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, December 28, 2009

Another Station Goes with Multi-Media Journalists

This one's in Baltimore, a pretty big market. A friend of mine worked at a station in San Francisco where this happened and said it was pretty awful. The benefit to station managers is obvious-- it's a cheaper way to do news. I'm not saying there's not a place for this kind of work-- I think it's interesting and potentially a good tool in the newsroom, but there are very few people who can be master all things. For example, I think I'm a pretty good writer, but despite being around cameras for the better part of my life, I seriously doubt I could ever bring the kind of artistry and skill to videography I've been fortunate enough to see in some of my favorite stories.

The future of news? You be the judge.

Here's an article on the changeover in Baltimore:

Friday, December 18, 2009

My New Favorite Word

Saw a photographer on Twitter using this to describe coverage of the storm that's going to hit the East Coast:


Monday, December 14, 2009

Look Before You Leap

As you are employed in t.v. news, chances are, you will not stay where you are forever. At some places, you stay more than 5 years and you're considered a lifer. That said, when you're checking out your next move, consider it carefully. It's amazing how we all make significant life changing decisions based on only a few hours at a station. Do your homework extra carefully. Call anyone and everyone who has either worked at that station or is in the market. Even someone who's worked across the street will be able to give you a sense of what a competitor is like.

When you go in for an interview, talk with EVERYONE you can. Ask (in advance) for them to set aside a little time for you to just wander around and talk with random people. One station where I interviewed (and later worked) just let me loose on the newsroom-- basically it was-- just go and talk to people. At the time, I thought it was the weirdest thing ever. Later, I realized how brilliant it was. I got a real sense of the newsroom. There were no suprises when I came to work there and they got feedback from people on how I would fit into the newsroom.

Ask tough questions. For example, to the news director: How long have you been here? What are your career goals (i.e., how long do you plan to stay here or will you leave the minute I'm hired?) What's your vision for the newsroom? Are people happy here? What are the biggest challenge in this newsroom?. What's its greatest asset? How do you see my role here? How much freedom will I have?

Finally, don't get blinded by the problems in your current newsroom. If you currently work in a place with a weak desk, you may be focused completely in on finding out whether the new desk is any good-- and completely overlook other issues that might not be an issue in your current shop (Is talent a handful? Do you have the staffing you need? Will the EP be a good fit? Etc, Etc)

In addition to the station, check out the management. Google the GM, News Director, EP. Find out where they've worked and ask around if anyone knows/likes them. Check out the station's website. Is this a place where you'd see yourself at home? Check out the local newspaper-- alot of times they'll have gossip on the happenings at the local stations.

Keep in mind my motto: "Management, not market size." You'll have the same issues in a big market as a small market, so make sure that where ever you land, you have a management team that's a good one and that can help grow you.

Finally-- remember, as a producer, YOU are a commodity!!! ((And don't sign a contract if you can help it.))

Think Before You Text

Your texts are not your own-- especially if you are using the company phone to send them. Always assume someone somewhere can read what you're writing and don't ever send something you wouldn't want everyone to read.

Case in point from the Los Angeles Times:


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Need Broll?

I saw this through a photographer friend of mine and thought I'd pass it along. I wish I had known about this place when I was producing consumer pieces. We were always in need of broll.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When in Doubt, Roll them Out

I was chatting with a sat truck op the other day and he told me a phrase his old news director used: "When it doubt, roll them out." Meaning, in a spot news situation, if you're not sure you should send someone, send them. You can always pull them back. Now-- don't take this to extremes and send crews to a trash fire on the other side of town because it sorta kinda sounded exciting... but when you get that spidey sense and you think, "Eh, I'm not sure..." send them.

Likewise, if you have big breaking news, send them. Send everyone. There is no such thing as too many of your crews at a major news scene. On major breaking news, you'll always something for people to do. And on the off chance you don't and people are standing around, what's the big deal? Bring them back. What's tragic is being demoralized by the other station that's large and in change and covering every angle while your crews are fighting to get everything done with too few resources.

