Crew View: Do You Really See It During Major Coverage?

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on Crew View: Do You Really See It During Major Coverage?
Jun 162016

The mass shooting in Orlando has been very raw to cover. Mass shootings simply are.

All hands are on deck. Everyone works long hours. Everyone bands together with a passionate sense of purpose to serve the community.

The things the crews see and talk about, over and over, can be very hard to take. Some will take to FB and lay out the pain. Some will quietly seek counseling. But most just grit their teeth and say, “This is part of the job I must be strong.” That is largely true. It is part of the job. But I really do not think people choose to be journalists to cover mass shootings, or other very traumatic events like this. Furthermore, you cannot understand the effects these events have on those covering it, until you have covered one yourself.

This is not meant to offend, but it has to be said: When I say cover, I mean actually stand at ground zero. Actually hear the SWAT team bust in. Actually witness the victims families waiting and waiting, then getting word their loved ones died. Witness the families and friends wailing uncontrollably. See some of the carnage left behind. These elements are not truly understood, until experienced first hand.

I say this, because too often when watching this coverage, I notice something time and again. For the most part the same people are sent to the same scenes over and over. Part of that is logical and good. They are developing the relationships to get the exclusives. It is a tried and true technique for journalists. But in this day of mass shootings and other horrific displays I have to ask, how much would coverage actually be impacted, if you worked in a rotation? Here’s what I mean: When the attack first happens, the initial crews on the scene make sense to follow up where they were stationed the next day. Maybe even the next two days. But when you are hitting day three and on, many could use psychological relief. By that I mean, why not have the crew who sat with the victims’ families cover some nuts and bolts angles, and send the nuts and bolts crew to “story tell” one day? Now, the heavy investigative diggers are a different category because they are likely spending time in and out of these scenes and needing time to find the information. I am talking about those daily follow ups.

Why bother, do you ask? Several reasons. First, the people spending time with the victims and their families need a chance to separate. You get incredibly emotionally attached. It is very hard to re-enter your life after several days of living and breathing this with those so closely impacted. This is one reason why medical teams work to start rotations as soon as possible to give staff a day off and a chance to speak with counselors. News people need this option too. Because there is less staffing you realistically cannot give crews a day off. But you can change up the scenery a bit, so they get a mini emotional break.

It also can be good for the crews doing nuts and bolts to see the impact first hand for a day. Believe me, it will inspire more questions. It reminds crews of what this event really means to the community on a more emotional level. I cannot help but wonder if there would be less on-scene, smiling, selfies if crews are rotated and ended up spending time with a mother who lost her son, or a dad searching for answers or a person shot but still alive asking: “Why me?” It makes it damn hard to desensitize yourself from the story.

And there is another point I want to bring up. Too often managers are insensitive to what the crews are going through. They expect each crew to “man up.” While newsrooms fill up on pizzas, the crews in the field are often forgotten. They are working long hours too. And in this case I will say their job is harder.  Journalists in the newsroom still get the luxury of some degree of detachment. They are not smelling the smells, seeing the carnage, standing in the actual moment watching the chaos from every angle. They get air conditioning or heat, delivered food and a bathroom right down the hall. This is not to downplay the importance of the journalists in the newsroom. Not at all. But too often there is a lack of truly understanding what the field crews are going through.

In this digital age, I cannot help but wonder how perspectives would change if a manager came out with the crews to the scenes and worked from the field if even for a few hours? Fire battalion chiefs go to the scene. The Sheriff shows up. What if a news manager came by, to really see what the crews are dealing with? Again, in my own experience, and through hearing from crews over the years; there are simply too many times when a crew calls in with a problem and they get chewed out and told to get it done, period. I saw this during major weather events, standoffs, shootings, even major court cases. Back then, the ND or AND had to be in the building as a point person. Cell phones and laptops did not exist. But now an AND or ME could stop by and experience the actual scene, if even for an hour. I know some managers who quietly go by the scene between news cycles just to see. They do not let crews know. It is very beneficial. If you just can’t get away, at least read this and please take it to heart. The majority of the time you are only getting a glimpse of the actual intensity of the events. Your field crews are not going to talk in-depth about all they saw and experienced because it is likely simply too much to take in right away. That’s why a crew can start to act testy on day three or two weeks later “out of the blue.” They will likely have a delayed reaction. You need to protect them to some degree by being sensitive to what they are not telling you. Send food. Text “good job” more often. Call them in and ask, “Are you ok?” Ask if they need to switch up their roles a bit after a few days so they get a mini break. At least ask. The crews need you to have a firm understanding of the view they are taking in each day. They need to know that if it’s getting hard to take, they can at least talk about it, and have someone truly listen and understand the crew view. They need to know their bosses have their back. So ask yourself: Do you, really?

