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

Monday, July 28, 2008

RTNDA Salary Survey

If you're about to switch markets and have no clue what to ask for... here's help.


Using the Web

I was out covering Hurricane Dolly and found the Red Cross using Flickr and a blog to get out the latest information. I thought it was interesting, especially since you can do updates via blackberry (I do a lot of Pitlist entries on my blackberry). Theoretically, a PIO could update the page from the field. Here are the links:


If your station doesn't have a huge web staff (or even if it does), this may be something to think about in breaking news situations. If you have something like this set up so that reporters and photogs can send in stuff--- it may be a real advantage. If they are too busy, consider sending out a young hungry tech-savvy intern who can help with this end of things.

Some stations are also using Twitter to put out updates.

This particular station also used a web mapping application for the San Diego wildfires last year-- to show viewers exactly where wildfires and shelters were. If you're in a hurricane prone area, you could do the same thing-- to show evacuation routes, shelter, position of hurricane etc.

If you're in the 20-30 age bracket, you're in a unique position to help your station use the web and interconnect with viewers. Many of your station managers don't use technology in the same ways that you and your friends do. Things that might seem like obvious applications to you may not even occur to newsroom leaders. Speak up and give suggestions. They're important to your station's survival!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Stalk Your Next Market

Some of you would like to work in a particular market. Fortunately, you decided to become a producer, so your odds are good. Here's how to make it to that market...

Call each assignment desk and find out who the news directors are. If you feel comfortable, I'd ask if they have producer openings. You might get a chatty desk person who can give you good info and scoop on the station. You'll feel stupid doing this, but who cares? They don't know you.

Send each of the news directiors a tape and a note saying-- "Currently, I'm a bad ass producer in XYZ but I'm looking to relocate to the your market. Enclosed is a tape. I'll be in town on blah blah blah and if you have a few minutes, I'd love to meet with you."

Even if there is no opening, I guarantee you, there will be. You will get calls for meetings. This is because, not only are GOOD producers hard to find, even mediocre ones are rare. No one wants to produce! And the ones who do move to bigger markets or get promoted to EP. I think I have mentioned this before, but most news directors get dozens of tapes for reporter openings, but only a handful for producer openings, and many of them aren't qualified. So if you have experience and a decent tape or cd, send it! What do you have to lose?

Prior to the meetings, google each of the news directors to get a sense of who they are. Maybe you went to the same school or worked in the same market at different times. Also, check out the station's websites to get a sense of their product. Definitely watch the product before you go in and take notes to critique.

I'd also call everyone you know to see if they know anyone in the market.

Story Placement Problems

I just saw a newscast about extreme hot weather. If you have a death involved in any weather related coverage, get to that first-- not your weather guy. It just seems tacky to talk about anything else but how the person died. Once you've covered that, then you can move on.

In fact, in general, unless there is some weather happening RIGHT NOW, like a tornado warning, it makes more sense to get to a reporter and video and end with the meteorologist and maps.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


When you are creating your show, you want to do something a little special for your lead, especially if you have good elements (dramatic sound, good weather pics etc). One good way to set up your lead or maybe a special sweeps piece or teasble package is to do a little setup piece into it. Ask the reporter if they have any dramatic 3 to 5 second sound bites that they didn't use. Create a little mini-pkg (maybe 30 to 45 seconds) to build interest in the story. ((Note: don't actually tell the story, just create interest by putting out a couple good details. Nothing ticks off reporters faster by you telling the entire story right before you toss to them.))

You can keep it simple, or jazz it up by giving it to the best editor in house. Try to give them as much time as possible to work on it.

You can also do something similar as an extended, tracked a-block tease.

So it could be--
(Nats- piece of metal crashes to the ground.)
Track- A dangerous storm rolls into the valley
(Sot- I just about died when I heard the crash.)
Track- Trees are down, power is out, but is the worst over?
(Nats- lightning crack)

Then go to Anchor/live intro. He or she reads a graph to get to reporter.

Not something you have to do every day, but something to consider.

Trust Your Gut

There is a little protective decision making mechanism in all of us that will save you from making big mistakes. It is that little feeling you have in the pit of your stomach that says..."Uh, I don't know. Maybe we shouldn't run this." Or, "Maybe we should send a crew to that story..."

