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, August 27, 2008

Blowing the Tease

Here's what I heard last Saturday at 6pm in a local newscast:

"We'll tell you who Barack Obama picked as his running mate."

Given that they released the pick overnight, at 6p, th above is not an effective tease. Even worse, this tease was coming out of a national newscast. You can safely assume the audience watching the national newscast has already heard the big news. In fact, unless it's an ongoing story, why would you ever tease any national story coming out of a national newscast? The viewers have already heard about it in the last half hour. Pick an interesting local angle on the national story or something entirely different.

Ad or TV News?

A new Apple store opens. Is this worth :15 in the first block of your show? I don't think so-- but saw it in a top 10 market.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pop Quiz

I recently heard a newscast that contained the phrase:
"... drenching downpour..."

Which one of these words can we jettison?
Have you ever been in a downpour that didn't leave you drenched? 

Ditto the phrase:
"... fatal drowning..."

Drowning by definition is fatal. I hear this one all the time. 

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Script Approval

I don't know if you've read any of Jill Geisler's columns- but she's brilliant. I met her at an RTNDF Women & Minorities in Management workshop. Here's a good article on working with reporters to revise scripts.


I'd add that there's nothing like front end work in terms of packages. An hour before newscast the newscast is not the time to find out the story has completely changed. Check in early and often with reporters about how things are going... if the story's remaining what you thought it was... and what types of elements they'll have. That will assist immensely when it comes to looking at the pkg as well as your own tease-writing.

More on Twitter

Sorry to bombard you with blogs about Twitter, but it's my current obsession. Here's how the Chicago Tribune used it to cover breaking news, according to Poynter:



Patron Saint of Television

No joke. There is one. It's St. Clare of Assisi, follower and helper of St. Francis. In one newsroom where I worked, there was a glow-in-the-dark St. Clare statue that watched over our assignment desk. According to Catholic Online:

"Clare of Assisi was named patron of television because one Christmas when she was too ill to leave her bed she saw and heard Christmas Mass -- even though it was taking place miles away."

She also lived in poverty, like so many local television news producers.

Finding a Company Number

I wanted to pass along a small tip that I picked up working consumer and that I just used a couple days ago. Trying to contact a company can sometimes be difficult. You'd think company media types would have say, a phone number or email on their websites, but increasingly, that doesn't seem to be the case. I guess they are getting a lot of disgruntled yahoos calling. In any case, here's where Hoovers comes in. Hoovers.com is a website that has company info on it. All the major companies are on there and they generally have an address and non-toll free number that at least gets you to an administrative operator who can transfer you to the pr department.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

TechTip from Correspondent David MacDougall

David MacDougall, one of our correspondents in our Baghdad Bureau was kind enough to send along a great tech tip for audio interviews:

I wanted to share a resource with you that might be useful to some producers/reporters/newsrooms out there if you think it's worth passing on. When I worked in local news (not that long ago) we'd often try do get phoners on a particular story. Problem was... it was very inconvenient to set up. You had to phone the person from your desk... rush into the sound-proof booth... get someone to transfer your call in there... and then get someone to roll on the interview from one of the editing booths next door. Sure, in big markets I bet they have cool toys to make this easy. But this was market 123, with linear editing equipment, and not a lot of resources. I'm guessing not much has changed for hundreds of producers all over the country in small markets.

I came across an online tutorial which explains with exceptional clarity how to use Skype, from your desk, to record interviews. The tutorial also tells you how to optimize your computer to get the absolute best quality (broadcast quality) sound out of Skype. It's very simple and very effective. The tutorial is at: http://www.blogarithms.com/index.php/archives/2007/12/23/skype-for-interviews/

((A group of Swarthmore student journalists used this to great advantage:

((For info on taping guidelines, check out:
http://www.rcfp.org/taping/ ))

To see some of David's blogs from Baghdad, check out:
http://onthescene.blogs.foxnews.com/author/baghdadbureau/ ))

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


So I'm on Twitter. I blog for my network, but often short updates like-- "17 people now dead in bus crash" aren't worth a whole blog but is worth something. Enter Twitter. It's like a headline service for your life. You can blackberry or text. Here's an interesting article on it...

TV News, This is Your Future

CNN is expanding its bureau system... with "all-platform" journalists planted at affiliates. Here's the NY Time's take on it. Interesting... all the more reason to learn new skills.


Words of Wisdom from NBC's Bob Dotson

"Covering news these days is a lot like working in a circus. The process is so complicated, we spend most of our time just trying to get the tent up. We slap ourselves on the back when we get signals out of a difficult places, but we forget: No one comes to a circus to marvel at the tent. They come to watch the trapeze act. Our "act," the careful crafting of writing to picture, gets scant attention, as we scamper from live shot to live shot. Maybe this will help save some seconds during the day, so that your time doesn't have to be sliced too thin for thought."
Bob Dotson

From a column at RTNDF

Writing Tips

One of you emailed asking for writing tips. No prob! When I wrote this, I was thinking about the 800 VOs and VOSOTs you put in your show. Pkgs are a whole nother ballgame. That said...

First off.. stay informed. Read everything you can get your hands on. Listen to the radio. Watch tv newscasts. Why do I say this? It's a lot easier to write if you're not coming to a story cold. For example, cranking out a :30 second VO on the situation in Georgia is a lot easier if you're not also learning about the conflict in the short time you have to write. AND, consuming as much news as you can will help you catch mistakes. So if the desk says 4 people died in the accident, but you just heard 5 on the radio, you know this is something worth an extra phone call. Are we wrong? Or maybe we just don't have the updated numbers.

Second. Don't get stuck in how you "should" be writing. Write what comes naturally. For example, if you were to pick up the phone and call a friend to tell them about an accident on the freeway, you might say something like "Hey Bob, did you hear about that bad accident on I-75? It had the freeway shut down for hours. A tanker blew a tire and just flipped over and exploded. Then four other cars smashed into it. Can you believe nobody was hurt?"

Obviously, you'd make changes to the above to make it into a script. The point is- don't muck up simple good story telling.

Some other general tips:

-Most interesting thing goes first. Always.
-Keep sentences short.
-Always look at your video and let it inspire you.
-Look for places to insert NATS and good sound.
-Time yourself when you write so that when it comes to crunch time, you'll already be prepared.
-Pick low hanging fruit first. Knock out the easy stuff so you can come back to focus on more difficult stories and/or stories you expect to change toward your newscast.
-Never use a word you wouldn't use in conversation. My favorite example: White Stuff.

If you're having trouble on a story, ask yourself, why is this in my newscast? Because it's important? Why is it important? That should help you write. Or google search the story and read more about it. That might help you be able to break the logjam.

Final tip:
Always, always, always read scripts aloud. Your ears will catch errors your eyes won't. My particular downfall? Omitted words. Also, when reading aloud, it will become very obvious if your sentences are too long or too wordy. If you are stumbling when reading your script aloud, how do you expect your anchor to read it?

Here are some links I think are interesting:



One More Reason to Like Google


You've probably already seen this, but I am, as usual behind the curve and just found this today. Google list top search items. It's interesting... something to keep in mind. For example "chupucabra" was second in searches. Maybe worth putting in the chupucabra siting story somewhere in your newscast? I might.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Because I'm Lazy

I did a blog for work that I think is applicable here so I thought I'd post it and get a two-fer. One aside, at the bottom, there's a line that says "Who knows what Friday will bring." As I write you, I am sitting in a sat truck in Sherman, Texas covering a deadly bus crash.

A lot of people ask what a typical day is like working for FOX News. For the folks in the field, there really is no typical day, or week for that matter. For my part, that’s what I really like about the job.

We have one crew in the Dallas bureau, just a photographer, correspondent (Kris Gutierrez) and me. Usually we wait for breaking news. And while we wait for breaking news in our region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana) we work on approved stories, generally something timely and interesting.

Here’s what this week has looked like. We came into our office in downtown Dallas early Monday morning to do a satellite interview. Kris Gutierrez was scheduled to leave in the afternoon with a freelance photographer and producer to do interviews in El Paso for live shots all day Tuesday. I was going to leave Tuesday morning to meet our staff photographer in Austin to do an interview for a second story. Since we’re a one crew bureau, we often split up to get more done.

Of course all those plans went out the window before the day was over. Tropical Storm Edouard decided to take aim at Galveston so off we went on a flight to Houston. We arrived in Galveston after nightfall, camped out in a hotel and were ready for business Tuesday morning. FOX and Friends wanted live shots at 6am EST, so that means we needed to be up and out at 4pm central time. The only problem was when we woke up the next morning, Edouard had decided to move up the coast. We were out of position. Way out of position. It wasn’t even raining! So after one live shot for Fox and Friends, we drove about an hour and half , through the storm, to High Island, where Kris Gutierrez proceeded to take a beating from wind gusts and rain during live shots the rest of the day.

On Wednesday, the storm cleared and we were on a plane from Houston to Oklahoma City. From there, we drove to General Tommy Franks’ ranch, which is about two hours outside Oklahoma City. The General was hosting forty-eight students from across the country for a leadership conference and debate camp. After four days of hard work, the students got to kick back, relax and interact with the General. General Franks has this huge magnetic personality. He’s genuine and generous with his time and wisdom. His new project, the General Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum hopes to help educate the next generation. This week’s camp this is part of that. After getting video of the BBQ at the ranch, we drove back to Oklahoma City and were in bed by 10pm.

Thursday morning meant an early live shot with Judge Napolitano in Oklahoma City. The Judge is hosting the final round of a debate featuring the kids from the leadership camp. It was my first time working with the Judge- and what a pleasure. We continued doing live shots with Kris Gutierrez through the afternoon. I had a small cameo in one of them. Someone in management said—”Now I know what producers do.” I was sitting on my duff with a phone in my ear at the time. To my credit, I was actually working. During live shots, producers are required to link into a conference call so that the people in NY have direct contact with someone in the field should something go wrong.

What will Friday bring? Who knows? We’re scheduled to depart on a morning flight back to Dallas, but with TV news, it’s anyone’s best guess.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Earthquake Coverage

A co-worker and I were watching the earthquake coverage last week and wondered whether it was perhaps a bit overboard. Apparently we're not alone. Here's a funny column on it: