Newsflash, your EP doesn’t have ESP! How to clue them in and form an alliance.

Being an EP is a weird little world.  You are a manager for sure, with a lot of responsibility.  But you sit in the newsroom all day long and work in the trenches.  You have this element in common with another prominent figure on your shift, the anchor, but often the two don’t connect.  It fascinated me as a producer for years.  The EP and the anchor would rarely speak.  I, the producer, was caught in the middle all the time, newsroom after newsroom.  Then I became an EP and tried to change this relationship.  What I found was fascinating.  Time and again, my anchors assumed I knew everything going on in their world and they would actually avoid telling me about any issues.  They even became frustrated if I regularly tried to check in to make sure I was aware of any needs they had.

I am guessing that being a manager made me seem a little untrustworthy.  Understandable since EP’s do weigh in on annual reviews.  But the anchors that did sit down with me and clue me into their expectations succeeded better at their jobs.  The reason:  I could fix problems for them.  I was able to make my expectations crystal clear as well.  To me, having both sides understand the other is only beneficial.  So, anchors, here’s how to forge a relationship with an EP, since we unfortunately don’t have ESP and always know what you need:

  • Set up regular check in sessions to make sure you’re on same page
  • Compliment and critique
  • Be the key backup

First of all set up regular check in sessions to make sure you are on the same page with your EP.  This is a two way street, but you have to ask for it.  I used to try and sit down once a month and just ask my anchors how everything was going.  Did they have any segments they liked?  How was the writing?  Were they getting enough time to ad lib?  Were they getting enough guidance when given breaking news on set?  Sometimes my anchors would candidly provide answers, which I appreciated immensely.  Other times my anchor would say everything’s fine, then go off and bad mouth situations.  Often they would do this just a few hours later and in the hallway where I could easily walk up and hear it (and often did).  If you are given an opportunity to spell out your likes and dislikes, do it.  Otherwise keep your mouth shut in the building!  Not openly talking about what you need, and instead trashing the situation in the hallway makes you look immature.  That means the EP will develop concerns over your ability to lead.  When it’s time to get a new higher level show, that EP will not endorse you.

During check in sessions, you should complement and critique.  It is very beneficial to know what’s working for you as well as what isn’t.  Remember even EP’s need to know if something they are doing or their producers are doing is going great.  Compliments are rare in most newsrooms.  They help boost morale and help the EP figure out what your likes/needs are so they can pass the information down to appropriate staffers.  As for critiques, I know what it is like to have a manager call you in and ask for a critique when you know they actually don’t want to hear it.  These check in sessions should be clearly defined so your criticisms are understood to be constructive.  Also, the EP has final say in whether some of the issues you bring up are addressed, how and when.  Frankly, some things you bring up, the EP may deem not that important.  Be professional enough to see that perspective as well.

Finally, EP’s need people to back them up sometimes, especially if they are making major changes to a newscast.  Back the EP up.  Tell the staff that change can be good.  Be a cheerleader (see Smart Alliances).   This will go a long way toward winning major loyalty from the EP.  Remember, when you’re trashing major formatting changes, most of the time they already went up through higher channels than you and the EP.  To rip them, especially in a group setting, is not in your best interest.  This is where your leadership role really comes in for the newscast.  Often if the anchor says an idea is worth a try, the staff supports attempting the plan.  Your support will go a long way toward winning a major ally, your EP.



Join With Your Anchor: The true make or break of your newscast.

Truth be told, one of the single most important relationships in a newsroom is that between anchor and producer.  If you don’t click, chances are your newscast won’t click and someone or all of you will be shown the door.  You don’t have to like each other.  But you do have to work well together.

These two jobs are so intertwined, it can be very hard to form an alliance.  This is because the people doing the two jobs don’t always understand the intricacies of the other side.  In many cases, anchors are seen as self-important divas who lord it over everyone else.  Anchors can seem detached and uninterested in all it takes to put a newscast together by taking long lunch or dinner breaks and seeming to have endless personal conversations on the phone.  I knew a couple of news anchors that watched baseball and football games while people all around them were slamming to make air.  Producers resent this type of behavior immensely.  But let’s look at it more closely.  What we producers don’t often see is the constant pressure anchors feel to perform, against the odds.  Also some of the phone calls can be radio interviews, networking calls to connect with community leaders and calls to help management vet out a potential new employee.  Nowadays anchors are being asked to blog and tweet and write articles for hyperlocal magazines and internet sites.  The push is always on to increase their exposure.  Then, after all that, they have to be refreshed and full of energy to “perform” on air.  In fairness, many anchors are dealing with producers that are undertrained (see Throw me a lifeline) and defensive about it.

