This is a common reality for producers.  It also is the reason why many have dreams at night about stacking their rundowns.  To put the stress of being behind into words is difficult.  However, it kind of feels like someone is pressing a board into your chest and you have to push it out of the way to catch your breath.

Producers get behind in their rundowns for a lot of reasons.  We talked prevention a bit in “Bottom’s up.” Now let’s talk about the reality.  You know you are an hour or more behind and airtime is looming.  You have to dig out.  So, here’s what you do.

Simplify

This may seem like a no brainer, but it isn’t when the board is pressing down on your chest.  You grasp onto the plan you have laid out.  You start going through the motions in a panic.  When time is of the essence, adding nat sound bridges and picking extra bites for teases just isn’t an option.  You just have to “Get ‘er done.”  Start cranking vo’s on stories you are already familiar with.  Focus on the obvious facts, the who, what, when, and where.  The why and how may need to be added later if you catch yourself up on time.  Sometimes there will be exceptions to that.  But, as a general rule the why and how take more time to figure out.  You need to think volume.  You might be surprised how many of the vo’s you can effectively bang out and then go back and finesse.  If you have a lot of vo/sots in the rundown, write the vo’s and worry about getting the bites later.  Your anchors may be able to jump in and do that part for you as well.

Ask the desk to run interference

In “Producing Alliances” we told you how important it is to build a good relationship with the assignment desk.  This is a key reason why.  I used to call the desk and say “I need 30 or 45 minutes to crank stuff out, unless the reporter’s story died or the whole point of story changed, I cannot talk.”  This may seem drastic, but think about it, often you get phone calls from crews that are not vitally important.  It’s not that you will blow them off all day.  You just need 30 or 45 minutes to catch yourself up.

Warn the editors

I know sometimes producers must edit their own stuff.  But most have editors cranking out the vo’s.  Warn them that you are behind.  Many times the editors will then step up and look up where the video is coming from, to get it ready.  Often they will sit and watch you write, then jump right in to edit. Depending on the story, they may even be able to do some editing in advance.  No, it’s not ideal. But for one day it may be the only choice all of you have.  That will speed up editing time and help catch everything up.  If you are supposed to edit, ask if a photojournalist can give you a hand for just that day.  If he/she does it, be sure and buy ‘em a drink to say thanks!  Those editors deserve getting a treat as well.  Few turn down a box of donuts back in the edit bays.  Gratitude goes a long way.

 

Let director know

Your director can do a lot to help you catch up too.  Often they can fill in anchor reads, check in with the editors and check on your live shots for you.  They understand scripting better than anyone else you can lean on.  Your director appreciates the heads up as well.  Remember, he/she will be directly impacted by you being behind, just as much as you are.  Again, thank him/her for having your back.  Be sure to have his/hers sometime soon as well.

 

Let your anchor do quality control

It is hard to release some of this responsibility as a producer, but hear me out.  Making your anchor a workhorse to get the show written actually puts your newscast more at risk.  You are likely more familiar with the content and sources of the pacers in your rundown than the anchors, especially if you work mornings or evening shifts.  So while you crank the vo’s, the anchors can check with the assignment desk and the crews for any updates.  That helps the anchor get familiar with local elements without having to ask you a lot of questions.  If you end up light, this increases your chances of being able to have the anchor ask questions to fill time.  You also want the anchors to focus hard on copy editing.  You have a higher chance of writing errors (especially spelling and grammar) when you are slamming copy.  Your anchor needs the time to look over the scripts for errors and correct any.  They will likely save your butt.   Earlier, I mentioned you should write the vo’s in vo/sots first, maybe the anchor can add a bite later.  The source of the content will be in the script already, so it is easy to find and look for a good bite and tweak.  Remember, your anchor is looking over your shoulder anyway (and you want that, to prevent errors).  That is much easier than writing a story from scratch.

 

After you get out of the weeds and get the newscast on the air, sit down, take a breath and try and figure out what put you behind.  Often there is a pattern that you can correct, but you have to see it first.  We’ll have an article soon on common ways producers lose time.  Keep in mind, it will get easier.  You will get faster.  Let your team help prevent that board from pushing on your chest.

 

 

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