The Producer Page: September 1998

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • Terrible Teases
  • Why You're Only As Good As Your Last Newscast
  • I Can't Believe He/She Said That On The Air!
  • Producers on Contract: Questionnaires
  • Producers on the Move
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Happenings
  • Job Openings
  • Hire Me

  • TERRIBLE TEASES

    From Mike Nassour, Austin, Texas:

    Perhaps the worst tease I ever saw was the one with the female anchor and the weatherman in Austin, Texas, back in 1976.

    The female anchor...on camera...leans toward the weatherman and says "...it says here, tease to weather, so cuchie..cuchie..coo...", and says this while tickling his chin.

    I couldn't make this up.

    From B.T. Corwin, South Coast Productions:

    A Mayor's Been Shot. We'll Tell You What City. Film at Eleven

    There's Blood on the Runway. We Talk with the Surviors. Film at Eleven.

    I used to work at WJZ in Baltimore, back in the 70's with Jerry Turner and Al Sanders anchoring. Paul Gluck was the producer of the 6pm newscast. I don't know if they actually aired these teases, or Paul just wanted to, but he wrote THE most creative teases I've ever heard - and funny, too. (Paul's now the News Director at KYW in Philadelphia).

    From Anonymous Contributor:

    You may very well have already heard this one, but it happened on the day Phil Hartman died. It was the FOX affilliate in Salt Lake City, prepping for their noon newscast.

    "Another Saturday Night Live cast member meets an untimely death. We'll tell you who... at noon."

    From Anonymous Contributor:

    63-thousand workers have now been laid because of strikes at two plants in Michigan. (saved from air by copy editor)


    WHY YOU'RE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR LAST NEWSCAST
    By John Matlock, CKCO News Producer, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

    My station just won the RTNDA News Award for best 6:00 Newscast , (medium market category), in Canada. (A high energy Action News format. I'd take a bow, but, read on...)

    Beyond the usual load at Noon & Six.... I found time to write a two anchor vo-sot about the award utilizing a montage from our winning newscast, clips from our News Director and behind the scenes video of the technical crew who help us look sharp every night. It was my small way of thanking viewers and staff for making us number one... and I gave it all the the bells and whistles!

    Later that evening, in the controlroom, I was stunned to see the wrong video roll to air !!! My anchors did their best... but the moment of triumph was lost and we all carried on with the show.

    The air was thick with irony. Just when the biz is as good as it gets... a simple error cut us all back down to size.

    After the horrific moment passed... and a few beers passed my lips that evening... I found one simple lesson. YOU CAN NEVER RELIVE A GREAT NEWSCAST. The audience doesn't. Every new broadcast must be the best. That's all the proof viewers need.

    P.S. The plaque does look great !!


    I CAN'T BELIEVE HE/SHE SAID THAT ON THE AIR

    Anonymous Contributor:

    After 3 or 4 times, I realized I had to tell my anchor that you say "drowning" not "drownding." She read Mt. Rainier as Mt. Rain-er (this isn't a flub, she really didn't know) There's an Ask the Cop segmen. She teased it as Ask the Cocks More than once she's pronounced impotence as "im POH' tence" When we had our first cold snap in the fall, she asked, "Is this Indian Summer?"

    Anonymous Contributor:

    We were recently hit with the worst floods in recent memory. We're going live for hours, with one of our anchors in the field. He tosses it to a reporter in another location, who presented a heart wrenching story about a couple expecting a baby who had just lost everything. Tears, gnashing of teeth, devastation, reporter tosses back to anchor. Anchor (who is normally blessed with a perfectly timed wit) says, "I guess you could say her water broke a few months early."


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    After nearly 20 years in the business, BOB HALLINAN, has left his job as 6:00 producer at KMBC in Kansas City to become the Assistant Director of Public Relations for the University of Kansas Medical Center.

    SHAWN HARKNESS heads a thousand miles south to work for the startup Florida NewsChannel as an Executive Producer. Shawn has worked at CLTV for almost 2 years producing daily newscasts, and "Front & Center" for the past year. The Mansfield University graduate worked at WRGB (CBS) in Albany/Schenectady, NY as an assignment editor and producer.

    DUNCAN SHAW moves from producer, KXTV Sacramento, to 6am producer at KUSA 9 News in Denver.

