I have a secret for producers. It’s something your anchors aren’t going to tell you. However, they may say it behind your back. Your voice in our IFB tells us everything we need to know about how good you are at what you do — or whether you have a long way to go.

A friend of mine reminded me of this the other day. In 2004, she produced the wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Charley that I anchored at WSPA-TV. As a new hurricane, Irene, was barreling toward the Carolina coast, she was reminiscing on my Facebook wall about the chaos going on behind-the-scenes at the station when Charley hit the Myrtle Beach area.

But her experience was far different from mine. All I remember from that day in 2004 was her soft, reassuring voice in my head calmly telling me which satellite shot to go to next. She’d line-up one. Sometimes it would work out and I could talk with the reporters out on the beach as the wind and rain beat them harder and harder. In those conditions, the satellite shot would go down a lot, though. It probably stressed her out to the max. But you couldn’t tell by her voice. With smooth, even tones, she’d let me know we’d lost that one and suggest where to go next. If she didn’t have a suggestion, I’d just ad-lib until we got back on-track.

Sometimes when she’d open her mic, I could hear someone near her in the booth screaming. It was clear that day who was really in control in the “control room,” the producer really knew what she was doing.

I’ve worked with some brilliant producers. The best are “power producers” in the newsroom who build innovative, incisive blocks of news that showcase their anchors’ full range of personality. Throughout the day, they prod their reporters. And they can be gruff when they’re not getting what they want.

But then, right before their show, they ascend the steps above the director to the producer’s perch in the control room and it’s like they take on the personality of a guardian angel: wise, patient, and soft-spoken. Like Bela Karolyi, the best use breaks in the action to coach their anchors into an Olympic performance.

“Nice ad-lib there on story X,” you might hear them say during a commercial break. “You had the whole control room laughing.”

Or it can be as simple as: “Great pacing on that A-block. We’re right on time.”

That doesn’t mean stroking your anchors’ egos. I don’t want you to tell me I’m doing a good job if the show’s a train wreck or my energy is off. You should still communicate with me though.

“Live shots down all over the place,” you might say. “Gotta love live TV! Just keep doing what you’re doing. We’ll get through it — and we needed material for the holiday party blooper tape anyway.”

It really is like that scene from Broadcast News when the producer, played by Holly Hunter, got the very inexperienced anchor, played by William Hurt, through a special report about Libya. Hopefully you won’t need to be the ventriloquist Hunter’s character nearly becomes in that scene. But this quote from the movie’s anchor is so true:

“You’re an amazing woman,” he tells his producer. “What a feeling having you inside my head!”

So the next time you feel like hitting that button in the booth and really letting your anchor have it in his IFB, remember that. You’re in his head. And what you say will dramatically impact his performance for the rest of that show — and maybe for the rest of the time you work together.

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Matthew Nordin is a morning anchor and investigative reporter at Raycom Media’s WMBF News, the NBC affiliate in Myrtle Beach, SC. He was an anchor/reporter at WSPA-TV in Greenville/Spartanburg, SC from 2001-2005. Soon, he’ll write about communicating with your anchor during live interviews. You can follow him on Twitter @MatthewNordin

 

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