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, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu & Chicken Little

The swine flu is an important story to be sure, but please don't lose your minds. There's a fine line between informing the public and needlessly scaring them. So far, there have been no deaths in the U.S. and compared to the population at large, there have been very few cases here. The swine flu, even though it's a new strain-- is still the flu. No one runs in panic every Winter when there are other flu outbreaks. To put it in perspective, according to the CDC, just last week, there were 151 cases of the seasonal flu with two pediatric deaths. Over this flu season, close to 26,000 people got sick because of influenza and more than 50 children died.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Warning the Viewer

We sometimes have occasion to use graphic video. Understand that graphic video probably has a different impact on viewers than it does on you. You've been seeing this video all day. You have probably become a little less sensitive to its impact. Your viewer will be seeing this video for the first time. That can be jarring, especially if there's no warning or appropriate setup. Your viewer should not feel bludgeoned after watching a story.

Use graphic video judiciously. Ask yourself-- what does this add to the story? What if I don't show it? What would I lose? Would I understand the story as well? You may even want to explain to your viewers why you're using the video (We're using this to show how dangerous it can be to blah.. blah... blah...)

Don't use violent video as wallpaper. Don't throw it in a tease where it has no context and seems to pop out of no where. It cheapens your story and does a disservice to your viewer. Likewise, after the story airs, keep an eye on how it's used as file. You'd be amazed at how often an anchor is updating the story.. and while the orginial story may have had context and sensitivity, with the follow, the file comes up like-- woah! No warning! Where did this come from? And in 20 seconds, the anchor moves on.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Connecting with Your Web Audience

Found an article for newspapers and the web, but thought a lot of the stuff was interesting and applicable to TV stations. Check it out:


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Loser Producer

That'd be me for not posting for a while. I'm back with advice about breaking news.

If your show is going on while there's breaking news, consider it a gift and start making space. Before you ever go into the booth, have stories you know that are "killable." If there's a really big breaking story, feel free to toss everything (and I mean everything) out. Here's why. Viewers sample on big spot news stories. If you own the coverage they may come back to you as a regular viewer. If one station gets off of a story... viewers will go with whoever is on it as long as the spot news is high interest. Seems like a no brainer, but you'd be amazed how many stations go on to "other news." In my opinion, if there is something big breaking, there is no other news.

The trick is how to stay on a story without sitting on your anchors forever. I have a system I think I've mentioned before- "At bat, on deck." As long as you have something you're on and you have something to go to next, you can string the show along this way. Don't make the mistake of thinking you have to plan four moves in advance.

Sometimes you can get a veteran reporter either in the newsroom or at a set position so that the anchors can get a break. So, for example, if the story is a politician who's been indicted, maybe this reporter has covered city council for years and can give you color on that person's personality, his supporters and detractors.

Think guests. Who can you get on the phone or Skype that can add something to the coverage? Is there a media friendly Fire PIO on the other side of town who is not involved but can get you a technical sense of what's going on? Is there someone who's been involved with a similar situation in the past that can give a sense of what the people there are going through now?

There are only a certain number of spot news situations. Run through the ones that have happened during your show in the past year or two. Think about who could have contributed to the coverage. Cultivate a list of folks for this purpose and call them now. "Hey Bob Ethyl-Methyl-Bad-Chemical Expert, would you mind if we call you to do on air interview the next time we have a chemical spill?" Thinking about spot news when there is no spot news is a sure way to be more confident the next time spot news breaks.

You may also want to talk in advance with your superiors. How aggressive are we about spot news? Do we break into programming? If so, under what circumstances? If I'm in a show, at what point can I toss out sports? Breaks? Find out your parameters. Again, it's helpful to check into these things out when you're not up to your neck in the middle of it.

Maps. Is there a generic city map you can have made in advance that the graphics people can then throw a dot on to indictate where the spot news is happening? It's not great, but it's something until you can get a pretty map made. Stations are also using google maps in spot news coverage. There's a street view that can show you what the neighborhood looked like prior to the spot news (is there a school across the street? Is it a neighborhood or industrial area?) Every little bit of info and elements help contribute to the overall product.

If you don't have a chopper, consider hiring a small plane. Again, I'd scope this out in advance. How much would it cost to take a photog up? Maybe there are a few small airports around town. Find someone you could work with in each one. Get prices and talk it over with your boss. You may NEVER use this information, but if something REALLY big happens in your back yard, don't you want to be the one who's ready?

Look at breaking stories that happen around the country. Imagine one of them happening in your town. What would you do? If you think about the possibility now, you'll be in a better position to cover whatever comes your way.