I can't believe that aired again! Why anchors complain on the set.

Anchoring, Getting Along With Peers, Political Hotbed Comments Off on I can’t believe that aired again! Why anchors complain on the set.
Jan 072013

This makes many producers blood boil. You toil over a newscast for hours, then during the show, the anchors start complaining about and/or making fun of the copy you worked so hard on.  Complaining on set during the newscasts about the show, is the number one way to create a huge divide between anchors and producers. It creates the “us vs them” mentality that causes so much friction.   But there are two sides to this, and we are going to really delve into both.

That said, many of those anchors are really not trying to just be jerks.  I PROMISE YOU. There are reasons behind the decision, (and it often is a decision) to complain about copy on the set during the newscast.  The biggest reason, FRUSTRATION.  When anchors reach the point of complaining on set, most are usually at their wits end.  From their point of view, they have tried to “talk things through” and the producer/management has ignored the issue.  Many veteran anchors are just tired and frustrated that they constantly have to “train newbies.”  If you step back and really think about it, you can see how this can happen.  One anchor I consulted with on this article says, “Even if you are not normally a complainer, when you get an anchor sitting next to you who is a little immature and starts going off, it can be very difficult not to give into the temptation and complain also.  It is human nature.”  Another anchor mentioned, “I worked so hard to get to this point, I don’t want to come across as clueless or even just plain stupid. Why aren’t we (anchors) protected?”

A key thing to remember, is when the anchors “mess up” and read copy that is factually incorrect or just doesn’t make sense, it isn’t just the anchor that looks stupid.  The entire news operation loses credibility.  Anchors are very aware that they are the poster children for the entire organization.  They understand that if they come across as not credible, their job is on the line, because that lack of credibility undermines the entire station’s standing in the community.  When you separate yourself from the insults, and really think about that, you can see why anchors sometimes “go off.”  It is a lot of responsibility, and yet they give up control of the newscasts to producers.  It is how the system works, except in rare cases.  Anchors are depending on you to get the facts right, so they look credible.  Yes anchors can, and most will, get into the newscast and fact check and rewrite if they notice a potential issue.  But in the morning, and during breaking news that is not always possible.  The anchors need the information to be correct, or at least quickly fixed if there is a problem.

Which leads to the second reason, anchors find themselves complaining on the set over a mistake.  It is absolutely maddening, when they see an issue, raise the issue to the producer and then it is not corrected and airs incorrectly two and three times.  Many anchors say they try to help and bring up an issue with a super, or a misspelled item on the ticker, and then it isn’t changed.  The anchor doesn’t have access, and can only watch the mistake happen again and again.  Remember, credibility for the entire news organization is on the line, anchors are the final gate keepers.

There also are issues in many shops where veteran anchors are told, to just read whatever is there, and let the producers do all the gate keeping.  Anchors are told to stay out of the decision making and that producers rule (see Producer Driven) the roost.  Problem is, often the producers are much less experienced than the anchors.  No matter how smart you are, experience brings a lot of knowledge.  So veteran anchors sit, wishing they could just bang their heads against the wall and watch something they could have prevented play out on the air.  Excruciating!

That said, giving in to human nature and complaining on the set, diminishes respect toward you if you are one of those anchors.  It sends a message that you think you are superior and fed up with the underlings.  And that’s even if what you say is absolutely true.  So this is where things get hard for the frustrated anchor.  You need to find a different forum to vent.  Maybe that’s after the show, on the phone with your co-anchor.  Maybe it is at the gym working out your frustrations.  Maybe it is in a meeting with the EP or AND.  Just make sure you keep the conversation pro-active.  Producers and managers, put ointment on the sting, and look to see if the anchor really does have a good point.  If the anchor feels they have a forum to address concerns, the on set rants will eventually stop.  Chances the quality of the newscast will improve as well.

