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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Story ideas

The challenge of producing is that you have 30 minutes to fill whether you have 60 minutes of news or 5. On either day, it's good to have a pool of story ideas. Here are some suggestions on how to find them:

=Join twitter and follow users in your area (lots of times by following their tweets, you'll get a sense of what's interesting in your community, even if it's not strictly "hard news").

=Does your station have a good website? What are the most popular stories today or on the local/national newspaper websites? Sometimes that can give you a good sense of what viewers will be interested in...

=Call every police/fire/govt PIO in the area, introduce yourself and tell them to stick you on their email list.

=Check in with each of the big industries in the area- or the area's biggest employers. Get on their contact lists.. check their websites. Just by the mere fact that there are a lot of people employed there means if something happens, it's news... viewers may work there or know someone who does...

=If you're not from the area where you produce, it makes sense to get involved in activities you enjoy... take a class, join a club or neighborhood association, volunteer. Sounds stupid, but the more people in the community you know, the better sense you get of what's important.. you'll also meet people who can send stories your way... even if they're not the lead.

=Small govt agencies are a good place to find stories. Hardly any media ever talk with them so sometimes just visiting can get you good info at the time or down the line.

=Do you have a university in the area? Get in touch with their PR people and get on their list.. read their paper.. etc. Lots of times you can localize national stories by finding local experts at your university.

=National stories are sometimes very easy to localize. Healthcare debate? Check in with local healthcare institution and how it will be impacted. NASA launching next week? Is there a local company who makes a gidget-widget for NASA?

=I used to skip the editorial pages for the comics until I started finding interesting little stories buried in the letters to the editor. Community newspapers often have good stuff too.

=Steal story ideas from magazines, radio, whatever. Cruise other TV station websites (out of market) for ideas you can localize (and show ideas you can use).

But of course, the BEST way to find stories is to get out in the field. I know it's no fun to come in on your day off... but once in a while... volunteer to come in and go out with a photog. Or see if you can get a get-out-of-jail-free-card one day when you're supposed to be producing. A good rule of thumb is for every story you go out on... you come back with at least one story idea.

Cleveland Bear Pkg

This is making the rounds.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Viewer Sell

I think one of the consulting companies (forgot which one) uses the term "viewer sell." As in, what's the viewer sell on this story? It's nifty shorthand for "Why is this story in my show?" Obviously, if a story is in your show, it should be important... but, more than that, how does it impact your viewer directly? Some examples, courtesy of a great producer who sent a show my way to critique:

Swine flu & back to school preps. How are schools keeping your kids safe? How can you keep your kids safe? What are the symptoms? Where can you get a seasonal flu vaccine?

Airfare deals. It's not enough to say American's having a sale. What are some examples of the sale that might benefit your viewer? I live in Dallas, so if I were producing shows here, I'd look up the best deals for Dallas (Hawaii for $200, hurrah!). How can viewers cash in on those deals (through website, Twitter, travel agent)?

Basically, with ANY STORY your reporters go out on, you should be asking, how personally would this impact me as a viewer? Obviously, this will be difficult with a typical car crash/fire/etc... but even in spot news, look for lessons and news you can use to make it relevant to everyone watching. For example, I saw one story about a backyard deck crashing. No one died, but several got hurt. LOTS of people have decks.. can you get an expert to go with you to inspect someone's deck and tell people warning signs? You get the idea...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Online Consignment Shop

I think a lot of you probably know talent making less than big bucks but still are expected to dress up on air. There's a new consignment shop online for TV people. A woman from Talent Dynamics started it-- she gets clothes from talent in the Dallas area. It's a pretty cool idea... some nice stuff there.


It happened last night...

The words "last night" should never be in the first paragraph of your lead story. If it happened last night... it should be last night's lead. What's going on tonight that's so important that you should lead your newscast with it?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Becoming a Producer

I received an email from someone already working at a station wondering how to become a producer. I say hurrah and hallelujah. We need more of you. Here is some of my advice to her:

Best way to learn is by doing. Whatever your current capacity, volunteer to write a story. Come in on your day off if you have to. An easy way to build up to it and build your confidence is pick a story to write on your own. Check the rundown, see a story that looks interesting, be it local or national. Grab the wire, find the press release, do some web research, make a call and ABOVE ALL look at whatever video is associated with that story. Write your own version. If the producer of the show has time to look at it for you... excellent (best way to approach-- hey would you give me 5 minutes to check out a script I wrote... even if it's after the show?) but often producers are pretty harried. If you don't want to approach a producer, you can still just compare your story to the one that finally made it into the show.

Do this a lot. Up your writing from one story to several. Time yourself. Brutally. Give yourself 10 minutes for vos. 20 for vosots. Whatever, just make sure you are keeping an eye on the clock.

You can do the same thing with rundowns. Go to the meeting. Check the wires, web etc for stories. Put a pretend rundown together on a sheet of paper (include what you'd tease). Approach a producer/EP/ND that can take a glance at it and give you feedback. Benefits are two-fold... you get good advice and they find out you are serious about wanting to be a producer.

Ideally, you can find a friend/producer as a mentor. Most producers will be open to this because all they get is young people who want to be reporters. Rarely is someone an aspiring producer so when we find one, we try to make time.

Keep doing both exercises till you start writing for real. Producers, as I say, have too much on their plate and will only be too happy to give you a story or two if they feel like they can trust you ( although I have heard producers say they'd rather write things themselves than have writers because sometimes writing's easier than rewriting).

When I trained writers into producers, I had them watch me one night and then the next night, they did everything and I watched them (just in case they got into a jam). Generally, these were writers who were very comfortable with their writing skills, just needed to make the jump to boothing.

Best way to do it is do it! Jump in, the water's fine!

Books: You may want to check out Power Producing from the folks at RTNDA (good seminars too)

Also, Mervin Block's books on writing are decent.

Some websites might also be useful:
Poyner.org and newsu.org)))

Anchors Feeling the Pinch

Apparently salaries are down... layoffs... etc


Friday, August 7, 2009

Interesting take on the Journalists Released

I don't know if anyone's talked about this much-- did the two journalists who were held in North Korea cross the line? Here's one take in a Time blog: