I got a huge response to our article about decoding producer driven shops. (If you missed it, check out “Producer driven doesn’t mean absolute power”). So now let’s talk about what kind of stories managers want to showcase in producer driven shops. First let’s summarize what makes a newsroom “producer driven.” It means a heavy emphasis on content. Anchors are considered advocates for viewers. Reporters are educated witnesses. Producers must have a deep understanding of the audience, its wants and needs. Producers tend to have more say in choosing content and set the tone for the “feel” of a newscast. In some ways anchors are showcased more in producer driven shops than in more spot news type of newsrooms, because they are given a more interactive role with content. They ask more questions and are often required to turn franchise pieces with hard edges. Because content is king, reporters actually play a huge role when showcasing coverage. But for some reporters it can seem like you have little say in what you do, because producers and managers often “map out” the coverage each day. So let’s decode how those decisions are made.
First and foremost, producers and managers are looking for segments and themes to weave throughout the day part. This showcases advocacy and emphasizes community involvement. From the time you pitch your story, you need to be thinking about the big picture. Reporters, this means not holding back any interesting elements when you pitch the story in the editorial meeting. It is important to explain how the anchor can pitch to your story with some sort of interesting information and/or visuals. Do you know someone who could do a studio interview after your package that would provide interesting perspective? This means you really have to understand the story you are asking to cover. You cannot just scan a headline and hope you “get a pass” in the meeting. You have to be able to take the story beyond a newspaper headline. Producers in content driven shops tend to read multiple newspapers. Managers also try to be very in tune with what’s happening. They will be familiar with most content you bring up. Showcase how your package will advance the story. You need to explain why a viewer would watch your story rather than the other stations in town. And don’t forget, this also means you cannot save all the “good stuff” for your live and package scripts when you actually produce the story later in the day.
Before you think you must come in with an Emmy award winning “big get” each day, understand, there are many ways to think big picture beyond finding daily exclusives. Exclusive elements don’t happen every day on every story. Try and relate the content you are pitching to the key audience the station wants. Will it appeal to 25-54 year olds? How? That might be your spin. Can you make the story relatable to even larger audience groups with a clear character you can put in your package? If so, explain that right away. Can you add “a slice of life” element into the story you want to turn? Any way you can make the story feel real, to a broad group of people, will make you and your story ideas very appealing. This also means you must have a good idea of the kinds of visuals you will provide in your package and for teases and set ups. (See “Make your sell” for more on how to effectively pitch stories.) You don’t have to have great flames, dramatic car chases or screaming people to sell your story. You do have to help the producers and managers visualize how the story will play out. Remember, they are not just looking to fill 1:30 that day. The more they can really delve into content in a compelling way, the more appealing your story idea becomes. You have to help them see and feel the story.
If you really want to stand out in a producer driven shop, pitch stories in areas of the market where the station wants to grow audience. Source build there and look for stories you can turn in that part of the DMA that people living nearby would also find interesting. You have a key advantage over the producers and managers that are driving content. You leave the newsroom each day and get access to more people. The faster you source build and can provide information on developing stories, the more the “powers that be” will trust your instincts and trust your story pitches. By focusing on areas where the station wants to grow audience, you show you are savvy to the “big picture” which is a huge draw.
When it’s a slow news day don’t be afraid to pitch consumer stories and interesting new developments from stories you have covered in the past. Remember, a key part of producer driven shops is showcasing community involvement. That means follow ups are very important, as long as they have substance to them. Consumer stories usually have broad appeal. Viewers in nearly all income brackets are looking for ways to make the most of their money right now. That opens the door to a lot of interesting stories that can naturally be broken into several elements. Keep a list on hand, with good contacts for slow days.
Lastly, story tell, story tell, story tell! If you make a name for yourself as a versatile reporter who can weave interesting stories out of many types of content, you will be well respected in producer driven shops. You will get more leeway when pitching stories because managers know you will find something compelling to turn.