Hey, it’s no secret, part of the fun of being a TV reporter or anchor is the great clothing you get to wear.  It is fun to dress the part!  But nowadays many outfits worn on air send the wrong message.

Before you start griping at me with “Hey the world is getting more casual, so should we!” hear me out.  What you wear really defines you as a person and a journalist.  For cold hard proof, I suggest you follow agent Micah Johnson from MediaStars on Twitter (@TV_Agent).   He often throws in fashion tidbits.  Recently, he tweeted about EMMY judging and had journalists debating fashion for two days.  I talked with Micah about the fashion faux pas he sees on demo tapes and the dangerous consequences for your career.

Micah’s first point:  Credibility.  Think about the people you meet.  You judge those people based on appearance.  People are visual and therefore make decisions visually.  Micah says, “Your wardrobe defines you, period.” So when you are putting together your demo, remember your clothing describes, “Who you are, who you perceive yourself to be and who you hope to be.”  A case in point is Micah’s Twitter image.  He wears a suit in it.  Imagine if that picture had him in cut off blue jeans and a Hawaiian shirt.  Would that make you think he could place people on the major market or network level?  The same goes for you when you are on the air.  Your appearance adds to your credibility in both doing your daily job and when you are job searching.

Your demo helps you showcase who you are and who you can appeal to.  Think about that for a moment.  Your ND’s and GM’s probably urge you to appeal to the key demos.  That’s not just 25-35.  The people watching the news that can afford to buy the products in the, oh so crucial, local spots are probably 40 plus.  Is that sleeveless sundress you are wearing appealing to that age set?  This audience is not impressed with casual dress.  Even if they are starting to come to work in more polo’s and khaki’s themselves.

So what do those viewers like to see?  What types of outfits make you look like a star that’s going places and too good to pass up?  Micah says women should always wear bright colors and pastels.  Royal purple, reds, and deep blues are vibrant and attractive to viewers.  They are power colors.  Remember many news sets are dark.  If you wear a dark suit, you then look like a floating head.  Not attractive or powerful.

We didn’t forget men. The key for you is tailored.  That doesn’t mean you have to buy an expensive suit.  It does mean you need to spend money getting that suit tailored to fit you.  Another key, if you anchor, have the coat fitted for tailoring while sitting down.  That’s how the suit will be worn most of the time.  Also remember the trick William Hurt showed us during the classic TV news movie, “Broadcast News.”  Sit on your coat tails for a great looking fit while on set.  “That’s not just Hollywood trivia, there’s truth in that tidbit,” Micah says.  What about reporters hoofing it out in the summer heat?  Micah says suck it up and wear the dress shirt.  His advice: A trick police officers use to stay dry when wearing their very hot uniforms and/or bullet proof vests:  Baby powder and an under shirt.  When you get out of the shower in the morning, put on baby powder, then a cotton under shirt, then your dress shirt.  The baby powder helps wick away the sweat.  Then the undershirt absorbs any sweat that makes it through the powder.  It may be a little warmer than normal, but it won’t show and you’ll look the part of a professional, credible broadcaster.

Speaking of suits, when asked about fashion, plenty of women mention they hate blazers, and like wearing dresses.  My favorite FB comment says suits are “so 1995.”  Micah says don’t blow off suits as old school.  The key is getting the tailored look, and blazers are a great way to do this.  Like with men, you don’t have to buy top designers (heck most of us can’t afford it!).  But you do spend money having your clothing tailored so they fit your figure.  Again, if you anchor, have the fitting done while sitting down.  As for sleeveless, Micah says avoid it unless you have arms like Angelina Jolie, back when she played Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider.”  Remember, you want the people watching your demo to see you, not just stare at your arm flab.

His final suggestions, avoid big earrings, big necklaces and bright red lipstick.  Yes, they are in the fashion magazines.  But, you are not going out clubbing.  You are delivering important information and actually want people to see and listen to you, not stare at your gigantic jewelry or eye popping lips.  Credibility just does not mix with these things.

