I can’t believe that aired again! Why anchors complain on the set.

This makes many producers blood boil. You toil over a newscast for hours, then during the show, the anchors start complaining about and/or making fun of the copy you worked so hard on.  Complaining on set during the newscasts about the show, is the number one way to create a huge divide between anchors and producers. It creates the “us vs them” mentality that causes so much friction.   But there are two sides to this, and we are going to really delve into both.

That said, many of those anchors are really not trying to just be jerks.  I PROMISE YOU. There are reasons behind the decision, (and it often is a decision) to complain about copy on the set during the newscast.  The biggest reason, FRUSTRATION.  When anchors reach the point of complaining on set, most are usually at their wits end.  From their point of view, they have tried to “talk things through” and the producer/management has ignored the issue.  Many veteran anchors are just tired and frustrated that they constantly have to “train newbies.”  If you step back and really think about it, you can see how this can happen.  One anchor I consulted with on this article says, “Even if you are not normally a complainer, when you get an anchor sitting next to you who is a little immature and starts going off, it can be very difficult not to give into the temptation and complain also.  It is human nature.”  Another anchor mentioned, “I worked so hard to get to this point, I don’t want to come across as clueless or even just plain stupid. Why aren’t we (anchors) protected?”

A key thing to remember, is when the anchors “mess up” and read copy that is factually incorrect or just doesn’t make sense, it isn’t just the anchor that looks stupid.  The entire news operation loses credibility.  Anchors are very aware that they are the poster children for the entire organization.  They understand that if they come across as not credible, their job is on the line, because that lack of credibility undermines the entire station’s standing in the community.  When you separate yourself from the insults, and really think about that, you can see why anchors sometimes “go off.”  It is a lot of responsibility, and yet they give up control of the newscasts to producers.  It is how the system works, except in rare cases.  Anchors are depending on you to get the facts right, so they look credible.  Yes anchors can, and most will, get into the newscast and fact check and rewrite if they notice a potential issue.  But in the morning, and during breaking news that is not always possible.  The anchors need the information to be correct, or at least quickly fixed if there is a problem.

Which leads to the second reason, anchors find themselves complaining on the set over a mistake.  It is absolutely maddening, when they see an issue, raise the issue to the producer and then it is not corrected and airs incorrectly two and three times.  Many anchors say they try to help and bring up an issue with a super, or a misspelled item on the ticker, and then it isn’t changed.  The anchor doesn’t have access, and can only watch the mistake happen again and again.  Remember, credibility for the entire news organization is on the line, anchors are the final gate keepers.

There also are issues in many shops where veteran anchors are told, to just read whatever is there, and let the producers do all the gate keeping.  Anchors are told to stay out of the decision making and that producers rule (see Producer Driven) the roost.  Problem is, often the producers are much less experienced than the anchors.  No matter how smart you are, experience brings a lot of knowledge.  So veteran anchors sit, wishing they could just bang their heads against the wall and watch something they could have prevented play out on the air.  Excruciating!

That said, giving in to human nature and complaining on the set, diminishes respect toward you if you are one of those anchors.  It sends a message that you think you are superior and fed up with the underlings.  And that’s even if what you say is absolutely true.  So this is where things get hard for the frustrated anchor.  You need to find a different forum to vent.  Maybe that’s after the show, on the phone with your co-anchor.  Maybe it is at the gym working out your frustrations.  Maybe it is in a meeting with the EP or AND.  Just make sure you keep the conversation pro-active.  Producers and managers, put ointment on the sting, and look to see if the anchor really does have a good point.  If the anchor feels they have a forum to address concerns, the on set rants will eventually stop.  Chances the quality of the newscast will improve as well.

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Want to grow in your craft and improve your ratings? Hold discrep meetings.

How often do you “meet” after the newscast to talk about the day (or night or morning)?  Discrep meetings are an incredible opportunity to grow as a journalist.  But you have to structure them correctly and get into a proper mindset when going into the meetings.

Many stations have dumped discrep meetings because they do not want to pay overtime.  I am going to make a bold statement to you.  If that’s the case in your shop do them anyway and don’t charge the company.  Why?  The team needs them to grow as journalists and as a team.  These meetings are a type of insurance policy if handled correctly.  They are an incredible opportunity for training.  To put it bluntly the discrep meeting should be for you, and your team’s best interests.  Yes, the ratings should improve as a result and your station will benefit. Guess what, you will reap more rewards than your employer long term.  Every journalist needs training, no matter your experience level.  The beauty of this career is you never stop growing.  The best way to learn is from fellow journalists that are in the daily grind with you.  Problem is you don’t get time to talk because of the intense deadlines.  Then fatigue hits and you go home without really looking at your work.  Discrep meetings force you to change that.  They will force you to look at your work when you have a moment to breathe and take it in.  They will force you to take another look at your work and self critique with an educated perspective. So let’s talk about structuring discrep meetings, so you and your team can grow in your craft and improve as journalists.

