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, December 20, 2007

Don't Start with a Soundite

I see this mistake all the time. Unless someone is bawling, use video first and not a soundbite. As a viewer, it takes a second or two to transition from reporter or anchor intro to taped piece. If you start with soundbite, I guarantee you viewers won't catch the first second or two of it. Plus, starting with a soundbite is BORING. You have nothing else to lead your package? How about nats? Nats establishes a sense of place in whatever story you do and can really help you start a pkg nicely. Skip the sot and look for nats.

Best Video First

In a package, your best video goes first. Always. No exceptions. In fact, if it's that good, it's probably worth repeating a couple times in the package.

Sometimes you may think you need to give some background or set-up before you show the good video. This may tempt you NOT to use your best video first. Do set-up in the anchor or reporter intro. Sometimes you can show some of the video once at the top of the piece, give a little background that really explains what happened, and then show more of the video.

An example of NOT using best video first. I was on one station's website and there was a story labelled "Dash Cam Video released." I clicked and watched. I wanted to see the dashcam video. About a third of the way through, I thought, maybe they mistakenly put up a pkg that was written before the video was released. But no. About HALFWAY through the pkg, the promised dashcam video appeared. Most viewers are not so patient. Best video first always.

Even when you don't have amazing video to put at the top of your pkg, try to look at what you've got and think-- what's the most interesting part of this? How can I put that first? I spent a lot of years in consumer on stories with NOOOOOO video. There'd be a fridge, some paperwork, and Grandma complaining she got ripped off. But if there's something compelling enough to get you to cover the story, that element should go first.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Problems in the Show

Unfortunately, disaster strikes shows. You lose your lead package. A live shot goes down. Do youself a favor and don't cannibalize the rest of your show by trying to figure out exactly what happened right then and there. Unless it's an ongoing issue that you need to resolve immediately, MOVE ON. Address it in the break or better yet after the show. Why? If you are freaking out about the top of the show, you're not paying attention to other potential problems and things could snowball. Also, you set the tone for the booth. If the producer is still stuck on the top of the show, the rest of the booth will be thinking about it too, distracting them from the rest of the show and inviting mistakes.

Instead, jot down quick notes about what you think happened and talk about the problem during a post-show discrepency meeting. Keep an open mind about what went wrong, keep your anger in check, and finally, ask the key question: "How can we keep this from happening again?"

And it bears repeating, you should ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have a back-up plan for the top of your show, even if it's just going on to the next story. Discuss said plan with both director and anchors in this manner, "Hey, I don't expect anything to happen, but if our lead dies for some reason, we'll go to page A4." By giving it at least a passing thought, you're ready with a plan of action should something happen. Everyone else will be ready too and things will go a lot more smoothly.

Finally, another reminder-- 10 minutes prior to the show, chat it up with editing about what's still out there. That will give you a heads up about what you might have to juggle. Producers should not be optimists. Hope the story makes it. Have a plan for when it doesn't.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

One live shots, two hits

Reporters often have to do more than one hit from the same live location during the same show. Encourage your reporters to have distinct hits. Figure out the two or three things that are interesting and important about that location and split them up among hits. You needn't pack everything into one hit especially if it's a feature story. What can you show people? Maybe you use a vosot for the first hit but for the second, you arrange for a brief (two or three quick questions max) interview live and have broll rolling in a double box. Showing something that's going on live is always better than tape.Be sure to change up your shots between hits so that it at least looks visually different.

Two reporters, one live location

Sometimes you need team coverage but you only have the one truck. Avoid the hand-off. That's two reporters standing next to each other and one hands the mic to the other on air. Have one reporter toss back to the studio and make like Gumby and strech. Is there some vo you can put in there to assist? It doesn't take long to change out reporters but have some time built in because you want the photog to also change up the shot. Otherwise, it's like magic, you toss back out to exactly the same shot, but surprise, there's new reporter there. Have the photog pan to the left or the right. Pivot a little. Anything to change it up just a touch. At night, this may involve setting up two sets of lights. Can another photog help out? You may not have two trucks, but maybe someone else can donate some lights, maybe somebody who isn't doing a liveshot but is still on the clock. Maybe the overnight guy can come in a little early to help.

Join the fight against lip-flap!

Nothing says lazy like lip-flap. It's using a soundbite for b-roll. How does this happen?

That's all we got.
You're doing a story on a politician for example. You make a file request. Maybe you don't look at the file (you should always look at video before you write). Or maybe this is the only video you have and you think this is better than nothing. It's not. Instead, use the video to make a still of the person. On cam for the first graph, in still for next one or two, back on cam for a tag. Is there anything else you can use in addition to the still? File from the incident involved? File of the Capitol in our politician example? Can someone feed you 30 seconds of this person? Is there something online you can utilize? Get creative.

I see lip-flap in packages a lot too. Mostly, it looks back someone back-timed to the bite. It is o.k. when it's a second or two prior to the bite. Any more than that and it feels like a lifetime. If you see it in your show, follow up with the reporter and photographer. Did they shoot enoguh? If they are interviewing someone for a pkg, they should always get set up shots of that person. It can also enhance story telling. For example, in a story interviewing a student about graduation, if you're interviewing them at home, you might get video of them studying or even kicking back. "Bob has time for video games now that he's graduated..." Whatever. You can always find SOMETHING to shoot for an interview. Without it, you have lip-flap and a lame pkg.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


If you haven't checked out www.fark.com, you ought to, if only to give yourself a laugh. It's "news of the weird," submited by readers who then put their own headline on each story.