Still having doubts and don’t like being told what to wear?  Ask yourself a key question:  Am I a kick ass journalist going places?  If the answer is no, then blow off this advice.  But if you want to make something of yourself, remember dressing sloppy makes you look like you don’t know what you are doing, or what you want to accomplish.  Dressing well, makes you look like a star!

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Thanks to Micah Johnson, with MediaStars.  Check him out on Twitter @TV_Agent for all kinds of juicy morsels about TV news.

 

 

 

No doubt, the shootings at the Colorado movie theater, is the kind of story that haunts us journalists.  I can tell you, no matter how much you cover stories like these, the emotion you feel remains the same:  Raw.  It is impossible not to feel an intense emotional reaction.  But how those gut feelings sway our coverage decisions is crucial.

We must make time to stop and think.  We need to take a hard look at how we are determining our coverage philosophy.

Right when I learned of the shooting, I started re-tweeting interesting issues that were coming out about covering this type of story.  I soon stopped myself because it was obvious to me that many journalists were on edge.  The story was getting to everyone.   How could it not?  That was not the time to talk about why we journalists were defaulting to police speak and immediately discussing whether metal detectors need to go into movie theaters now.

I am not going to go into whether angles like theater security, potential causes for this kind of shooting, and whether installing metal detectors in movie theaters should have been brought up the morning of the shootings.  Al Tompkins of Poynter summed that up beautifully.

What I am going to ask you to consider is why we “go there” with these angles, so we can look at how not to “lose grip” on the  impact.  Let’s begin with deferring to “police speak” as coverage begins for these types of events.  It is natural to go into CYA mode and fear deviating from the exact language the “authorities” use, in order to prevent possibly misinterpreting what they say.  I also think journalists defer to this type of language to set up a sort of emotional barrier between us and the story we are covering.  By writing in a very conversational way, it is only human to really feel the impact of the story.  By deferring to police speak we are setting up a sort of emotional detachment from the reality we are struggling to grasp ourselves.  As difficult as these stories are, and as hectic as the pace is in covering them, you must take even a few seconds to let yourself feel the range of emotions.  You need to allow yourself to see them, so you can then move forward with your job.  When headed to the booth in these situations I often stopped and took a series of breaths before walking into the control room.  I needed to recognize this hurts like hell to think about, and we have an obligation to respect that for everyone who will hear it.

When it comes to worrying whether you misinterpret information, ask questions to be clear.  So often we become obsessed with being first and rationalize stilted language and possible errors by saying “Its breaking news, viewers understand.”  They don’t completely.  They expect you to ask questions.  Defaulting to police speak does not make you seem more credible or show that you “checked the info out” before reporting.  It is a tell-tale sign to viewers that you are uncomfortable with the information you are reporting.  Instead, use attribution.  That way as information changes, viewers can see how the information has changed, and who changed it, more clearly.

I also am going to encourage you to talk openly, with the viewers, about how the newsroom is gathering information, as you gather it.  So often while doing continuous coverage, anchors are filling time, until new information comes in.  This can be an incredible opportunity to let viewers “see the process.”  Have a reporter or EP stand by the assignment desk and explain that the newsroom is monitoring Twitter, the networks, local feeds, scanners etc.  Explain that you like to get two sources saying the same thing before you go with it (if that’s your station policy of course).  Take a live “picture only” of your field crews walking around talking to people.  This will make you less nervous about also asking the information gatherers questions.  In fact, ask viewers to tweet or email questions about the story that you can try and answer as well.  Interact.  Don’t guess what they want to know in this type of situation, ask them.  You might get an incredible angle this way.

