The Producer Page: October 1995

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • The (Alleged) Producer Shortage
  • Terrible Teases
  • Most Excellent Live Shot
  • Producers On the Move
  • Hire Me
  • Leave 'em Laughing

  • THE (ALLEGED) PRODUCER SHORTAGE
    by Alice Main, Producer, WKRC in Cincinnati (AJMain@aol.com)

    So you've heard that there's a shortage of television news producers and you're already counting your money. Yes, there's a shrinking pool of producers out there because many local markets have recently expanded to four TV news operations. But hold onto your resume tape for a minute. If you lack creativity, you may have a tough time breaking into one of those golden job openings. The problem is that there are very few "true producers" looking for jobs, says Larry Rickel, president & CEO of The Broadcast Image Image Group and author of "The Producing Strategy." True producers understand that producing is storytelling, managing, creating, risk-taking and communicating with your customers.

    "That's the real shortage!" Rickel says.

    Those who make or assist in hiring decisions are in full agreement that experienced producers are increasingly scarce commodities.

    "I think the massive expansion of TV newsrooms due to the New World Shuffle has taken mid-market stations like mine out of the running for the producers that are out there," says Peggy Phillip, news director at KRJH in Tulsa.

    It is not only diluting the supply of seasoned producers, but also reporters, anchors, editors, artists and assignment managers, says Phil Alvidrez, Vice-President of News at KTVK in Phoenix.

    "Short term, that's bad news. Long term, if the number of opportunities holds or continues to grow, it is great news," Alvidrez says.

    People are sending in tapes and resumes when there are openings for producers, but hearing from an excellent producer is rare.

    "We've been looking for them and we find that many people with even a couple years' experience don't have the leadership or technical skills we're looking for," says Ken Smith, senior producer at WKRN in Nashville.

    "We have found a lot of producers who think they're much better than they actually are. They're the ones who demand what show they'll be on, want their working hours set in stone and ask for outrageous salaries. I had a candidate from a 90-something market (doing mornings there at a bad station) tell me they wanted about $35-$40K to do our weekends. Not gonna happen," Smith says.

    Manager think their applicants sometimes lack a commitment to producing.

    "We find lots of people willing to apply, but many of them really want to be reporters, and see this as a way "in the door,'" says Jim Lemon, executive producer at KGUN in Tucson.

    His concerns are echoed by Steve Doerr, news director at WCAU in Philadelphia, who wants people who are leaders, good writers and on a management track.

    "Too many people view producing as a means to a reporting end, which is self-defeating. There are too many mediocre reporter resume tapes in a box outside my office already. I want leaders who want to move up," says Doerr.

    FOR PRODUCERS WHO WANT TO MOVE

    For those who are committed to producing, the opportunities are there. But too many producers aren't willing to take them. Alvidrez says applicants need to be willing to work odd hours.

    "Even in market 17, I've found smaller-market producers unwilling to even consider a job producing a morning or overnight or weekend newscast," he says. "I can't blame anyone for wanting to work the best, most reasonable hours they can in this crazy business, but it is discouraging when that seems to drive the decision-making."

    Larry Rickel advises producers not to jump at the first big-money, big-market opportunity. "Pick somewhere you want to live and work, find a station with a defined philosophy you are excited about. Find a station, a company, that offers you a launching pad for your next opportunity. Connect with a news-management team you can learn from," he says.

    Rickel urges caution before making huge market jumps. Although it has worked wonderfully for some, there are also many, many producers who have jumped to the big markets only to be eaten alive because they weren't ready, he says.

    HOW TO APPLY FOR A PRODUCING JOB

    If you've been hoarding a resume tape from last May, when you produced a special theme show on gambling, and you just know the tape will knock the socks off some news manager in a top-ten market, well, forget it. You don't have to send the tape to the bulk-eraser, but don't send it to a news director, either.

    "Anyone can put that great show together or show us the "big story" night ... we are looking for what you do every night," says Rickel. Everyone wants LAST NIGHT's newscast.

    Steve Doerr: "I don't want the inauguration, state-fair special or election night. Show me what you'll do for me day in and day out." Paula Pendarvis, news director, WGNO in New Orleans: "The first-place award at the Press Club is outstanding. But there's a more important contest every night. One entire newscast, followed by clips of a producer's favorite shows or special projects the producer has created, gives me an idea of the producer's range on those average nights as well as the nights that shine."

    Executive Producer Elbert Tucker, WKRC in Cincinnati, wants last night's newscast, and he wants it to start strong. "The first minute or two of a resume tape can make or break a producer. If my interest hasn't piqued in that time, there is something wrong. Experiments don't always work, but it's better than starting your newscast with the old Intro, Package, Tag."

    Ken Smith: "Be persistent in contacting me ... and call me when you say you will, or send me material when you say you will. I've had producers promise me a tape in two days ... it gets there a week later. Shows me they're not organized."

    Peggy Phillip says a simple newscast tape often isn't enough. She wants a tape that includes control-room audio on one channel. She also likes to see a description of the day's events, from the editorial meeting in the morning to the script-printing before the newscast. "I also give a potential employee the opportunity to send along bits and pieces of what worked from other shows, a montage of what they consider good," she says.

    Phil Alvidrez agrees that finding a top-notch producer goes beyond viewing tapes. He wants answers to some detailed questions. "How much of a role did you have in putting the show together? Did you design the format, graphic look, use of live, etc., or simply carry out a news director's or EP's vision? Did you get the most out of your resources that day? How did you handle things when two reporters called in sick? Or the lead story didn't make it? Or you had to juggle multiple live shots? What story ideas were yours? Can you inspire? Lead? Are you someone who points out problems or do you go beyond that and offer solutions? Do you think independently? Are you a risk-taker? Do you love the news business?" If you can address at least some of those questions in the cover letter or critique that accompanies your tape, a news manager is going to be able to develop a much clearer picture of your abilities.

    Paula Pendarvis says the most important thing "is remembering the viewer every step of the way as a newscast is created and executed." Consistently good work gets noticed. "I was impressed with my 10 o'clock guy last night. He came up with a graphic idea that worked very well on a major economic story here, which shows that after all these years he is still striving to put the best possible work on the air," says Jim Lemon.

    MONEY, MONEY, MONEY (I WANNA BE RICH...)

    The good news is that salaries are going up. The bad news is that they have a long way to go. When I asked the producers who subscribe to this newsletter to tell me how much money they make, I actually thought the days of the $18,000 producer were gone. I was wrong.

    According to a 1994 survey by Vernon Stone, journalism professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, salaries below $20,000 are the norm in market sizes 101-200. And they're not unheard-of in larger markets, either. (You can see his full report, including salaries for other newsroom jobs, at www.missouri.edu/~jourvs/index.html) Still, news managers seem optimistic about future paychecks for producers.

    "Producers' salaries are on the way up, without question," says Steve Doerr. "News directors realize the value of a good producer (due, in part, to the fact that a new generation of news directors now moving into power used to produce ourselves!)"

    Peggy Phillip is already working on the problem. "I have consistently increased the salaries of my producers by an average of four thousand dollars per person in the past 18 months," she says.

    Since this is a sellers' market, "stations now find that they have to pay more money to hire and keep good producers. This also means that producers are getting management contracts for three to five years," says Don Fitzpatrick, of Don Fitzpatrick and Associates, and the author of ShopTalk.''

    The upswing in pay does have a downside, according to Phil Alvidrez.

    "Some smaller-market producers who have enjoyed the increased money have priced themselves out of secondary-show jobs in larger markets, leaving them with the dilemma, 'Do I move to a bigger place, a bigger challenge, even if it means a smaller than expected or even no increase in pay?'" says Alvidrez.

    And Larry Rickel cautions that money should not be the most important consideration for a job-seeker.

    "Do your homework, find out what other producers are making in that market currently, and then evaluate your value," he says. "A good fit is far more important than a few extra bucks."

    THE COLD HARD FACTS

    And now, the survey. It's important to note that not everyone shared the same amount of information with me. There are several reasons for that. The biggest reason is the understandable concern many contributors had for their privacy.