I hate to admit it, but that's also how I've found out about some really interesting stories that we might want to cover. And if you're in local, looking for a teaseable story... look no further.

Rewarding Enthusiasm

We all encourage reporters to bring story ideas into the meeting. Then what happens when they bring one? Lukewarm response. Not sexy enough. I suggest that if a reporter is really excited about a story they bring in, let them do it, even if you're not wild about the story. For starters, it will encourage them to bring in more stories. It will allow them a little control of their own destiny. Also, you might just be suprisedwith the final story-- there have been lots of times when a reporter has gone out on a project they pitched that turned into a really good story-- just because the reporter was dedicated to showing everyone who was lukewarm what a good story it was. How often can you say that about the shooting or Chester-the-Molester stories?

And how about photogs? How many times has a photog hussled to get a story only to have it not make the show? If they come to you and say it's a good story and they got you extra stuff, throw them a bone and find fifteen seconds in your show for it. It will make them feel like their effort is worthwhile and it'll probably make your show look a little better.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Importance of Food in the Newsroom

I was checking with a photog friend of mine for tips and here's what he said: "Make sure you allow time for lunch." And also, "Make sure you get food to crews that are stuck on the scene of something."

Which brings up a good point. A little food goes a long way in terms of good will. There will be many times when your crews will not be able to eat because of breaking news, so try not to blow out their lunch to shoot some vo you're not really going to put in your show anyway.

Also, if there's a big event, standoff, ongoing breaking news, make sure your crews are fed. In can be as simple as an intern driving food out or at least have a crew that's taking off for the day swing by and grab them food.

At one of my old shops, Friday night was "treat night." Every Friday, I'd bring in candy or some kind of treat. I think one Easter, I hid a bunch of those plastic Easter eggs around the newsroom. Some people bring treats to the morning meeting. In Phoenix, they actually assigned breakfast to someone each day of the book. In December, someone had to bring in Christmas cookies each day.

In any case, whatever you can do to show people that you appreciate all their hard work, the better. You can't get them the raise they deserve. The boss won't approve more vacation. But food can improve the mood of the newsroom and at least say "Thanks."

Set up live shot or shoot tape?

When there's breaking news, your crew can set up a live shot or shoot the scene. They can't do both (unless of course you have the luxury of a couple crews). Lots of folks disagree with me, but in most situations, crews should get the live shot up before they do anything else.

I would also want the reporter on scene to go live AS SOON AS the live shot is up. I don't care if they know anything. I don't care if they say anything of substance. I see it as a tease for the rest of the show. We're establishing our presence there, telling viewers we're all over it. The live shot can be as simple as: "We just got here. We don't know anything yet. We're going to find out what's going on and get back to you." Then they can go get info and video.

If your live truck has a mast cam, see if you can keep it up so you use it to keep checking in on the story until your next reporter liveshot.

Like with weather, if there's something going on behind the reporter, don't be afraid to just have them show it. Breaking news doesn't have have to be pretty or preordained. You don't need vo or sound. Just show what's going on, and maybe grab a live interview if possible.

On spot news, the more bodies the better. Send them. You can always call them back. Even consider sending a writer-- or any extra body you have in the newsroom. While the reporter is doing their thing, that person can be a liason back to the newsroom and feed you info.

When in Doubt, Lead with Weather

A bunch of storms have hit the US. I hope you are all leading with them. You can't go wrong with a weather lead. It doesn't matter if there is some vastly more important story, people care about weather, people talk about weather and people will change the channel in a hot minute if they don't see weather on your show.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I had just moved from Cincinnati to Phoenix when I was producing the 10 show. Keep in mind, back in Cincinnati, we'd lead with snow if we saw a single flake within a 100 mile radius. But it was raining in Phoenix. No torrential downpour, no flooding, just rain. My Executive Producer at the time said "Lead with weather." I was baffled. I said, "Lead with rain? The fact that it's raining?" She said, "I know, it seems weird but it's kind of a big deal here." After living there for a year, I got it. In a place that gets about seven or eight inches of rain a year and has an average 321 days of sunshine, rain is a big, big deal.

So-- lead with weather-- every chance you get. Work the best video into your open. Unless there's something imminent going on, like a tornado, I like to toss to a reporter who's actually out in the weather, as opposed to the weather guy who is dry in the studio. But if you do toss to the weather guy, make sure he has some good vo to lead with before he gets into maps.

Also, consider pulling other reporters into your weather coverage. (In general, and not just for weather, the more faces you can work into the show, the better.) Reporter Joe Blow may be on the shooting or council meeting, but if he's getting rained on, toss to him for a quick hit on what it's like in his area. Have him pan the camera to show us the street or something nearby (blowing flags, trees etc.) It's much better to show live weather than taped, so think walk and talks for your reporters but have broll on standby in case the weather stops in their area right before the live shot.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Flashback to English Class

I hear this one on t.v. newscasts all the time. It makes otherwise smart people sound really dumb.

Please complete with the correct verb:
=One of these guys (is/are) going to jail.
=Two of these guys (is/are) going to jail.

When in doubt in terms of subject/verb agreement, drop the prepositional phrase to figure it out. So... "One... is going to jail..." and... "Two... are going to jail."