Produce it up!

Nothing like hearing this phrase while on deadline: “Be sure and produce it up.”   You think: “Sure, I can barely get the stuff I already have on my plate done, why not!”

Actually this is easier than it might seem.  “Producing it up” really means taking the information you have and putting it in nice tiny bundles. Think of it as buying a sweater set and matching jewelry as gifts.  You wrap the cardigan separately from the tank top underneath.  Then you wrap the earrings separately from the necklace.  Looking at all those boxes makes it seem like you spent a lot more than you did.  It’s all in the packaging.

When you “produce it up” you generally provide a nats/vo or vo/sot set up for the anchors to read that provides an overview in a visual way.  Then you focus the package on a particular element of the subject.  You save an interesting element for an anchor tag that usually is a question answer between the reporter and the anchors or maybe a vo or vosot for the anchors to read.  The point is to make the information you are providing clearer to understand.  You also are making the news more appealing to the eye so hopefully the viewer doesn’t daydream or head to the computer to cruise Facebook instead.

The other reason for “producing it up” is to try and showcase the team.   It’s showcasing your anchors and reporters as experts that work together to get the most information possible on a subject in a given day.  No, you really aren’t usually getting any more information or shooting any more video.  This is smoke and mirrors, but it works effectively. While focusing on the elements, you naturally must write more concisely.  This helps the ear understand while the visuals make the information appealing for the eyes.  Two senses aroused, means less likelihood viewers turn away.

One last benefit to “producing it up”: it makes producers/anchors/reporters and even photojournalists have to talk with each other a little more about the news.  This helps prevent fact errors.  It’s another level of script approval.

Still confused about “producing it up” and the benefits.  Consider the following.  When you watch coverage of a major event, like the earthquake in Japan you probably find yourself talking to the television asking questions.  Many times the questions you are asking could impact you or other viewers directly.  Once again we’re talking about human impact. The first morning of coverage of Japan, I found myself frustrated with all the networks.  I had to get online and see people’s stories on You Tube to really understand how to gage the event.  I needed to feel it.  I needed to know how far the quake was from Tokyo.  I needed graphics describing how the Tsunami came over.  The networks were too overwhelmed getting information.  I had to piecemeal from different stations and  Twitter.  Producing up some of these elements would have helped me understand the true depth of the losses.  Next, I wanted to know what this meant for costs of things from Japan.  Would the stock market crash because of this?  Answering these stories with graphics, live interviews, special maps and packages are great ways to produce up coverage locally.  This is what some stations call the “WIFM” (What’s In It For Me) of coverage.  Simply, it is another way to showcase the human element of stories.  These are things you want to provide viewers so they don’t turn away from your newscast to jump on the internet for the answers.

The final point, I cannot stress enough is “producing it up” is producer friendly.   It makes your job easier. You can visualize your rundown better, you can choose elements like natural sound, sidebars and graphics more easily.  It also will help you write succinctly.  Simply put, it just makes your newscast look sharp. Fear not. Go ahead, give it a try!

 

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Humble pie; why a slice of self-examination can change your career.

This is the best advice we ever got.  An EP in a large market where we worked told us to watch and critique our own work consistently.  Sounds nuts, you already saw the package or newscast, right?  Not really.  You will be amazed at what you pick up looking at the work later on.

Practice makes perfect.  In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell explains the 10,000 hour rule.  Researchers have found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to perfect a skill.  So how does this apply to watching yourself?  It’s another chance to practice.  You relive the event and the elements you had available when you critique your own work.

You can also pick up on your own weaknesses, then work around them.  Often you will see phrases or techniques you rely on too heavily, that can make your work seem stale and sometimes even goofy.  You become a viewer and notice things that are not obvious when you are slamming on deadline.  If you are on air talent, you will see hand or facial gestures that are difficult to watch.  Play with your pen on set perhaps?  Slouch during live shots?  Chances are no one around will let you know if you do these things.  Often in news, you can be fired for poor performance without ever being told to change simple fixable things.

Newsrooms are short staffed and disorganized.  Most managers do not sit down and write notes about the newscasts regularly.  Usually they only watch a newscast or reporter consistently just before the annual review writing period.  So you are getting critiques once a year based on very little viewing of your work.  Many shops have given up post-newscast meetings so you don’t get daily critiques of your work.  If you want to get better, you have to do it yourself.  Watching your own work is a great way to do this. 

So what should you look for when watching your own work?  As mentioned above, look for overused phrases, and strange gestures.  If you are a photojournalist, do you mix up shots enough?  Too many cover shots?  Is your pacing good?  Reporters, do you always start nats/copy/bite/bite/copy/nats?  You might notice that you need to mix it up a little.  Producers, are you using the same techniques too often?  Things like plays on words and nat sound in teases so often that they are predictable?  Everyone needs to look at use of nat sound.  Remember, you write for the ear.  Listen to your work with your eyes shut.  Does it make sense?  Anchors, do you read stories the same way all the time?  Do your facial gestures change based on tone of the story?  As you watch for these things you will pick up on other ways to improve your work.

This is where critiquing your work can help you change your career.  Most of us have a dream place where we want to work.  Watch newscasts from that station online, then try and tailor some of your work to that place.  If you can alter your style to fit in with a certain station you can get a leg up when a job comes open.  Remember, you just need enough for a killer video resume.  By self-critiquing, you are able to see how to adjust your style.  You figure out what your best techniques are and then you play them up to your advantage.

 

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Help! I’m in over my head.

