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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Working the Web into Your Show

We are all under pressure to drive traffic to the web. Please use common sense. For example, doing story updates that just use pictures of the web. That makes as much sense as holding up a newspaper and letting your anchors talk for thirty seconds. I have seen shows with THREE of these in a row! Boring! Why not use video and then use the web page pics for the last five seconds?

Ditto reading viewer email during newscasts. Boring! At least get a graphic made so viewers will have something to read while anchors are reading. Better yet, don't read at all but do a full graphic with music full into the break. Anchors say... "Here's what some of you had to say about blah, blah, blah... We'll be right back after the break."

The web is great for its space. Have a list of top ten cities for health? Use three and pop rest on web. Top 100 companies? Try using the top five and put the rest on web. Great chase? Post the whole video from start to finish on the web. How about a tie-in? We just finished a story on new citizens. We were thinking about putting questions from the citizenship test on the web so viewers could quiz themselves.

Think of the web stuff you forward your friends. It is probably not the latest peace negotiations in the Mideast. It is fun stuff, weird stuff, news you can use. Don't be afraid to share this with your viewers. Maybe it's a thirty second feature in your last block called "Web Finds." Anchor says, "Here's the cool website we found on the web..." Or, "Here's the latest bogus email going around."

Breaking news? Try a Double Box

Some call it a double box. Some call it a big/little. A rose is a rose. The next time you have spot news, try it! For example, breaking weather. Weather guy blabbing on? Double box him with a live weather shot. Or great weather video, if you've got it, but preferably a live pic.

If you have a GREAT live pic, DO NOT GET OFF OF IT! Leave it up and double box it with whatever second element you have, interview, reporter, anchor, whatever. If your station can't do double boxes easily, leave the live pic up and let anchors and everyone talk under it.

News Updates

News updates are a pain. They are a misnomer because they are actually the teases that run between newscasts in programming. I think I had two 30s and a couple tens back in the day?

My humble suggestion- don't assume viewers are different from hour to hour- as in- write different copy for each tease.

I know they're a pain to do. The promotions department should be doing them for you! Alas, they do not. Write new stuff for each tease so the same viewers don't have to sit through the exact same teases hour afer hour.

Random Graphics Notes

As long as there is local tv news, I will never run out of blog material.

Ok. Full screen graphics should enhance the story, not detract. Don't let cutesy graphics get in the way. If they don't help you understand the story, ditch them, even if they are cool. For example, (toy-like) cars to illustrate what happened in an accident. Try writing the copy in the most simple terms without graphics. As in- "Police say the red sportscar cut off a blue pickup, causing the pickup to hit a third car." Do you have video? A lot of times, the crash scene is going to illustrate the accident better than the graphics you can cook up. Most of us do not have access to high end "Dateline" animations, so K.I.S.S.

Second, let's talk about graphics over video. This is super cool when done effectively. This can include "ots" type graphics over one side of the video and big fat banners over the bottom. Tell your editor that you will be applying these graphics. That way, you won't miss something under the graphics. For example, imagine video of firefighter with hose putting out fire. Sadly, firefighter can't be seen under graphics covering left third of screen. All you can see if graphics, hose and fire. Nice. Ditto live shots. Let photog know if you will be popping anything up that will impact his or her framing.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Idea for Weather Coverage

Heard an idea from a local station worth stealing. Their weather staff has a volunteer ham radio operator who comes in during severe storm coverage. The National Weather Service uses ham radio operators to get on the the ground weather spotting and conditions. If your market is in an area prone to tornados, it might make sense to develop a relationship with a few of these operators. It could really help strengthen your coverage when you are going wall to wall.

GPS's Cheap Cousin- Google Maps

I swear I don't get paid by Google. But I found a cool new way to use Google for those of you who have Blackberries. They have a version of Google Maps you can load, for free, onto your handheld. It uses the phone to plot your location on a map. You can also add an address of where you want to go and it will pop up directions for you.I used this for the first time this morning to get to a seminar. It was like having a little GPS in my hand. Might be great for spot news or interviews where you have no clue where you're going. Also helps when you're in the middle of nowhere and can't figure out a font location. And get this, sometimes you can check traffic on the main highways. The road will change color to indicate the speed of traffic. So cool!

Say What?

Don't assume your anchor knows how to pronounce something. Go ahead and throw in pronouncers for places and names you think might be potential pitfalls. Definitely look it up or ask someone if you don't know how to pronounce something. This advice goes doubly for place names in your town that might be easily messed up- stuff that looks like you might say it one way, but locals say it another. Nothing makes an anchor look more stupid to viewers than butchering a common local place name. Of course, it's a new anchor or reporter's job to familiarize themselves with the market, but anything you can do to help in the end makes your overall newscast look and sound better.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Wire is not the Bible

Wires are a super resource but they are not infallible, especially some of the affilate services. Do not take wire copy as the final word. If there is something tingling your Spidey sense, making you feel like something's not quite right, do yourself a favor and make a phone call. Or have the desk make a call. If it's a local story you're covering, call your reporter and have them ask questions.

