Reporters often feel like they are thrown to the wolves and no one has their back. ND’s are intimidating. Managing editors always seem to side with the assignment desk. AND’s are confusing because they are the messengers for the ND and GM’s various desires. And the EP only protects the producer. Wait, stop there! Here’s a little secret from a former EP: In order to protect the newscast we EP’s need to protect our field crews. An executive producer is the go to person for day-to-day decisions. An executive producer is also the one responsible for making sure all elements of a newscast are executing to their fullest ratings potential. That means if reporters are being sent on wild goose chases and are being put in impossible positions, the manager that is going to raise hell and may actually be heard is the EP. And EP’s will raise hell about it if necessary. EP’s are your management safety net. They are not as involved in the political battles between the Managing editor, AND and ND. While those three sit in philosophical debates, the EP executes what has to be done that day to try and save the newscast. Yes, the EP is lower on the totem pole. But when it comes to review time, and consideration for promotions, EP’s weigh in, sometimes heavily, because they actually work with you all day, every day.
So how do you form a smart alliance? Here’s what executive producers love to get from reporters each day:
- Reality Check
- Respect deadlines
For an executive producer, nothing is more frustrating than not knowing what is happening with the field crews. That’s why you get annoying phone calls and text messages sometimes when you are in a key interview and the desk and EP are relentless that you must stop everything and call back. Here’s a quick solution to free yourself of this daily annoyance. Send your EP quick updates several times a day. If you possibly can, call with a reality check a half hour to hour before any editorial meetings. Sometimes you are in an interview and cannot call. Good EP’s get that. Text or top line that you are in a key interview, and that things are going well. At least the EP will have a clue as to what is going on. During these reality checks spell out what you have and if the idea everyone had for the story in the editorial meeting is reality. If you are finding something completely different you need to let your EP know so he/she can make sure the story is teased correctly and placed in the best position for the newscast. I realize that there are EP’s and producers out there who will berate you and try and force you to turn an angle that isn’t there, if you call in too early. That’s where some flexibility comes in.
I would like to say that producers and management should always trust crews to tell them what a story angle should be and run with whatever the reporter finds. Unfortunately, reality is the high pressure from ratings, especially in this economy, makes it hard to always take whatever the reporter finds and run with it. Letting your EP know early what you have, versus what you were told you should get, will protect you and the newscast. Sometimes you will be asked to push for an angle harder, give it a try and let the EP know the result. Remember, the EP is also getting pressure from upper management for certain types of stories. The EP just needs to be able to let everyone know that the angle wanted was really researched and just didn’t happen. Some reporters avoid telling anyone their angle until the last minute to avoid another assignment or being grilled by the EP. This is a short term gain, long term loss. EP’s don’t respect you if you are not working for the best interest of the newscast and you will be burned in the long run. Unfortunately, you will win some of these arguments over story angles and you will lose some. Being flexible and sometimes getting stuck with a new assignment, late in the day, because the angle you were sent on didn’t happen, means you are a team player. The EP will respect and openly support you to upper management. EP’s don’t always win philosophical arguments either and also are put in uncomfortable positions. They will do whatever they can to have your back though, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. The truth is taking good care of you, is taking good care of the newscast. If the EP is nasty, the EP will pay for it at some point. And because the EP is responsible for ratings, chances are his/her head will be on the chopping block before yours.
Respecting deadlines is another big way to align with an EP. Deadlines exist for the protection of the newscast. Here’s a little secret, management knows you will not always make it. If you get a late change in stories or are sent on a breaker, or have a really long drive to your story there is some flexibility. Problem is many field crews ignore deadlines and procrastinate, so management implements carte blanche deadlines to protect the newscast. Make deadline, unless you are on a breaker or late story change. When you cannot make deadline, let the EP know ahead of time so he/she can do what is necessary to protect the newscast. This is a big picture issue. Show you understand you are part of something bigger than your package and live shot and you will gain an ally. Deadlines are also one of the few tangible ways management can track your abilities at your job. It makes it easier to gage you against your peers and decide if you deserve a raise, or even if you need to be fired. Making deadline routinely means the EP will give you the benefit of the doubt when you do get into a pickle and have to feed late. The EP will fight for reporters that regularly make deadline. It’s a safety net in your time of need.