    CHRISTOPHER SHIGAS, producer at WVTM Birmingham, has accepted a producer position at WRAL Raleigh/Durham.


    PRODUCERS AND CONTRACTS
    by Alice Main, Editor

    I've had a number of questions over the years about producers and contracts. So it's time to answer the most frequently asked question of them all: How many producers out there are signing contracts?

    I don't expect to get anything close to an exhaustive survey, but it would help if all the producers and news directors will answer the appropriate survey below. Questionnaire #1 is for producers. Questionnaire #2 is for news directors.

    QUESTIONNAIRE #1: For local & network & cable news producers only: (NO MANAGERS, NO ON-AIR TALENT, ETC) Please cut-n-paste the following questionnaire to your reply note to AJMain@aol.com, and then answer all the questions. Use as much space as you need. Make the subject line on your email "From Producer." *************************** YOUR DISCLAIMER: I am answering your very personal questions because I know that you will NOT IDENTIFY me by name, city, or call letters in any way in your article. You want the information so you can tell whether there's a trend in certain markets, for example, or among certain station groups, to use contracts for producers. Once the information is processed, you will throw my e-mail away and/or delete it from your computer and forget you ever saw it, which shouldn't be hard to do since your long-term memory is shot.

    Name: Email address: Call letters of station: Network Affiliation if applicable: Station ownership: City & state where station is located: Market Size if applicable: Years I have worked at this station: Years in TV news (not counting college): I am currently represented by an agent: (YES/NO) My job title: That actually means that I do this: I make this much money per year (including overtime if applicable): I am currently under contract. (YES/NO**) I have been under contract as a producer in the past.(YES/NO**) **If NO to both previous questions, then skip to the bottom section. If you've been under contract in the past, then answer the questions below as if your previous contract were still valid.** My contract is for _____ (indicate period of time) It was optional for me to sign the contract. (YES/NO) The contract includes a non-compete clause. (YES**/NO) **If YES, describe the non-compete. For how long? How big a geographic area? etc._____________ The contract includes an "out" for the producer. (YES/NO) The contract includes an "out" for the station. (YES/NO) Objectively, I'd say producer contracts have been a good idea for my station. (YES/NO) Objectively, I'd say producer contracts have been good for the producers at my station. (YES/NO) The number of producer contracts I have signed in my career: ______ I have looked for a new job while still under contract. (YES**/NO) **If YES, here's how I went about looking for that new job: _________________

    BOTTOM SECTION: [Here's where you can go wild with your comments. I'll assume these comments are anonymous, unless you wish to be quoted directly. Here's how to tell me it's okay to quote you. Type in your comments, and then your name, call letters, city and job title. Only then will I actually use your name in my article. The information in the top section will still be considered anonymous, though.]

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    QUESTIONNAIRE #2

    FOR NEWS DIRECTORS (or the person who hires producers) ONLY: Please cut-n-paste this questionnaire to your reply message to AJMain@aol.com, and answer each question. Use as much space as you need. Make your subject line on the email "From News Director."

    **************************** YOUR DISCLAIMER: I am answering your questions because I know that you will NOT IDENTIFY me by name, city, or call letters in any way in your article. You want the information so you can tell whether there's a trend in certain markets, for example, or among certain station groups, to use contracts for producers. Once the information is processed, you will throw my e-mail away and/or delete it from your computer and forget you ever saw it, which shouldn't be hard to do since your long-term memory is shot.

    Name: Email address: Call letters of station: Network Affiliation if applicable: Station ownership: City & state where station is located: Market Size if applicable: My job title: I've been in a position to hire producers for ___________(indicate period of time) None of my producers is under contract. (YES**/NO) (**if YES, skip to the bottom section) The producers in my shop that are under contract: (ALL/SOME) Typically, the producer contract is for _____ (indicate period of time) It is optional for my producers to sign their contracts. (YES/NO) The contract includes a non-compete clause. (YES**/NO) **If YES, describe the non-compete. For how long? How big a geographic area? etc. The contract includes an "out" for the producer. (YES/NO) The contract includes an "out" for the station. (YES/NO) Objectively, I'd say producer contracts have been a good idea for my station. (YES/NO) Objectively, I'd say producer contracts have been good for the producers at my station. (YES/NO) I have been signing producers to contracts ever since...______________ (indicate what year) For a producer in another shop who's still under contract but wants to start nosing around at my station for the next job, my advice would be: ___________________

    BOTTOM SECTION: [Here's where you can go wild with your comments. I'll assume these comments are anonymous, unless you wish to be quoted directly. Here's how to tell me it's okay to quote you. Type in your comments, and then your name, call letters, city and job title. Only then will I actually use your name in my article. The information provided in the top section will remain anonymous even if you want your comments to be quoted.]


