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, October 27, 2008

Help a Tease: Save a Story

It's hard to write a good tease when you're teasing a crummy story. Please don't assume viewers (other than your family) will stick around just because you think you've put together a well-crafted show. Save something interesting for them- and by interesting, I mean, something YOU would actually stick around to watch, not the two stories you still have leftover after stacking the rest of the show.

This can be tough, I know. By the time viewers see your show, they've probably already caught some of the really interesting stories of the day. This is why you must be your own news gatherer (or more correctly, your own :20 vo collector). Surf the web. Read magazines. Go straight to the source online or on the phone.

The story does not have to be hard news. It just has to be interesting.

Here are some ideas for finding stories when you're desperate:

=What are the top ten searches? What are the most watched videos on YouTube?

I checked digg.com just now and found..

"Woman buys back foreclosed home for a stranger"
(You could use foreclosure file, a graphic and on cam tag)

"Google earth comes to IPhone"
(Here you could look up file of the IPhone and Google Earth)

="Top 10" lists themselves can be good stories.
I searched "Top 10" and "Dallas" and found.. "Top ten things to do this Fall." You could name the top 5. The top options included the local Farmers Market, catching a Cowboys game and hitting the Arboretum. If you had a photographer sitting around, you could send him or her by to spray one of them.

Remember, you can't go wrong with "news you can use." Think health, money, kids, pets. Have a "reader" (www.google.com/intl/en/googlereader/tour.html) page that tracks websites and columns so you can have them all at your fingertips.

And then, there's always Fark.com If nothing else, it's an easy way to waste half the day.

Like Things Go Together

When you're putting a rundown together, don't overthink things.

Remember this: Like things go together. It's like organizing your closet... like colors, like items, have some kind of order in there. I say this after watching a newscast where you might get a heachache from the show ping-ponging around so much. With a shooting here, a car accident there, a national story that relates to nothing, then another violent incident locally. Like things together. Put your violent local stories together. Put politics, local or otherwise, together. Weather together. Whatever. Just try to put some kind of order into your show. Otherwise it's really hard to watch.

The future of TV

I found a few intersting articles I thought I'd pass along.

One is about the near future-- local t.v. stations getting hammered once the election ad money runs dry...

The other is about the possiblities of t.v. integrating with social networking. The article points to gaming with users being able to interact. I wish I had more tech knowledge-- I think this would work well with users watching sports or politics. Imagine baseball fans watching the World Series and interacting after a big play. Or avid fans of politics watching election results together. Or, local t.v. stations, for that matter, on big weather days. Viewers could interact about what's happening in their area. Something to think about. Here's the article.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Interesting Article on Blogs

Found this on Twitter from the Knight Digital Media Center:

Economy Worries

Working as a consumer producer for years, I had the opportunity to read and answer literally hundreds of complaints about car dealerships. So even I am surprised by my new-found compassion for them and concern about their financial well-being. Consider it enlightened self-interest. I am thinking of all my friends currently working in local television stations, which depend upon dealer advertising for big chunks of revenue. What happens if dealers start going belly up? Will that lead to more rounds of layoffs? Scary.

Tales of the Dark Side: PR Horror Stories

Sounds like a lot of you out there have PR horror stories. Here's (one of) mine.

I was doing consumer in an undisclosed market turning out stories faster than GE cranks out light bulbs. I got a press release that sounded interesting. An insurance company had a study showing which intersections had the most accidents. I call the woman to set it up. She asks what kind of angle am I going to take on the story and is this going to have a negative spin? Huh? YOU called me! If I were doing a negative story, it certainly wouldn't be off a press release you sent AND I'd say to you up front... "Hey, we've gotten some complaints about your company we'd like to ask you about."

I believe she also asked me to submit my questions. (This happens a lot. I do not submit questions in advance and certainly not for some goofy consumer story on danger intersections!) This all should have been a clue that this whole exercise would be a complete waste of time. Did I wisely tell this woman we were no longer interested and I would move on to the one of 800 other stories sitting on my desk? Sadly, I did not.

The PR woman calls back. She says she'd like to arrange a conference call with her, the interview and me. I say, fine. The conference call happens and I'm asking some general questions, like... WHY are these particular intersections problematic? He says, I can't answer that. Ok-- the data only shows where the accidents happen, not why. Fine. I ask, what are some tips for people to avoid accidents? He can't answer that either. It goes on like this. Me asking pretty simple questions speaking to how our viewers would benefit from us doing the story, him being unable to answer. Finally, out of frustration I ask, "Well, what can you talk about?" He says, "XYZ insurance company has new one stop shopping insurance centers to file your claims." Bingo. Not interested.

If you're going to pitch me a story, I'm happy to interview your expert but please make sure he can answer more than one question and don't insult my intelligence by pitching one story when you're really pushing another one.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

For HS/College Students Interested in Photography

A dear friend and fabulous photographer, Jim Cox, died in a helicopter crash last year in Phoenix. His family and friends have started a foundation to encourage young photographers. The deadline is fast approaching (Oct. 15) for anyone who'd like to apply. Scholarships and cameras are available.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tease Versus Headline

I actually heard this on a TV station the other day. It was supposed to be a tease:

"It's a guilty verdict for OJ Simpson. He could face life in prison."