The term “go big or go home” should not mean forcing angles in so that you can be “first” on the next development.  Own the here and now.  Too often we skip past the part of stories like this that viewers are trying to understand most.  In Produce it up I talked about weaving in perspective throughout the earthquake coverage in Japan.  Specifically, how to showcase elements that helped the viewer see the scope of what happened.  We forget the crucial need for perspective because we are working at a whirlwind pace, not stopping to really absorb what happened.  Remember, viewers can get the basic facts.  They need us to connect them together in a clear way for some understanding.

We often forget the role of reporter and anchor to the viewer, especially in these situations.  Anchors are the viewers’ advocates.  Anchors ask the questions the viewer’s cannot.  Reporters are the eyewitnesses.  If you focus on these roles when designing continuing coverage and the angles that follow, you have a tremendous opportunity to enhance your relationship with the viewer.  Too often approaches to continuous coverage over emphasize “new” instead of explaining what’s there, right now.  Remembering these roles will also help you avoid “police speak” because it demands you ask questions throughout the news gathering process.  As eyewitnesses, reporters do not have to know all the answers right away.  The anchor can ask a question and the reporter can explain how he/she is going about getting that information.  It shows that the team is trying to give viewers what they need to understand the event.  It also naturally helps producers avoid exaggerating the facts with “sexy sells.”  You are “selling” your team’s credibility.

Finally, as you sit in editorial meetings and are told “viewers want more of this, what angle can we do?” do not misinterpret “finding blame” for “advocacy.”  We journalists often do this.  Ask if you are exaggerating the situation with the ideas you bounce around.  I mean actually ask, out loud.  Often people are in that editorial meeting thinking it, but afraid to say so.  Take the time to talk it through.  Slow the whirlwind pace just a little bit.  If not you will play on the fear factor, possibly too much.  In terms of the shooting at the movie theater in Colorado, I shuddered in the morning thinking, “The first angle will be theater security.”  Sure enough, a journalist tweeted the question “should there be metal detectors in movie theaters,” six hours into the coverage and as half of America was waking up hearing this for the first time (this reporter was on east coast as well).  Three hours later I saw a reporter tweet, touting an exclusive on how easily he was able to sneak into a movie theater unnoticed.  Honestly this is a stereotypical “fear” angle to go for.  Why do we journalists do this?  Again, we confuse advocacy with blaming someone.  We figure viewers are saying “Why isn’t someone protecting us?”  We decide we must answer.  After all, these feelings are human.   But you must look “big picture” for the WIFM.  What impact will this shooting have on people, today, tomorrow and next year?  This requires providing proper perspective.  Does the sneaking into a movie theater or using a metal detector angle accurately portray reality as we know it?  How often do viewer’s walk through a metal detector in their daily lives?  Should there now be metal detectors every public place we go?  Think about that when you go to the grocery store in the next few days.  Shootings have happened at grocery stores too.  Sometimes there is no clear blame to be laid except on the person who did the shooting.  Viewers know that better than we do sometimes.  Do they expect us to hold people accountable, or help them see how people are reacting to this happening?   People coming together to grieve, and to console each other are the more likely realities.  They are realities that showcase impact. Helping with those efforts is advocacy.

Now that you see why we tend to resort to these “crutches,” challenge yourself to look back on your newsroom’s coverage so far.  Does some of this ring true?  Did part of the coverage you helped with or saw “lose grip” on the impact of this event?  If so, stop and learn from it.  Viewers are counting on you.  It isn’t too late.

Let’s begin with this statement: This article is meant to start conversation.  It is meant to stretch your comfort zone a little.  TV news has to keep growing and reaching audiences differently for us to stay employed.