The group pow wow

 

First let’s talk about the group style discrep meeting.  These traditionally are held after the newscast when opinions are fresh and issues are on your mind. The problem is many of these meetings are adversarial.  Everyone’s emotions are still raw and you often feel tired and defensive from the stress of the day.  So how do you change that?  My suggestion:  Use the meeting to list what areas of the newscast you want to review later for journalistic reasons, and systems issues.  Once a week, sit down and review those issues.  Have the EP and/or newscast producer, write down the issues. Then, sit down as a group and pick three topics and talk solutions.  This is a very effective way to improve communications between reporters, anchors, production crew, art and editing departments.  The faster you get those “systems” or mis-communication issues taken care of, the better your newscast will flow every day.  Then you can delve into bigger issues, like journalistic dilemmas.  Also, compliment at least one part of the newscast, where you feel the team won.  I am saying you, as in all participants.  It is just as important to hear what others thought worked, as didn’t.

 

Focus groups

These are a type of discrep meeting that should happen as needed to go over ethical decision making and writing style.  Most often this will happen between anchors and producers or writers.  Sit down and talk a situation through after a show or the next day before things get crazy.  Part of being a journalist means you will make a lot of ethical calls on the fly.  Some will be good calls, some not.  Use them as an extension of the training you get at many J-schools.  Talk the situations through.  Discuss what you liked and didn’t.  The key here is to go in ready to accept criticism and grow.   You need to set up these philosophical discussions in order to make sure you understand each of your news philosophies and mesh them with the station’s mandates.  If you don’t do this, you risk not making consistent ethical calls.  Viewers pick up on this.  They may not be able to explain that clearly, but they sense if your newscast and/or station is wishy washy.  That does not help credibility. Consistency is crucial.  It means open lines of communication and open discussions in newsrooms about philosophy.  Anchors, these smaller meetings are great opportunities to try and coach less experienced producers or associate producers. (See “Anchor an Alliance”)  Bringing up a lot of issues while grinding the show often not only falls on deaf ears, it can cause resentment.  Unless you are about to make a major factual gaffe, try and address issues after the show in a small meeting.  Producers will actually have the time to listen and if you don’t do it in front of the whole staff, may actually retain what you say.  Remember, your producer is constantly in power struggles to maintain control of the newscast.  This can even include struggles with management.  They need your support by talking in small circles about issues that could put them on the defensive.

Producers, use these small and larger meetings to make sure you are connecting with the people you manage.  Be humble.  Know you will take some criticism but that the knowledge you gain can make you a huge asset.  Just keep pushing yourself to grow.  Let others help you do it by mentioning these issues.  Encouraging open lines of communication will give you incredible insight you only get from asking for it. These lessons will help you make a name for yourself, not just at your current station.  You will gain a reputation for being a real leader and that will help you rocket launch your career.  All of this starts with effective discrep meetings.  So go for it.  Ask your staff to buy into you and your newscast, and reap many benefits.

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“Yes, that’s your assignment. Now do it and like it! “ Assignment Editors: Behind the gruffness.

Take a moment and think about the most colorful characters in the newsroom.  For me there are two groups, photographers and assignment editors.  We’ve decoded some photographer behaviors in “You exist to hold my tripod.”  Bottom line, photojournalists are incredible information gatherers and because they see the facts in a visual way, they make TV news what it is today.

The hardest job inside newsrooms, that all of us love to take for granted is assignment editor.  The people who do it are the “whipping posts” for managing editors, assistant news directors, producers and reporters.  Photographers usually get their assignments this way and love to grumble as well.  Yet, as I look back on my career, I see that the strength of an assignment desk makes or breaks a newsroom.  It truly is the tie that binds.

So why are assignment editors so, well, intimidating (or even irritating)?  Being everyone’s whipping post is one start.  They also tend to really have a grasp on the market and the stations strengths and weaknesses.  Heck, when you think about it, that’s their primary job.  Yet assignment editors are often not really given a voice in crucial decisions.  They actually understand drive times to various places.  They understand that the PIO in city A really hates the station UNLESS you call and say XYZ.  And they also understand that live truck 13 really does suck!  In many cases they try and warn us know it all producer and manager types.  They try and give reporters gentle nudges on how to handle a particularly ornery mayor.  Do we listen?  If the answer is no, then we have a very irritable assignment editor on our hands.  Chances are you are going to be yelled at, have papers thrown around the newsroom and hear curse words in interesting sequences you never would have thought possible!  Think about it.  If you were told to make the ship run smoothly, then saw the iceberg, warned and begged everyone to listen, then watched the boat slam into the iceberg, you would be a tad pissy as well.