Now, a look at behind the scenes as a producer.  We spell a lot of the pressures out in “Hey she got more time,” but in summary, there are constant unrelenting deadlines and if anything goes wrong in the newscast, including anchors stumbling or seemingly having a low energy day, producers get called to the carpet by management.  Frustrations can then come with this relentless pressure and it can cause producers to lash out.  The number one thing a producer has to learn, no matter what, is to not yell at the anchors.  Remember, anchors are not only the face of the station, they are the only way anyone “sees” a producer’s hard work.  When you ask viewers about newscasts they do not say:  “I love channel “X” because they have really interesting tag elements and natural sound that makes me want to keep watching. Oh, and I also love their teases, they really hook me in.”  They say: “Oh so and so is on that channel. I like (or don’t like) him/her.”  The viewer’s opinion of that anchor is also the producer’s responsibility.  You help the anchors connect with the viewers.

Producers must deliver strong content and the anchor must be able to sell it convincingly and authoritatively.  This requires getting to know each other and trying to downplay each other’s weaknesses.  Read that again, and notice the word “downplay.”  There are a lot of producers who relish seeing their “lazy” anchor sweat on set if, say, the anchor is weak at adlibbing breaking news, or stinks at chat.  The person who loses the most from putting an anchor in an extremely uncomfortable position is the producer.  Yes, the anchor gets embarrassed on television and if this happens repeatedly can stiffen up on air and have trouble with job performance.  I still contend putting anchors in bad positions is worse for the producer because you showcase to the whole staff that you are petty and untrustworthy.  You are not professional.  When you get assigned to another newscast, those anchors will be on the defensive and unwilling to give up some of those dinner breaks or make phone calls to help you.  Remember this is a small business and news managers are not the only ones vetting potential new hires.  Anchors are paid to be in the know too.  Again, so we are crystal clear, some of those phone calls you see may not be to the family at home or a friend the anchor gossips with.  In fact, many times the anchor is networking.  That means if you want to get out of the business and stay in town, your anchor is potentially your greatest asset to help with references.  Let’s say you want to move out of town to another station, your anchor may be your best asset to help you get to the market where you want to go.

We producers do not always give our anchors enough credit for what they do leading up to the newscast.  Even if the anchor really is lazy and spends most of the shift leading up to air on the phone “fooling around,” we are paid to protect the anchor on the air and not put him/her in uncomfortable positions.  You are paid to make your anchor look good, even if that person, in your opinion, doesn’t deserve it.

Producers, often you are the one who have to start the smart alliance.  You need to sit your anchors down and establish expectations for both sides, in a respectful way.  Believe it or not, because so many shops are producer driven, anchors wait for you to take the lead in the relationship. They recognize that many times your job is the one that’s harder to fill.  They realize they are the face of the station, but in today’s economy no one is safe in the newsroom, and anchor pay is often cut to make up for budget shortfalls.  The anchor may not want to start pushing because of fear of a backlash from the producer.  Anchors get that you help them keep their jobs.  As the show manager, the producer can break the ice and help you both be more comfortable with your mutual objectives.  We have delved into some how to’s for this in “Anchor’s away. How to handle a difficult anchor,“and “Your Producing Voice.”   We won’t stop there.  This smart alliance needs a lot of nurturing so you can both excel.  But for now, keep this in mind:  You don’t walk in the other’s shoes.  You can respect that at times those shoes are a tight squeeze, and the other person sometimes needs help with the pressure of that tight fit.



Anchor an Alliance: Stroke the hand that feeds you.

When anchors get together to talk and trade stories, silly positions they are put in while on the air is a hot topic.  Usually complaining about awful things producers wrote, or uncomfortable transitions producers created, leads to many laughs and personal jokes.  Then there are the war stories about the “screamers” in your ear.  It is true:  Producers can put you in really bad positions at times.  Yet, your producer can make or break you at a particular station.  So how do you form an alliance to make sure you’re on the good side of that equation?

Here’s what many producers would love to see from you, so you can stroke the hand that feeds you on air.  Often the producer will not directly ask for these things because they feel it isn’t their place to do so.  If you can provide them these simple things, you will get a loyal ally.

