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, December 15, 2008


There's a new twitter site that's tracking who's being laid off in the media.
How sad is it that there are enough layoffs to sustain a whole twitter feed?

Also, I meant to mention this the other day when I first heard it, but kudos to NPR for actually doing a story on its own layoffs...

In contrast, I thought it a little odd that NBC, on a day when they practically led Nightly with news of mass layoffs, there was nary a mention of their own layoffs going on that day. 500 jobs/3% of workforce not worth reporting when you're detailing other companies financial woes? Weak.

In the interest of self-disclosure, I've read on some of the media websites about possible layoffs coming at Fox O&O's.

Frightening times.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I don't know when this started, but as a show producer, whenever I'd go into the booth, I'd cross my fingers on the my right hand. I know it's stupid. And certainly, I had bad shows when I crossed my fingers. But somehow I always felt like it would be even worse if I hadn't.

I thought I had cured myself of this habit. After all, I haven't been in the booth for a couple of years. But today, as we are editing a package and getting anxiously closer to our deadline, I noticed my old habit return without me even thinking about it.

Will we make it? Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Read Your Scripts Aloud Before Printing

Do as I say and not as I do. I've been going over previous posts and finding mistakes. If I would have read them out loud before posting... my ears would have caught mistakes my eyes didn't see. Same goes for scripts (resumes, "Dear John" letters). Read them out loud right before sending them to the printer.

Apparently I was a lot more religious about this with shows as opposed to the blog. Lazy!

2nd Best Producer in the U.S.

If I tell you I'm the second best producer in the United States, the first question that pops to your mind is, oh yeah? Who's first? You can't give a ranking without answering other obvious questions. And yet, we do it all the time.

=Dallas is the number two retirement city in the universe (Who's best?)
=Dallas has the 5th worst snowplow association in the state (Who's the worst?)

A recent example I have been hearing a lot lately is that Congressman William Jefferson is the second least effective lawmaker on the hill. Begs the question- who's worse than the guy who had F.B.I. agents find thousands of marked bills in his freezer? It was driving me crazy so I looked it up. Says congress.org, it's someone from my former home state of Arizona, Congressman Rick Renzi.

P.S. I have no idea who the best producer in the U.S is and I'm obviously no where near second, or third, or 456th...

Breaking Down Big Numbers

I hear big numbers float around in newscasts all the time. When a number it too big, it becomes meaningless for people. Break down big numbers. For example, Saudia Arabia produces about 10 million barrels of oil a day. That sounds like a lot, but how much is it? A quick search (hint, when you search google, add site:gov to pop up only government sites) shows each barrel puts out about 19 gallons of gas (along with a bunch of other oil products). The average car tank holds 15-18 gallons. Grab some scratch paper and do the math. You could add a line to say "Saudia Arabia produces 10 million barrels of oil a day. That's enough to fill 10 to 12 million cars." By the way, on the same website where I found the gas info, it said the U.S. used 142 billion (with a b) gallons of gas in 2007. Mind boggling.

The point is, make your scripts more clear and your newscasts more understandable by breaking down big numbers and giving a real life example with which everyone can relate. It takes a few extra minutes but it makes all the difference.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I was having problems posting the other day and somehow managed to post the same entry fourteen times. Hopefully it's fixed...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Worst Tease of the Week

My vote for worst tease this week: Video of a middle school assembly... and script to the effect of..." We'll tell you about a program to keep middle school kids in school." It may be an important story. But it was a deadly boring tease. Unless you're a parent of one of the kids, or a fellow producer wondering why the heck someone would tease that story, you won't stick around. The story itself was pretty lame. The entire thing was shot in the aforementioned assembly room.

