In the past few weeks, I have seen several posts on LinkedIn either asking where are producers, or appeals from stations and broadcasting groups that frankly as of even a year ago would never have to worry about enough applications. This isn’t a surprise to me, since I talk with producers at all levels all the time, but it is a wakeup call for the industry.
Partner these posts with two more important factors: The rate of employees unionizing in the journalism industry is increasing, and a lot of veteran producers are posting about mental health issues and that they are getting out of the business as result. Now we have a better overall grasp of this issue. For a long time the broadcasting industry has recognized producing is a very difficult job. The industry conceptually understands that a big reason is a lack of training. Part of that happens at some J-Schools because frankly, producing needs to be an entire specialty track not just a course you take in case you cannot get that reporting gig. But there’s a bigger factor: Constant practical training needs to happen during a producer’s first job. Most “starter” newsrooms lack the staff to really do this. So producers have to train themselves through trial and error. Does that take grit and persistence? Yes. Does it weed out the weak of heart. Sure. But this isn’t the 1980’s anymore. The industry needs to understand that adding digital responsibilities along with making your own graphics and editing your own VO’s has made the job even harder than when you “bit the bullet and made it.”
The industry also needs to recognize that just because a producer made it for 3 years doesn’t make him/her an expert necessarily and the support needs to continue. No, these producers no longer need to be trained almost daily, but they do need to brainstorm how to showcase, they need to be encouraged how to make the newscast feel like they accomplished something more than slamming a bunch of stories on the air while barely able to even take a quick bathroom break then know they have to do the same thing the next day. Rising up in the producer ranks doesn’t make the job easier. Managers, you take on more responsibility as you move up. The decisions you have to make every day can be very hard, and draining. But you get to take breaks. You can schedule some downtime in your day to relax. And you should. It keeps you fresh, your brain power strong and your mental health more intact. Producers on the other hand, keep adding more complicated elements to their job. More showcasing, more problem solving about why a certain 5 minute period in their show suddenly is losing audience, more tweaking. It is a constant challenge with no real break. No real stride even if you are constantly putting out best effort as expected. This is a job that doesn’t let down. It gets easier in some ways, but the intense constant deadlines do not let you rest in your day. This has to be understood at higher levels. Your veteran producers are tired. They often feel taken for granted. They sometimes question, “Is this all I have to look forward to?” Eventually most realize, they can work smarter not harder in something other than broadcast news. So just when they are at maximum talent, just when they hit the so called 10,000 hour rule, many who don’t want to go into management, but are a huge talent quit. A loss the broadcast industry, with constant staff cuts, constant new editorial demands and constant pushes for savvier editorial techniques really cannot afford.
So how does the industry fix this problem? First let’s stop talking about journalism as a vocation. Yes, no matter what the work hours alone make this a passion type career instead of just a job. Yes, you need to really care about what you do. The issue is, for profit companies use the idea of this is a vocation to not properly compensate for expertise. The mindset is limiting. Executives in these groups are paid well and often receive bonuses for their advanced understanding of the nuances of this business. Seasoned producers need some caveats also. For years the pay issue has come up. Every excuse imaginable has been made. The bottom line is the news industry’s biggest commodity, largest asset, and greatest offering are the people who make its product, the news, credible. This isn’t just about profits, its about long term product stability. Telling veteran journalists who can offer so much insight to suck it up with yet another 2 percent raise and be ok with that because this is a vocation is piss poor. Without these producers, you have a weak product. Call up a newscast from a large market from 20 years ago, then look at modern newscasts at the same station. The new newscasts have more glitz, but focus on the journalism. There is no comparison in content. Viewers know it, that’s why they are looking online. They want facts. They want to be given real information and tools to analyze what is best for themselves, their families and the community at large. Veteran producers know how to do that and make it look good. You have to invest in that if you want the industry to survive long term.
Let’s go back to the need for producers period. You can shoot great stories from iPhones. You can produce news from anywhere now, with a computer and a WIFI link. It is time to spend a bit less on the latest equipment and invest in your people instead. Some broadcasting groups are hiring producers in training. Yes, it is a start in investing in the future. But this is a drop in the bucket. There has to be more investment in training and compensation from the beginning producing job until the last.
There also has to be more investment in listening to the needs of your producers. A key point of contention: No downtime. The tight constant deadlines make this impossible during a given day. But broadcasting groups could start offering more PTO time for producers. Some groups make you earn your time off as you work. Why not set up 2 weeks guaranteed time off at the start of the year, with opportunities to earn more time off as they put in extra hours for those specials, etc you ask them to do above and beyond their newscasts? Producers cannot just run to the doctor quick then come into work. They have to be there to monitor their shows from start to finish if you want high quality. So they need to take more days off.