Let the producer know you have his/her back.  Most producers naturally assume that the anchor is on the defensive, and will put blame on the producer for any mistake the anchor makes on air.  Frankly, this is because most producers get called in when an anchor is “not performing” to management’s standards and are told they are to blame.  This makes producers want to keep a safe distance from their anchors.

So how do you bring this defensive wall down?  Take responsibility for some of the mistakes on air in front of the producer and in front of management.  Whoa, you say: “This could make me vulnerable! “  Not necessarily.   Do it during discrep meetings.  Other staffers will see , so will an EP or the AND, but most importantly the producer will see it in a public setting.  Things like, “I didn’t get a chance to rework a paragraph in story such and such and stumbled today, sorry guys.” or “I forgot to get an interesting fact from so and so meteorologist for the pitch so it would flow, so I apologize if I rambled.”  or “I forgot we were switching to two shots at the top of the c-block, I’ll remember now.”  Here’s what usually happens when you head home, the producer and associate producer or the producer and director stays late and looks for ways to help you (a) not have to rewrite a paragraph, (b) make it easier for you to find a factoid to pitch to weather next time (c) sit down with the TD or camera crew to remind them to remind you about the new two shot.  If you come across as humble and trying to help, you will win a huge ally that will bend over backwards for you every day.  No, the producer won’t always get it right.  But chances are you will get more apologies and more mea culpas from the producer as well.  You might even get to weigh in on news copy and formatting changes more often before air.

Producers also want you helping out leading up to the newscast.  No, you do not need to write the entire show.  If the producer is worth a bean, he/she thrives on taking ownership and writing most of the show.  Still, having an anchor “check in” once or twice leading up to a newscast offering to help write is seen as a huge sign of respect.  Some producers will assign you a story, some will use this as an opportunity for a gut check on something they are worried about.  Some will tell you to hop in and write whatever you want.  All will respect you for helping to build the newscast, not just wanting to read it on TV.

Many times when anchors compliment producers, they talk about producers designing segments with the anchor’s voice in mind.  (See Producer Voice )  This can be hard for the producer to do, if they don’t know much about you.  We will dedicate an article on techniques to help producers write in your voice more in depth later, but for now let’s talk basics so you can help producers.  The producer needs an idea of who you are as a person, and what kind of stories you really like.  I had an anchor once that was very interested in travel and airlines.  So I would purposely put pacers in about the airlines because his energy level would boost every time he read one.  Frankly, some of the stories were boring and I questioned viewer benefit.  But his energy would pop so much, it was worth giving up 15 seconds.   Another anchor loved political news so most of the time he would get the interview segments about campaign issues.  He was well read and thought of much better questions than I could.  Another anchor of mine had an incredible mind for health issues.  She knew all the latest trends and could really tell if a news release was a PR stunt or true medical breakthrough for the area.  I would call her when she came in and was settled for the day and ask what she thought of various stories to put in the newscast.  I knew these things because the anchors would chat me up about them when we waited for the editorial meetings to start.   These anchors didn’t sit me down for huge philosophical discussions, they just clued me into their interests at an opportune time in my day when I could actually listen.

If you see a mistake, bring it to the producer’s attention in a respectful way. We delve more into this in our article, “Throw me a lifeline” but this is a crucial reminder.  If you want a loyal ally, do not make fun of news copy or uncomfortable transition lines on the set during the show with the other anchor.  Chances are the producer heard the bad writing or bad transition and is beating him/herself up about it already.  To hear you poke fun just puts salt in the wound especially because you are doing so in front of people the producer has to help manage during the newscasts.  Basically, it feels like you cut the producer off at the knees.  The production crew may laugh with you, but they don’t respect you for it either.  Remember, you also aren’t perfect.  They see you stumble, and occasionally make dumb comments.   If you want those moments to pass, don’t bring up other people’s mistakes publicly.

Finally, remember that compliments are powerful.   Producers do not get to go out in public and be told how great the newscast is.  In many shops it’s a rare thing for management to throw a compliment the producer’s way.  To hear from you occasionally, about a segment you liked or something nice a viewer told you, really means a lot.  The producer feels like you respect him/her as a part of your success as well.  It helps you “anchor” an alliance that really can boost your career.



Need a safety net? Why not align with the EP?

