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

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Keep Those Emails Coming!

I really love getting them and they often help me post a blog that's more relevant to what you need.

Decisions, decisions

As a news producer, you will have to make a lot of decisions. Someone emailed me recently asking for help on how to make them. Here's my advice...

Trust your Gut and Find a Friend or two in the Newsroom

Trust your gut. Deep down sometimes when you are making a tough decision, there is a little voice that says... don't do it! Or... go for it! But you toss that aside and don't trust your better judgement. Let me tell you.. and I speak from the experience of mistakes... never ignore that voice. You hear about something on the scanners.... and you think.. well we ought to go but... just go. You can always pull crews back (within reason). Same goes for story selection. Something inside says... well, maybe I ought to lead with such and such... just do it.

Have a friend or two in the newsroom.
Find the oldest guy in the newsroom, the one who's been in the market the longest, the one who lives in and loves the community. This may be a craggy assignment desk guy or reporter... or maybe an anchor. Chances are, this person gets ignored. This person can be your saviour. Or maybe it's just someone in the newsroom you respect. Who gets it right most of the time? If this person is on your shift... ask them... hey Bob, I was thinking about leading with xyz, what do you think? You do not have to accept their opinion, but it's probably useful to hear it. There are a lot of talented people in every newsroom. Let their talent and experience help guide you in your decisions. Notice I said guide, not make. In the end, as a boss once told me, "It ain't a democracy." He who gets yelled at the next day for making the wrong decision is ultimately the one who gets to make the call.

Finally, my Dad says good reading makes for good writing. It's the same for news. Watch, read and listen to a lot of local and national news and it will subtly refine your judgement.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Contracts and Negotiating Pay

I got an email about contracts so I thought I'd pass along some info I had in response to it.

I don't think contracts are a good idea for producers because producers don't get anything out of it. It's not like with an anchor contract where you can get more money or perks-- they're not paying you more because you're under contract. They just have peace of mind that you won't leave anytime soon. I get why News Directors like contracts. Producers are a hot commodity and they're likely to lose you if they don't sign you to a deal. That is not your problem. Your problem is trying to get the best deal for you-- and all of your negotiating power rests in the fact that you can get another job offer and leave. Don't give up that power lightly. I once had a station say they wouldn't even INTERVIEW me unless I agreed in principle to a 5-year contract. You know what I did? I said thanks so much and walked my act someplace else. I don't regret that decision one bit because I got plenty of offers after that one.

Instead of a contract, say you'll sign a no compete, meaning you can't walk across the street to work for the competition. If you must sign a contact, make it the shortest you can and leave yourself outs. What are outs? One example, on a two year deal, during the last six months, you're allowed "out" of the contract if you get an offer from a Top 20 market say... or your hometown... or a network. Make it as big a hole as you can for as long of the contract as possible.

YOU HAVE NEGOTIATING POWER!!! USE IT!! Don't be meek. Ask for more than you think they would ever in their right mind give you. You can always back off. Women especially have been proven, in general, to be poor negotiators. If you negotiate your first salary for 5,000 less than what someone else is getting, that might not seem like much, but when that first salary is used as a starting point for your next job, you can see how over a few jobs, you will get hosed big time.

While we're at it-- trying NOT to disclose what you are making currently. Instead, try to find out what producers are making in that market. Do that by asking anyone you know who works or has worked in that market. People gossip. Don't find out, as I did once, AFTER you've moved to a town... that a producer across the street is making 10 grand more than you. Or again in my case (same job), don't find out by watching a documentary, where a station in the same company was paying its producers 10 grand more. In a much smaller market. Ouch!!!!

No one will fight for you but you!!! And look-- you are valuable!!!! Get paid every penny of what you are worth because you will be working hard! REMEMBER: For every reporter opening, there are a million resumes. For every producer opening, even in big markets, a lot of times, there are just a handful of candidates.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Twitter and Skype

I know you are tired of hearing me preach Twitter.com and Skype.com but the Buffalo plane crash provides a good example of how you can use both to enhance your coverage.

Twitter is micro-blogging-- basically like the status bar on Facebook. You enter a sentence and it's posted. You also "follow" other Twitter users to see what they are saying. The more people you follow, the better depth and breadth you get. Sometimes you get a sense of what people are talking about before it hits anybody's radar screen.

For spot news coverage, use Twitter's search function... http://tinyurl.com/acpp6u

On big stories, like the Buffalo plane crash, people may use hashtags (#) to make it easier to search for a certain story. The hashtags I've seen used for the crash are #buffalo, #3407, and #clarenceplanecrash. You can find out what hashtags people are using at www.hashtags.org

You won't use things directly for air from Twitter.com, but it can give you a sense whether you're missing something. For example, people started posting home video of the crash, the tower recordings, and a Google pic of the house prior to the crash. Did you know about these? How quickly? What if that plane crash were in your backyard and you were going wall to wall?

You can also use Twitter to search for users in a given area and follow their "tweets" or updates. I use this a lot during storm coverage. People are really good about reporting what's happening in their area. Again, it's not something you'd put directly on air necessarily but it can give you a better sense of what's happening.

Skype is the videophone over the internet service that's free between users. You can also search Skype for users in a given area. For the Buffalo crash, you could call users in Buffalo. Maybe they're no where near the crash, but who knows? You might get lucky. Same goes for storm coverage. If you're wondering if it's hailing in Arlington, Texas, you can call a Skype user in Arlington and check. Instead of a phoner, you'd have a live picture of a person. Maybe they could even take their laptop out to the back deck and show you the golf-ball sized hail.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More on Skype

I tried out Skype for work. We were doing liveshots at a gas station so I used my laptop (with a wireless card) to show traffic. They popped it up in a double box for a bit during our liveshot. Again- it was super easy. In my humble opinion- easier to use than Livecast, another thing we've played with. Today we are headed to Lone Grove for tornado coverage. I will try to use it again there.