At the very least, check the story on the web. You may be able to go straight to the source material, like a police or city website. If you are using a story from an affiliate, many stations post their stories on their websites. Even doing a google news search can help you catch glaring errors or at least raise a red flag. It could save you a lot of grief- and maybe even a lawsuit.

Monday, January 21, 2008


I just saw a decent local MLK day story and I want to share it.

Imagine most of the MLK stories you do each year. NATS of "I have a dream speech" figure in somewhere, yes?

I saw one reporter do a local tie-in. He talked with sanitation workers in town. Martin Luther King had gone to Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers when he was assassinated. Nothing groundbreaking-- but you know? Nice touch. I'm always impressed by people who can find a new way to do the same stories we cover year after year.

All Crime, All the Time

I don't know about you, but after watching some local t.v. newscasts, I feel like I've been bludgeoned. If you're producing them night after night, I know you must be feeling the same way. Don't be afraid to jettison mindless crime stories. There's easy. We shoot them. But that doesn't mean you need to put every single one of them in your show.

When you're considering a crime story, ask yourself:
-What kind of video and sound do I have? (Victim being wheeled out and screaming relatives-- or scene that's four hours old?)
-Who does this story impact? (Could most of my viewers care less?)
-Is this ongoing?(As in, is the suspect in custody or still on the loose?)
-Is there another story I would really rather put in instead of this?

Don't be afraid to lighten up your show or put in non-traditional stories. Maybe there's a talker you found on the web or in a magazine. Is anybody going to be talking about the city's 52nd shooting tomorrow? Probably not. Just something to consider.

The newspaper has a world, metro, business and life section. No reason why your show can't too. Take risks. Get feedback from the normal (read: non-news) people in your life. Do they watch news? Why, why not? Pardon the pun, but you'll find most people don't live and die on daily crime stories.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Got a Problem? Tell Us!

I am amazed at the number of people who have issues at work and seem to tell everyone BUT the person involved. It is your responsibility to talk to that person directly. It gives them a chance to take action and correct it. They may not know there is even an issue.

It doesn't have to be a big deal. And it should NOT be an emotional conversation. Just go up and talk.

Some examples...

"Hey Bob, I was looking at that tape and it looks like the colors are a little off. Can we look at it together?"

"Hey Suzie McWeatherLady, can I talk you to? Are you getting enough time for your segments, because it seems like you're going over. If you need extra time, we can talk about it, but during the show, we really need to stay within the time that's given."

The sooner you address issues, the better.

If you're a producer, everything in the show is your responsiblity. So if you see something wrong in your show, you have the authority to go ask- what happened? It's best to ask just like that, "What happened?" Don't pre-judge. Come with an open-mind and be ready to offer suggestions on how you can change your routine to help. There may be a good reason why something happened, but if you don't ask, you can't avoid future pitfalls.

In fact, even if you're not a producer, whatever your area of responsiblity, if there's something wrong, go ask about it. If you're a writer and the script was edited incorrectly or poorly, you can ask what happened. Ask if they needed a better timecode or help finding the video- whatever. During the course of the show, if there's a mistake you could have caught, even if it's not under your official job description, take care of it. Commit to looking for the error and catching it the next time.

One final note, it's fine to problem solve and you should, but do not let people dump their problems in your lap. As show producers, this happens a lot. Someone walks up and says, "So and so did this and I just think... blah-blah-blah." You can say, "Well, you should go talk to so-and-so about it." If you see a problem yourself, fine- fix it. But continuing to solve problems people should be taking care of themselves encourages them to keep dumping on you. And let's face it. You have enough on your plate.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Show feeling a little flat? I am for wholesale stealing. If you have a friend or relative in another market, have them record and send you a show. Or cruise the web for markets you might like to go and see if they have shows posted online. You will be amazed the ideas you can steal and incorporate into your show. Miami is one of my favorite markets for stealing ideas. And in a plug for my own network, Fox Report is a pretty rocking newscast.

Stealing ideas is kind of like reading fashion magazines-- you're not gonna walk out and buy the whole outfit, but maybe you can grab something here or there that'll update your closet.

There's a saying that if you want to be a good writer, read good writers. Same goes for producing. If you want to be a good producer, watch t.v. you admire and imitate it. Eventually, you gather all these ideas you've seen along the line and develop your own groove.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Got a pen?

Quick, write this down. What? You don't have a pen handy? Impossible!

And yet, this is what we do to viewers when we ask them to write down random numbers from our newscast.

"Chester the molester is on the loose. Here's his picture. If you see him, call police at 555-5555."
"The Art Fair is this weekend! For more info call, 333-3333."

