Scripts please! The show is about to air, and the producer is still writing!

This is a common reality, especially for morning shows, no matter the market size.  Not having the show ready at airtime is a big strain on anchors and producers.  You simply should not be writing content during a live show unless there’s breaking news.  Too much can go wrong.  Producers if you are having problems getting your newscast written in time, look at Bottom’s up.  Another article is coming soon to help further.  This article is going to focus on the anchors.  They have to make up for the fact they will be reading content “cold.”  Here’s how to keep from stumbling and fumbling your way through.

1)      Get very familiar with facts in the stories

2)      Write notes for yourself

3)      When possible dive in and write

4)      Read a block ahead, to fix mistakes

5)      Consider reading copy even if there are minor mistakes, then demand corrections for later hits

Recently an anchor wrote us a great article on the art of adlib, in it he asked the question, how much of a newscast do you really know?  Could you talk your way through with no scripts.  This is very important.  Morning show anchors do have the ability to become familiar with news content, especially since so many of the scripts are rewrites from the night before.  Get comfortable with the facts of as many stories as you can.  That way if you get stuck, you can get by.

Some anchors I’ve worked with wrote notes or outlines of stories that they guessed were not going to be written in time and included them in their scripts.  Think of these outlines like you would bullet points for a live shot.  No, you probably won’t have time to write these outlines for a lot of stories, but even a few can really help if your producer is chronically in the weeds.  The anchors that I would see do this waited until about a half hour before air, then wrote as many outlines as possible.  Look at the rundown, if the producer tends to wait to write the b-block until the newscast starts, try and outline a few of your anchor reads in that block.  At least you have something to lean on.  Look for the big gaps, and throw a little something in here and there to help.

If you are an hour before air and there’re a lot of empty pages in the rundown, dive in and write.  No you should not have to do this.  (That’s another article.)  Bottom line, help yourself so you don’t get screwed.  Just quit writing full story copy in time to proof what is there, so you have sections of the newscast where you feel comfortable.  I recommend keeping a list of how many scripts you had to dive in and write, and when appropriate talk with your manager about the issue.  Also, make sure you give yourself a chance to relax, take a breath and be ready to present.  Too often anchors end up slamming copy until the last second, run to the set and come across as uncomfortable right off the top of the show.  You have to protect your role in the newscast and your role is to be smooth, authoritative and in command.  Stop writing and helping in time to do what you need to do to be comfortable on set.  If you have some outlines and wrote some copy, you will be okay.  Give yourself a chance to be composed and relaxed before stepping on the set.

Once the newscast starts, use commercial breaks, packages and weather hits to read at least a block ahead.  This is the advice talent consultants give all the time.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Unfortunately, when a lot of scripts are written last minute, there are a lot of clarification questions, timing issues and other problems.  Those mean you have to “stop down” and listen to a list of changes during breaks.  Do what you can.

Finally, if you end up having to read copy “cold,” try not to get bogged down changing errors live, as you see them coming up in prompter, unless you are familiar with the story content and know you can do it smoothly.  As counterintuitive as it sounds, it is better to read the bad copy smoothly on-air, then demand a fact recheck and/or rewrite for later hits in the newscast.  This advice applies more to morning shows which are often plagued with strings of script errors that tend to be carried forward from hour-to-hour.  It can be difficult to change a bunch of issues live and “on the fly.”  If you end up stumbling, chances are management will blame you instead of the producer.  It may not be right, but I saw it happen time and again.  It is wrong on management’s part, but its reality and it does happen.  Better to push through, keep your trouble riddled scripts, then go to management after the newscast and show how many errors were in the newscasts.  Change what you realistically can, but stay smooth, authoritative and commanding on-air.  I know this is very uncomfortable and feels wrong, but when you are stuck with a producing team that cannot get its newscasts written in time, you the anchor can only do so much.  Your job is to make the information look good on-air.  That means smooth reads, period.  Management needs to fix the underlying problem so you can do your job better.  If management refuses, you know you aren’t working for a quality organization and need to take steps to protect yourself.

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Developing your interviewing skills on the beat.

It can make or break a story if it isn’t done correctly.  It can also capture the essence of what you’re trying to convey and draw your audience in like the earth’s gravitational pull.  Interviews are the foundation of good reporting.  They are the best way of understanding a situation and seeing the story from someone else’s perspective.   Most importantly, a successful interview requires strong people skills and technical ability.

As reporters, you’re constantly working under deadline pressure and the first thing you think about is, “Who should I interview for this story.”  As you know, finding someone to talk on camera is half the battle.  So when you do find them, and get ready to push record, make sure you don’t waste time by asking meaningless questions.  Those questions are anything you know you’re not going to use to get your story on air.  This is usually the small talk or chit chat that helps warm up your subject.  Take it from me; this can really slow down the logging process when you’re under deadline.

Even though you’re getting to the point, don’t forget to be conversational.  What I mean by this is, don’t ask one question, and then immediately think about the next question we’re going to ask.  At this point you’ve lost. Your subject may say something that could lead to a much better story.  Listening closely and intently will help you uncover any possible hidden details of the story you’re trying to cover.  My advice is to have just a couple of questions you really need to ask, but “play” off the conversation.  I find this will help you write into, out of, and around your sound bites.