Something to think about in terms of your coverage- Skype, I believe has a search function for place. So if you are doing wall to wall coverage on a tornado in Lone Grove, you could search for users nearby and try to give them a call.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

What's a liveshot to you? Is it always toss to a reporter and then a pkg? It's easy to get into a rut in terms of what you expect from each reporter's live shot. If one reporter's got a dull backdrop, fine, take a package. If another reporter is out at a scene that's got stuff going on-- anything going on-- let them show it to you. Maybe they can do a quick (!) interview for you (set parameters in advance-- only ask two or three questions and wrap up quickly if it's dull.)

You may not even want to use video in a liveshot (Wha?!?@?!%?!). For example, if you've got great flaming flames in back of your reporter, show them live. Seems like an obvious point, but more than once I've seen shows go to a tape that is less exciting than what's going on live. It's because somebody's inflexible-- they had it in their head this was going to be a live vosot and it would be that whether it fit the story or not.

Try something new in each show. Don't be afraid to make changes. Be open to ideas from the field. Don't be locked down or you may be missing an opportunity to make great TV.

Do the Math

As journalists, most of us hate math. I know I do. But it behooves you to grab a calculator or some scratch paper once in a while. Case in point-- percentages.

So for example, if I asked, "How many of you like to do math?"
And the answers looked like this...

68% Hate math
4% Love math
25% Undecided

...you, immediately, would realize something is amiss. These don't add up to 100%
Sadly, when we're busy, we may be tempted to take percentages right of a press release or wire copy and guess what-- other people can't add either! So it always makes sense to double check the math. If the percentages don't add up, find out why.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Anybody using Skype for liveshots?

We've already played with Livecast.com (lets you go live from a cell phone or computer), and you may have heard of Qik.com (live from your cell phone).

Now we're checking out Skype.com, which allows you to go live from a computer. It started as a phone service between computers. Then they added a video element to it. Basically all you need is a camera, firewire, computer and internet connection (or you can just use the camera on the computer). We fiddled with it today and it's super easy. The picture quality isn't bad. But the best part- Skype's free between users.

A local station in Ft. Lauderdale has already used it for a liveshot:
There's also a Poynter article about that station's use of Skype, but for some reason the link I have won't work. If you go to Poynter.org and search "skype" it will pop up.

I've also heard Oprah is using Skype for interviews. Well, that settles it!

It's something to think about. Even without the video, Skype can get you interesting phoners. For example, when I worked in Philly, some college students producing a radio show were using Skype to call people in Iraq. Again, for free.

If nothing else-- if you're like half the population in local TV news, living in a town a million miles from the rest of your family, you can use Skype to stay in touch on the cheap.

Checking out Job Leads

Unless you have a REALLY good relationship with your employer, I would advise against informing them that you're checking into/talking with someone else about a new job. Employers can be highly sensitive about the prospect of losing you, especially to a competitor. And unless you have an offer on the table-- what's the purpose of telling them? What do you expect them to do with that information? In this unstable economy, with layoffs both at the network and local level, it doesn't make sense to arm your employer with information that might help them usher you out the door.

This is doubly true if you're under contract. The terms of your contact may preclude you from contacting a prospective employer or them from contacting you. Many contracts have a "right of first refusal," meaning, your current employer has the right to negotiate with you first before you open it up to other offers. Talking with a competitor may be a violation of your contract. TV companies are very serious about this stuff. They can and will take you to court over infringements, although, this seems to be a lot more common with talent as opposed to producers.

One possible exception to the rule is if the new job possiblity is within your own company. Some companies are very gung ho about promoting from within. Still, tread lightly, because your immediate supervisor may not be so gung ho at the prospect of losing you, having to hire your spot and then training someone new.

Car Dealers and Local TV

A while ago I worried about the demise of local car dealerships and how that might impact local TV.

Recently, I read a transcript (http://tinyurl.com/chgfrt) of Rupert Murdoch, owner of my employeer Newscorp, saying something to the effect that car dealer ads are something like 30% of local advertising. Yikes. I knew it was big. I didn't know it was that big.

Local News and Websites

I stumbled across an article about how TV stations can better their brand online. It's interesting:


Also, notice I'm using "Tinyurl.com" It's a handy website to shorten long website addresses.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Great Audio Example

The FAA released great audio tapes of the pilot of US Air Flight 1549 communicating with air traffic control. Conveniently, FAA put out both the tape and transcript. You could put together something really nice today with a full screen still over the audio. The right half the screen could have the transcript of the traffic and the left half still photos of the incident. I think still photos might work better than video because it allows you to focus on the incredible audio.

I wish I could be that calm when a show is crashing...


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Say What?

We talked about fonting audio that's hard to hear. Let's talk about audio you can hear just fine. For example, did you hear that tape of Christian Bale losing his mind on a movie set? You could hear what he was saying, but it would be even better if you have the visual reinforcement of words on the screen. We're TV. What else are you going to put up with that audio? Video of him? Distracting. It's hard to watch and process video while you're also trying to listen to what he is saying. Better to put a still pic in a graphic and font the audio.

The incident brings up an important point. If you're talent, be nice. Badgering your crew will guarantee a big bite in the derriere. Even if you're not talent, if you are ever around a mic, consider it hot and act accordingly. Have headsets in the booth? A lot of stations record the director's audio for discreps. It's not unheard of for people to check those tapes. So before you go mouthing off about what an oaf your news director is, or how your anchor is such a prima donna, just keep it in mind.