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.

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Is Breaking News Cliche?

I recently posted a question on Twitter, “ Should ‘breaking news’ go on the cliche list at this point?” The amount of views on that post was tremendous. So let’s delve in a bit more shall we?

I get asked how and when to use the term breaking news a lot. For good reason. The term “breaking news” has taken on a wild and crazy life of its own in TV news. Its been a long ride. And just like some rides at Disney, it is time for an upgrade.

Breaking news is overused. There I said it. Especially by cable news outlets and some local broadcasting groups. The thinking is if you state immediacy viewers cannot help but watch. Problem is, when you really think about it, most breaking news on TV is dated, compared to digital news. The very fact that newscasts are on at set times, ruins the appeal of using “breaking news” in most stories. (Even cable outlets have set viewers for set time slots.) In fact, viewers know you are likely just exaggerating. Just look at studies about credibility and TV news.  

 Digital is changing things for sure, and it begins with the use of the term breaking news as a crutch to try and get viewers to stick around and consider newscasts relevant because its “breaking” information.

Especially when you look at the definition of cliche:  A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. (Dictionary of Oxford Languages) This one by Merriam-Webster makes the point more clear: a trite phrase or expression.  In other words, used so much that it has become boring, and perhaps lost its original meaning.

Viewers who tend to like news, tend to also look at digital resources. Yes this can even include some Boomers.  Especially with more newspapers offering less expensive digital formats than getting the paper thrown into the driveway each morning. So these viewers, are seeing through the gimmick that “breaking news” has turned into. Its become boring, unoriginal and frankly, not worth tuning in for. 

If everything is breaking then nothing truly breaks. Memorize that mantra. 

So let’s give “breaking news” that makeover it so deserves. First, a made for TV definition: Breaking news is news that started happening during your newscast, and new elements are continuing to present themselves. You are sharing information that has not made air before in other newscasts. This is information you are gathering, right at that moment. 

So if a newsworthy event happened two hours before your show, then ended before your show is it breaking? NO. It was breaking for digital two hours ago if you have a kick butt team in that section of your newsroom. But for TV, no. Instead think: latest developments. The story is new since the last newscast, and the goal is to continue to expand on key facts while you are on the air. You are filling in the viewer. It is new, but not breaking.

Is Covid breaking news? There are constant new elements presenting themselves all day each day if you really think about it. I am going to argue, proceed with caution. Breaking news, feels like a gimmick to casual viewers. (The regulars likely tune out the labeling period, still no benefit to you.) So happening right now, or latest update or developing can work in this scenario. Or you could avoid all of these “news branding” phrases and just say what is going on. Viewers still assume you are at least trying to bring them “new” information in a newscast. They give you some points for that effort still. Why not use that to your advantage and save time and energy just telling them the facts without a label at all? In terms of Covid so much is happening, it feels like a tidal wave. The viewers need something to cling on to, perspective. New information isn’t always enough to satisfy audience needs.

Breaking news can have a place in the newscast, but to me it should at least be a strong contender for the cliche list. Avoid. Focus instead on just consistently updating stories, so everything is new. Viewers expect that and frankly many take it for granted. Labeling things new and breaking constantly can shine light on the fact that the rest of your content is likely old. Especially in the digital age. By focusing less on the label, and more on the information itself you will gain more trust with the viewer. 

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