Line producers are often in a very uncomfortable spot in newsrooms. You are in charge of a newscast, yet you are not a manager with any teeth. Competition between producers generally is pretty intense so you cannot really confide in another producer at your station. Your job is confusing for other people in the newsroom to really grasp. You don’t want to spill your guts to your EP, so it can appear in your review a few months later.
So who do you align yourself with? I always had the best luck with directors and assignment editors.
In the article “Right Hand Meet Your Left” I describe why having a good relationship with your director is important. Now I want to talk more about the benefits of this smart alliance.
Directors tend to be extremely detail oriented. That means they can pick up on things you might do that you aren’t even aware of. When starting out as a producer, I had problems with my weekend newscasts timing out correctly. During the morning and weekday noon shows, I had no timing problems. I tried different techniques for several weeks with no luck. I was ready to pull my hair out! Then I decided to ask the director for advice. But, he was much more experienced and I was concerned he would think less of me. When I finally asked if he noticed anything about my timing he said: “Yes. I’ve been waiting for you to ask. I didn’t want to seem pushy.” Turns out, the final commercial break varied wildly from the rundown format. I had never known to check the traffic log for my breaks. That was never taught to me. He showed me where to get the log and what to look for. I never mistimed a show again.
Directors also tend to be dismissed by managers and other newsroom employees during a shift. Because of this, they hear everything and if you have developed a strong relationship based on trust, your director may give you a heads up when something big is about to happen that involves you. Several times I found out management was considering moving me to another newscast, from my director. I had several days to prepare before news management got around to telling me. I never betrayed the director’s trust and was able to arm myself if I didn’t like the shift change to try and fight for “my show.”
In some shops directors are considered managers. They are consulted before changes take place especially when it comes to formatting newscasts. You want a heads up when possible and you want to be able to weigh in. Several times directors came to me with proposed format or policy changes and asked my opinion before weighing in themselves. We wanted to be on the same page to protect our shift.
The other smart alliance is with assignment editors. (We will dedicate an entire article to assignment editors soon. They are unsung heroes in many newsrooms.) I went out of my way to develop a relationship with my assignment editors because often they are the next closest thing to producers in terms of constant grind. Again, assignment editors are a type of manager, yet don’t really have teeth, just like producers. And, just like producers, they sit down to work and don’t get downtime until they are in the car on the way home. Assignment editors are also consulted on things that impact your shift, but involve the crews more. They are a great resource for understanding what the crews in the field are going through during an actual shift. Usually the crews are too swamped to fill you in themselves. Crews know management will check in with the assignment desk and therefore usually tell the desk any elements first. If you are not respectful to your assignment editor, you will not get as many updates about the crews and will not get to weigh in on how you want those updates. This can have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day job duties. Also, if you are curt toward your assignment editor, you will end up having to constantly check the assignment file and scroll through hoping to figure out what the newest information is on local vo’s etc. If you are respectful, you might get a top line or quick phone call so you know when to write local elements and when to wait for crucial information.
So how do you set up a solid relationship with the assignment desk? If you have even a moment help make some calls when the desk is overwhelmed. I used to ask my associate producer to check with the assignment editor to see if he/she needed a quick break once or twice a shift. My AP could listen to the scanners and answer the phone and my assignment editor could at least walk the building or grab a snack and relax a little. If breaking news hit, I had the AP get on the desk with the assignment editor and help make calls or, if the assignment editor preferred, be in charge of sending me top lines about the information like a crews’ ETA to the breaking news scene.
Bottom line, producers cannot do their job properly without information, and without a way to cleanly place that information on a television screen. Treat the people who allow you to perform these key tasks with respect and you will get the help you need to put on the best newscast possible each day.