That's more like a headline. How about trying:

"The verdict's in on the latest OJ Simpson trial. We'll tell you if the jury bought his story..."

Or, assuming everyone has already heard the news...

"OJ's guilty. We'll tell you what kind of time Simpson could face behind bars and have reaction to the verdict."

Monday, October 6, 2008

What to Tease

So let's say you are a producer have the choice of two stories to tease all night long. Do you:

A) Tease the story about how police are pulling over "good" drivers?

B) Tease the story, with video, of a woman being tossed out of a car on the highway?

Correct answer: B!

You don't have to put "B" in your first block but you should put it in and tease the good video. "Good drivers" is dull and it's been done.

For the Record

I don't produce shows anymore... I field produce for Correspondent Kris Gutierrez. When we are offered up live, we're on for hits between 9a and 7p EST on Fox News Channel (sometimes earlier and/or later if it's a big breaking story). Our one crew bureau covers AR, OK, TX and LA, unless another bureau needs help or relief on a story in their region.

For Our Friends in PR

I just got an email from someone wanting advice on how to pitch stories. In case other PR folks are out there reading this, how is how NOT to pitch stories (this goes for local & network):

DON'T CALL ME. I don't have time. I barely have time to leave my desk to pee or heat up my Healthy Choice Frozen meal-- so you can bet I don't have time to sit on the phone with you to listen to the intricacies of your pitch. Send me an email. I'll read the first three lines and if we're interested, i'll call you.

DON'T WASTE MY TIME. Have the courtesy to watch the show or correspondent I produce. Look at what we're doing. Is your pitch something that would really fit in my show? Honestly, if it's not, you're wasting your time and mine. For example, I got at least 10-20 email pitches today. I would wager a week's salary not one of the PR folks who emailed me today have any clue who I am or what we do. They just bought my name from somebody's list and sent me a blast email. My response? Delete. I get so many of them, if it's a name I don't recognize, I don't even read them.

TARGET A SHOW. Each show has a different staff and different needs, even if they are on the same network. You should pitch a story differently for a morning show than say an evening program. Fox and Friends is different than Special Report which is different than Fox Report, n'est pas? Tailor your story and pitch to someone on a particular show. Be flexible if someone calls you back. Get me someone quickly, because management may not be interested in the story tomorrow. Get me someone who can give me a viewer benefit. I know you want to pitch XYZ green window cleaner company but if you can give my viewers general tips on how to find green cleaning products (even those your company doesn't pitch) you'll have a much better chance of making air.

WE DO NEWS 24/7. So be so kind as to include an after hours cell number so if I have any questions on say, a Friday night or Saturday morning, I'll be able to contact you. If I had a dime for every press release for an event on a weekend without a weekend contact number, I'd be a millionaire... blah, blah, blah.

ONE FINAL NOTE. If you come through for me, I'll turn to you again and again. There is a particular college I have called in the past asking for an expert. They got me one within hours. Other schools I call don't answer calls or can't seem to get it together. Guess who I call back regularly?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pester People for Fun & Profit

It is amazing how much miscommunication there is in the communication business.

Sometimes you didn't adequately clarify what you wanted. Other times, people just didn't hear you. In any case, if you're a good producer, you check and recheck things. It's annoying for people, but it's the only way to catch mistakes and eliminate problems.

So call your reporters....
"Just so I'm clear, you're going to include the sheriff sound, right?"

Call your edit bays...
"You're o.k. to edit that pkg by the top of the show, right?"

Call graphics...
"Hey did you understand that graphics request I submitted?"

And so on. It may pester people, but your show (or any project you do) will profit.

Story Drops the Baton

Some local stations are covering a story about some baton twirlers who got in trouble for doing a routine to the Katy Perry "I Kissed a Girl" song. Perhaps you've heard it. I hope so, because if you were watching one particular station, you would not have heard the song in the piece. How is this possible? How can you do a story on a song getting students in trouble without actually playing the song? The story would not make a lot of sense to someone who hasn't heard the song (and I'm guessing that's a large part of your viewing population over a certain age). How can a viewer decide for themselves whether the song is offensive for a high school pep rally unless they hear it?

If you're having a trouble locating the song, it's all over You Tube. You could have one of the students you interview at their computer playing the video. I can hear the line already... "It's got a catchy tune but this song caused one student to catch a lot of flak from school administrators..."

If you're worried about using a song in a package, contact your management or your station's attorney. If for some reason you feel compelled NOT to use the song, at the very least, put up a full screen of lyrics with a line like... "What's all the fuss about? Here's a sampling of the lyrics:
I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it."
This gives someone who's never heard the song a much better sense of it.

Another thing. The story DID have home video of the routine. They didn't let it go Nats full, so I'm guessing there wasn't any Nats on the tape? It's a good idea to clue viewers in on this, because the first thing you think when seeing the tape is... I want to hear it. It could be as easy as saying... "There's no sound on the tape... but you can see the girls performing the routine the night they got in trouble."(( An aside: Or again, you could have your interview looking at the tape "Yeah, that was our routine. We practiced it for weeks. We never thought we'd get in trouble..." Or whatever.)) The point is, if there's an obvious defect in a material (like no audio) you might want to mention it in the script. And if there was audio... why not pull it full?