    MONEY SAVERS
    by Murray Schweitzer, Consumer/Investigative Producer, Washington, D.C., Mschweitz@aol.com

    As an experienced journalist, I have discovered (along with some other journalists these days it seems) that it may be easier to make things up than report them accurately. In order to do that, I am turning away momentarily from the hard-hitting "hidden-camera, dangerous-bacteria, dirty-restaurants, perverts-on-the-internet" investigations of the ratings periods to investigating the real journalistic focal point of local TV news - cutting budgets and improving profits. In this regard, I submit the following management memo for your approval. (I believe it to be made-up, but who really knows?).

    To: News Staff From: Your Management Team Re: New money-saving policy

    As we all know, the economy is booming and inflation is virtually nil. Nonetheless, your management team has decided this is not the time to spend news-gathering dollars willy-nilly. In fact, your management team has determined that this is a time to preserve news dollars even more. Therefore your management team has come up with a new and comprehensive plan to save even more news-gathering dollars, and we'd like to share some of our ideas with you:

    1. Gasoline savings - As you know, gasoline usage seems to go up every year. So your management team has come up with a unique plan to control these spiraling costs. Until further notice, the Assignment Desk will only send crews and reporters to stories that are downhill from the station. This should enable crew cars to coast to most stories. Stories that are uphill from the station shall only be covered on a "must-need" basis as determined by management. In some cases, reporters and crews may use public transportation to uphill stories, but this requires pre-uphill approval. In conjunction with this new policy, your management team encourages coverage of stories within walking distance of the station. Underlying the importance of this goal, next week we will begin a promotional campaign with a brand new slogan: "News that's as close as our front door." Please note that given this new directive, crews and assignment desk personnel should be very clear when using the phrase "this story is going downhill" as confusion could occur whether this is now a good thing or a bad thing.

    2. Batteries - As you know, camera and light batteries are very expensive. In an effort to wean crews and reporters away from dependence on these batteries, each crew car will only be equipped with one camera battery. Videographers are encouraged to tap into private sources of electricity whenever possible. (This means running extension cords from private homes and offices whenever you can. Your management team feels that very few citizens will ever turn you down). In order to help you facilitate this directive, management will issue each crew up to 200 feet of extension cord (in order to conserve resources, many crews will receive four (4) 50 foot cords from the old "frayed but still useable" pile). However, day crews will have to turn in their cords at end of shift for use by the nighttime crews. Also, in the event that 200 feet of cord is insufficient, the assignment desk may have one crew deliver extra cords to the cord-needy crew but only in the event that the "cord-needy" crew is downhill of the "cord-sufficient" crew. (See directive #1 above).

    3. Cell phones - As you know we have come to rely more and more on cellular technology, and while it does help with communications, monthly cell phone bills are very high. So until further notice, the cell phone may only be used with prior authorization from the assignment desk. (Note reporters and photographers: It would be very helpful if you could turn in a written cell phone call request sheet one week prior to actually having to make a cellular call). In each case where permission is granted, immediately following the call the station employee making the call will immediately dial the cell phone company to complain about the quality of the service and demand a refund for the previous call. With everyone's cooperation this should drastically reduce cell phone costs to virtually nothing.

    4. Videotape - As we've increased the number of hours of news we present each day, the amount of videotape we use has grown substantially. Though your management team realizes there may be a cause and effect situation operating here, we still think videotape savings are possible. So until further notice, no countdowns will be used ahead of stories. While this may seem sniveling to some, saving 10 seconds of tape at the head of hundreds of stories each year should relieve some pressure from our videotape budget.

    5. Videotape labels - Another small but important savings can be made on labels. Each year we throw away thousands of labels because they are written in ink and can't be re-used. So until further notice, labels will be filled out in pencil and erased for new stories. In the event a field tape label becomes extremely frayed, employees can call in for "new label approval" from the manager on duty. (You may use cell phones to call in for "new label approval," however please re-read directive #3 above for specific procedure).

