focusing on the demo, but these people were talking about things that APPLY TO EVERYONE. That's where I think our newsroom sometimes got bogged down. We focused so much on "women's" stories we forgot there were other people out there. We should have focused on "people" stories. I do agree that TV people tend to flock together. It is a different world. But you keep in touch by reading, having friends outside the business, getting involved in your community, taking classes, joining a club, and just talking with people. Listen when you're in line at the grocery or on a bus. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you on the plane. Then you find out what the world is talking about. But I must confess I have met fellow journalists who think they do know better and that actually asking the common person (instead of a suit) is NOT the way to do a news story. I once had a fellow broadcast complain that her news director wanted her to be a journalist '24 hours a day.' Yes, you are a journalist all the time. But that doesn't mean you can't have a real life. What it means is if you're off duty and you see a good story, mention it at the next day's meeting, if a disaster happens, head to the newsroom. What it DOESN't mean is fill every waking moment of your life with scouring the streets for a news tidbit. Living the so called 'real life' gives you the experience you need and will lead to insight that will lead to great stories that will affect and challenge your viewers.

    Anonymous


    My 2 cents on young producers and the news they churn out (that's me!).

    My first full-time job out of j-school was as the overnight/AM newscast producer, and I found it frustrating for a lot of reasons ... most notably, that I had little to no idea what was going on in the world, b/c I was asleep when everyone else was awake, and vice versa ... and I was single and living alone.

    I think there is a bit of a "void" here, but it starts with the news directors. I've seen stations that staff the younger crowd on certain shifts--usually not dayside--and I think that means some newscasts have a very different take on the news of the day. Obviously, those of us who are just getting started are going to be a little green when it comes to knowing what our audience wants...but to balance that, there need to be veterans around on every shift, and they need to speak up! (rather than grumble about being at the station at off-hours, etc.)

    As one Shoptalker said, it's not all the young crowd ... management still calls the shots. Until we start deciding "WHY" something is news, we'll keep getting zapped by people who say we're out of touch! I'd love to walk into a newsroom without a police scanner blaring out ... we need to get back to beats and real sources for stories, and LESS of the latest crime scene.

    Thanks for the soapbox!

    John Myers
    KVIE-TV, Sacramento CA


    PRODUCERS WHO USED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE

    From a reader:

    "In terms of becoming a producer, most [Producer Page] articles, and your [new online] book, addresses it from the standpoint only of entering the producer ranks from being a college student or being an intern. And while that is probably the most usual scenario, is it the only one? Am I the only person who wants to make a track change after getting established (sort of) in another area (editing)? I'd like to see articles addressing that, with experiences from people who may have made those changes."

    Editors' Note: Please respond to AJMain@aol.com with "Switch to Producing" in the subject line for publication next month.


    EMBARASSING CHYRONS

    Alice,

    here's an interesting one that hit our air the other day:

    "Pubic Eye with Bryant Gumbel"

    There are time you just want to crawl into a corner and die.


    THE PRODUCER NEWSLETTER is my hobby, and has been for the past two years. It's all free, and depends on fun, insightful contributions from you, the readers. You can get it by email, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.scripps.ohiou.edu/producer. To subscribe, send me a nice, chatty note to AJMain@aol.com, with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.

    Which brings me to another, related matter. I don't know about the rest of you, but on any given day I can get anywhere from five to twenty-five junk email messages. I hate them! I delete them on sight! That's why it's important to get my attention properly in the subject line, or else I might never read your note.

    Alice


    HAPPENINGS

    Items for PRODUCERS too!

    Dec. 5-7 -- "Follow the Money: Covering Campaign Finance" workshop sponsored by the Radio and TV News Directors Foundation, Medill News Service and the National Press Club. National Press Club, Washington, DC. Contact Cy Porter, RTNDF, (202) 467-5219.

    Jan. 9-11 -- "Civic Journalism: Advances in Reporting" workshop sponsored by the Radio and TV News Directors Foundation and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. Terrace Garden Hotel, Atlanta. Contact Sarah Pollack, Pew Center, (202) 331-3200


    NEW WEBSITE FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

    Tim Rutherford of WMAR-TV wants to share his new website. Photographers Lounge: http://members.aol.com/Photogslou/index.html Nice graphics, irreverent style.


    HIRE ME

    I am a television producer with fifteen years experience in broadcast journalism. Although I currently live and work in Montreal, Canada , I am looking to get back to the States (born and bred New Yorker). In the meantime, I am able to mobilize a top-notch crew quickly and travel anywhere a job may take me. I would appreciate any suggestions.

    M. Reffes (melr@total.net)