    On the chart, "mornings" means early mornings and/or noon. "Evenings" means anything after 4 p.m. And "weekends" means weekend evenings. And remember, these are not average or median incomes. These are actual salaries for actual producers, and as such they could be high-end, low-end, or average for the market.

    Market  1 --                          $80-95K
            2 -- mornings --                 $60K
            6 -- 3-5 yrs exp --              $28K
            9 -- 3-5 yrs exp --              $50K
           15 -- weekends -- 0-2 yrs exp --  $25K
           15 -- evenings -- 0-2 yrs exp --  $30K
           16 -- 3-5 yrs exp --              $38K
           17 -- evenings --                 $40K
           18 -- evenings -- 3-5 yrs exp --  $45K
           19 -- evenings --                 $45K
           22 -- weekends --                 $30K
           23 -- evenings --                 $45K
           25 -- evenings -- 5-10 yrs exp -- $45K
           26 -- 5-10 yrs exp --             $38K
           26 -- 5-10 yrs exp --             $32K
           27 -- weekends -- 5-10 yrs exp -- $28K
           29 -- mornings -- 0-2 yrs exp --  $30K
           29 -- evenings -- 5-10 yrs exp -- $44K
           30 -- evenings --                 $40K
           31 -- 3-5 yrs exp --              $40K
           40 -- evenings -- 3-5 yrs exp --  $39K
           40 -- evenings -- 5-10 yrs exp -- $44K
           49 -- mornings --                 $25K
           50 -- 0-2 yrs exp --              $30K
           54 -- 0-2 yrs exp --              $24K
           74 -- evenings --                 $24K
           76 -- 3-5 yrs exp --              $24K
           80 --                             $25K
           82 -- 5-10 yrs exp --             $26K
           90 -- evenings -- 5-10 yrs exp -- $19K
           98 -- evenings -- 0-2 yrs exp --  $16K
           98 -- mornings -- 0-2 yrs exp --  $14K
          120 -- evenings --                 $15K
          128 -- 5-10 yrs exp --             $20K
          148 --                             $18K
          197 -- 3-5 yrs exp --              $17K
    

    Thanks to everyone who contributed to the survey!


    MOST EXCELLENT LIVE SHOT
    by Don Ennis Producer, Producer, WFTS 28 Tampa Bay News (Dse5@aol.com)

    Mast-Cam! We at WFTS have a tiny lipstick camera atop our live truck masts, which provides us with unique perspectives. Like the time rescuers dug through a ditch, which wasn't visible through a mob of onlookers, but was seen live by our viewers! Also great at big events like outdoor festivals, DUI checkpoints and traffic nightmares.

    Also at WFTS, but not on my watch: Guy who survived skydive with broken parachute 20 years ago relives that day, live on our air: He's hooked up with wireless mic and IFB so reporter interviews him live during descent, and he lands at her feet. One of our shooters jumped with him, so after fabulous live at five, he edits a donut for the next live hit at six, showing another spectacular jump!


    LIVE SHOT 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.


    TERRIBLE TEASES
    from Jeff Bailey, WTNH-TV, New Haven CT (BaileyJS@aol.com)

    For a story about paraplegics being able to waterski, I wrote something about fun for wheelchair-bound people. Pretty pathetic, but made worse when the anchor read "wheel-bound chair-people".

    Anonymous Contributor

    A recent bad tease (we generate more than our share with 24 hours of news) -- the writer shall remain nameless: "Britons are getting wind of a new type of bean. That breaking story -- just ahead."

    from several anonymous and (In Some Cases) embarrassed producers

    "Police believe Joe Blow was killed some time before his friends found his body.".... (in my defense, I was trying to make it sound like he was killed QUITE some time before he was found).


    We all know that typos happen ... and as a producer, it is our job to make sure we fix them. But sometimes, you miss a few, and you have to hope that the anchor catches it.

    Here's one that left the newsroom laughing so hard we were in tears: "You could be helping decide whether or not the Miss America Pageant will include the swimsuit competition ...we'll tell you abou tit ... stay with us."

    Thankfully, before we went to air, the anchor caught the error! But even she admitted that had she not caught it, she probably would have read the script as it was written!