Depending on the rapport you’ve established with the person you’re interviewing, many times you can ask your most poignant questions first and get to the heart of the matter.  Time is money, (well for you it’s precious seconds so you don’t miss slot.)  Remember, it’s most important to ask questions which are relevant and revealing about the participant’s character and opinion.

You never know what you’re going to get when you interview someone.  Hopefully, you’re getting raw emotion like anger, sadness, enthusiasm, excitement…etc.  Whatever you’re getting, don’t be afraid to let that raw emotion breathe. The toughest thing to do for reporters and anchors is to be silent and let the interviewee say what they have to say.  Don’t cut someone off in mid-thought or sentence.  Let them stay in the zone until it’s appropriate to ask the next question. This is the hardest to judge and will take time to develop.  All I can say here is…it’s about feel.

When you’re done getting that great interview, don’t forget to tell your producers.  They can really help setup your story and help you hit the story out of the park.

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Kennan Oliphant is a morning Executive Producer at WMBF News in Myrtle Beach, SC. He started his career as a anchor/reporter. He’s won numerous awards and loves to connect with people over social media. Follow him on Twitter: @TVNewsGuru or facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kennan-Oliphant/313726945344980

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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.

 

 

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“Hey, she got more time!” Reporter’s secret? Humor the producer.

We are telling you about some smart alliances in newsrooms to help you get your job done better.  One of the biggest problems in newsrooms is a real lack of understanding of what other people’s jobs entail.  A big disconnect can come between reporters and producers.  Since reporters are out in the field all day, it is hard to relate to each other.  So, reporters, here’s a quick summary of what producers face. Producers face deadlines all day long, not just before news time. Graphics are due by a certain time, video is due by a certain time, even in this high tech age.  Teases must be written by a certain time.  Animations must be turned in by a certain time.  The list goes on and on.  Producers crunch in one way or another all day long.  That’s why you get curt phone calls and that’s why the producer will interrupt you and demand the bottom line then hang up.  It takes years to get used to the constant demands.  This isn’t meant to make you feel compassion for the producer.  We all have tough jobs in a newsroom.  But this knowledge should help you form a smart alliance.  Remember, producers are the ones that allow you to take more time for a story you really believe in.  If you can get a producer to back you on a story pitch, you have a better chance of getting your story aired.

So here’s what to keep in mind to build a smart alliance with producers.  Producers love reporters that think like producers.  What does that mean?  It means thinking of elements outside of your package to enhance your story.  It means writing anchor intros that allow the anchors to seem knowledgeable without giving your story away.  It means making sure your package and live scripts get into the rundown before the newscast airs, unless you are on breaking news. (Read Live shot died, there’s nowhere to go.) It means sending in natural sound or sound bites early for teases.  It also means calling and requesting interesting graphics several hours before the newscast.

If you are saying wow that’s a lot of work, take a breath and read on.  You probably already do some of this anyway, especially if you are a story teller.  You just need to present it in a way that allows the producer to see you are helping.

First, when you write your package start with the anchor intro.  (We will delve into the many benefits of this in depth in another article.)  For the purposes of forming a smart alliance, this means you will have a script in early for the producer to fine tune if necessary for flow in the newscast.  Turning in all of your live scripts and your package script early also gives the producer backup options if your live truck dies or a thunderstorm pops up.  It shows respect for the overall product.  Remember the producer is in charge of the overall product.  If the show goes to hell, the producer gets it big time.  You show the producer that you care about the newscast by writing your anchor intro early and turning in all your scripts.  If you can provide an interesting element to segment out the story  (Read Produce it up to see why) producers will appreciate you even more.  It helps the producer showcase you and the anchors, as a team, gathering information and relieves a lot of pressure. Otherwise the producer, on top of everything else, is trying to find these elements to make the newscast standout from the others in town.

Producers also use teases to try and differentiate newscasts.  The use of natural sound can make a huge difference when writing (tease writing articles for clarification: You’re Hooked, Ultimate tease challenge , Reel ‘em in without exaggerating). That’s why you are getting calls asking if you have interesting sound and/or video.  Many reporters consider these requests annoying and send the video or sound in last minute.  This let’s your producer know you don’t get the whole picture and don’t care if your story is promoted well.  Realistically, you can often have your photographer feed in the tease video and sound while you write your package.  It doesn’t hurt your chances of turning a great story and it helps showcase your hard work more.

Same is true if you need graphics inside your package.  Turn them in early, ask the producer what the deadline he/she adheres to and try to make the same deadline if you can.  Producers understand you will get information late in the day sometimes and will try and get a graphic for you last minute.  It helps if, more often than not, you turn in your work early.  Then the producer is more willing to pull favor for you.  If you consistently turn in these elements early, it also will give you a better chance of becoming a go-to reporter for the producer.  The benefit?  Many shops are so called “producer driven.” That means what the producers ask for in their shows carries a lot of weight.  They determine content more than reporters.  So if the producer believes in you, he/she will start requesting you for the highly showcased stories.  Producers will tell management you are a loyal and solid employee.  This will help you get noticed by management.  If you don’t help the producer out, the reverse is true.  The producer will ask not to have your package in the newscast.  They will tell management you are unreliable and difficult.  You will be labeled.  When it’s time for the cream assignment, you won’t get it or if you get lucky and can go, the producer may not cut you slack if you run into trouble.  This relationship is a huge case of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  Show respect.  Think like a producer.  Win a huge ally that will fight tooth and nail for you.  It’s a smart alliance to make, for sure!

 

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