What producers want. A solutions list

I expected to get TV news journalists talking with my article on where the producers are and how to keep them. But I must say, the response has been more than anticipated.

Between LinkedIn, Twitter, website link, emails and DM’s this discussion has been seen more than 35 thousand times. I am sharing this number because frankly it seems staggering.

I know a lot of VP’s and other hiring managers follow my posts. I am asking, can we start looking for real tangible ways to offer more support? The old adage, the job is tough, you have to suck it up is only partly true nowadays. If you really stop and look, the job is even harder than when we veterans sucked it up and pushed through. Did this right of passage really make things better? Just because this is how we’ve done it is easy, doesn’t make it right.

As many of you know, I believe that if an issue is brought up, possible solutions must follow. So I want to share the issues brought up the most besides pay, which frankly is a given. You want to have producer candidates and keep the veterans, pay them to make it worth their while.

Biggest concerns:

Sometimes producers reach the limit of what they can realistically do but feel like bringing that up could cost them their jobs.
The intensity of the all day tight deadlines gets very mentally taxing, especially over the past year and a half.
Sometimes they have life issues that come up and want to be able to discuss how to handle that and keep working if at all possible.
They want more training, even if they are considered veterans to remain inspired and connected to other producers.

Let’s expand on these issues and some easy to implement solutions, to start of create change. Producers know they are the solutions branch of the newsroom. They have to make everyone else look good all day each day. They have to absorb everyone else’s challenges and frankly as a result the really passionate producers do not complain. They just do the work. So if you have a producer that kicks butt all the time, is dependable and always says, “Yes” when you ask for more, that producer may still need help. In fact, that producer most likely needs support in some way. Maybe it’s a reminder that they are valued. Maybe it is a nudge to let the manager know, actually that producer cannot work an 11th day in a row (Yes this does happen). These producers need to be pulled aside and asked, “What can I do to help make your job easier?” Then do all you can to fulfill on that request. These are the reasonable employees, the steady. I have to emphasize this because these are the producers I am seeing posting regularly now that the job is taking a real toll on their mental health. A lot decide to walk away from the job, even though they love the work. The demands become too much.

It isn’t in most great producer’s nature to say no or ask for help. So if they do, they really need it. Again, managers can help with this right now by simply doing more check ins where they ask “What is your biggest challenge right now, so I can help ease it for you.” More communication and chances to mention needs can make a huge difference.

This is a very mentally taxing job anyway. The last year and half has not helped anyone. Producers need to take their time off. Many are not, or might be asking for a little more time. With so many broadcasting groups not offering significant raises its worth mentioning, providing more time off and reminding producers who generally don’t use their vacation days that they need to schedule some can be a huge difference maker. This doesn’t cost the company much. It does require disciplined scheduling, but it is so worth it to prevent staff burn out. Once COVID subsides, setting up fun activities producers can go do, like a free meal on the bosses without the bosses also helps. It can ease tensions between shows, let them relax and if the situation feels right they can talk about their challenges and help each other cope.

With the new knowledge that newscasts can be produced from home for example, let’s talk flexibility options. Producers have lives. Sometimes they might have a real legitimate challenge balancing obligations at home and work. Caring for a sick parent, and a child needing to go home sick are two common examples. I received nearly a dozen messages from former producers who really miss producing, but had to choose taking care of their kids over the job. This comes up a lot. News is less flexible than a lot of other careers for parents. But there are ways to help. If there is an issue where a producer needs to come in a little later in their shift to cover their spouse having a flight delayed, or an obligation they cannot cover through daycare, the producer often has to take a vacation day. But should they have to? What if they could log in from home to get the newscast covered until coming in? Its time for conversations like this to happen, to provide a little more flexibility so more producers can keep working.

Several educational and manager types reached out to me struck at how often training came up. Even among producers with a lot of on the job experience. A quick explainer, producers tend to love a couple of things the most about their job:

Thinking of new ways to make the newscast visually exciting
Learning new things, period

Producers tend to be life long learners, tinkerers and have a real creative flair. Yet their job is in some ways the same routine each day. They have to be highly disciplined to get the newscasts done. Once the many challenges to pulling that off are mastered, they want to reward themselves by getting more creative. Often, they will hit walls: Writers block, too much showcasing, too little showcasing, figuring out performance area usage. They have to dabble a little all the time. That’s why seasoned producers will ask for side projects. To keep that tinkerer inner self satisfied. They need chances to come together and learn and create.

