Die hard journalists hate when you suggest anchors are performers and newscasts are shows. Truth is there are some lessons we can learn from these “entertainment” terms about making the most of talent, both on camera and behind the scenes. I am constantly shocked at how little thought often goes into which reporter is selected to turn what story on a given day. Same goes for assigning producers to newscasts. Managers need to take the time to get to know the people in their newsroom well enough to understand what makes them tick. You need to know their interests. The reason is simple logic: If the person is interested in particular subjects he/she will turn better work related to them. Yet most newsrooms where I have worked not only don’t bother to get to know the people in the newsroom, they purposely place people in uncomfortable positions. When asked why, the common answer is “It’s their job. They need to suck it up and do what we say.” Look, no one is going to get to cover the stories they want all the time. Not every producer gets to be in charge of the bread and butter newscast. But there’s a difference in looking for great fits, and just filling slots with warm bodies.
So how do you work around it, when you are miscast in the newsroom? We are going to focus on reporters and producers in this article. First reporters: If you have subjects that really interest you (we are talking more than loving sports, think about issues like education, consumer and politics etc. You get my drift) or an area that you like covering in your DMA then start source building there. The number one way to recast yourself is to start getting exclusives or at least interesting developments on subjects you really like researching. The more you pitch these ideas, the more likely your bosses will eventually get that allowing you to focus on this area is in everyone’s best interest. Be patient. This could take time. Don’t give up. Don’t pitch a fit when you get assigned to something else. Just keep throwing out interesting ideas and you usually will carve a niche.
If you are still not getting anywhere with your story pitches, sit down with a producer on your shift (or the EP) and ask what kind of stories they want to see. They may have decided that type of news doesn’t hit their particular audience. If so, you will need to look for another interest. If you are flexible, find out what kind of coverage the producer and/or EP wants to showcase in their newscast. If you find the subject interesting start looking for stories and help out. This makes you become a team player who eventually will be able to ask for and get the stories you want to cover more often.
Now producers: It is harder to control your destiny, unless you can show you are great at raising the ratings no matter where you end up. I loved producing 5pm newscasts. I loved the thrill of the constant breaking news. I had to show I could handle that by owning breaking news no matter what newscast I was assigned. Several times I was placed on noon newscasts and told to “prove I deserved” a 5pm. The two are not that different to produce, so I jumped in full gusto and earned my 5’s. The key to getting the newscast you want is to show you are a team player who gets results. Do not whine that you deserve something. You will not get the show you want if you do. Becoming the “go to” producer that can take any newscast and raise ratings (even in one section of a show) will help. You will get moved around a bit at first, but often you will end up being given the choice of what newscast you want to produce. It is a thrilling moment when the ND or AND calls you in, and says “We are moving producers around, do you want the 11 or the 6 (or the 5!! J)?”
If there is a newscast you really want, look at what the current producer does on that shift and build on it. Yes, this is competitive. That’s the producing world. Chances are high the producer in the newscast you want will get promoted, demoted or move into management at some point. You are there showcasing your depth, ready to take over. You are a manager’s dream. Just be consistent in your product and subtle about where you want to end up, until the opening comes.
Finally, use your reviews to talk with managers about your goals. This can help them understand where you want to be “cast” and provide constructive criticism to get you there. That is an appropriate time to say, “5pm’s are my favorite to produce.” Or “ I love political coverage, is there a part of the DMA where you would want to beef up that type of coverage?” Sometimes you need to explain to management what you want and that you are willing to work for it. Remember, managers sometimes don’t just pick warm bodies to fill the newscast slots and cover the stories. They may feel they have no choice because the reporting staff seems disinterested in everything. Your review is an appropriate time to showcase your interests and request “casting,” if not immediately, then in your near future.