To keep producers inspired many newsrooms essentially pit producers against each other in terms of who’s considered the best. It is very rampant and very toxic. There is an easy fix. Each newsroom needs to create mission statements for their newscasts that states purpose of the show, and audience goals. Every hour is a bit different this way. By focusing on the content needs, this helps producers stop demanding all the elements for their newscasts and helps them share more easily. Collaboration is huge if you are a producer. Fellow producers are the only ones who really understand what you go through each day. Closeness needs to be fostered.
There is so much more that can be done, but these suggestions really start to address what I hear most from producers. They need time off to regroup. They need support. They need to have each other to lean on. They need to truly be valued and have it shown by more than an occasional thank you and a “treat” brought to the newsroom once in a while. Those are nice gestures. But they need more. The lack of candidates tells you that in stark terms. So please broadcast industry wake up. Deliver. Everyone wins.
This is a million dollar question in a lot of ways: How do I figure out what should be in a TV story vs a digital story? There are teams of researchers, consulting groups, and higher ups in the broadcast industry weighing this question every day. But you are a journalist, and you have to turn stories everyday right now while they ponder the future digital universe. So let’s lay out some common sense ground rules.
Necessary TV Elements:
Strong visual and/or emotional elements
Timeliness, especially if ongoing
Necessary Digital Elements:
Strong visual and/or emotional elements
Great Why or How elements
Great extra nuggets of information surrounding ongoing story
These lists look awfully similar right? The key differences are subtle but important.
Let’s jump into the TV elements list first. Wide Impact tops the list for a big reason, TV viewers are getting more finicky. We used to be able to just grab hyper local elements to fill up our local news sections and be fine. Not as easy now though. Viewers are likely two screening when watching TV so if a story or two bores them, you lost them to the other screen! So while remaining largely local, the story has to impact a lot of people. Let’s discuss the meaning of impact. That doesn’t mean a direct effect on the person watching necessarily. It can also mean a strong universal type tie. Think heartbreaking stories. My family isn’t impacted, but I sure care about the other family. Or I sit and thank my lucky starts that’s not my family. Just getting nitty gritty here. That’s why emotional elements are so crucial.
TV news needs strong visuals in its stories. The goal is for every story. That’s not always realistic, but try as much as possible. Especially in this day of big monitors and telestrations and 2d graphics. Discussing the visual impact of the story is as big as the community impact when considering a TV news story.
DMA impact is a little different but very key. There are times especially if you are the third or fourth place station that you want to cater to an underserved audience in your DMA. This helps serve the community better as journalists, and can help bring up ratings. These are important discussions to have to make sure TV stories are truly considering the entire audience, not just a chosen few. (Which can get into the whole idea of not just choosing stories you personally care about to cover. Your opinion is one opinion. Never forget that as a journalist.)
Timeliness is also very important. But this is going to sound half crazy to some, it needs to emphasize more developing type stories, instead of just breaking news. Why? Because digital does breaking news better unless it is a HUGE event in which you are in continuous coverage. Admit that and you will start to produce more relevant stories for your viewers. It is too hard for TV to beat digital. Breaking news desks need to cater to digital first. But you cannot put clearly dated stories into newscasts. That’s where strong data driven journalism is starting to come into play. You have started hearing broadcast groups mention that they want to focus on hard hitting investigative journalism locally. That’s smart. That’s going to provide the key information that will drive audiences to a TV newscast. I want to see that reporter I trust spell it out for me. Then I can research more and see if I agree. That’s what journalism was about for a long time. But TV news went too heavy into pictures and immediacy and not enough into impact. That’s what hurt TV. It’s time to go back to the basics, with a little more showcasing savvy than TV news of the 80’s for example.
Now the digital list. Immediacy is first for obvious reasons. You check your phone to see what’s happening right now. What if I missed something? Due to content constantly changing people are constantly checking. That doesn’t change for local news. You have to have new elements all the time that make sense. Immediacy.
Impact is next. Just grabbing breaking news from all over the world will not impress local audiences. Research shows this for TV viewers and it is not different for internet users for local TV news websites. I promise you do not do it as well as HuffPost/Politico etc. Focus on what the audience wants. Local stories that could make a difference for them or someone they know.
Strong visual and/or emotional elements. Think Instagram mentality here. You go on the app thinking you have 15 minutes to burn and an hour later, you are still looking at posts. Same with Pinterest. Give them great information they can relate to and suck them in with a great image or video. The human brain cannot resist.