Writers in other industries have conferences all the time. But there is not enough of these kinds of gatherings for producers. Yet. Again with a little creativity, especially with virtual options, more get togethers and training sessions can happen. The connections from these gatherings are also important to feed that it’s a vocation element of this job. Talking with others in the same boat is a real help. A help that doesn’t diminish with job experience.

Let’s address the mental health element a little more as well. Stations could bring in counselors more regularly and offer meditation sessions etc. It might seem hokey at first, but look at the tech industry. This type of benefit extra is offered a lot. Catering to your staffs mental health also increases employee output. It makes you a quality employer who gets quality returns.

I hope these ideas are a good start toward investing more in producers in the industry. There is hard work to be done for sure in terms of pay etc. I do tire of the my hands are tied mentality though when it comes to making efforts now. The ideas listed above have minimal cost but will offer high returns.

Share

Want to hire and keep great producers? Start with this.


In the past few weeks, I have seen several posts on LinkedIn either asking where are producers, or appeals from stations and broadcasting groups that frankly as of even a year ago would never have to worry about enough applications. This isn’t a surprise to me, since I talk with producers at all levels all the time, but it is a wakeup call for the industry.

Partner these posts with two more important factors: The rate of employees unionizing in the journalism industry is increasing, and a lot of veteran producers are posting about mental health issues and that they are getting out of the business as result. Now we have a better overall grasp of this issue. For a long time the broadcasting industry has recognized producing is a very difficult job. The industry conceptually understands that a big reason is a lack of training. Part of that happens at some J-Schools because frankly, producing needs to be an entire specialty track not just a course you take in case you cannot get that reporting gig. But there’s a bigger factor: Constant practical training needs to happen during a producer’s first job. Most “starter” newsrooms lack the staff to really do this. So producers have to train themselves through trial and error. Does that take grit and persistence? Yes. Does it weed out the weak of heart. Sure. But this isn’t the 1980’s anymore. The industry needs to understand that adding digital responsibilities along with making your own graphics and editing your own VO’s has made the job even harder than when you “bit the bullet and made it.”

The industry also needs to recognize that just because a producer made it for 3 years doesn’t make him/her an expert necessarily and the support needs to continue. No, these producers no longer need to be trained almost daily, but they do need to brainstorm how to showcase, they need to be encouraged how to make the newscast feel like they accomplished something more than slamming a bunch of stories on the air while barely able to even take a quick bathroom break then know they have to do the same thing the next day. Rising up in the producer ranks doesn’t make the job easier. Managers, you take on more responsibility as you move up. The decisions you have to make every day can be very hard, and draining. But you get to take breaks. You can schedule some downtime in your day to relax. And you should. It keeps you fresh, your brain power strong and your mental health more intact. Producers on the other hand, keep adding more complicated elements to their job. More showcasing, more problem solving about why a certain 5 minute period in their show suddenly is losing audience, more tweaking. It is a constant challenge with no real break. No real stride even if you are constantly putting out best effort as expected. This is a job that doesn’t let down. It gets easier in some ways, but the intense constant deadlines do not let you rest in your day. This has to be understood at higher levels. Your veteran producers are tired. They often feel taken for granted. They sometimes question, “Is this all I have to look forward to?” Eventually most realize, they can work smarter not harder in something other than broadcast news. So just when they are at maximum talent, just when they hit the so called 10,000 hour rule, many who don’t want to go into management, but are a huge talent quit. A loss the broadcast industry, with constant staff cuts, constant new editorial demands and constant pushes for savvier editorial techniques really cannot afford.

So how does the industry fix this problem? First let’s stop talking about journalism as a vocation. Yes, no matter what the work hours alone make this a passion type career instead of just a job. Yes, you need to really care about what you do. The issue is, for profit companies use the idea of this is a vocation to not properly compensate for expertise. The mindset is limiting. Executives in these groups are paid well and often receive bonuses for their advanced understanding of the nuances of this business. Seasoned producers need some caveats also. For years the pay issue has come up. Every excuse imaginable has been made. The bottom line is the news industry’s biggest commodity, largest asset, and greatest offering are the people who make its product, the news, credible. This isn’t just about profits, its about long term product stability. Telling veteran journalists who can offer so much insight to suck it up with yet another 2 percent raise and be ok with that because this is a vocation is piss poor. Without these producers, you have a weak product. Call up a newscast from a large market from 20 years ago, then look at modern newscasts at the same station. The new newscasts have more glitz, but focus on the journalism. There is no comparison in content. Viewers know it, that’s why they are looking online. They want facts. They want to be given real information and tools to analyze what is best for themselves, their families and the community at large. Veteran producers know how to do that and make it look good. You have to invest in that if you want the industry to survive long term.

