The live shot died and there’s nowhere to go!

I recently saw a producer tweeting about his frustration over this predicament.  A reporter on a live shot didn’t call in scripts, then, the live shot died.  That means no backup.  The anchors do not have a little information to draw from and then move on.  So they are stuck saying: “Sorry about the technical difficulty.  We’ll get back to so and so when we can.”  Losing a live shot and having to do a mea culpa is a big deal.  Viewers do not like waiting for something they were promised and then not getting it.  Think about it, neither do you.  It is so easy to hit the remote and never look back.

For this reason many stations have policies that require reporters to turn in complete scripts to the producer before the newscast airs.  This means actual written copy for their live standups.  With Smart Phones, laptops and remote access this should be easy.  But some shops still do not have the technology synched up.

In every station where I worked several reporters fought this tooth and nail.  If you want to get on a producer’s bad side, this is the way to do it.  In a breaking news situation everyone understands reporters are just trying to make air.  Producers gladly take the risk and go to you without a script.  But when you are just doing day-to-day news, providing your script should be doable in some form.  I used four techniques as a producer to eliminate the problem of not getting them.

Getting reporter backup scripts

  • Email script for copy paste or transcription
  • Backup vo/sot required
  • AP writes backup from earlier show
  • Staggered script deadlines

In some stations where I worked the reporters were turning two packages on two different subjects every day.  If they could not just write in the rundown, I would give them the option to email me the approved script so I, or my AP, could move it over.  I understood every second counted for these reporters.  They can’t help if the technology was such that there was no way to write directly into the rundown.

In cases where the reporter had one package a day, I required a backup vo/sot be written and sent to my AP.  That way if the package didn’t make it, or we had to push it aside for a breaker, we had something to go to.  For my feisty reporters that didn’t appreciate being asked to do that, I had the nightside producer or morning show producer call and request a vo/sot.  The reporter wanted to get home and would usually write it up quickly.  The other producer got a vo/sot they may or may not ever use and I got a backup!

If the reporter is turning several packages, he/she is legitimately too swamped to turn in backups for producers.  In that case I had my AP write backups from earlier newscasts, just in case.

Finally, if reporters were willing to send in backups, I was willing to be more flexible on feed deadlines.  I would stagger when pkgs were due, then let the reporter voice before turning in a final approved script and/or vosot backups.  I wanted to give reporters more breathing room and a chance to focus on their  packages.

Reporters, if you really want to befriend a producer, provide your live scripts every day.  If the technology makes this nearly impossible, then at least call into the producer or AP with a sound bite so they can try to write a backup.  You will make a loyal ally.  Scripts and potential backups are in the best interest of the show and everyone’s credibility.