Reporters often feel like they are thrown to the wolves and no one has their back.  ND’s are intimidating.  Managing editors always seem to side with the assignment desk.  AND’s are confusing because they are the messengers for the ND and GM’s various desires.  And the EP only protects the producer.  Wait, stop there!  Here’s a little secret from a former EP:  In order to protect the newscast we EP’s need to protect our field crews.  An executive producer is the go to person for day-to-day decisions.  An executive producer is also the one responsible for making sure all elements of a newscast are executing to their fullest ratings potential.  That means if reporters are being sent on wild goose chases and are being put in impossible positions, the manager that is going to raise hell and may actually be heard is the EP.  And EP’s will raise hell about it if necessary.  EP’s are your management safety net.  They are not as involved in the political battles between the Managing editor, AND and ND.  While those three sit in philosophical debates, the EP executes what has to be done that day to try and save the newscast.  Yes, the EP is lower on the totem pole.  But when it comes to review time, and consideration for promotions, EP’s weigh in, sometimes heavily, because they actually work with you all day, every day.

So how do you form a smart alliance?  Here’s what executive producers love to get from reporters each day:

  • Reality Check
  • Flexibility
  • Respect  deadlines

For an executive producer, nothing is more frustrating than not knowing what is happening with the field crews.  That’s why you get annoying phone calls and text messages sometimes when you are in a key interview and the desk and EP are relentless that you must stop everything and call back.  Here’s a quick solution to free yourself of this daily annoyance.  Send your EP quick updates several times a day.   If you possibly can, call with a reality check a half hour to hour before any editorial meetings.  Sometimes you are in an interview and cannot call.  Good EP’s get that. Text or top line that you are in a key interview, and that things are going well.  At least the EP will have a clue as to what is going on.  During these reality checks spell out what you have and if the idea everyone had for the story in the editorial meeting is reality.  If you are finding something completely different you need to let your EP know so he/she can make sure the story is teased correctly and placed in the best position for the newscast.  I realize that there are EP’s and producers out there who will berate you and try and force you to turn an angle that isn’t there, if you call in too early.  That’s where some flexibility comes in.

I would like to say that producers and management should always trust crews to tell them what a story angle should be and run with whatever the reporter finds.  Unfortunately, reality is the high pressure from ratings, especially in this economy, makes it hard to always take whatever the reporter finds and run with it.  Letting your EP know early what you have, versus what you were told you should get, will protect you and the newscast.  Sometimes you will be asked to push for an angle harder, give it a try  and let the EP know the result.  Remember, the EP is also getting pressure from upper management for certain types of stories.  The EP just needs to be able to let everyone know that the angle wanted was really researched and just didn’t happen.  Some reporters avoid telling anyone their angle until the last minute to avoid another assignment or being grilled by the EP.  This is a short term gain, long term loss.  EP’s don’t respect you if you are not working for the best interest of the newscast and you will be burned in the long run.  Unfortunately, you will win some of these arguments over story angles and you will lose some.  Being flexible and sometimes getting stuck with a new assignment, late in the day, because the angle you were sent on didn’t happen, means you are a team player.  The EP will respect and openly support you to upper management.  EP’s don’t always win philosophical arguments either and also are put in uncomfortable positions.  They will do whatever they can to have your back though, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.  The truth is taking good care of you, is taking good care of the newscast.   If the EP is nasty, the EP will pay for it at some point.  And because the EP is responsible for ratings, chances are his/her head will be on the chopping block before yours.

Respecting deadlines is another big way to align with an EP.  Deadlines exist for the protection of the newscast.  Here’s a little secret, management knows you will not always make it.  If you get a late change in stories or are sent on a breaker, or have a really long drive to your story there is some flexibility.  Problem is many field crews ignore deadlines and procrastinate, so management implements carte blanche deadlines to protect the newscast.  Make deadline, unless you are on a breaker or late story change.  When you cannot make deadline, let the EP know ahead of time so he/she can do what is necessary to protect the newscast.  This is a big picture issue.  Show you understand you are part of something bigger than your package and live shot and you will gain an ally.  Deadlines are also one of the few tangible ways management can track your abilities at your job.  It makes it easier to gage you against your peers and decide if you deserve a raise, or even if you need to be fired.  Making deadline routinely means the EP will give you the benefit of the doubt when you do get into a pickle and have to feed late.  The EP will fight for reporters that regularly make deadline.  It’s a safety net in your time of need.