Let’s go back to the need for producers period. You can shoot great stories from iPhones. You can produce news from anywhere now, with a computer and a WIFI link. It is time to spend a bit less on the latest equipment and invest in your people instead. Some broadcasting groups are hiring producers in training. Yes, it is a start in investing in the future. But this is a drop in the bucket. There has to be more investment in training and compensation from the beginning producing job until the last.

There also has to be more investment in listening to the needs of your producers. A key point of contention: No downtime. The tight constant deadlines make this impossible during a given day. But broadcasting groups could start offering more PTO time for producers. Some groups make you earn your time off as you work. Why not set up 2 weeks guaranteed time off at the start of the year, with opportunities to earn more time off as they put in extra hours for those specials, etc you ask them to do above and beyond their newscasts? Producers cannot just run to the doctor quick then come into work. They have to be there to monitor their shows from start to finish if you want high quality. So they need to take more days off.

To keep producers inspired many newsrooms essentially pit producers against each other in terms of who’s considered the best. It is very rampant and very toxic. There is an easy fix. Each newsroom needs to create mission statements for their newscasts that states purpose of the show, and audience goals. Every hour is a bit different this way. By focusing on the content needs, this helps producers stop demanding all the elements for their newscasts and helps them share more easily. Collaboration is huge if you are a producer. Fellow producers are the only ones who really understand what you go through each day. Closeness needs to be fostered.

There is so much more that can be done, but these suggestions really start to address what I hear most from producers. They need time off to regroup. They need support. They need to have each other to lean on. They need to truly be valued and have it shown by more than an occasional thank you and a “treat” brought to the newsroom once in a while. Those are nice gestures. But they need more. The lack of candidates tells you that in stark terms. So please broadcast industry wake up. Deliver. Everyone wins.

Share

How to brand throughout the newscast

It’s no secret that writing for TV news nowadays is as much about marketing as writing clearly and concisely. You are expected to sell the news philosophy for your station as much as time out your newscast correctly. In fact many stations require you mention your station brand at least 5 times a newscast. Many producers just write in the pitch line as you introduce live reporters to get it over with. Joe Smith works for you. Joe Smith is on your side live in…. Joe Smith is your eyewitness tonight. There are other ways to brand, that are less throwaway. You can even do it in a way that enhances your coverage and benefit for the viewer.

Branding Throughout Newscast
Story focuses reflect philosophy, even vo’s
Explain how story fulfills philosophy
Use animations for reinforcement
Limit pitch line, use variations instead

The first thing you need to do throughout the newscast is to pick stories that make sense with your brand. If your station is one that works for you (the viewer ) for example, you don’t do a lot of superficial quick vo’s with little to no reference to how this story impacts people. In other words, this is not a station that should implement a 10 second vo, 20 second vosot philosophy. This is a station that will consistently add a line to each story with either why this story is significant to people or how it impacts. When you think news philosophy you must think context. The all you need philosophy means quick headlines. Catch the viewer up. That is a very different context.

So when you consider context, you are going to naturally add lines or phrases that explain how the story fits with your promise to the viewer (i.e. – your news philosophy). The how and/or why lines are one way. You will likely find yourself adding other phrases like, we are doing this story tonight because, or we are continuing to work for you by asking.. we want you to have all you need to know on this bill… somewhere in the story. It is a natural way to tell the viewer why the story is important that can be done very conversationally.

Then you add animations with your brand line to reinforce the philosophy. Remember many people think visually, so these animations are effective. Do not be afraid to use them. They also create movement which improves perception of pacing.