There is a conflict in television news that many managers, consultants and journalists themselves are not sure what to do with.  The conflict:  Defining solid television news stories.  We call it hard news.  We whine about it every day in story meetings.  You know the mantra:  “We need more hard news.”  So what is hard news really?  If you get a few moments Google “hard news, definition.”  The definitions are fascinating. Here’s a sampling:

news that deals with serious topics or events” from www.wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

News, as in a newspaper or television report, that deals with formal or serious topics and events.www.thefreedictionary.com/hard-news

Serious news of widespread import, concerning politics, foreign affairs, or the like, as distinguished from routine news items, feature stories, or human-interest stories.www.dictionary.reference.com/browse/hard+news

Hard news is the kind of fast-paced news that usually appears on the front page of newspapers.  Stories that fall under the umbrella of hard news often deal with topics like business, politics and international news.  What defines hard news isn’t always about subject matter.  Some might call a news story that’s heavily reported, on a subject matter considered softer (like entertainment), hard news because of the way it was approached.  Hard news is also a term most often used by journalists and others who work in the media industry, though you will hear others outside the industry use it.” http://mediacareers.about.com/od/glossary/g/HardNews.htm

I purposely did not pull many definitions from TV news websites and reference books, because we need to see how the definitions we create impact what viewers think they will get.  See how broad the definitions are?  All describe ongoing types of topics:  Political battles, stories about business in town, foreign affairs.  Yet, most TV news veterans have seen a lot of these topics, especially business stories and foreign affairs, fail in the ratings.  Even political news can be difficult to get people to watch unless it is a key election year or a very controversial subject.  So what is hard news for TV journalist’s day in and out?  Are we defining it incorrectly or executing wrong?

This is where the conversation comes in.  Some talking points: First, what does serious news mean?  Almost all of the definitions above reference serious news.  Defining serious news, often explains a station’s news philosophy, understanding of its community and credibility with viewers.  For the sake of argument, let’s define serious news as facts, events and people that have a direct impact on people’s lives.  Events and topics that make people stop and think about their own lives and surroundings in a different way.  So let’s try and put some tangibles with this idea.  Let’s delve into a serious topic that often is covered horribly, if at all on TV: Education.  This is a huge topic for your viewers.  Your key demographic is raising children.  I have worked at several stations that heralded a calendar year, as the year of education coverage.  In all cases but one, the station dumped the idea within 6 months.  The biggest problem is that education stories are often very video poor.  Many schools do not allow you to shoot any video inside.  But there are other ways to cover education besides sending a reporter to do a pkg.  The biggest opportunity: Debates with local experts on hot topics in the area.  Issues like, whether standardized testing is fair, teacher pay, new educational standards and school closings.  All evoke a lot of emotion.  They do not need b-roll.  They need sound to play out.  Remember the wild success of the cable network talk shows.  You can turn mini-segments that will really get people talking.

Now, the next level of coverage:  Show me the people in the schools grinding every day to make a difference.  Make some of that coverage positive, because frankly most coverage of teachers involves one screaming at, smacking or diddling a kid.  Yes, these stories are important.  But we also want to showcase that there are teachers and supervisors that have very positive influences on students and families.  Many managers over the years called this too soft, or said we don’t have time for “features.”  Remember, hard news needs impact.  It showcases events and topics that make people stop and think about their own lives and surroundings differently.  (Yes, I am repeating that line, it is important!!)  People love to watch stories about other people.  Never underestimate the viewer’s fascination with their neighbors.  It is basic human nature.  Oprah made a gazillion bucks because she understood that.  To truly cover a serious issue, like education, you need to showcase all sides.  You need to show the human connections.  This proves to the viewer you an informed witness, not just another group with an agenda.  Remember, viewers are extremely media savvy in this day and age.  If you come up with an advocacy campaign and ram it down people’s throats without another counterbalance kind of coverage, you eventually lose some respect.  So called “feature” stories about the cool chemistry teacher who reaches students in a unique way,  are as important to the viewer as live coverage during hearings about school closures or new testing policies.  You have to showcase all elements of impact.  That teacher also impacts a lot of lives and seeing a story about the teaching approach helps teach parents ways they can educate their child differently.  That has a serious edge.  Therefore, it is “hard news” coverage.