The entire story is probably :30 seconds long. How are viewers expected to find pen, paper and write it down in that time?

Instead have a station or show hotline. It's easy to set up and you just update it daily. Then every time you show a number, it's the hotline number. And you repeat it several times in the show. Also, tell viewers you'll repeat it:

"The Art Fair is this weekend! For more info call our hotline 777-7777. If you didn't get a chance to write that down, we'll repeat it again later in the newscast."

Then you can put it as a bump back in to your last block. Use the hotline number in that spot every day so that loyal viewers will know it's always there.

Same thing applies to websites. Instead of showing the actual web address, drive them to your website and then put the info in a spot that's obvious for viewers to find.

Reporters Should Be Seen and Not Just Heard

In a perfect world, I'd have a reporter fronting their package live every time. But sometimes, that can't happen. Even if the reporter can't front their package live, they should have some sort of visual presence in the piece. Obviously, they can do a standup from the field. Have them record a ten second tease while they're at it. But even if they didn't get a standup in the field, have them record an intro and tag-- on set, at the chroma key, or in the newsroom. Find some way to get their face in the piece.

Your reporters are part of your brand. One way viewers can connect to their stories and your newscast is to see reporters night after night. Plus, it makes your newscast look large to have as many faces worked into it as possible. Get creative. Are you writing a VOSOT from a story earlier in the day and the reporter is still hanging around? Have them do a standup and track it. Are you writing a mini-package from a national story? Again, if there's some talent wrapping up their day, grab them and get their face in your show.

What about having a standup in the package when the reporter is fronting it live? This doesn't bug me a bit-- I'm all for it. I want to see talent as much as possible. But there are some stations that frown on it.

Dance Party Friday

A co-worker of mine found this on the web. Apparently, it's an ongoing morning segment. He found it horrifying. I find it hilarious. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the station where I worked in college, but I don't know the guy.


If the link doesn't work, you can go to www.youtube.com and search "Dance Party Friday."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why I want a $700 phone...

I just saw this and it looks so cool:

It allows you to broadcast a live picture from your cell phone. But it only works with certain (expensive) phones.

Think of the possiblities!!! Before your live or sat truck is even set up... you could get something on the air.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Blowing the Tease

I know I've blogged about this but I keep seeing it and it drives me crazy.

Don't let video give away your tease! If there's a posiblity the video could give away the tease, write very specific instructions on the script you take back.

Don't take scripts back for teases? Just call back and tell the editor to cut thirty seconds from such-and-such tape? For shame! Teases are one of the most important parts of the show. They shouldn't be a throw away. And they shouldn't give away the story.

NBC Graphics

If you're at an NBC O&O and create some of your own graphics, you can make some full screens look like add-ons, even if they're not. Here's how.

Say you're making a full screen with three bullet points....

How to Become a Millionaire:
1. Spend Less than You Make
2. Pay off Your Credit Cards
3. Max out Your 401K

Instead of making just the final graphic with three bullet points, make three graphics, the first with one bullet point, like so...

How to Become a Millionaire:
1. Spend Less than You Make

The second one with two...

How to Become a Millionaire:
1. Spend Less than You Make
2. Pay off Your Credit Cards

And the third full screen with three...

How to Become a Millionaire:
1. Spend Less than You Make
2. Pay off Your Credit Cards
3. Max out Your 401K

That way, during the show, the director can just flip between full screens and it'll look like it's adding on. This is much more visually interesting, even for a short story. Twenty, even fifteen seconds is a long time to sit without anything happening in a show.

Doubt me? Tape a show and watch it the next day. Halfway through the story, you lose interest because you've already read what's on the screen but the anchor's script hasn't caught up yet.

As always, read graphics aloud BEFORE you finish creating them or submitting the request. Also, I think, if at all possible, the show producer should create or request the graphics so they have a consistent look. One final note-- words should match script EXACTLY and full screens shouldn't be too wordy-- keep it to two, three, four or five words, not long run-on sentences.

Picking Fresh Sound

When you are running a story that aired in a previous show, at least pick some new sound. Don't assume someone who watches the 6pm won't watch the 10pm. Reward loyal viewers by updating the story with new info (if there is any) and go back to the raw tape to pick a fresh soundbite.

Requeing sound from the earlier show or picking a bite from a reporter pkg that already aired is lame. It doesn't take a lot of time to run back to an edit bay and scroll through the tape. It takes even less time to pick a new bite if your station has gone tapeless and all the video is on your desktop.

If the sound is from a package, see if the reporter logged extra sound he or she didn't use. They might be able to shoot you a fresh bite or something you can use in an open or tease. Or how about the photog who shot it? Are they busy? Do they remember something they can cue up for you?

Happy New Year!

Sorry for not posting for a while. Hope you all had a good holiday and hopefully got some well deserved time off!