There's no real logical reason for what your feeling, but you feel it anyway. Trust your gut and follow your instinct, even if it doesn't make total sense, especially if the weight of the responsibilty of the decision rests on your shoulders.

Double-Checking Stories

A lot of us get story ideas off the web. That's fine. But be careful. Make a couple calls to verify a story before you run with it.

Case in point: some guy made up a story about an Oklahoma football player and then put it online.

I don't know if any news agencies picked this story up, but you can see how easy it would be to do. Be careful.

Monday, July 21, 2008

This Just In- What Do You Think?

Saw this and thought it was hilarious.


If the link goes belly up, you can go to "You Tube" and search "Mitchell and Webb" and "Aliens" and it should pop up. It's a British comedy duo doing a sendup of tv news.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Start with People

I just watched a pkg on new cpr recs- that you should give 100 compressions in a minute and skip the mouth to mouth. We were in least 45 seconds or so when the reporter finally got to the good stuff- an interview with a guy who saved his best friend using the new method. The first part of the pkg had been DULL mos and an expert bite. Boring! Lead with your best material first. Always. Many times that's a human being who can connect your viewer to the story. And in this case, when you have both the person saved AND the man who saved him-- that belongs at the top.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Double Take

I am getting to the point where I almost expect to see pkgs from nightside rerun on early newscasts. I understand, you morning producers have like six hours to fill and little to no help. But when I watch a major market newscast from 5 to 615p (with the network newscast at 530) and see the EXACT same reporter do the EXACT same pkg at 5p and at 6p (in the first block in both shows, framed in exactly the same way), I have one word and one word only- LAZY!!!

Did the producer at 6p not have anything else to put in the show? Couldn't they ask the reporter to do a vosot for the 6p? Or, how about having the vosot at 5p to tease the pkg at 6? Or-- at the very least, could the photog and reporter not change up the shot so that it looks different?

I guess people assume viewers won't be watching after a whole hour. Perhaps we might want to give them a reason to watch longer instead of repeating our newscast a la Headline News. What's the point of have a separate producer if you're just going to restack essentially the same show?

Blowing the Tease

I will stop writing about this when I stop seeing it happen. Watching a tease tonight, I heard something like...

"We will tell you about a popular snack that is being pulled off the shelves."

Could it be... "Lean Pockets?" I am not psychic. All I had to do was look at the video they were using. It was a taped graphic showing a closeup of the product.

Better to use file from the frozen food aisle and say something like...

"It's a snack many people munch on to stay true to their diet- you might even have one in your freezer now- but coming up next, we'll tell you why it's being recalled. You won't believe what they found inside."

(For the record, this particular brand of Lean Pockets were not so lean, some included pieces of plastic.)

Teases are a hugely important part of your show. Take care and try to do them early, especially with a story that's in house, like the example above.

Don't have video? If it's a good enough story, don't be afraid to do a quick on cam before wiping into another tease.

Mindless Crime Stories

I was watching a local newscast in a top 10 market. Story #2 in the newscast was a vo of some criminals who had driven a car into a store to rob it. It happened overnight. No one was in the store at the time of the crash and no one was hurt.

I know it's cool to see a car in a building but is it really worth the second story in the newscast?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mantra for Many Newsrooms: Do More with Less

How frightening is it that more and more newsrooms are being asked to do more-- a lot more-- with a lot less? I feel for you producers and crews who are stuck holding the bag after someone higher up the food chain decided to magically add an extra half hour without adding any extra resources. That said, unless you have just received a good job offer elsewhere, you'll need to suck it up and move on.

Try to have the attitude- this really sucks, but how can I make it work? Time to open up your creative thinking. Talk to as many people who make the product as you can. Talk to people outside your market. I've found if you pose a general question or goal to people, and leave it wide open, they can often offer up solutions you'd never come up with on your own.

That is your goal. Find solutions to make your show look better and your team feel better. The muckety-mucks upstairs aren't going to be hit on the head and suddenly change their minds, so you have to figure out how to live with it. The solutions you come up with will probably not be ideal-- but it's just like losing your lead off the top of the show-- you have to do something. What's the least bad option?

People in the newsroom are probably ticked off. There is a temptation in situations like these to echo those concerns to management. Resist the urge to do this. It's a losing position for you to be in and quite frankly, your immediate managers may not be in the position to help anyway-- they may be just delivering the bad news.

If you have concerns of your own that you need addressed, always be sure to bring them up along with a solution you have in mind. Never go in just to complain.

