Want to hire and keep great producers? Start with this.


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.

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The cliche test, how to avoid them by asking 1 simple question

Our cliche list is still the most read section of Survive:  10 years later! So it seems like a good time to remind of a few ways to avoid cliche writing.

In the past, we’ve discussed trimming words away, to eliminate a cliche. We discussed reading copy aloud in order to figure out your favorite crutch phrases. We also talked about keeping a list on a notecard at your desk with three alternate phrases to help you get around your crutch phrases in a crunch

Survive is full of articles about how to write more conversationally as well. But this article is going to talk about a simple technique that frankly I am surprised hasn’t already come up in an article about cliche writing. It’s as simple as asking “Would you say that to your Mom?”

Yep, this question when writing, then scanning over your copy will catch so many errors, and especially cliches. It is a real tried and true technique veteran journalists have used many times over. And it bares repeating in an article on to itself. It is that effective.

You would not call your Mom and say “Hey there was a brutal murder and some residents nearby are scared.” You would not call your Mom and say “A blaze broke out two miles from the house.” Go down our cliche list, none of the phrases would be good for talking with Mom. None.

So let’s thank our parents for giving us a huge gift, teaching us the art of straightforward, conversational non cliche writing. They don’t use it on you. You don’t need to use it on the audience. So glad we had this talk 😉

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How to tease better, using detail.

Tease writing techniques are in the top 2 most searched topics on Survive. We have a whole section dedicated to tease writing. Tease writing is very different than writing news copy, and it can be tough to learn at first. So we try and fill in the training gap with simple techniques to help you quickly gain confidence when writing teases!

This article is focusing on how to pick what part of a story to tease. We’ve gone over how to pick stories to tease in the past. But that is just one part of the beast. The other big trick to effective teasing is figuring what part of the story you picked will make viewers stay through that commercial break. So let’s dive in.

The simplest, most effective way to pick how to tease a story is simply to choose a detail in the story and hit on it. This may seem counterintuitive to all the consultant seminars and worksheets that say do not give the story away. Notice, I said a detail, not the most important part of the story. You can include a fact, and still not give the whole story away. In fact, viewers are very savvy to gimmicks, so you have to give them something of substance to draw them in anyway. Why not hone in on 1 particular element? 

Let’s list some examples, from stories that frankly most of us dread having to tease. 1st the boring political story, with no visuals.  Look for an impact element. For example a candidate campaign stop. If the candidate did not reveal a new policy never discussed before, ask the photog and/or mmm covering it if there was anything said about your town in particular.  Then tease that. If the stump speech was super generic, did a group in the audience ask interesting questions? Pick one of those, then focus on the answer or politicians lack of answer in the actual story.

Now let’s talk court cases that again really can be visually boring and hard to tease but sometimes are really important. Was a new piece of evidence brought forth that was interesting? Tease that. Did the attorneys push for something to be thrown out? Might be an interesting tease, as to why. “Big debate today in the (name) trial, over 1 witness statement. Now the judge has to decide if that statement holds up in this case.”  I didn’t say what the statement was, so viewers will still want to know. Even if this is the point of the story being in your newscast at all, it can be good to hit on a detail, just not what the actual statement says.

Teasing an education story, usually is most effective when picking a detail. Things like, “Why a local superintendent is telling the state its wrong about testing.” Or “we keep hearing less kids at school, but wait until you see how packed some classrooms are.” 

The biggest thing to keep in mind is you want to pick a detail that is intriguing, but doesn’t give the entire story away. If there is only 1 reason you are updating the story and for some reason you must tease it, then give a detail about the fact you are updating, not the whole fact. 

Happy tease writing!

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What does referencing video really mean?

If I had a dollar for every shot of generic video in a story, I would be rich, on the beach living the high life! It’s so common, it’s almost become accepted in the industry. And that’s a big mistake because generic video does nothing to help viewers trust that you know what you are talking about. It’s true. They can tell that you just slapped up some pictures hoping they would not really look. And nowadays, it’s just another reason to shake their head, grumble about fake news and look at social media instead.  Recently, CBS Evening News ran a correspondent story about air traffic controllers in New York who overheard a possibly terror threat on their frequencies. During the story about the New York-based controllers, there was a shot from inside an ATC tower looking out at what appeared to be Las Vegas, complete with its larger than life hotels and even mountains in the distance. This is the kind of thing that at worst confuses viewers and makes them question credibility and at best makes them wonder if a given news organization is “really that lazy.”

So how do you reference video, especially when you have no choice but to use generic shots? First, let’s define generic video. Generic video are images that are peripherally, but not always specifically, related to a story. Sometimes, generic video sticks out and seems to make little or no sense with the story. It’s video for video’s sake. And it’s a major danger zone.  That is especially true if you ask editors to “Just pad out the shots” to make sure the video doesn’t run out, or “just find me pics of people eating at a restaurant.” “Just show me avocados.” “I need video of a beach.” I have seen stations have advertising pulled over showing restaurant pics, that the chain viewed as identifiable during a food recall story. Same with images of produce. Is there a from Chile, or from Mexico sticker? These kinds of details have the potential to be hugely important. Even something as innocuous as pictures of a beach can create a fact error. Beaches in Hawaii do not  look the same as the ones in Florida or Maine and viewers DO notice. In other words, there is no such thing as generic video. Every image has a fact in it. Remember that.

So, let’s add this to the definition of generic video: It is images you are not mentioning in any way while the story is being read aloud. This is an important distinction because it gets to the core of this article: referencing video. You need to have the copy and video make sense together. Now, I did not say “match.” It’s just not realistic to pre-record every story that airs and sometimes the video is slightly ahead or behind the copy as it’s read. That’s not great, but better if the video is actually referenced in the telling of the story. 

A recent example I saw was a story of a man who worked at a religious day care center who was accused of molesting children there. The story showed the mug shot of the man, the sign of the place where he worked, a building (I assume is the same place??) and shots of an infant swing. Not great images to work with, right?  But with subtle writing references you can make it work, and not be generic and therefore confusing. Here’s how that can be done: “(mug shot) Name was arrested today, on child molestation charges. He worked at (show sign and say name of) daycare. (images of building and swing) You might recognize this building on and playground on (           ) street in (city). Police did not say what ages the children were in this case, but infants up to age 8 attend this daycare. (on camera) (name) faces 5 counts tonight. We will let you know what happens next in this case.”

I once had a news director require that we shot sheet every story in every newscast. The first couple of weeks I seriously thought my newscast would not make air. It took forever! But eventually I got the routine down and could still write quickly. With desktop editing so prevalent now, there is really little excuse to not write to video. This does not mean you have to shot sheet and reference every single image. I get that. But you can make sure that you at least reference the first shot seen, and if you add any file video, mention that it is past video, from whatever the source and/or time.

Also, as you are starting to teach yourself to write to video use these references:

 “As you see here”

 “you can see”

 “this is (_____)”

“here’s a good look at (_____)”

“take a look at (_____).”

These references can get cliche after a while, so you do not want to use them all the time everyday every story. But use them for a couple of weeks as you retrain your brain to think of images as you write your stories. They really help. As you get the hang of it, it’s easy to drop these catch phrases. 

Referencing video does not always mean that you have to overtly say what’s on the screen. Sometimes it’s just making sure that what the copy says plays off of the images. So referencing video is, truly, not as hard as it seems. Hopefully this article makes it easier for you, so you can start to reference more images in your stories. You want your newscasts and stories to stand out. You are writing for the ear, but also for the eye. Never forget that. Video needs to be part of the context of the story not a distractor.

Image by Josep Monter Martinez from Pixabay.

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