Great why and/or how elements are crucial too. It can be really hard to catch everything stated on TV. Consumers are grabbing their phones, starved for more information. They can read the digital story more than once. They can highlight words and research more things. They can really get into the nitty gritty of stories and subject matter they want to understand. This is where we journalists can inform, teach and frankly be relevant again. Give them the facts they crave. Delve into what so many feel is so hard to get right now, understanding.
Sometimes that understanding is a whole series of special reports. Sometimes it is simply the last element of our digital story list: extra nuggets of information on a developing story. This is especially true if your next newscast is not for hours. Keep covering the most relevant stories. Add elements, even a few lines with an updated time stamp under the byline. It helps you get more clicks, more loyalty and more impact. And extra nuggets are usually easy to find and explain. These often become the old “water cooler” elements that people want to share with friends and coworkers. Especially now that everyone wants to show they are in the know and frankly relevant themselves. The psychological draws of digital are crucial to consider throughout your story selection process.
Hopefully these guidelines will make your day to day job a little easier while the big wigs duke it out over who has the big answer to digital.
At times these Facebook or Instagram pages are “locked down” meaning someone has to ask to be your friend to get access. Apparently that is leading some journalists, including very seasoned ones, to think they can post anything because its only going to be seen by family and friends. But here’s the issue, friends can fall out of favor, or have another friend who doesn’t like you. All it takes is a friend with access to your page to screen grab your post and send it to another person, and you are as good as public. Don’t believe me? Again ask some of the journalists recently called out about their postings on FTVLive.
The hard reality here is these posts can also be sought after by bosses, HR and coworkers ticked you got the shift they wanted, the position they hoped for etc. I have seen it, and had to help journalists deal with this reality several times now. You have to realize, all it takes is one person to take a screen grab and share it.
I have also seen people go through the rest of the staff’s posts when they get in trouble themselves and try and out the others for doing the same thing. Next thing you know a bunch of staffers are getting written up. And it can be more than a slap on the wrist, the post and disciplinary action can end up in your employee file impacting your ability to get a job in company in the future. Also HR will protect who “outed” your comment. So you will constantly look around the newsroom and wonder who turned you in. Who has it out for you?
I have heard of hiring managers contacting former employees at stations you apply for, to see if they can get access to your personal Facebook etc. Not to mention HR and managers having burner accounts, that seem innocent but are actually used to get access.
This is meant to make you stop and think hard about social media. Privacy just does not exist. You cannot count on private mode, when it comes to protecting your career. There is always a way to gain access if a person wants to, and there can be people you think are your friends that will stab you in the back.
With this reality in mind, let’s talk about the never post list you need to memorize.
Sexual comments, innuendo
These are your danger zone topics. Can you post a bible verse for inspiration on your personal account, probably, but be careful. You can also say you just got back from service. Other than that, keep any opinions to yourself. You are a journalist, you are very vulnerable and under scrutiny.
Politics is just a no. Sorry the world is too polarizing. Pass. Talk with your friends and family. Otherwise. No.
What are compromising selfies? The specifics vary depending on CoVid. Right now if you go to a social gathering, do not post a picture. If you are out drinking do not post a picture. If you are flying somewhere probably should not post a selfie from the plane, airport etc. Non CoVid times, do you look drunk don’t post. (As in you do not want any pics taken when you are drinking that could end up on social media) Would you wear that outfit in front of a religious leader or your parents? If no, then no selfie online. Sorry, America still can have very puritan like values.
I know that there is a push to feel good in your own skin. And you should. If you work out and love your toned body, that is not a bad thing. But you have to be careful about mistaken impressions. You might think that bikini is ok, but I promise most of the hiring managers are not thrilled. Those that are frankly are likely not thinking of you as a good journalist, but eye candy they can use to get numbers then dump when the awe wears off. Sorry but someone has to say that bluntly. Too many people are not understanding it. There are a very few hiring managers who will not judge and will just focus on your journalistic integrity. To assume most will is just plain over estimating their goodwill and maturity. Also, think of all the memes out there, do you think most Americans are mature too or will pick apart your “assets” and objectify you. Is the risk worth your career? If you are in journalism to be looked at, you still have to keep the job, to get that attention. Remember that too.
Now sexual comments and innuendo. Sadly, I see a lot of this when screening journalists myself. I get that social media can be a way to hook up or find the love of your life. But again, you need to think about all the stories covered when politicians sext etc. Same applies to you.
