Welcome to the PIT List!

I'm a network field producer who also worked in local tv as a line producer and field producer. Over the years, I have had the great fortune to work with super people. Now I'd like to pass along what I know and rant a tad.

"Dear Maggie..." pitlist@gmail.com
I check it sporadically, but I love answering emails, so if you have an issue or difficult person you need help with, don't hesitate to shoot it my way.

Maggie L

Maggie L
One of the rare times I'm in the office

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Keeping the Pace

I watched a single anchor show the other day. Poor girl. After the first package, there was nothing but vo's in the first block. She hardly had a chance to breathe, and, in my humble opinion, the first ten minutes were pretty dull.

When you're stacking your show, of course you want to pay attention to content, but it also helps to pay attention to form. Change it up a little bit. Putting a soundbite here or there or a little nats full can help. Maybe write a little mini-pkg. At KTVK, an independent station in Phoenix whereI used to work, I was introduced to the concept of a "speedo." It was basically a tracked minute long pkg with animations, music and slick editing. Some stations intro them- I would just roll right into into them from another story. I also like hitting them coming right out of a break.

In general, I think it's a good idea to change things up every few seconds. So if you're on a two shot, go to single shot or an OTS after the first graph if you have a long intro. If it's a vo, have a graph on cam, a couple graphs under video and then maybe back on cam. Or for a vosot, graph on cam, couple graphs of vo (and by that I mean two) then a quick sound bite. Unless somebody's bawling :20 is too long. The :05-15 range is better.

Also, if your reporter has a lot of stuff, don't be afraid to break an element out of his story. Do it going in, or have it as a vo coming out. It can make the story look larger and also help with pacing so that you're not stuck with some gigantic pkg that brings the show to a grinding halt.

LinkedIn: Myspace for Adults

I don't know if you're signed up for LinkedIn, but it's worth checking out. LinkedIn is a social networking site, but it's all business. It's sort of like "My Space" for adults. You can put as much or as little information up as you like. I have my current company, former jobs, plus websites that are important to me. Once you have a profile (no pics), you can then search for people to add as contacts. Or you can send emails to people to invite them to join.

For people just starting out, it's a great way to network. It's not threatening to send an invite receive one. And people are only there for one thing- networking. For people who've been in the business a while, it's great for getting back in touch. I've also been able to contact sources through LinkedIn. Finally, you can pose questions for other members to answer and/or answer questions others have posed. Cool stuff! http://www.linkedin.com/

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Time is Not on Your Side

Timing a show is tough. You get thirty minutes or an hour whether there's news or not. And you have to be out exactly on time, not a second earlier or later. Unfortunately, not everyone in your show is concerned about being off on time. In fact, it's probably fair to say no one is.

Let's start with reporters. Insist they stick to the time you give them unless it's approved ahead of time. Make sure you let them know you're willing to give them extra, as long as they get to you early (breaking news obviously has different rules). Make them give you something for that time. Is the mother crying? Flames? Or just more blah, blah, blah? As you work with reporters, you'll get a sense of which ones will make it worth your while and which ones are just too in love with their copy to cut it. If they dump it in your lap and say "I just don't know where to cut," give an evil grin and work your magic.

A lot of times, when someone's writing, they're just too close to the subject to see what can easily be jettisoned. That's why it's always easier to edit than write. But over the years, I've noticed a couple places where you can look for easy cuts. I've heard the advice, tell them what you're going to say before you say it. When it comes to bites, that's baloney. Often the line right before a bite can be cut without losing anything and often, it adds more script to lose the line. Also, I've noticed, towards the end of packages, people start to wander. There will be a real obvious end point and then they just go on for another track or two. Get the red marker out and whack it!

Scripts are one thing. Weather and sports are another. Again, setting guidlines ahead of time can help. Go to the weather guy early and say-- what's it look like? What do you need? Should I put you in the first block? Do you need extra? Getting into this habit avoids suprises. Ask them what kind of cues they need. Some weather guys are amazing-- you don't have to cue them at all and they'll do 2:30 everytime. With others, it doesn't matter what you do and they'll go over. If you have to work with the latter on a regular basis, I feel for you. Time their segments so that you can bring it to their attention after the show. Bring the stopwatch with you.