This can be hard to admit, but it happens to everyone.  Cold sweats, waking up dreaming of your live shot or newscast crashing are all part of the gig.  Getting chewed because you cannot complete all of your work happens, especially with more stations lumping on extra packages or making people one man band.

Now let’s talk survival skills.  First, understand there is little to no training in newsrooms anymore.  It simply does not happen in the majority of cases.  Every shop is understaffed and half the workers are also in over their heads.  Many managers are drowning and lost too.  By the way, this is supposed to make you feel better.  That’s because these journalists are surviving and so will you.

Here’s what to do.  Find the go to person who gets the work done every day with little trouble and become a buddy.  Find out how the person does it and figure out how to do it yourself.  If you don’t feel comfortable simply asking, then hook up with others in the know.  For example, if it’s a reporter who you’re trying to figure out, request to work with that person’s favorite photographer. Then pick the photog’s brain.  Look online at the reporter’s past stories and look for patterns.  If a producer is your target, ask the newscast director what this person does to make script printing deadline or create killer teases.  Let’s say your writing stinks.  Don’t worry, this is common.  Figure out who the best writer is in the shop.  It’s easy to do.  Just listen to the anchors dish with each other, you will learn who it is quickly.  Once you do, start printing out this person’s scripts and look for common threads.  Then you can mimic the style.

There also is usually a manager that stays very calm in crisis.  That person will often give you advice if you just sit down and ask.  Managers are not all out to get you.  Replacing staff all the time is a pain and most would prefer not to deal with it.  It’s easier for them to do some training.  But you need to ask the right manager.  The news director is next to never the smart choice.  Often it is an executive producer or managing editor.  They are still in the trenches so they can still relate to what you are struggling with.  Once you identify the right person, ask for a critique of your work.  The manager will probably be thrilled you actually want to improve and talk your ear off.  They also tend to dish about their favorites in the shop.  Now you have a new set of names to watch and mimic.  Best of all, you will gain an advocate in management because you are not whining about how hard the job is, you are asking to grow.

 

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How to generate story ideas when you are swamped

Journalists are constantly told to source build and break stories.  Problem is, in many shops you are given two packages a day and have no time to work the phones and source build.  That’s what you think, but it really is possible.  There are ways to generate fresh story ideas that do not take a ton of time.  You also can source build.  It will take some of your too precious free time.  But the payoff is making you more valuable to the station.

So how do you come up with interesting stories when you have next to no time?  Here are some ideas to get you started.

First, some help for reporters.  Try and “befriend” one person a day while covering the news.  This could be the secretary you have to stare at while waiting for an interview, the officer telling you to wait behind the yellow tape, even the restaurant manager at a local dive where you bought a sandwich.  Ask them about themselves and hand out a business card.  Make sure you get their card too.  A few days later, send a quick email saying you really enjoyed your conversation.  If you learn the person loves a football team or has kids that like to play sports send email links to interesting stories every once in a while.  Bottom line:  Build a connection.  If you have time to write an update on Facebook, you have time to send a quick link to these new potential sources.

Set up a Twitter account and use it.  When we say use it, we don’t mean throwing up a meaningless self-serving plug for the story you are reporting on that very day.  Throw up a comment about something interesting you read about.  Mix up the comments so you are engaging to follow.  Give snippets of what it’s like to be a TV journalist each day.  But keep it positive.  Remember, employers and potential employers often research Twitter and Facebook accounts.  For example, don’t gripe about how much you “hate” your assignment to babysit a “dumb” police standoff.  But do mention that your feet sure do hurt after waiting two hours for the standoff to end.  The first makes you seem look childish, petty and unprofessional.  The second, however, makes you look real and is something your followers can identify with.  Twitter is an amazing resource most people are not using correctly.  It is a chance to tap directly into what people are thinking about each day and what they want to learn more about.  You will gain a following and, eventually, you’ll also start getting interesting tips.  The key to Twitter is creating a human connection not another shameless, weak marketing ploy that just ticks people off.  People on Twitter tend to obsess about being in the know, right now.  You will lock them in if you make them realize they can literally be your eyes and ears and that their ideas may actually make it on the news.

Next, contact the Better Business Bureau and county or state run groups that help small businesses get off the ground.  Let these organizations know you are building a list of experts.  This can help you when you are suddenly asked for an out of the box story on damage prevention during bad weather or the latest housing or computer scam.  These businesses need publicity and cannot, generally, afford to buy ads.  But they can afford to send you a quick email pitching ideas once in a while.

Look at blogs on local newspaper websites.  People go off on interesting things that sometimes turn into colorful television.  How about the guy with the American flag that is too big for the homeowner’s association by-laws?  Many of these kinds of stories turn up first in these blogs.

Now let’s talk about generating interesting stories if you are a producer.  Yes, it’s hard to source build when you never even leave the newsroom for lunch.  So use the computer to get ideas.  Search for blogs and groups online that target your key audience.  Then browse them several times a week for fresh information.  These groups constantly dish.  Also keep your ears open when you go to the gym, pick the kids up at daycare or stand in line at the grocery store.  You will hear what people are concerned about.  These tidbits can turn into interesting stories that you can “produce up” in your newscast.  Also look at the hottest video of the day online, then try and come up with a local spin.  A Twitter account can be a great asset for you as well.  Build your following in the same way we just laid out for reporters.

Finally check out what other stations around the country are covering.  Go to a few station websites in areas nearby and see what they’ve played up.  Often you can at least find a consumer story with universal appeal.

 

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