The last thing to remember is if you just use the same catch phrase over and over, it is not effective. The viewer will quickly tune it out. The repetition of your philosophy and branding has to be consistent without being repetitive. So even if you are required to mention the station brand 5 times a newscast, you can do so with out saying works for you every single time. Vary that brand line with phrases like helping you, how this effects you, what this means for you to get the point across without boring the viewer with the same phrase that seems throwaway. Your news philosophy has to benefit the viewer. You need to spell out that benefit or you will not build loyalty. Think empty promises. People are conditioned to suspect that is what they are being handed. Selling your brand means showing clearly that you have the viewer in mind and will consistently provide that they need. Do it, tell them you are doing it, then show them how you are doing it. Thinking this way as you select stories and write will help you naturally brand the news throughout the newscast without it seeming as forced. And you can market without feeling like an ad writer instead of a journalist.

Share

How To Speed Up Your Writing Time

A common discussion I have with news managers and universities looking to place recent grads, is the huge workload journalists face today. It is becoming more of the norm for reporters to barely make deadlines not because they are lazy, but because there is so much to get done. Scarier yet, there are producers in top 5 markets, still writing in the booth during newscasts. And not because of a breaker. Why is this getting so common? Two reasons. First, the workload is truly much larger. Producers for example are now often editing vo’s and vosot’s in addition to writing them. Producers are also making their own maps and graphics for air. And that’s not even getting into all the responsibilities they have on the digital side. Reporters are turning more than one piece, on completely different subjects, often on different ends of the market. And the social media expectations for them are often even higher.

The other reason why a lot is being pushed to the last minute, is that journalists are not taught tricks on how to speed up their writing time. They spend too much time prepping for writing instead of just getting the stories done. Bottom line, in a tight deadline situation, you will have to do some calculated short cuts when gathering information in order to make it. So let’s talk about some of those shortcuts.

How To Speed Up Writing Time For Producers
Focus on the W’s
Think summary
1 line = 1 idea

When writing a story from scratch, (as in not rewriting from a story that aired the newscast before) you need to condense your information quickly. This means focusing on answering the who, what, when, where, why and a little of the how when researching the story. For example if you are writing from a crime report read for these elements. Throw those facts into your story page, then go back and scan for that little nugget that makes the story a bit different (Often the how). If you approach it this way, you won’t slowly read every little bit of information and end up getting confused and re-reading the crime report 4 and 5 times. I am not saying give a quick scan and be done. But by focusing on what you really need to have as you read, you can better focus your attention and get to the core of the story quickly.

Which leads to the next point, think summary. News releases and crime reports tend to have about triple the information you need for a 15 second vo. So remember, you don’t have to memorize every detail of information, you are giving the viewer a summary of the story. This tends to help you more quickly outline the story in your head and then quickly write it.

Finally, 1 line equals 1 idea. This keeps you from “lunch bagging” a ton of information into the vo, then killing yourself to try and shorten it down to that required 15 second or 20 second mark. Think outline, 1 idea per line. Then if you have time you can flesh it out a bit after you have this skeleton script.

How To Speed Up Your Writing For Reporters

Sum It Up
Write As You Go
Know Details Before Camera Rolls

Reporters can also speed up their writing a lot by also thinking summary from the beginning. Chances are by the time you leave the editorial meeting, you know why you are assigned a certain story, and the specific point your station wants to make about that subject. Do not go out of your way to deviate from this. Sure, as you gather information sometimes the point of the story can change. If that’s happening immediately call and explain the new main idea. Again, keep thinking summary. This will help you not get bogged down in extraneous details that will never make air.

Once you have your interviews set up, write an outline of the story as you head to the scene. You should already have enough background information that you can walk into your first interview with an outline in place.

Pre-interview the person you are talking to as the camera is being set up (or as you are setting up the camera if you are an MMJ) so you know what 3 or 4 questions you actually want to get the answers for on camera. This helps you avoid scrolling through tons of video making the editing process more efficient. It will speed up your writing and editing.

The biggest takeaway from these tips is simply this: think summary. Too often journalists want to spend a lot of time finding that unique element or finding the perfect sequence of events or stories to make their package or rundown rock. If you spend too much time looking you will not have enough time to finesse. TV news is all about the packaging: Make the facts easily understandable for the ear and eye, in short order, so you don’t bury yourself in detail. You need to give a broad understanding of the story, and pick a key element to add that character. That means thinking overview from the get go. Otherwise you won’t get it done, and won’t serve the viewers at all.

Share