    6. Lunch - Until further notice, we can no longer allow lunch breaks. However realizing that nourishment is necessary for some weaker members of our staff, your management team has decided that crews and reporters may eat while recording sit-down interviews. (If interview subjects ask about this practice, management encourages employees to mumble something about low blood-sugar levels, adult onset diabetes, and the avoidance of diabetic comas). Furthermore, because your management team frowns on encouraging employees to do anything it wouldn't do, all managers will add an addendum to their yearly "Goals & Objectives" planner using the phrase "eat more meals at my desk." (However this is not meant to limit the number of times when a superior insists a "working lunch out of the building with a colleague " is of vital importance).

    As a final thought, management realizes that many of these changes may be less than enthusiastically embraced by some employees. However these employees are still not committed to the mantra of "out of the box" thinking and should be ignored entirely. Plus, you have our word that if these cost-saving measures are embraced, we can hopefully avoid implementing really stringent rules next year.


    HAPPENINGS

    Workshop on Entering the Management Track

    Experienced journalists who want to make the move into newsroom management... read on! The Carole Kneeland Project for Responsible Television Journalism can help put you on the management track. Learn the things you'll need to know to become one of the leaders in tomorrow’s newsroom.

    Linda Ellerbee is slated a key speaker and workshop leader. There will also be sessions about: coaching as a leadership tool; ethical decision making; managing up, down and across; the newsroom budget; how to hire and fire; and much more. Instructors include Valerie Hyman from the Poynter Institute; Joan Barrett from The Broadcast Image Group; and Cinny Kennard, former CBS and WFAA reporter.

    The three-day workshop will be held October 1st-4th in Austin, Texas. Tuition, airfare and hotel to be picked up by the Kneeland Project. To apply: write a cover letter explaining why you want to attend the seminar. Include a current resume’ or brief job history. Send to: "The Kneeland Project: Austin Seminar”; 1907 North Lamar; Suite 300; Austin, Texas; 78705. Applications must be postmarked by midnight Sept. 8, 1998. Space is limited so hurry!

    Covering the '98 Elections

    Can we talk...about money and politics? Producers are invited to "Covering the '98 Elections" September 11-13 in Austin, TX. The three-day workshop will help improve your coverage of local and national elections. Training in computer-assisted reporting included. Training from experts with the Center for Responsive Politics, Center for Public Integrity, Project Vote Smart, Federal Election Commission, NICAR, IRE and the University of Texas.

    There is limited registration (and spots fill fast!). $50 registration fee ($40 for RTNDA & Texas Association of Broadcasters members) INCLUDES two nights lodging at the Sheraton Austin, meals and workshop materials. Contact Kathleen Graham, Radio & Television News Directors Foundation, at (202) 467-5216. Registration forms located at <www.rtndf.org>


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Alice, Just want to extend an invitation to all recent grads, entry level reporters and producers or folks just looking for some feedback. As a 23 year veteran of news management, I opened a media business a year ago and recently launched a website, www.dobrovision.com. In corporate-controlled media outlets these days, human resources types often stifle any feedback for job applicants. They're afraid of potential lawsuits alleging discrimination. The goal of my service is to evaluate your work and provide concrete feedback - constructive criticism and compliments when warranted. I will also be offering a weekly column on trends in the indsutry that will hopefully spur some thought and discussion. So stop by for a visit. Keep up the good work and thanks for the link! Pete Dobrovitz former News Director, R News Time Warner, Rochester, NY 1990-97. dobroVision, inc


    HIRE ME

    Experienced Producer/Executive Producer looking for work. Former Executive Producer/Programming KABC-TV relocated my family to Spokane, Washington in September 1986 for "Quality of Life" concerns. Shown the door at KXLY-TV here in March 1998 a classic "Management Restructuring." Local television opportunities are limited. Professional Experience: 15-years in TV News (show producing, mini-docs, special event coverage, elections, etc.) + 5-years experience in Programming/Production (Historical documentaries, "Eye on L.A.", Academy Awards. etc). AVID trained (Media composer 8000) extensive field experience. Willing to travel and work short-term/freelance/special projects, etc. Spiffy resume and terrific references. Mark Mohr (509) 455-3424. markmohr@earthlink.net


    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.