When Is It Time To Stand Up To The Bully Boss?

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Apr 232015

We all know that newsrooms are politically dicey. Tensions often run high. Pressure is intense. Frankly, a lot of bully type personalities fill many newsrooms as well. So it is inevitable that you will end up with a bully boss at some point in your news career.

Over time and through a lot of trial and error, I have learned an important lesson about bully bosses. They can torture you only as long as you let them. So it is crucial that you stand up to the bully at some point, in order to get the person to back down. (If the bully is a screamer read this). The big question is when?

First you need to see if the bully has a valid reason to pick on you. Are you late feeding your package every night? Are you still writing in the booth during the newscast? When the EP asks you to change something in your rundown do you roll your eyes and say no? When the ND tells you not to wear red, do you do it anyway out of spite? If you are truly just coming in and doing your job correctly, and still face unreasonable wrath, it is time to document.

By document I mean write down times when the attacks were unwarranted and any witnesses. You want to be able to, if needed, show a pattern of being singled out unnecessarily. Once there is a clear pattern to show, it is time to stand up.

How? You need to ask to speak with the bully and let the person know, the treatment is coming off as attacking instead of managing. You want a witness when you do this, but do not single the manager out in front of the entire staff. That will just create more issues. 1 person, who is a credible witness is all you really need. State that you are there to be a team player and that you value the managers opinion. But make it clear that the delivery methods are making it hard for you to glean the information you need to do what the manager wants. In other words, you are firing a warning shot that you are not being managed appropriately, but you are not being threatening when you do. If you just put the bully completely on the defensive, you will just face more wrath. So choose your words carefully. Document this conversation as well. Often most bullies back off if you have the guts to talk with them directly about the issue. If not, you have documentation to back up the conversation. If the bully asks for examples, give a couple but not all that you have documented. This let’s the manager know you are serious and likely keeping score without you saying it flat out. Again, the bully tends to shut down a bit. But if he/she does not, you will have examples to make your case later.

What is a teaching newsroom?

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on What is a teaching newsroom?
Oct 182014

I was thrilled when an EP recently asked me to write an article on what makes a teaching newsroom. The more I talk with news directors, EP’s and AND’s the more I realize this is not well defined in TV news. Everyone has their own take on what it means. I think the reason is the concept of teaching or training means “time consuming” to many. While that can be partly true it is also crucial for television news to remain relevant. As we ask journalists to do more and generate different types of content (on TV on website on social media.. etc) we need to help them get the basics down pat and quickly. While this is a career where you must learn by doing, there’s no reason why sharing the wealth should be de-emphasized.

So let’s begin with the fact that teaching newsrooms need a blend of veteran journalists and newbies and/or up and comers. Frankly, this can apply to every market size in the country. Where the points of difference come in, are whether those veteran journalists are empowered to be mentors, or advisors to the up and comers. In many newsrooms managers do not want veteran journalists to help train. This can be a wasted resource. A teaching newsroom partners those veterans with the up and comers to help provide support. You can do this without giving the veteran journalists too much editorial control.

Teaching newsrooms also have well defined news philosophies. You have to in order to teach. Many times the ND loves to find the next star journalists and genuinely enjoys creating a mentoring environment with clear expectations. Teaching newsrooms also usually have very communicative EP’s who are eager to sit down with producers and reporters to look over newscasts. They are passionate about helping their staffs grow and allowing their producers to push themselves to see what they can become as writers and showcasers.

This requires an understanding of the EP’s own strengths and weaknesses. I just love when EP’s compare notes on the “Survive” Twitter handle. Many are so eager to help their producers and reporters grow. Some do it with weekly meetings, some grab newscasts and sit down in edit bays and talk through shows with the producers. Others hold regular writing workshops for reporters and/or producers. A truly strong teaching newsroom has to have at least one of these elements happening regularly. EP’s are in the trenches. They need to be the day-to-day instructors in many ways. Management needs to help them do this, and provide backup so the time can be carved out for these crucial “sessions.”

How To Deal With Conflicting Messages.

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on How To Deal With Conflicting Messages.
Jan 082014

Unfortunately many newsrooms struggle with clearly defining their news philosophy.  This can be very confusing and frustrating for the journalists in the trenches.  So how do you survive when your ND, AND and EP all have different philosophies?

The first step is looking at who has the most hands-on influence on your work each day.  If your EP is next to you in the trenches all day, and the AND and ND only sometimes step in, do what the EP asks.  If you call in to the AND for script approval each day, do what that person expects.  This will not protect you every newscast, every shift, but it will lessen your being in the middle of conflict.

If you are executing what that main manager asks and another manager steps in and asks you to change it, it is ok to say “I can do that, but (EP/AND/ND) asked me to do this. Which should I do?”  If the person now asking you to do something opposite outranks the other manager, do what he/she decides.  But you should mention to the lower ranking manager that you changed it specifically at the other manager’s request.  Most of the time, the lower ranking manager will acquiesce.  If you are told to change it back, tell that manager that you need management to come to a consensus on this issue.  You really do not have a choice.  If the manager just storms off, do what the highest ranking manager asks.  Make sure you document what happened in case you are asked later.

If you are called in to the news director’s office and asked why your reports or newscasts are not meshing with the stations news philosophy, do not lose your temper and yell that everyone needs to get on the same page.  (Yes, it is true, but remember from the “Taking Ownership” article, you still have to be a team player and leader even when you are put in extremely unfair situations.)  Instead, say “Can you please define that philosophy for me in a sentence or two, to make sure I am clear on it.”  Often the ND will then say what the philosophy is.  Say “thank you for clarifying.  That will help me bring up specific coverage questions as we design our coverage each day.”  Then try and get the hell out of the office.  If you cannot get out, and are asked “Now I want to know why you did not understand that?” simply say that there are some conflicting messages but you will do all you can to be true to the news philosophy just defined to you. Again, try and get the hell out of the office.

The one thing you must do no matter what is document when you are told to execute different things.  Try and show a pattern.  That way if you get a bad review and truly feel you are in danger you can use this information to try and show that you are getting conflicting messages and need clarification so you can fully do your job.  A response to a review that includes documentation like this does get serious notice.

If you are brought in to the AND’s office and you and the EP are grilled about why you are not executing certain things, stay quiet as much as possible and let the EP handle it.  After all, this issue is really between the managers.  You can only do so much.  If you are pushed by them, it is o.k. to say  “I want to give you all 110 each day.  I need a consistent message to do that.”  Then, leave and let them have it out.

The biggest thing to keep in mind, as frustrating as dealing with these mixed messages can be, is that you can survive it.  Most of the time, managers are more at risk in a “confused” newsroom than staff.  If your EP is rebelling against the AND and ND, a time will come that the EP pays for that.  Same with an AND who wants to work against the ND.  Just do the best you can and try and let your frustration go, with the knowledge that the odds are in your favor and that you will end up best off.

 

What Does “Taking Ownership Of Your Newscast” Mean?

Anchoring, Management Issues, Political Hotbed, Producing Comments Off on What Does “Taking Ownership Of Your Newscast” Mean?
Nov 202013

TV news is full of expressions that can be confusing or thrown around lightly.  The term “taking ownership of your newscast” is not a term to be taken lightly but can be confusing to producers and anchors.  So let’s delve in to what this term means to management and your reputation in the industry.

Let’s start with what it means for producers.  “Taking ownership,” is essentially making it clear “the buck stops here” with decisions made for the newscast.  In truth, the buck usually stops with an EP or other manager.  But the expectation is that the producer will fall on the sword and take full responsibility for decisions made.  This is confusing, and frankly at times unfair.  It is expected though.  So when the ND calls the booth during or after the newscast and asks why the heck such and such story did or did not make air, the last answer the boss wants to hear is “the EP told me to do it.”  It doesn’t matter if that’s the reality.  The ND wants a reason.  He/she wants to know there was some thought put into the rundown.  So tell them the reason:

“We thought it was significant because of where it happened.”

“We wanted to add more new stories.”

“We were not able to confirm key facts, but I am happy to help do that now, so the next newscast can air the story.”

These are the phrases the ND wants to hear.  Now a little secret to make you feel better:  The EP will get the same question, and will then get the litany of reasons why the thinking needs to change.  You, the producer, may or may not get that list of reasons.  But be sure, the EP will also be questioned.

Taking ownership also means doing all you can to prevent messes and come up with quick solutions when a mistake happens.   This is more than factual issues.  If your anchor always stumbles on the scripts in the back half of the newscast, you are expected to implement possible solutions to stop the issue.  Yes, you the producer.  No, you are not the one stumbling.  It is still partly your responsibility as the show boss.  If master control never gets live shots tuned in on time, it is partly your responsibility to come up with plans to change that pattern.  Taking ownership means being the leader of the show, the show boss, the one who takes responsibility when things go wrong.  Consider this a chance to get a taste of what upper management is like.  Yes, you will have to have a thick skin.  Yes, sometimes what you are being lectured about you probably cannot really change.  However, you should offer solutions and try them.  This will earn you high praise and respect.

Now anchors.  Taking ownership of your newscast means sitting down with the EP and newscast producers, regularly, and hearing what issues there are with the newscasat.  Do you need to get more men watching the newscast?  Help brainstorm ideas.  Are the EP and producer at their wits end trying to make sure master control tunes in live shots on time?  Perhaps mention to the ND, the next time you are talking, that your EP and producer are busting it trying to fix the problem, but could use some backup.  Is a certain reporter killing the meters by constantly fudging the total running time for their package or going SUPER long every live shot?  Pull them aside, compliment what you like about their work and ask a favor:  Could they trim those live intros next time or call in the actual total running time.  Taking ownership means showing support and providing public backing for the producer and EP.  If you have philosophy differences, take those issues up behind closed doors.  And when there is breaking news, sometimes skip dinner break and sit down and help the assignment desk make phone calls or help the producer write copy.  You are the leader of morale for the newscast whether you like the role or not.  As the face of the show, you are the image leader.  So the more involved you become by partnering with the show boss, the more you will be respected as a natural leader.  That reputation can really send your career skyrocketing

Taking ownership of your newscast means you are showing the bosses and your peers that you are ready to take on key responsibilities.  You are a leader, not a trouble maker.  You believe in the product and the people executing it each day.  A reputation for being a team player and someone who is not afraid to make a decision will quickly earn you respect in the industry.  This is one of the best ways to ensure your future success and increase your job stability.  Even if there are layoffs, the people who take ownership are the ones who have managers working behind the scenes to get them placed in even bigger and better jobs instead of just shown the door.  Time and again, these simple efforts will reap large rewards for you.  The biggest of which is loyalty.  Something that is increasingly hard to come by in the world today.  So go ahead, take ownership of that newscast.  You owe it to yourself and the team around you.

Smack Down! How To Handle An Email Lashing From The Boss.

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Sep 262013

If you work in TV news, and have never received a harsh email from your ND or AND, then you have not been in news long.  Since no boss is around you 24/7, chances are you will be emailed a strong critique at some point.

These can seem out of the blue, especially if you have a really “with it” EP or a protective AND.  They often stop the (expletive deleted) from rolling down hill.  Yes, it is true, most of the ND’s rants do not actually get to you.  So when one does it can be disconcerting and downright unnerving.  But that smack down can also be a big opportunity for you, if handled correctly.

So let’s talk scenarios.  Morning crews tend to get these email “lashings” the most often, because frankly, email is often the only way to reach you if the ND has a lot of meetings that week.  So you work your tail off, and come in the next day to find a scathing email listing all the ways your performance stunk the day before.  As much as this stings, you have to look for whether there is something the ND wants you to implement immediately.  Sometimes the ND spells it out for you.  Other times you have no clue.  Either way, implement the changes you can realistically implement, then after the newscast sit down and read the email again for deeper perspective.  Did the numbers tank?  Is the big boss in town?  When’s the last time the morning crew and the ND sat down and talked philosophy to make sure everyone is on the same page?  Truth be told, these zingers do not often truly come out of the blue.  Most of the time, they are actually a signal that you and the manager involved are not getting or making time to “check in” and see that everyone is on the same page.

After you get a scathing critique, the best thing to do is come up with an action plan to change things, then schedule a meeting to make sure the boss likes those changes.  This can also mean that you should stay late a little more often so you can potentially take 5 and visit with the ND occasionally.  It is harder to send a scathing note when you actually see the person regularly.

Night siders if you get a nasty note, take the time to go in and talk it through with the boss.  When I say talk it through, I mean ask for specific things the ND expects from you, then listen and say “O.K.”  Do not go in angry ready for a fight.  Whether you agree with the critique or not, you need to make sure that you are implementing what the boss needs.  Be ready to explain why you made the decisions you did.  You could be asked.  Often there are simple misunderstandings that are easy to correct.

The most important thing to NOT do in these cases is share the note with the entire shift and turn it into a massive gripe session.  Morale is a touchy thing in newsrooms anyway.  If the ND sent this as a mass email, try and stay out of the complainers box, and get to work on making any changes you need to make with your performance.  The more you sit in on the gripe sessions, the harder it will be to remain objective and glean constructive criticism out of the email.  The easy thing to do, is gripe and give up.  The smartest thing, is to try and turn the critique into a positive and push yourself.

One final note:  Sometimes the ND has just hit his/her limit and uses these emails to get frustration out.  There is no agenda, no loss of confidence in you.  The ND simply ran out of places to vent, and you were a convenient target. If that is the case, do not demand an apology.  Should your boss be more mature than that?  Yes.  But, truth be told, you probably take your bad day out on someone else some of the time as well.  We are human, it happens.  As long as it is rare, let it go.  This is a relationship you need to foster.  Sometimes that means being the bigger person, even if you rank lower.  Do it with grace and humility and chances are the boss will return the favor.  Don’t know about you, but I was always happy to know that I could have a bad day and the boss would have my back, because I had his/hers in the past.

 

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