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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Walk and talk

I love walk and talks. Here is a tip for your reporters. Our staff photographer says the reporter should never be walking backwards. Only the photog does. And, he says, it helps to run through what you are going to do with your photog prior to them coming to you live.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Don't let this happen to your show. If you work in a cold climate and your reporters are tempted to wear questionable head apparel, please put an end to it. Female reporters seem to be in particular jeopardy. I seem to see guys wearing any head apparel, and yet women, who generally have more hair to cover their heads, seem to always have a hat on. Many of them are distracting. For a two minute live shot, makes some sense to do without.

Get a life

A job in t.v. news has a way of taking over your life. Make sure you spend at least a little time working on getting a life outside of work. Easier said than done but to (badly) paraphrase Linda Ellerbee, "Work is not your friend." It's a job. A really, really cool job, to be sure, but a job. Make sure you make time for what really matters. Regular exercise helps and so does time with non-t.v. friends as well as family.

And how about cutting down on all the caffeine? Well, let's not go crazy.

Winging it

Breaking news happens. Be flexible but try to be clean. Let's start with breaking press conferences because I just saw one that was fairly brutal.

It's ok to toss to a press conference with the live picture up and your anchor's mic under. Don't feel like you have to automatically toss to the reporter covering the presser to wrap around. Chances are they are trying to digest the info from the presser. Also, nothing is more annoying for others in the presser than having to listen to some dingbat at the back of the room doing a live shot. Anchors are there for a reason. Let them handle it.

Make sure you are recording the presser so you can use it later. If your station still has tape, record in two decks. That way you can pop one after a minute to quick turn a sot if you need it.

If you know a presser is coming up that you are going to take live, think of visual elements that might help. For example, if it is related to spot news, pull file from the incident. If it is a missing person, have the victim's pic, search, whatever, called up. You can take it full or put it in a double box with the presser on the other side. Cable news channels do this all the time.

How long do you stay with the presser? Ask yourself- How big of a story is this in my community? If I dump out of this will people flip to other stations to watch the rest? Are people in the booth bored or still interested? A lot of times technical people do not live eat and breath news like you do so they are a better guage of your audience. Take a quick poll- are we done with this? Better to take too much than too little in my opinion. Warn your director and anchors that you want to dump out. Have them pod up your anchor's mic and let your anchor find a natural spot to take you out. Keep the presser pic up and then eventually pop your anchor up. Cutting straight from the presser to your anchor on set feels jarring. Have them quickly recap what was said and tease more coverage!

Unexpected pressers eat up time. Have a plan, before going into any show, what you will kill if you have something breaking. Have a worst case scenerio. What is the absolute most I can kill to accomodate breaking news? I guarantee you, breaking news is much more interesting than what you had planned so be prepared to jettison almost everything.

It feels weird after big spot news to just transition and go on with other news like nothing happenend. Plan to recap at end of show. Tease that you'll have more at the end of the show. Bump out of other segments with a live pic or vo to remind folks you'll be coming back to it.

Spot news is the reason you are a producer. Any monkey can produce a show when things go according to the rundown. It's the rockstars who can take the precious show they've been working on the past 8 hours and blow it up for something that really sings.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

For all of you who have to work out there. No small consolation from me-- but I'm sorry you have to work today. You work like a dog, for little pay and less appreciation-- and the holidays you are a million miles away from home and you have to work. Not only work, but work with a lot fewer people. Here's to you...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Networking: Keep in Touch

The great thing about t.v. is that even if you stay at the same station your whole career, everyone else will leave and you will know people across the country. That said, it makes sense to network. A lot of you already do this with college classmates on Facebook or MySpace. In the past, I've also mentioned LinkedIn, which is a business networking website you should check out if you haven't already.

Another great way to network is just stay in touch. If somebody you know pretty well leaves for another station, get their email. Send them the latest gossip from their old shop. If you hear of a job opening, send it their way, even if they might not be interested. They'll be thankful you thought of them and also might return the favor.

I'm a big fan of workshops. The smaller ones are better I think for meeting folks. RTNDF has a Women and Minorities in Management Training seminar that is super. The Investigative Reporters and Editors conference holds a great, reasonable conference where you can meet people. There's also Poynter, State Press Clubs, Unity, National Association of Hispanic Journalists... I could go on and on. Some also try RTNDA's big conference, and LOTS of people disagree with me- but I'm not a huge fan. Even though there are lots of news directors there, I think it makes more sense to meet people who doing the job and can pass on leads to you. My current job, for example, I found out about because a good friend already works for the company.

If you don't have a card, get one made. It's easy and non-threatening to exchange cards and then follow up with an email-- "Hey, great meeting you. Here's an article I thought you'd be interested in," or "Do you mind if I send you a tape for feedback?" or "May I get your advice on something?" I try to write down where and when I met the person on the back of a card and sometimes a detail or two about them because I have a horrible memory.

Keep a tape handy

I just heard a friend of mine got let go from his job. He's good at what he does, and, for my money, is a real pleasure to work with. Over the years, I've seen a bunch of good people get fired or laid off. The first was when I was still in college. A new news director came in and within I think a week, three people were gone-- like pack your desk and leave right now. It made quite an impression on it.

Not to scare you, but it makes sense to have a resume and a tape ready at all times, both in case you get canned or moe likely, another station comes calling. If you can, you might also want to have a month to three months in the bank. That way, if the worst happens, you won't have to freak out about paying the rent. Having that money also gives you a tremendous sense of comfort when you are working in a super-stressful shop. As in being able to think, "I could bolt right out of here right now if I wanted to." You won't, but it's nice to know you could.

The other thing is-- as a producer, if you were to get fired or laid off-- good news! You will get hired someplace else immediately. The longer you are in the business, the more you will see complete idiots who keep getting jobs. And that's the idiots! You-- who are talented and actually have a clue-- would be snapped up even more quickly!

Monday, November 5, 2007


I am a big believer in reporters and field producers writing their intros prior to writing their pkg. Here's why. They will flow better into your piece. Reporters who write their pkgs first end up having nothing to say in their intro and even less for the poor anchor tossing to them.

Think about it. When you tell a story, you don't tell the middle and then jump back to the beginning. You start at the beginning and go from there. Often, I find the intro is sitting right there as the first graph of the pkg.

What's worse than reporters not writing intro first is not writing them at all. If you're a show producer, you're probably well versed on what your reporter is covering and probably can and do write reporter intros. But I think it is better if they send you one and you brush it up. It's their story and they know it best. Also, if you're in a market where writers take or write reporter intros, they are never going to know as much as the reporter doing the story. Plus they may have five reporters' intros to write.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Markets big and small

Sorry for not posting in a while. I try to do something new each week. We had the Nasa launch and then the CA wildfires so I got distracted!

In any case, thought I'd talk a bit about market size. I have worked in Ft. Myers, FL, years ago, when it was market 98, Cincinnati- 32, Phoenix- 15, Philadelphia- 4 and now a cable network.

I will tell you that it is the same s- everywhere. It's just a matter of resources, layers of bureaucracy and how much you get paid. Generally, the higher the market, the more toys, more chefs and more moolah. That said, I am a huge believer in "it's not market-size, it's management." That is, if you have good management, it really doesn't matter what market size you are.

In Ft. Myers, I was desk girl. I made beat checks, ripped the wire machine (yes, there was an actual machine that spooled out the latest AP wire) and listened to police scanners. I did this in High School. Our producer wrote the show with the help of anchors and when she went on vacation, the anchors produced the show.

In Cincinnati, I worked at two stations, one in college and another after I graduated. I was a Production Assistant during college. I think each show had two? We helped write, ripped scripts and then ran teleprompter or floor directed. I worked nights mostly so I'd come in and work on one of the early shows, grab food and work on the late one. I also came in on weekends or stayed after my shift or came in before to go out on stories with photogs.During college, computers were introduced to the newsroom. Before that we had typewriters and if an anchor crossed out too much stuff on our script, we'd have to retype it.

Post college, Fox news was beginning news start-ups and I was fortunate enough to be hired on at one of them. I ran the assignment desk on weekends and field produced during the week. Later, I was promoted to weekend producer and then 10pm producer. I think we may have had a writer or two but I remember writing a lot. At the time we only had a one hour show all day long so it wasn't particularly problematic to fill.

In Phoenix, I did an hour 10pm show. I had three writers. Many of them were really talented and got promoted.There was also a "live coordinator" who sat in the booth and coordinated live shots. I thought I had died and woke up in the big leagues.

Finally in local, I worked in Philadelphia. The writers on this show were pros, many of them preferring to write than show produce. I was a field producer in this market but I show produced a couple times and did some live special projects shows. It was a union market which was odd to get used to. In the booth, you don't talk to talent, you talk to the person who talks to talent. Stuff like that.

I think, generally, in smaller markets and unpopular shifts, you get more freedom and control- but less help. As you work your way up the food chain, you have to learn to play with others, which is a good thing.