Also seriously consider whether people at work should have access to your personal accounts. A lot of people choose to keep work and home separate, including their personal social media accounts. It is a valid idea. One I would encourage while you work in the industry. Once you leave a station maybe you invite a select few of your closest friends to have access. Maybe. Again, I can promise you, when you see a personal Facebook reference on FTVLive, in most cases someone that person trusted shared that post with someone else, possibly including FTVLive directly. Having limited access, where you approve the friend list is not enough.
Finally a word on social media policies at work. All of them have some language that allows the staton to come after you for personal pages. That includes, personal Facebook with limited access, personal websites, etc. They keep the language fluid enough to be able to come after you if they so desire. Bottom line, most journalists do not have the cash flow to fight them back, and the companies know it. So they issue blanket statements about types of unacceptable posts (see list above) and they remind that everyone, even those of you behind the scenes represent the company at all times on social media. All times. If you are online, you represent the station you work for. Period. That has to be ingrained in your mind as you post. Every minute. Every day. You just need 1 person to dislike something you post to potentially seriously damage your reputation and cost you your job. So never forget your social media connections could cost you your job.
Small Market, USA — No matter how many hours you’ve spent watching Diane Sawyer over the years and dreamed of anchoring Good Morning America or World News, for some people getting that first TV reporting gig results in a revelation: I wasn’t cut-out for this.
I recently got an e-mail from a young woman who was frank that journalism isn’t the part of the TV business she feels passionate about. Not only that, she worries she’s not doing a good job.
“I went to school, yes, but there’s things they don’t teach there,” she said in her first e- mail to me.
SurviveTVNewsJobs.com has agreed not to reveal the woman’s name or current market, which is small, in order to protect the relationship with her news director and allow her to be completely honest about her feelings in our e-mail exchanges.
“This is my first job outside my hometown,” she said. “I worked in (a large market) and loved it there…I did fun stories and the traffic. Well, I got laid-off and now I’m in (this small market) trying to keep-up my resume, but I’m finding that I’m starting to really dislike this job.”
Judging by how she ended that first e-mail (“you can be blunt with me,” she said), she was expecting the sort of tart-tongued tirade Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News would’ve delivered. She didn’t get that from me, though. I actually feel a lot of compassion for her. As I like to tell high school classes, journalism is like the priesthood. It’s a calling. If you don’t feel the insatiable need to be a journalist — if doing something else with your life would literally leave you depressed, thinking less of yourself, or feeling some other variety of intense and sincere mental anxiety — then this is not the career for you. Ok, I’m being dramatic. But you know what I mean.
So first, I had to make sure this young woman didn’t want to be a news anchor. If her desire is to go back to her big market hometown someday and deliver the news to millions of people, then reporting stories out in the field for years is the apprenticeship she’s just going to have to endure. When you’re an anchor, you have to know, based on your own experiences out in the field, which questions are and are not appropriate to ask your reporters in a breaking news situation.
For instance, in the first couple of hours of the Boston Marathon bombing coverage, I didn’t hear a single network or Boston anchor ask a reporter on the scene, “Was this a terrorist act?” That would’ve been irresponsible. We could all see the video. We could see that there were two explosions very close together and that white smoke rose from both. We could see that a lot of people were injured badly. But in those first crucial minutes on the air, your reporter hasn’t had a chance to talk with police. The officers who know anything are too busy to answer your questions and the PIO’s are likely in the dark, too.
What local Boston TV reporters did, which I thought was very good journalism, was describe the scene. I’ll never forget one of them saying in the early-going that he had seen victims who’d lost limbs and that we should prepare ourselves for fatalities. He told us what he saw. He didn’t speculate that this was a terrorist act. Are we bomb experts? Explosion experts? Most likely, no. Who’s to say that if x, y, and z go wrong underground that a utility explosion might not cause similar destruction?
My point is, when you’re sitting on a news set and guiding your station’s live coverage — and by the way, the teleprompter is blank — you’ve got to know what questions are inappropriate. Plus, as soon as persons of interest (yeah, I hate that phrase, too, but it’s a legal term of art we sometimes have to use) or suspects are named, you have to know on-the-spot as you’re ad-libbing which statements about them are fair in light of the on-going news story and which statements could get you and your station sued for defamation if you and the police are wrong. (See: Richard Jewell/Atlanta Olympics bombing coverage.)
The young woman hating her small market TV reporting experience never wants to be an anchor, though.
“Being an anchor, I never much cared for it,” she said in her second e-mail.
I told her not to feel bad, that I think a lot of people force themselves into the TV reporter box just so they can be on television. I really appreciated her honesty. I am also convinced her TV career isn’t over.
Next week, I’ll write about my advice to her about what she should do next. Based on that, she’s made a big decision that I’ll fill you in on, too.