"2:54? 2:54? I don't give my mother 2:54! You're killing me! I asked you before the show if 2:30 was enough and you said that was fine."

Same thing with sports. Go to them ahead of time and ask if it's a big sports day or not. Be willing to give extra if they need it, but not at the last minute and not at the expense of your show. I used to work with a very talented sports producer who was always over. Eventually we got into a routine so that in the break before sports I'd ask, "If you go heavy, what are you killing?" That way it was no big deal when, suprise, suprise, he was heavy and we killed a page. He knew what was going to be killed and so did the director.

Always leave youself outs. Some producers hide time in their show. I might stuff a little into the goodbye or tosses back, but I found I'd lean on it to the point where it wasn't worthwhile. Kind of like setting your clocks ahead so you're on time, but you always know you have an extra five minutes.

I ended up having a couple stories I called "killables." It's stuff you don't tease that you can kill if you get in a jam. Maybe it's an extra story besides the kicker. Maybe it's a post sports or post weather story. I call it insurance. Ideally, I'd like to have about a minute and a half of these. That way, if all goes well, they live. But ff you have breaking news, or extra anything- you don't have to have a heart attack about where to collapse your show.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Google: Making your job easier

I just found out a couple things I want to pass along. The first is called a "reader" page. There are several of them, but I'm use Google's. You just go to google.com and search under "more" for "reader."

A reader page is fantastic. As a producer or reporter, you probably start your day cruising several different websites, looking for stories or info around the region. The reader page allows the websites to send info to you, so that you can look at it in one spot. It's easy. You sign up and then browse for subscriptions. So say you reader the "Dallas Morning News" everyday. You can sign up for that. Say you do a lot of stories on NASA. You can sign up for subscriptions about NASA. Say you can't figure out what to make for dinner each night. You can sign up for recipes too.

Another thing that Google has is "alerts." You're basically signing up for a google search, and they email you the results immediately, daily, or weekly. So say you cover the school or crime beat. You might enter in "ABC School District" or "Small Town Police Department." Anytime something hits the web with these terms, you can be notified, as often or as little as you like. I'm signed up for "immigration," "border," "Nasa" and "New Orleans."

It's also really useful in the field in conjunction with a blackberry. Say I'm sent to cover Hurricane Humberto. I sign up for an "as-it-happens" google alert for "Humberto" and I get the latest info emailed to me. There is also a way to link your alerts to your reader page, but I haven't figured that one out yet.

((I learned about all this stuff on a great website which I encourage you to check out: www.j-learning.org There's an article called "Journalism 2.0." There's also a super blog.))

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Take me home with you!

How many times have you been sent to cover a school/city council meeting or maybe a rally or protest? Most of them fall under the category of "boring, but important." How do you make the story interesting enough for your viewer to sit through? I say- go home with someone! Find someone interesting in the crowd and pin the story on them.

The top of a school meeting pkg could look like this:
Nats of Suzie in the kitchen baking cookies with her kids.
"Suzie Q. worries about her children. She has three of them. She's upset they may have to walk an extra mile if the school district changes the bus route.
SOT-'My youngest is just 6. She can't walk that far!'
Nats school meeting.
"That's why Suzie Q. and dozens of other parents showed up here..."

Here's another, real life example. We went to a rally where folks were upset about people's heat being turned off. Important story, but there were only ten people there holding candles and saying prayers. It was the middle of winter. There was this one guy at the rally who had actually had his heat turned off. We asked to go home with him. The temperature inside his home was only about ten degrees higher than what it was outside. You could see your breath inside his house. And he was living like this. He had a months to go before Spring. It was moving, both for me personally and in the story we ended up writing.

There are always real people who are impacted by the stories you cover. The trick is to find someone directly connected and tell their story. Viewers can then connect through that one person.

And really, this works for just about any story. If you find one good person, one character who can really tell their story, your story will practically tell itself.

When a tease is not a tease

I see something all the time that drives me nuts. It's when a story is teased-- big buildup, blah, blah, blah-- only to have the video in the tease give it away.

For example:

"...We'll tell you which company is going to start testing its toys..."

(I'm guessing it's Disney since I'm seeing video with tons of Disney toys.)

"One airline is upping its fares. We'll tell you which one, coming up."

(Hmm, judging from all the Southwest planes I'm seeing, maybe it's... Southwest?)

How does this happen? Are producers not looking at their video? In the age of desktop video systems-- not cool!!! Takes two seconds to check! Or do editors not have a script? Maybe they have one without instructions so they just cut whatever? Take a script back for every tease and don't assume editors know what to cut. They probably have a million things to cut and may just zone out. That's no excuses-- and worth a follow-up conversation-- but it also helps if you put some instructions on the script, especially when you want something special. Like big red letters that say-- don't show Disney toys!!! Don't show closeups of Southwest planes!!

With the Disney tease, instead of using Disney products, you could use file of the other products where lead was found and say something like "Lots of parents are worried about the lead being found on some toys from China. Hear how one company plans to make your kids toys safer..." With the Southwest story, you could just use file of the airport for the tease.

Don't be afraid to use a completely different video source for the tease, video that never makes the actually story.

Which brings me to another pet peeve-- editors who use the first three shots of the story for the tease. If you see this, bring it up to the editor immediately after the show!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Talking turkey

A friend called me for advice about asking for a raise. In TV, of course, the easiest way to get a raise is to have a job offer elsewhere. In fact, the biggest raises I've gotten have been when I've jumped ship. That said, it certainly doesn't hurt to ask for more money at your current job.

Prior to going into the boss man's office, it helps to sit down and assess your value to the company. Generally, companies don't give you more money because they're nice. They give you more money because they think you add to the bottom line and they don't want to lose you. Has your job changed or have more duties been added? Have you started some new programs or done things on your own that have benefited the company? Sit down and make a list of everything you do. You can bring in the list or not, but I am a big fan of props. I like to bring in a sheet of paper or maybe a tape of my work to say, look, here's what I've done for you. You can also do this for your normal yearly reviews. ((If you don't have one-- schedule one. They handy ways of getting RARE feedback.))

Make an appointment to speak with your boss. Don't just grab him or her in the hallway. Make the appointment for a time when he'll be most receptive. Is your boss happy in the morning but seems to get progressively more cranky during the day? Is your boss overstressed the minute he gets in but mellows when he's watching the show? Book your five minute appointment for whenever he seems happiest. It also helps to talk with a coworker who knows your boss well to see what approach might work best.

You have nothing to lose by asking for a raise. When I was a writer in college, one of our fellow writers marched in to the news director and demanded one. The writer said he could make more money at his old job at the Cracker Barrel. He told the news director as much. The writer came out with a raise. The rest of us were fuming. Why did he get more money and we didn't? It's because he asked. And also because he was willing to walk if he didn't get what he deserved.

One final note. This website might be helpful in your negotiations. It's RTNDF's annual salary survey:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Producers: Grow your Own!

Writers are the great neglected workhorses of the newsroom. They work like dogs, have their stuff changed by producers, then EPs, then anchors-- and for what? Usually less than what they could make waiting tables. But among your writers could be the next great producer! How can you help? For starters, try explaining why you blew out their script. I know, difficult to do for the average overworked producer. It's much easier to change a script than to explain to a writer what you changed or even to have them rewrite it. But here's a compromise. Once a week, print out their original script. Then print out your final. Save both and talk to them at the end of the day or the first five or ten minutes of the next. Take time to show them what you changed and why. Also point out what they do great.

Do you even know what your writer wants to be? Sure, lots want to be reporters, but there might even be a budding producer in there. A former boss of mine said something like, it's easier to promote you if you can find your own replacement. Grow your replacement. If you have a writer who wants to produce, and you have confidence in them, give them more responsibility and talk them up to the powers that be. If you're training them to take your show, have them shadow you one day, then let them do it themselves the next, with you there waiting in the wings, just in case.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Great Expectations

People, generally, aren't idiots. But they're also not mind readers. The clearest way to help someone do their job well is to clarify what you expect. If needed, and esepcially with people who are new on the job or new to working with your organization, walk them through a time line of exactly how you'd do their job. Be clear to the point of absurdity, even when you think-- of course they must already know this. You know much more than you give yourself credit for and not everyone is familiar with the short hand it's taken you years to accumulate. Sometimes it's as easy as asking a couple questions, "Did you want me to do xyz or did you want to do that?"

It's so easy to assume people know what you want. It's easier to actually get what you want if you're specific.