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, March 2, 2009

Being a (ring) Leader in the Newsroom

Unfortunately, you can't force people to respect you. What you can do is be patient, and make the right calls and wait for them to see how good you are. There are ALOT of bad producers out there. If you are only marginally better than the bad ones, your co-workers should thank their lucky stars they get to work with you. Make calls that make sense. Include people in the decision making process. Even when you don't need their opinion, ask for it.

One of the complaints from field crews is that you're at the mercy of someone in an air-conditioned building who has no clue what the story's like. Genuinely listen to your crews. Check your own ego at the door. Figure out who you can trust in terms of judgement. Some reporters just whine because they are lazy and don't really want to cover anything. Others are not trying to be a pain-- they have a legitimate issue and you need to adjust accordingly.

Utilize your anchors, desk folks, reporters, photos-- any smart people in the newsroom. Ask their opinion. Like I say... ASK. Doesn't mean you have to accept. But I'd say, when it's 6 of one, half dozen of the other, who cares? Cave and let them have it. You don't have to rule on everything.

Pick your battles carefully. Stand your ground on important issues. Again, if you are the one who is going to get hammered the next day for making a bad call, you need to be able to defend it. But in the end, you make the call. Period. That's why you're the producer.

If you make a call that's unpopular, you can say something like this:

"I hear what you're saying. I understand you don't like this call. But this is my call and I answer to Mr./Mrs. News Director about it. He/She will let me know if it's the wrong call. Let's do this tonight, and I'm happy to talk with you and the news director about this issue and my decision... tomorrow."

This obviously is a last resort to be used on really big issues only. More often, you need to work with folks, find where there's common ground and move forward.

Front-end coaching helps cut off surprises. Let people know what you expect before they even leave the building. In the meeting, Suzy Reporter is going out to cover a car accident, say, "Ok, what are we thinking we want to get with this? I think we should talk to the woman who was in the car. We should also try to get the police officer who came up on the crash. Is that what you were thinking Suzy?" This kind of conversation, EARLY, brings up issues Suzy may have with the story.

Follow-up is important too. A few hours after Suzy's gone out, check in. Say, "What did you get?" If she doesn't mention the woman and the cop, say "In the meeting, we talked about getting the woman and the cop. Did you get that? No? Go get that." If you have consistent trouble with one person, go to that person when you are calm and set up a time to talk with them.

I think it's important to bring issues to the person directly BEFORE you ever mention it to a manager. They could be completely clueless. I find a good way to start these things is... "How can I make your job easier?" As in, "Suzy, I noticed you miss deadline three times this week. How can we avoid that? How can I help? Are you getting assignments too late? Is there a phone call someone on the desk can make for you?" If you come in from a position of trying to find a solution, you're much better off. Being direct with people (not angry, not rude, but just direct) can help you a lot. Remember, talk about specific incidents, not about generalities. Genuinely look for solutions that start with you.

It also helps to have a trusted friend to review YOUR performance. This maybe your boss or an old boss or a fellow producer. Give them a situation as it happened (don't be defensive) and ask what you could have done better. Do this in situations where you think you nailed it-- and also in ones where you second guess your judgement. Be open to their comments and suggestions.

Throw people a bone sometimes. Reporters will pitch ideas sometimes that are BAD. But they like them. Let them go out on these every once in a while. It's hard to do Chester the Molestor all the time. Giving them a chance to do a story they pitch makes them feel like they have a say in their own destiny. You also may be surprised that the story they go out on is not so bad after all. Same goes for photogs... if a photog busted his/her ass to get you a story, do him/her a favor and put it in your show. The desk will send a photo to cover a fire in East Bejesus and you won't run it. That's frustrating. Throw in a 15 second vo, even if you don't have room.

Provide positive feedback. No one gets enough compliments in this business. Look for opportunities when people do a good job to thank them for it. "Hey, that sunset shot was nice." "Hey, great live shot." "Hey, thanks for the hustle on that garbage can fire. It didn't turn out to be anything, but if it would've been, we would have been all over it."

You are talented. But you are not talented in every area. None of us is. Lean on the talent in your newsroom to learn to be a better producer and journalist.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I found that in the TV world, the smart people bail out by age 25 and get real jobs. One of the top reasons, besides the joke known as "pay", is dealing with the difficult people that abound in the newsroom. "Thirty-one personalities, all pulling in opposite directions" is how one new director described his team to me - and he was right.

If anyone reading this post is considering a career in broadcasting, my strong advice is to stay away from it the way you avoid hornets, poison ivy, and salmonella.

Oh, one last thing. Broadcasters and journalists are the very first people in America to be fired in a recession.

Anonymous said...

It was a bit condescending but she does know what sh is talking about.

Anonymous said...

It was a bit condescending but she does know what sh is talking about.

cameraman and new fan said...

Just a note to say I enjoy reading your blog.

I'm a 30 plus year cameraman who has worked with more than my share of producers. Yes, cameraman...even if I do shoot and edit. I'm too old to worry about titles like photojournalist or videographer. Just give me the paycheck please. ;)

Love your thoughts and would hope others take even half of them to heart.

This business is a lot like baseball. Lots of people want to try it and then get bitter. A smaller portion actually get to claim a career and work for the networks or large markets. The majority don't make it out of triple-A and then want to blame others for their failings.

If more would read and learn from what you write...they might have better success.

I appreciate your views and wanted to make sure you knew that some of us oldsters who still make a living in this crazy business are thankful you are taking the time to try and help others better themselves.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Maggie,

Check this out - the view of producers and their crackberry's - the cameraman's perspective:

http://www.b-roll.net/forum/showthread.php?t=23034

maggiel said...

Thanks for your comments! Sorry if I come off condesending. That's certainly not what I'm shooting for. As for the business, I am obviously one of the idiots who has stayed in it well past the point of no return. But I love it and can't see myself doing anything else. And I also love (most of) the whackjobs in the business. Guess I am one of them.