Which leads to my next talking point about hard news:  It does not always need conflict.  Sometimes you just need to relay the facts in a situation so that viewers can learn information and draw conclusions for themselves.  A perfect example is health news. If you think health news is all feature fluff, you are very out of touch with the average human being.  Everyone thinks about their health.  They worry about family members or friends.  Everyone has questions. Everyone has concerns.  Health news should never be a feature that’s simply considered “fill” for a section of a newscast just to get viewers to weather.  It is a type of hard news and should be treated as such.  Health news has almost as broad an impact as weather.  It’s just usually treated as a throwaway, and therefore comes across that way to the viewer.  Next time an interesting health and/or fitness story pops on the wires, sit down and brainstorm on ways you could make it a lead story.  I am not saying you really must lead with it, but treat the story like you would hard news. (Remember the definition above that references some things like entertainment news becoming hard news because of the coverage approach?). Look at it critically.  Ask a lot of WIFM questions (if that confuses you read     What is the viewer benefit really? ) and see if you end up with a fascinating edgy pkg idea or segment for your newscast.

My final and most crucial point is hard news should directly influence people’s lives.  Again the word impact.  Let’s replace the word serious in the above definitions, with the word impact.  Let’s consider how most stations cover several topics, starting with crime.  There’s a home invasion in a crime ridden neighborhood and police think it is drug related.  If hard news is about serious issues that directly affect your viewers lives, is a live shot outside the house with a banner saying home invasion fair and/or enough?   Are you giving the viewer, who counts on you to be the experts in your community, an accurate representation of where they live?  Or are you in lust for a 40 second quickie that allows you to type in home invasion on a live super because it’s “sexy?”

Studies by The Pew Research Center consistently show that people are interested and looking for news about the economy, and aren’t getting the coverage.  Slapping up a 20 second reader with an over the shoulder that says “unemployment down” is not the kind of economic news they want though.  People are confused.  Concerns over their job security, the worth of their house, if they will ever have enough money to retire, and if more of their neighbors are going hungry are daily topics.  I can honestly tell you that not a week has gone by in three years that I have not overheard or been involved in a conversation with “viewers” about concerns over the economy.  It is a constant.  I hear it in grocery store checkout lines, picking kids up from school, having friends over for dinner, taking a walk in the neighborhood, and in exercise classes.  People are worried. They feel at a loss for information. They need help.  That is hard news.  It has impact.

So remember, when considering if a story idea is hard news, consider the likelihood people are talking about that story and have lingering questions.  Is there a new set of facts people need to know about, but don’t have the information?  Is there something going on they should care about, but may not know yet?  Think about the stories that just stick with you.  A lot of those emotional connections you make with a story, involve coverage and techniques many journalists would call soft.  There is a character.  There is emotion.  You feel differently for having watched the story.  You remember those stories.  But chances are most of the so called hard news you pushed for in a rundown or agonized over turning because you could not find impact… are a blur as of you drive home from work.  Guess what?  It’s a blur to viewers also, because they turn off the TV.  They say to themselves:  “This story doesn’t affect me and my friends.  I cannot relate to this.  Why should I bother to watch.”  Believe me, they really do.  I get bombarded with these comments and questions constantly.  Truthfully, you probably do also from your non-news friends.  Make sure the people make it into the coverage so the viewer can truly feel connected to the topic or event.  Don’t fear lack of video, you can always showcase interesting sound to make your points.  Do not push for or create conflict when there is none.  Sometimes a story is hard just because it has great information. Finally, stop labeling types of news, like health and education as “features.”  Try and show these broad appeal topics respect.   Journalists are feeling more pressure these days to market and brand themselves.  Taking these impact topics and delivering interesting stories with a “hard edge” is a great way to quickly make a name for yourself.  Remember to focus on impact and people.  The hard edge will come out in your coverage, because your viewers will be impacted by the information.  You will become popular with viewers because you get what they need.  You will brand yourself as “real” and “trustworthy.”  Most importantly, delving into these topics can and will be journalistically gratifying.  These topics can provide opportunities to empower people to change lives.  Isn’t that why you got into broadcast news?  What is a harder or a more serious type of news than that?