My Tease Picks for Today

So I thought it might be helpful to pull up a list of stories and tell you which ones I'd tease and why. I'm looking through the AP natl/intl wires today (Thursday, Dec. 4th). Here's a short list of stories I came across:

Canada political crisis
Iraq Obama
ATT Job Cuts
Mattel Bratz Battle
Firefighter Fight
Congress Auto Execs
Bernanke Latest
Meltdown Kashkari

Of these... my eyes immediately zoom to the Mattel Bratz battle. Mattel says Bratz are copies of their product... The company behind Bratz says Mattel's the one doing the copying. A federal judge ruled Mattel is in the right and Bratz dolls has to stop making them! I'd show video of both.. and say "It may be a blue Christmas for lots of little girls. That's after a battle between two toy companies means some hugely popular dolls will be pulled off store shelves in the New Year." Show both video suggesting both companies so you don't give away the story.

My second pick-
The "Bernanke latest" story doesn't sound great... but tucked away in there is something mentioning the Treasury department considering backing a 4.5% home loan program (for new 30-year fixed mortgages). That's huge for anyone thinking about buying a home-- and sour grapes for anyone stuck with a higher interest mortgage (everyone who already owns a home). A quick google search pulls up lots of information on the proposal. Be sure to give an example on the cost savings. Realtor.com is one site where you can find calculators. So you could say... "On a two hundred thousand dollar mortgage, that new rate would save you more than a hundred bucks each month when compared to today's rate... which is about a percentage point higher." You could show file of home sales for video and maybe even break out a graphic.

The Key to Good Tease Writing

The easiest way to make your teases better is to have good stories to tease. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you're teasing the latest council meeting, no one's sticking around to watch. Teases are a CRUCIAL part of your show. You can't control the number you're delivered-- but you are responsible for the viewers you can hold through the show. When you're going through stories and deciding what to put where, make a special effort to think about what you'll tease.

Tease talkers.
Think-- if I'm going out after the show and meeting friends.. what are the stories I'm going to talk about? This is the... "Hey, did you hear about..." factor. If one of your stories falls under this category, hold it for a tease. These do not have to be local or even on the wires. For example, if you read something interesting in "Wired," you can run it in your show. Make a couple calls and verify the stuff in the article and make sure you attribute... "Wired magazine says the I-Phone is the hottest thing since hula-hoops."

Tease Consumer/health stories.
As long as they're not too obscure (read: arthroscopic knee surgery developements) health and/or consumer stories are always good to tease.

Anything with good video.
Be careful not to blow the tease though. There's a fine line between pictures viewers will stick around to see again ("Take a look at this accident caught on dashboard video... woah! We'll hear from the police officer who survived it") versus video that's probably a one shot deal (in which case you might want to freeze it before the good part).

Stories that impact a lot of people.
Going back to that council meeting-- if they're, say, deciding to cut city services to make budget, this might impact a lot of people and could make a good tease:

"The city's deciding where to drop the ax in the budget battle, could your trash services be dumped? We'll tell you what options council members are discussing."

And again, here, I'd have a photog go get video of garbage trucks... don't use council meeting video.

By the way, the lower you go in the show DOES NOT mean you have to go light. Don't assume you have to stick the feel-good holiday story at the end of the show. It's probably not a good tease. Put it at the end of the first block for a nice wrap up there and put something interesting as the kicker. Also, if a reporter has a good interesting story that's not a lead, but still valuable, try putting it in the second block and tease it. Better yet, you tease it in Headlines and have them tease the story live at the end of the first block.

This goes to the larger point of changing up the format of teases from one segment to the next. If you have something low in the show, you're probably teasing it a couple times.. so change it up a bit... use just video in one tease... maybe some sound in another (only a couple seconds though: "I couldn't believe it!" or, "It's the best thing I ever saw!" or.. nats full). Or try a tracked tease. Make a little :30 mini package to tease the story and wipe right into it.

Finally.. it helps to watch t.v. Watch programs you enjoy and admire (they don't have to be news) and see how they tease their next block. Steal ideas liberally!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Happy Belated Thanksgiving

This was originally published at onthescene.blogs.foxnews.com

I know I'm a loser for putting it up late... but I wanted to remind those of you who have to work holidays that I for one appreciate the work you do....