"Director Bob! How am I supposed to fill another half hour? Are you out of your mind? I can barely fill the time I have already! And you're not even giving me another writer?"

"Director Bob! I am excited about the expansion of the new show. It brings up a new set of challenges that I think will really help me grow as a producer. I have some ideas for new segments that I'd like to bounce off you. For example, I've talked to the local newspaper movie review guy and he'd be willing to come in as a guest every Thursday. Also, I've talked with Suzy on the desk. She's always wanted to be a writer and is willing to write for me on Wednesdays-- that's the day we have two people on the desk at night. Would that work?"

If you get shot down, don't despair. I find it helpful to follow up with "Oh, ok, do you have some ideas that might work?"

Timing is everything when it comes to talking to the boss. If you're having a major discussion, schedule a meeting. Try to figure out his or her best time. Does he seem slammed in the mornings? Does she seem most at ease after lunch? Notice their best time of day and schedule accordingly.

Understand that news directors get problems dumped on their desk everyday, so if you can come in with a problem you've already figured out how to solve, you're more likely to get buy in and a better solution than if you just came in with a problem.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Murphy's Law for Field Producers & Reporters

A photog friend of mine used to always carry a stupid reporter bag because inevitably a reporter would come out on a story unprepared for the elements. The bag contained an extra jacket, gloves and even wool socks. He saved many a reporter from freezing. And possibly even a field producer.

Putting on those wool socks that day taught me a lesson. Get like the Boy Scouts and "Be Prepared." Plan for all possibilities. You may be going out on a consumer interview that's indoors, but if a standoff happens nearby in sub-zero temps, guess who will be dropping in?

I find that Murphy's Law is generally in effect. For example, last week, heading out to do a dought story, why on earth would I take my rain gear? Sure enough, we landed and the skies clouded. It didn't rain that time, but there have been enough times where I've packed for snow and got sent to eighty degree temps.

Suspect Descriptions

I hate suspect descriptions. I think 99.9% of the time, they are an absolute waste of time.

Here's a description I just saw on a local newscast about two robbery suspects:
Two Hispanic men, in their 20s. One wore jeans and a gray t-shirt.

That description might be helpful if you live in Japan, where there are not a whole lot of Hispanics, but in your average South Texas city, where I watched this broadcast, the description could apply to a large part of the population.
Better? "Police are looking for two suspects..." and move on.

Some caveats.
Use a description if there's something actually meaningful in it, as in:
The suspect had big "I love Mom" tattoo on his right shoulder...
Police says the suspects left in red minivan with a tag that read "xyz-123."

Also, I can live with vague descriptions if the crime just happened. If you toss to a reporter who just rolled up on a scene where the crime occured, then the info might be helpful. Be as specific as possible, as in "The crime happened at 4th and Main, and police say witnesses saw two white men in their 20s take off in a green v.w. bug. That was about ten minutes ago." If the crime just happened, there's a chance someone might spot them if they stop into a 7/11 for a Slurpee. Hours after the fact though, as happens with most of these descriptions-- it's not likely.

Which brings me to phone numbers in newscasts. I hate them. Unless the phone number is something like 1-800-crimestoppers or your own station's hotline (or website) which you repeat again and again in the show, don't use it. No one watches t.v. with a pen taking notes and anxiously anticipating you showing a phone number they might need. Phone numbers are generally frustrating for viewers and a watch of precious newscast time.

Quick Easy Way to Improve Your Show

Be your own consultant. Have someone record your show and watch it. But don't watch right after it's over. Come in a little early the next day and watch it then. Your show won't be so close to you and you can look at it with fresh eyes. You'll be amazed the stuff you notice. Do your vosots need shortening? Is there some editing sloppiness that slipped in? How was the overall pacing- did you get bored watching? What about graphics? Did they help understanding or just muddle things up? Were they consistent throughout the show?

Even if you can't do this every night-- try watching, at least the first block, at least once a week. You might also want to watch with an immediate supervisor, if you can get five minutes with them.

The Dog Ate My Homework

I just logged in and it's been almost a month since I'm put something new up! Pathetic. But I have a good excuse. I'm getting married this weekend! The past month has been used to set up the nuptials. Trust me, you think putting a rundown together is a challenge, wait till you wrangle with the Bridal Industrial Complex. But enough excuses!