This is a common reality, especially for morning shows, no matter the market size.  Not having the show ready at airtime is a big strain on anchors and producers.  You simply should not be writing content during a live show unless there’s breaking news.  Too much can go wrong.  Producers if you are having problems getting your newscast written in time, look at Bottom’s up.  Another article is coming soon to help further.  This article is going to focus on the anchors.  They have to make up for the fact they will be reading content “cold.”  Here’s how to keep from stumbling and fumbling your way through.

1)      Get very familiar with facts in the stories

2)      Write notes for yourself

3)      When possible dive in and write

4)      Read a block ahead, to fix mistakes

5)      Consider reading copy even if there are minor mistakes, then demand corrections for later hits

Recently an anchor wrote us a great article on the art of adlib, in it he asked the question, how much of a newscast do you really know?  Could you talk your way through with no scripts.  This is very important.  Morning show anchors do have the ability to become familiar with news content, especially since so many of the scripts are rewrites from the night before.  Get comfortable with the facts of as many stories as you can.  That way if you get stuck, you can get by.

Some anchors I’ve worked with wrote notes or outlines of stories that they guessed were not going to be written in time and included them in their scripts.  Think of these outlines like you would bullet points for a live shot.  No, you probably won’t have time to write these outlines for a lot of stories, but even a few can really help if your producer is chronically in the weeds.  The anchors that I would see do this waited until about a half hour before air, then wrote as many outlines as possible.  Look at the rundown, if the producer tends to wait to write the b-block until the newscast starts, try and outline a few of your anchor reads in that block.  At least you have something to lean on.  Look for the big gaps, and throw a little something in here and there to help.

If you are an hour before air and there’re a lot of empty pages in the rundown, dive in and write.  No you should not have to do this.  (That’s another article.)  Bottom line, help yourself so you don’t get screwed.  Just quit writing full story copy in time to proof what is there, so you have sections of the newscast where you feel comfortable.  I recommend keeping a list of how many scripts you had to dive in and write, and when appropriate talk with your manager about the issue.  Also, make sure you give yourself a chance to relax, take a breath and be ready to present.  Too often anchors end up slamming copy until the last second, run to the set and come across as uncomfortable right off the top of the show.  You have to protect your role in the newscast and your role is to be smooth, authoritative and in command.  Stop writing and helping in time to do what you need to do to be comfortable on set.  If you have some outlines and wrote some copy, you will be okay.  Give yourself a chance to be composed and relaxed before stepping on the set.

Once the newscast starts, use commercial breaks, packages and weather hits to read at least a block ahead.  This is the advice talent consultants give all the time.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Unfortunately, when a lot of scripts are written last minute, there are a lot of clarification questions, timing issues and other problems.  Those mean you have to “stop down” and listen to a list of changes during breaks.  Do what you can.

Finally, if you end up having to read copy “cold,” try not to get bogged down changing errors live, as you see them coming up in prompter, unless you are familiar with the story content and know you can do it smoothly.  As counterintuitive as it sounds, it is better to read the bad copy smoothly on-air, then demand a fact recheck and/or rewrite for later hits in the newscast.  This advice applies more to morning shows which are often plagued with strings of script errors that tend to be carried forward from hour-to-hour.  It can be difficult to change a bunch of issues live and “on the fly.”  If you end up stumbling, chances are management will blame you instead of the producer.  It may not be right, but I saw it happen time and again.  It is wrong on management’s part, but its reality and it does happen.  Better to push through, keep your trouble riddled scripts, then go to management after the newscast and show how many errors were in the newscasts.  Change what you realistically can, but stay smooth, authoritative and commanding on-air.  I know this is very uncomfortable and feels wrong, but when you are stuck with a producing team that cannot get its newscasts written in time, you the anchor can only do so much.  Your job is to make the information look good on-air.  That means smooth reads, period.  Management needs to fix the underlying problem so you can do your job better.  If management refuses, you know you aren’t working for a quality organization and need to take steps to protect yourself.