A few secrets about assignment editors for you:  If you stink at or just don’t get how to source build yet, befriend a veteran assignment editor.  They source build as well as most investigative reporters.  And they don’t get to leave the station.  Heck, most barely get potty breaks.  Also, be clear reporters, assignment editors are not your personal secretaries.  You need to make the calls to get the information.  If you are behind or overwhelmed talk with an EP first about whether an associate producer can help you out.  And, yes, I am serious.  The assignment editor has you, all the other reporters on your shift, the planning producers, the reporters on the next shift and usually at least one manager asking them to make phone calls.  That’s in addition to calling their contacts and listening to scanners and reading 5 million news releases to make sure the station isn’t missing something important.  And, if the station misses a big story, it is usually the assignment editor that gets reamed for it.

Producers, your assignment editor can help protect your show from technical disasters as well or better than the production team.  He/she knows intimate details about the live trucks, signal strengths, how to get around a lazy person in master control, when to humor an ENG engineer and lots of other very useful stuff.  Beyond that, they know which crews are great at cranking out work and which ones need a constant swift kick.  If you have a story that must make slot, period, make sure the assignment editor is well aware ASAP.  If you see the assignment editor is in the weeds, answer the newsroom phone.  Help out.  There is nothing more excruciating than trying to take down information while hearing phones ringing all around you.  Think about the times when every reporter feels the need to call in for script approval all at once.  All of them need it “RIGHT NOW!” to make slot and you can only read/listen to so much at a time and actually comprehend what’s going on.  That’s what it’s like being an assignment editor for at least half of every workday.  Cut ‘em some slack!

Managers, when an assignment editor walks into your office and shuts the door to discuss a potential issue, stop what you are doing and listen.  Most of the time, this person is saving you from potential disaster.  If they do, throw them a bone once in a while.  Have a favorite meal dropped off for lunch.  Buy them a latte.  Write a thank you note for all he/she does and throw it into his/her mailbox.  Everyone should remember to say thank you once in a while.  The strength of the assignment desk plays a huge role in whether your station is #1, #3 or worse.  It can set the tone for morale in the whole newsroom because the desk has direct contact with all the key players every day.

So, when you get an assignment that just plain sucks, don’t kill the messenger.  The assignment editor is following orders.  When you are told do it and like it, remember that’s the mantra these guys/gals live under every day.  They often take more crap than the rest of us, and then turn it into gold.

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How to repair producer/director relationship

A frazzled producer recently asked for advice dealing with his director.  Their relationship was strained.  The director was starting to question this producer’s calls in the booth, and at times making calls instead of checking with the producer to see if they were on the same page.  This is not uncommon.  Directors are in charge of making sure the show looks clean and at times will make quick decisions while live.  Your director “taking over and calling the shots” is not all bad, if you have established protocols you both agree on for certain situations.  (See Right hand/left for more on how the two of you can compliment each other, by showing mutual respect.)  If the director is taking over to the point where you are unable to make key decisions that could impact content making air and/or it’s affecting you timing your show, then you have a problem.

The key is to nip that kind of issue in the bud right away by sitting down and talking about it.  I would usually ask the director when we could meet and discuss how the newscast is going in general terms.  I wanted the chance to talk before a show aired, not right after when tensions are high.  You need to be clear headed so you can both listen and figure out what needs to be done.  Also, go into this type of meeting knowing the director will have criticisms and hopefully suggestions to help things run more smoothly.  Keep an open mind and really listen.  Relationships require some compromise.  You need to be aware that directors have a lot of pressure on them as well and share your desire for a clean show.  The way you two define “clean” and make decisions can vary.  You need to explain where you are coming from in a non-argumentative way.

Another crucial thing to set up is a nightly discrep. meeting with your director.  This used to be required in most newsrooms, but with cuts in OT pay and longer working hours, many shifts now blow off these meetings.  This is a big mistake!  Ideally you want the entire staff to weigh in on these meetings.  If you cannot because of OT issues etc., then meet with just your director.  But make sure you meet.  You need the daily dialog, face-to-face, to actually talk about what went right and wrong in the newscast.  And, by the way, email does not cut it.  You need to look each other in the eye and talk.  This helps you learn how the other person thinks so you can find common ground and set up protocols.  I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it really is to have a daily meeting.  Find a way, period.  Make sure the meetings are short and sweet.  Suggest you each come to the meeting with one thing you liked and one you didn’t.  If there was an issue during the newscast, talk solutions for the next time it comes up.  You can do all of this in 10 to 15 minutes.  You really can.  That is a small sacrifice of time to really create a solid working relationship.  Tell your director that.  Most will not only agree, but be happy to meet.

Finally, make sure even when you are really ticked about a call the director made you remain respectful.  Your director is a professional and likely extremely passionate about his/her job too.  Openly respect that level of dedication.  It will only help you both grow and your newscast get better.

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