As a producer on big breaking news, or even when you just have more than one crew on the story, make sure you are in communication with the desk and crews on how to divvy up that story. Most of the time, this is probably as simple as "nuts and bolts" and "sidebar," but the more crews you have, the more chance you run that someone will step on someone's information or crews will use a lot of the same video. You may even repeat some of this stuff in breakout stories or intros in your show. A reporter in the field can't be expected to know what's in the rest of the show. You have to make sure you're communicating with everyone clearly (and early, so people don't waste time tracking down stuff for their package that someone is already covering in theirs).

Interesting New Website: Online Only Magazine

LonnyMag, the new online style magazine has nothing to do with news, but I keep thinking about it in terms of how it could be used for news websites, if at all. It's basically an online magazine where if you see something you like, you can click on it and instantly get routed to the item-- essentially hyperlinks connected to pictures of the item. Wanna buy that chair? Click on the picture and purchase.

Shades of CueCat (www.poynter.org/dg.lts/id.5036/content.content_view.htm)
a few years back (any other former Belo employees remember this?)... but... in this case, I think it works. Of course, it helps if you're into decorating and fashion...

What could you do with this on a news website? Maybe a slideshow of top 10 holiday toys with links? It's interesting to mull over the possibilities... (www.lonnymag.com)

Speaking of hyperlinks, I have yet to figure out how to get them working here. So my apologies to all of you who hate to cut and paste.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Story Idea: Neighborhood Focus

I heard something that I thought might work in some of your markets. NPR had a reporter who was from Richmond, CA, the town where a teenage girl was gang raped at her high school. This reporter has access and insight that others might not have.

Is there an incident in your town that has left everyone scratching their heads? Maybe there's someone in the newsroom who's from that neighborhood who can do the reporting. Maybe it's an anchor who doesn't get to get out much. Maybe it's a photographer. I worked with a guy in Philly who was from one of the worst neighborhoods there. He would go back to schools to encourage kids. I wish I would have thought to suggest to our news managers that he do a piece on his old neighborhood. It would have been compelling and really added a layer of complexity at a time when young people were killing each other in the neighborhood with frightening ease and regularity.

One note of caution-- be very careful with reporter involvement. There's a thin line between "adding something to the story" and... "I am the story."

Holding through the Break

I seem to get a lot of emails about teasing, so I'll write a bit about holding viewers though the break.

The first thing I would do is have someone sit down in front of five tv sets and have them watch your programming and your other main competitors. Are you in commercial breaks when everyone else is not? It may be something as simple as adjusting your break times. When I used to produce shows, I think my first segment was up to 12 minutes long, but then I HAD to be back in programming by 15:00.

So that's one thought. The second thought is maybe finding a way to put a tease INSIDE your commercial break so that if a viewer is flipping around and they come upon it they see that--- AHA--- there is something good coming up-- I better stick around. This may not be possible depending on how your breaks are structured.

A third thought is maybe it's not the writing of the tease... but what are you selecting to tease? Your story placement might be what's off. Sometimes most of the effort is focused on the top of the show and then there is nothing sexy left at the bottom of the show-- it's a throw away. No matter how good a writer you are, if the story you are teasing is a dud, your tease will be a dud. Have you see EXTRA, ET? They do a really good job of getting something good at the top.. and then stringing you along through the end of the show. Some of the magazine shows have really nice tracked teases... sometimes they'll even just take the first few seconds of the pkg they will run and use that in their tease. Experiment and have fun. If it's a complete flaming disaster, you'll know not to do it again.. but maybe you'll also stumble on to something that works for you.

To help select which stories to tease, I'd check to see what's trending on google and twitter. Is there an obvious tie-in? Is something so overplayed on the web that by the time you get to it in your show, it's hackneyed? ...If your station has a good website-- what's getting the most clicks? Or what types of stories do best? That might help you select the strongest stories to tease.