I could not help but smile recently when a producer tweeted and asked for ideas to keep energy levels up during newscasts.  I immediately thought of all the late night football and baseball games I sat through, praying it would just end and wondering if I would fall asleep driving home.  I also thought of my first gig as a morning show producer, where I had to pace around the station just before the newscast so I would be somewhat functional in the booth.

Keeping energy levels up during these newscasts is the burden of both the anchors and producers.  Heck, the reporters and photojournalists have to stay awake also.  It’s brutal at times, I know.  But there are ways to energize even when your body is screaming, “Must sleep now!!!”

Energizing newscasts

  • Write how anchors talk
  • Have anchors write some stories
  • Trade reads
  • Add stories, even if there are not any breakers
  • Jokes and music blasts
  • Get up, stand up

In “How to get inside your anchors heads” we list quite a few techniques to help write how your anchor talks.  This is important for anchors to keep their energy levels up.  Sometimes when it all feels forced, and you are tired, it is easy to sort of give up and just muddle through the copy.  Using phrases the anchor likes helps the anchor own it and raises energy levels.

It works even better if you have the anchors write some of the stories they will read.  Producers, look at that line again.  Have anchors write stories they will read.  Sure once in a while you will have to change reads, and the writing won’t work out.  I usually asked my anchors to write stories lower in the newscast where energy levels dipped, and the chance of read changes went way down.  The point is your anchor will deliver the copy better if it is truly “theirs.”  It provides a level of ownership that helps the anchor be more engaged throughout the newscast.  Producers, this can make your job a little easier also.  No, not just because it can ease up the writing load.  This is one of the first techniques I used to raise meter numbers in weak spots.  Often there is a correlation with anchor energy levels and newscast ratings dipping.  Sometimes the answer really is simple.  Get the anchors more involved in that section of your newscast.

Another trick is to mix things up a bit and trade reads if you see the anchors energy levels dipping.  Hit the commercial break, then tell the anchors and crew you are switching reads for the block.  The first few times you might get some complaints, but often doing this hypes up everyone’s energy levels a bit and you get a tighter, more energetic block.  I would not use this technique every day.  But if you have had several slow newscasts, try this technique on and off to keep everyone guessing a little bit.

A producer tweeted that she adds stories throughout her morning show, even if there are no breakers, just to keep everyone sharp.  I have used this technique also.  This is easy to do if you have an AP. If you don’t have one, write a few extra vo’s or vo/sots before the show and have the editors prepare them.  Throw them in the bottom of the rundown after the end break so they don’t whack your timing.  The editors can have these stories cut and ready just in case.  This is also a great way to protect yourself in case a live crew has technical issues.  If your anchors ad lib well, give them a story once in a while on the fly.  This helps keep them in practice for when you get slammed with breakers.

I used to joke with live crews and anchors, when appropriate during newscasts.  Usually I joked around with crews in the commercial break before the block that contained their live hit.  It broke the ice a bit and would perk them up.  Just be tasteful and don’t drag it out.  One liners are great!  A quick blast of a guitar solo in the ifb also perked everyone up.  Again, not a good idea to do to anchors or live crews during the news block.  But many times your crews, you and your audio person have a few seconds during commercial breaks.

When all else fails tell everyone to get up and jump or twist or walk during commercial breaks.  That little bit of movement really does help.  When the lead-in was a sports event I liked scripting more anchor pitches in standing positions if possible.  I used to demand more walk and talks from live reporters as well.  It just helps when you move around.

So next time everyone’s wiped out and its airtime, try some of these tricks.  It might wake everyone up, just in time!

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