    For your "I Can't Believe I Wrote That" department ... I wrote this just this morning ... and didn't even realize it until my anchor pointed it out. "... Hugh Grant GOT OFF on probation. Brown got a STIFFER sentence because she was already on probation for prostitution."


    My friend told me about one that was in her newscast years ago in Wyoming. They were teasing a story about sperm donors, but the script, video and chyron banner all got mixed up with another tease about an astronaut movie. So you heard the tease about the sperm donors, but you saw video of seven astronauts walking in slow motion in their space suits and the banner read: "The Right Stuff."


    One contributor says these were written just for laughs, and never made air: About a nude car show: "When they say "fully loaded, four on the floor" at THIS car show, they may not be talkin about the car."

    About Selena's new album: "Selena's new album just hit the charts ... and it's number-one with a bullet."


    TERRIBLE INTROs, TOO

    Don Dudley (DonD2), Washington, D.C.

    I know you're looking for bad teases at the moment, but how about this AWFUL INTRO into a late newscast for your own personal enjoyment:

    "Good evening. I'm Jane Doe. John Smith has the night off. He's been arrested again for child pornography. Tonight, a local man faces additional charges after a second federal raid at his _____ County home. Police have charged...."

    Listening to my own station in another room I would have sworn that our VERY conservative anchor man, "John Smith", was on his way to the pokey ... All of us got quite a chuckle outta this one (with the exception of "John Smith," of course.)


    LINE PRODUCING vs. FIELD PRODUCING

    A subscriber asks for advice:

    What size does a market have to be for the word "producer" to not mean "line producer?" In the small markets I'm looking in, the role is reporter/producer. That's the kind of "producing" I want to do -- like field producing or working with reporters on stories like networks do. But are the networks the only places that work like that? Is it possible to find that kind of producing in any small markets? Thanks for your advice. Carol Berman (CarolNYC@aol.com)


    A BRAND-NEW NEWSCAST
    by Kim Kosmatka, WMTV, Madison, Wisconsin (KSueKos@aol.com)

    (Editor's Note: in the August issue, Kim asked for input on her start-up 5 p.m. newscast. She says thanks for the many ideas that came her way and is now sharing some of the ideas that seem to be working so far.)

    I contacted the managing editors at several community newspapers in big small towns [big enough to have a newspaper :)] outside our "main" coverage area (Madison). Each day they fax me a maximum of three stories, but sometimes none or one depending on the news. The stories are used in a segment we call "Talk of the Town."

    The segment begins with an animated graphic that says "Talk of the Town" in print-style lettering, with "Read all about It" and our logo in the bottom corner. There's audio of a printing press running underneath. The anchor says something like, "Each day at this time we give you an idea of what people are talking about throughout our viewing area. If you'd like to know more, remember, you can read all about it!"

    The animation then peels back to a full-screen graphic with the newspaper masthead on the top. As the anchor reads a brief "headline," a bullet point style headline appears underneath the masthead. We usually hear from three of the seven newspapers each day and we keep the segment to about 1:00 total. Each "headline" lasts about 7-10 seconds.

    We've had really positive feedback from everyone involved. Folks at the newspaper get free advertising, viewers who feel we never cover them get covered and we get some great story ideas that we might not have heard about otherwise!

    The other segment that's been really popular is a segment we call "Kids These Days." Our former weekend anchor works part-time now as a reporter (she just had her second child). Each Tuesday she comes on the air and tells a brief personal story about her kids, then throws it to a package about that topic. For example: "The first time I went back to work after having Ben he just cried and cried ... but pediatricians say separation anxiety is normal among kids his age..." to package.

    Our older audience loves hearing a young mother talk about her kids, while the young mothers have a chance to "relate" to someone on TV. We invite young mothers with questions to send them to Susie, and she'll ask the experts.

    We've had a number of other success stories with this show, but these are the best. Of course, we're only on week two right now, but I'm very anxious for the November book!!!


    PRODUCER-REPORTER COMMUNICATION
    by Chuck Tanowitz, Binghamton, N.Y. (tano@ix.netcom.com)

    When a reporter is doing a live shot, I try to ask her what she wants to hear before she goes out. Does she like having me cue her even though it cuts out her air audio? Does she want a simple *click* on the 2-way so she knows she's under video? This sounds like common sense, but producers around here often do it their way and succeed only in annoying the reporters.


    BOOK FOR PRODUCERS OFFERED AT DISCOUNT

    The brand new book, The Producing Strategy, written by Larry Rickel, President of The Broadcast Image Group, Inc., and Ed Sardella, Anchor & Senior Editor at KUSA-TV, Denver, is being offered to you as a member of The Producer E-mail newsletter, during the month of October, at a discounted price of $26.00 plus tax and shipping. This comprehensive, 163 page book is based on the philosophy that "everyone who works in the newsroom is a producer first."

    "It is everybody's job to think about what your newscast is going to look like on that particular night. The concept of the book is that everybody is elevated to the position of producer. There are reporter-producers, anchor-producers, writer-producers, or assigning-producers, Everyone must think about the end product, as opposed to their individual jobs," Rickel says.

    A second major concept of the book is that the main job in contemporary television is to upgrade our storytelling from simply processing news events to producing useful information.

    For more information on the book, or to order a book, call Carol at 210-828-6664, or E-Mail WIIFM TV @aol.com. Limit one copy per person at $26.00. Additional copies sold at $28.00 each.


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    Ian Schank is becoming the new morning news producer at KTNV in Las Vegas. He leaves his job as 6 & 10 p.m. producer at KMIZ in Columbia, Missouri. He is currently unreachable by e-mail, until he gets settled in Vegas.

    Laura K. Smith (G8orbait@aol.com) becomes executive producer at WVEC in Norfolk, VA. Laura recently served as a freelance field producer/writer/researcher with the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center in Nashville. In the last few months, she's been job searching from Gainesville, Florida, where she just completed her master's degree in mass communications.

    Michael Baugh (mikuhl@aol.com) just made the move from WJW (Fox) in Cleveland to KDNL (ABC) in St. Louis. Michael produced the 10 in Cleveland and assumes the same responsibilities at his new station. KDNL is a start-up affiliate and is already breaking new ground in the St. Louis market. Michael tells us that KDNL is still looking for more creative producers, reporters and photographers ... so, send in your tapes!

    Gina Tomasi was weekend news producer at KFMB, San Diego until last May. Now, she is executive producer at KADY in Oxnard and goes by her married name, Gina Diamante. (GDiamante@aol.com)

    Larry Silbermann (LSilberman@aol.com) is now senior producer at KGW in Portland. He left the 10 p.m. spot at WDSU in New Orleans at the end of August.

    Benjamin Johnson, 6 p.m. producer, WTSP, Tampa, Fla., is moving to KCBS in L.A.

    Travia Baker, 5 p.m. producer, WDSU, is moving to 6 p.m. producer at the CBS affiliate in Miami.

    Nancy DeCorte, 6 p.m. producer WDSU, is leaving in November to pursue the joys of motherhood.

    Shawn Bohs (STVproducer@aol.com) joins 25 other journalists in an RTDNF exchange program with Germany. It's a two-week tour of cities including Berlin, Bonn, Buchenwald, Frankfurt and Brussels. The purpose is to improve relations between the German and American media.


    HIRE ME

    I am seeking an entry-level professional position in television promotions. I have just earned a master's in media management and TV production. I am an excellent writer, an organized, creative team player with good ideas. I would prefer to stay in the southeastern U.S. If you're interested in someone like me, contact Karen Miller at karemil@beacon.regent.edu


    LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING
    from Anonymous Contributors

    The following are closing words from anchors in the final moments of our late EVENING newscast one night. The key word here is EVENING newscast. ANCHOR ONE: "That's our report for tonight, we'll see you again tomorrow." ANCHOR TWO: "Good morning".


    One night, the 6 p.m. kicker story was about the world's only thermometer museum. After the story wrapped up, one anchor said, "Boy, it must be rough there around Daylight Savings Time." A momentary pause. "I think you're thinking of clocks," replied our other anchor.


    Finally, a personal note to the nameless newsroom in which The Producer newsletter is BANNED because an anchor was offended by last month's anecdotes. Gotta wonder about a NEWS organization that censors what its staff is allowed to read!