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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's in a name? Pkg, mini-pkg or tracked vosot?

Terminology can be confusing. What one station calls one thing can be totally different when you get your next job in a new market.

In general, I consider a mini-pkg the same as a regular pkg except shorter. So in terms of writing of a mini-pkg, there might be nats off the top, quick sots and track... but it's generally not gonna run more than 1:00 or 1:05... whereas I think most station pkg lengths are 1:20 or 1:30 unless it's a special or promoted piece.

When I say voice a vosot... I'm thinking of a reporter who's just tracking a vosot script they may have just used for an earlier hit. They shoot a standup in the field and cover the middle part with video and insert a bite. Clearly a lot less work than sitting down and writing a whole new pkg. Also, probably easier to edit. I prefer the mini pkg... but maybe you have a reporter who only has time to do a vosot... or... maybe you only have one reporter on staff at night and you're looking to get more faces in the show (a vosot or looklive taped in the field may help you out with that). A funny story- there was once a producer in one of my old newsrooms who barked at a reporter complaining that their story was just a vosot... He said, "Listen, a pkg is just a vosot tracked."

Here's another term we used to use at a newsroom in Phoenix-- "Speedo." I think I've also heard them called "breakers." It was basically a 1:00 mini-pkg, but it had animations off the top and bottom and music under throughout. There was no anchor intro or tag-- it was its own complete unit (and therefore was really easy to float and/or kill). Basically, it was a way to bump in or out of a segment... or even wipe to in the middle of a segment. I liked using them for pacing. I'd pick some interesting story that was in house early and then send it back early for special edit treatment. I've seen some stations do something similar for national or international news "wraps" where they'll wipe between three different stories with music under and animations.

Feel free to experiment. That's the fun of producing! But be careful, because I've also interviewed at stations that thought this concept was an abomination. It depends on your shop/market/community.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TV Crew Dustup at Balloon Boy House

Could this story get any more weird? Photog gets into fight with stranger while staking the house. Apparently the stranger had been threatening another TV crew when this guy jumped in to help.



Friday, October 9, 2009

Get to the Chase

Chases. I love them. I know they generally have little to no news value but they're interesting to watch. It is what it is. When you're flipping through the channels and come across a chase, it's a hard thing to turn away from, even if it goes on for a half-hour with little happening. Something COULD happen and that's what keeps you watching. I'm not sure how chases do in ratings (I'll do a little research to try to find out).

When you have a chase, here are some ideas:

*Don't go back full to your anchors. If you want to show them, pop them in a double box and keep the big box as the chase. No one wants to see anchors talking about a chase unless they're also actually seeing the chase.

*Try to get an intelligent guest. Obviously, the police involved in the chase might not be able to do a phoner with you. Are there other departments in your area that are media friendly? They might be able to walk you through the decisions that officers make when they start chases, also what methods they use during a chase, and how they end. An officer from a local police academy might be a good phoner-- they teach the officers how to chase and use stop sticks. They might also know the rules and regs for giving chase. It might make some sense to call these people ahead of time to give them a heads up that you might want to use them when a chase occurs.

*Have a prop. An anchor I used to work with used to have a stop-stick on his desk. I'm not sure how he got it, but it was a great prop whenever we had a chase. It was something he could have in his hands to show what was actually happening on the ground.

*Get a map. Depending on your resources, it might be good to have a big city map with all the main highways on it. That way when someone says he's southbound on US 544, you can get a general sense of where that is. You can have the same map, just update it the location (ok, now he's east of US 544 in Old Lake Hollow). Again, I'd probably throw that map in some kind of double box so that the chase can be up at all times.

*If you have to cut out of the chase before it ends, make sure you let viewers know you'll be able to see how it ended in a later newscast. Or drive to the web if you have that capablity-- lots of stations are streaming their chopper feed on their websites.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Show Pacing

If you only have a pkg or two in your show, that means the rest is filled with vos and vosots, which euqals a lot of writing on your part. Don't forget that you can write pkgs too. I tend to like 1:00 producer mini-pkgs for the show. They accomplish several things. If you pick some interesting story from the feeds or something that's already in house that you need to put in, you can bang this out early and then NEVER HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT AGAIN. So I think I've mentioned how I liked to work the show from the bottom, up. I might put a 1:00 mini-pkg prior to weather or sports or in the second block depending on timing needs. It's a way to give an interesting story a little play and also eat up a bit more time so you don't feel like you have the "vo" show. You can also throw one of these in the a block. Is there an important story that's been playing all day that you have to put in the show but don't need to devote a reporter? You can wrap that up into a nice little mini-pkg. Also, in terms of the a block, mini-pkgs give your anchors a break and really help in terms of pacing.

As for pacing, just remember to change it up a little every so often. So if you have a couple vos, throw in a vosot. Two vosots? Toss in a vo. Remember, these are just broad GUIDELINES. Form should always follow content. But for the most part, there's always some leeway in terms of sots you can add or subtract. Seems obvious, but make sure the vosot's sound is worth it. If you have a choice between the fire vosot where the sound is a witness describing how he escaped versus the shooting with the cop talking about the suspect, go for the witness. Put in the most interesting sound. Use nats like a soundbite. Look for natural sound on raw video like you would a sound bite (I'm think nats of a saw or snowblower, a good sploosh frmo a car on the road in a rainstorm, ambulance sirens, etc). They can be a nice breaker. Again, form follows content, so if natsor a soundbite's not there, it's not there.

The best way to see if you have good pacing is to watch your shows after the fact. A day or a week after, when your head has cleared from the previous day's challenges, you should try to watch a show like a viewer. Where do you start getting bored with your show? Where do you start getting bored in a story? This is where you should be changing things up or popping in something interesting.

My general guidelines for vosots/vos/gfx stories are below. Again, follow the rule of changing it up a bit every so often, even within a story. I liked to keep vosots/vos short... like 35/40 for vosots and 15-20 for vos. Just a guideline. Other excellent producers and tv news professionals think I'm nuts on this. To your own news judgement be true because you'll be the one explaining it if there's a problem.


First graph: Anchor intro on cam or ots/at chroma/whatever
Second graph: in video
Third graph : in video or skip this and go straight to sot
Sot: 7-15 seconds. Less than :07, it tends to whiz by. More than 15 and you start to get bored.
Tag: on cam or back in video or on a graphic. Maybe even a second graph on vo or on cam.

Similar deal.
First graph: Anchor intro on cam or ots/at chroma/whatever
Second graph: in video
Third graph: in video
Fourth graph: (potentially) back on cam.

Basically, if you have one anchor reading a couple of things, you might want to bring them back on cam for the last graph to re-establish them and signify a change. Likewise, when an anchor starts reading the next few stories, you want them to be established up top in some way, rather than, say, just wiping into them.

How do you get a complicated story down to a 20 vo? You don't. You either figure out a way to give that story more time/and visuals/sound or just rethink putting it in. Save quick vos for easy stuff. Your average traffic tie-up doesn't need more than 20seconds.

If you're having trouble, try to figure out... if I were telling this story to a friend and I had to break it down, how would I do that? Look for the most interesting details and try to include them, especially in the lead. Write to your video (obviously). Grab a quick graphic if you have to, even if it's just reinforcing words in the story. Don't forget to ask yourself-- why is this in the show? Generally the answer to that question will lead to what you must include in the story.