If you want to win, you have to time newscasts properly. This is a key concept for everyone in the newsroom to understand. Meters make or break you. If the newscast is not timed correctly, you will blow the meters. So let’s look at some common timing mistakes producers make and how to limit them.
Time each block
Hide pad throughout
Cheat the cheaters
Know anchors read speed
The biggest timing mistake producers make, is not trying to make time each block. When quizzed about timing, a lot of producers say things like: “Well my block always runs two minutes long.” or “I wait until the last block to worry about it.” These are BIG MISTAKES. Each block is designed to hit a meter. If you blow one block, you will blow at least one meter mark. That’s like standing outside the station with your cashed paycheck and throwing some of the money into the wind. It’s just plain foolish. There are stations that take timing so seriously they give you only 15 seconds leeway. You go more than 15 over at the end of a block, you can be suspended or fired. It’s a lot of pressure, but some of the stations who do this are the most profitable around. They set exacting standards and they reap big rewards.
So how do you time each block? You must have pad throughout the newscast. If your mangers or anchors are hands on with rewrites, you need to hide some of that pad. I used to have a lot of trouble with managers and/or anchors adding time to my rundown by putting “their touch” on scripts. To prove the point, I would hide time in commercial breaks, my start time etc. so the timing issues would look even worse. Then I would explain, there was nothing to give up and tell them to rewrite again. Meanwhile, I ended up with the content and wiggle room I needed to make time each block
Which leads to the next key trick: Cheat the cheaters. There is always a time hog reporter and sorry meteorologists, but often weather people go WAY OVER. Some of my meteorologists were told they had 1:30 hit times, when it was actually a 2:30 window (remember, hide time for the weather hit elsewhere). I would also tell the chronically longwinded reporter that he/she had 30 to 45 less seconds for their TRT than I was really giving them. That way if the reporter decided not to call in the correct TRT, I was not screwed. (Remember to also have a vo or two each block you can kill, just in case.)
The last timing killer is anchor read times. Computers never get it right. Frankly, your anchors can vary day-to-day, newscast to newscast. You have to get a feel for who is better at really pulling off that 10 second breaking news ad-lib or who can handle suddenly dropping the last line of a vo, in order to hit that precious meter point. Getting to know your anchors and their read times, involves more than their average read time. It really does entail, which one speeds up talking when they are excited. You should also figure out which one, tends to be tired at the end of the week and stumbles more. (See anchors voice) They can be inconsistent. You cannot. You have to make time.
I hope these tricks help. Do not be afraid to move things around in your rundown on the fly to make meter points as well. If you are running long and teased a story, you can always float it down to the next block, hit your meter point and kill something else. The key is monitoring your time each line of each story. If you see a timing problem developing nip it right away. Once it begins to snowball you may not be able to dig out.