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, March 29, 2010

PBS & NPR Getting $ For Local News

PBS/NPR creating regional journalism centers and hiring 50 multi-media journalists...


Also found more specific info at CPB site...


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reporter Standups

I just saw a taped reporter standup that was a real missed opportunity. She was walking and talking but not really saying a whole lot. I can guess why this ended up in her pkg. She shot one standup and then when she got to writing, she was stuck with it. She did something bland so she could put it anywhere.

Ideally, a standup could be interchangable with a paragraph in the story. It should be that integrated. Obviously you can't write your story till you actually cover the story, but some are better than others in being able to sketch it out in their head. If you have a reporter who has standups that seem sort of extraneous and tacked on, encourage them to shoot several-- saying several different things. Enourage them to work with their photographer to brainstorm creative standups. Encourage them to call you from the field if they need help (sometimes it's a lot easier for someone not directly involved with the story to come up with something). No shame in asking for help. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and maybe in this case, the reporter just needs a little assistance getting up to speed in standups.

Think Outside the Meeting

I just saw a story about a community trying to clean up their neighborhood. The neighborhood was "transitional" and had been plagued with trash, graffiti and vagrants. The pkg started with meeting video. Never have a pkg start with meeting video. Unless the parties involved are screaming at each other. Meeting video is death. And why, why, would the reporter start this way when the story is about cleaning up a neighborhood? You could start with shots of trash, spray-painted buildings and then pan up to a woman walking... "This is what Suzie Q sees every morning when she walks to her office on X St." Sot- I Hate it/It's digusting/I've had enough... "That why Suzie and her neighbors are getting together to fight back." Now go to meeting video. Briefly. But get back to the trashy neighborghood as soon as you can. That's where your better story is.

Point is-- every meeting is talking about or debating something. What is that something? Go where the something is and shoot your story. As a producer, have early conversations with your reporter about where they intend to take the story. If aren't planning to shoot anything but the meeting, brainstorm ideas of where else they can go.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How People Watch TV

60% of Americans engaging in couch potato multitasking

I'm not sure that any of the facts in this study are earth shattering. Anyone who's on Facebook or Twitter can tell you people will watch a big TV event and be on their laptop commenting on it at the same time. But-- it's worth remembering that you have competing interests vying for your audience's attention.

How do you embrace this reality? Is there some subject matter or some live stream that you're not putting on the air that you can put online? Maybe a contentious school board or council meeting in its entirety? People can comment real time on what's happening. Maybe it's something as simple as a car chase. How can you utilize how people are using TV and the web without cannibalizing your newscast? Alas, that's the 50-million dollar question. We're all figuring it out as we go along.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Two Way Communication with Viewers

We've talked before about utilizing viewer photos and videos in your coverage of breaking and weather news. I ran across an interesting example of how one station encouraged people to do this. I took a class on Poynter's "News U" (www.newsu.org) --they talked about this example during the class. WTTG not only encouraged people to send pics and video during Snowpocalypse '10, they posted a quick video to show them how. As the instructor in the News U class pointed out, what better time to ask viewers to shoot video than when folks are stuck inside?

If you get people comfortable with this when there's isn't breaking news, how much easier will it be for them to send you video when there is? You could even ask viewers to send weather video every day-- then maybe use a viewer video as a weather background on Fridays. Or everyday if you have enough good submissions.

In the Business of Communication

I watched a morning newscast the other day where a reporter doing a liveshot (a feature) had obviously not talked it through with his photographer prior to the liveshot. Do you know how I know this? Because the reporter was talking about one thing while the photographer was showing another-- and then had to make a hasty pan to the reporter's subject matter. Don't let this happen in your newscast. It makes both reporter and photographer (and your newscast) look like amateur hour. If you see this happen, have a follow-up conversation with the reporter.

It can sound something like this:

"Hey Bob, would you do me a favor? On your next liveshot, would you run through what you're going to do with Cindy beforehand so she can follow you better? It doesn't have to take a lot of time-- just tell her 'I'm going to talk about this first and then move over here and then do this.'"

If the reporter gives you pushback, pull the showtape and watch it together. Sometimes people don't realize how bad it looks until they see it for themselves.

If the reporter did discuss in advance and the photographer was just off his or her game, then that's another conversation-- you can follow up with the photographer or check in with the chief photographer.

Another way that you can head things off at the pass is talk with liveshots ahead of time. When you're checking reporters in, just ask, "Hey can you run through what you're going to do in your liveshot?" You don't have to do this with everyone-- just reporters you've noticed who seem to have an issue.

This sort of discussion makes all the difference in liveshots, especially feature stories. In breaking news of course, all bets are off, but even then, good reporters let their photogs know where they're going prior to going there.

Crime Leading Your Newscast?

A new study looked at TV newscasts in Los Angeles and found that out of a half-hour, about 8:17 was devoted to local news. And, most often, newscasts led with crime. The study pointed out that while LA is facing a budget crisis, government stories lead the news less than three percent of the time. We all know why that is. Government stories are boring. Crime is easy to cover and easy to report. It usually has compelling video, story lines and victims. That it may not actually impact a whole lot of people usually gets lost in the mad dash to produce newscasts.

I'm not asking you to lead your newscast with local government stories. I'm asking you to look for opptunities to cover stories that will have a real impact on your viewership. There's somebody in your newsroom I'm sure-- there's one in every newswroom-- who's a great story-teller-- the guy or gal who can break down something complicated and make it make sense for the viewer. ALWAYS with government stories (or any story), return to the bottom line for the viewer. What will this decision mean for whoever is watching your newscast? Will it mean higher taxes? Will it mean 4-day work weeks for the city so offices will now be closed on Fridays? When you focus on the impact to your viewer, the story inherently becomes interesting because-- hey, this is going to affect me.

I have nothing against crime stories. They can be interesting even if they impact no one but the people involved. If possible, try to widen the story to include some perspective. Is this particular neighborhood getting hammered by crime lately? Why is that? Did something change? You get the idea. Look for something broader.

Here's the link to study I mentioned:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Google Fast Flip & Voice Command Search

I continue my love affair with Google. They have a new application called "Fast flip." I was able to flip through a bunch of interesting web articles without having to click into the actual page. I skimmed the "12 Suprising Facts about Women" from Esquire, the "Ten Greatest Downloads" from PC World, and why Louis Farrakhan thinks the Chilean earthquake is a prelude to what will happen next in America (courtesy of the Chicago Trib). It took me less time to flip through those articles than it did to write that last line describing them. Pretty cool. Also, any one of those stories is pretty teasable.


Also, for those of who have an iPhone... Google now allows you to search by voice command. It. Is. Awesome. Apparently this came out a while ago. What rock have I been living under? I wish I would have found it sooner.