Working on Thanksgiving

I am thinking of all of you who are working this Thanksgiving. I am giving thanks that you are there to do the jobs that you do. I am thankful to all the soldiers, police and firemen, restaurant and hotel employees, gas station attendants and airline workers- and the thousands of journalists like me- who this year drew the short end of the stick. While co-workers can often be like a family, nothing is like spending the holiday with your own family and friends, eating, relaxing and giving thanks.

I started working in television news when I was 17 years old. In the 20ish years since, I have spent many Thanksgivings (and Christmases for that matter) in the newsroom, trying to put a show together with little news and fewer resources. More than once the smattering of us left in the newsroom wondered whether anyone was watching anyway- so why not just run yesterday’s newscast? One of my more enjoyable Thanksgivings at work was spent in Phoenix, when station management sent in a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Some of the guys in the newsroom pulled two love seats in (from the bosses office?) so people could watch football. Someone actually found a football and started tossing it around. A couple people’s families came in to the station to join us for a hour or two. A team of two or three people started stringing up Christmas lights inside.

For those of you who have never had to work a holiday, be thankful. If you happen to run across someone who’s stuck on the job today, saying “I’m sorry you have to work today” goes a long way.

As for me, this year I am fortunate enough to have the day off. I am traveling home to Cincinnati to be with family. I stopped into an empty airport coffee shop and felt like a total heel when I saw the sole worker in the shop jump up from a turkey dinner to get me a cup of coffee. To that guy, and the multitudes of others of you working today, when I sit down with my family tonight, be assured, I raise my glass to you.

Leading Your Team

I've been reading a book on the early parts of the Revolutionary War and was struck by the different styles of the two generals--- and how that might apply to how we make decisions in the newsroom. The book is "Washington's Crossing" by David Hackett Fischer.

Here's the scene. George Washington and Charles Cornwallis have both called "councils of war" during a the second battle of Trenton in 1777. "Councils of war" were pow-wows between the generals and the leadership just below them. Fischer says of Cornwallis, "His meeting was less of a council than a court." Cornwallis was there to dispense orders, not get advice from underlings. Without getting into too much of the nitty-gritty, one man at the council made a suggestion which Cornwallis quickly shot down. That one suggestion could have totally changed the outcome of the next few days.

Over on the American side, Washington was holding his meeting much differently. It sounds like it was a lot more freewheeling. And Washington didn't come in with plans that were a foregone conclusion, but began with what the situation was, what needed to be achieved and what the costs were if it wasn't. Then he'd open it up and let his officers talk their way through the issues to consensus. The meeting was also more open. Says Fischer, "Local citizens were invited to attend and speak freely."

You can imagine the breadth of advice that Washington could access. Doesn't that necessarily mean the decision will be stronger, when you've had more options from which to choose?

There are some lessons for us. Do you get people's opinions when you put your show together or is that your sole domain? Do you try to include everybody? Think on a more personal level how you felt when someone higher up asked for your advice and used it?

The best producers.. or any leaders... are not the ones who have all the ideas themselves, but can recognize the talented people around them and utilize all the genius in the room.

Another page from Washington-- he had fixed goals but flexible operations. Meaning, in terms of shows, here's what we want to do... but I'm not going to nick-pick on how you get it done. That gives people the creativity to come up with the best solution.

More on the Hologram

Thought I might post a link to CNN's article on their election night hologram.

A co-worker and I thought it was cool but debated its use. Say they become as popular as live trucks-- where would you use them? Honestly, if a reporter is in the middle of a loud crowd, I want to see that. That helps me understand what's going on in the story. Maybe for the lame liveshots out at the scene that's been dead for four hours? When it's too far to drive it back, just pop into the hologram?

What would really be moving is to take the setup to Iraq and have soliders use it. Wouldn't that be cool for some family to have their Dad or Mom beamed back around Christmas time?