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.

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on Smack Down! How To Handle An Email Lashing From The Boss.
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.


Not In True Confidence: The Danger Of Becoming The Boss’s Confidant.

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on Not In True Confidence: The Danger Of Becoming The Boss’s Confidant.
Jul 302013

Because the TV business is so small, the lines can blur sometimes in work relationships inside newsrooms.  Too often managers, especially first time managers, really want someone to talk with and choose an employee.  If this isn’t a clear indication that more mentors are needed in the TV news industry, I don’t know what is.  When you move to a new town, take on a leadership role and work insane hours, it can be hard to meet people.  You can’t confide in your boss because you have things to prove.  But going the employee route is really unfair.

That’s the element we are tackling with this article.  I get DM’s and emails all too often from journalists wondering what to do when the boss starts dishing on the newsroom politics.  This is a catch 22.  If you say, “I don’t want to be part of this” you can make an enemy out of that manager.  BUT getting access to this “knowledge” can lead to you blurting out inappropriate tidbits when you feel backed against the wall.  So let’s talk through what this scenario really means.

Being the Confidant:

* Does not protect your job

* Does not make you more powerful in the newsroom

* Does give you great insight into inner workings of your newsroom

The biggest misconception is that being the confidant means you have more job security.  Many assume that means they must be considered very solid in their own job and that they are “safe.”  Not true.  I witnessed many managers have a session with their confidant, then later throw that same person under the bus in a managers meeting.  This is not an absolute, but it does happen more often than not.  At their core, many managers know using an employee as a sounding board, is not smart on many levels. Instead of correcting the situation, they would prefer the confidant disappears.  Maybe that means putting you on an opposite shift.  Maybe that means dumping you all together.  Do not assume that the manager is protecting you, as he/she confides in you.  In that regard you could really be at a disadvantage.

So this next point now becomes more clear.  You are not more powerful in the newsroom.  In fact you can be more alienated and vulnerable.  Your co-workers do not like that you may know more about what’s happening than them.  If you are labeled a favorite, it is like being the teacher’s pet in school.  A certain percentage will not like you just for that.  They fear you are “reporting” what employees are saying about management in general.  It is never good to be known as the newsroom snitch or a supervisor’s spy.

Your best defense: Listen and never give advice back.  You do not want to snub the manager, and potentially open up wrath, but you DO NOT want to end up in the middle of all the political firestorms.  Listen, and only tell the manager:  “I have full confidence you will handle everything well.”  Then get away as fast as you can.  The manger wants advice and reassurances.  The same statement over and over is a delicate way to encourage the manager to find a new way to cope with the issues.  Long term, you just do not want to be the confidant.

While you are getting the scoop, use it to figure out how the management team deals with each other.  Knowing who the pot stirrer is, who the blamer is and who the martyr is can be very helpful when they come to you asking for something.  Quietly try and sort this out for your own advantage and keep it to yourself.  Stay out of the politics.  If other co-workers ask if you are the confidant, say only that you are just doing your job, and being told how to do it better.  Let the co-worker take that how they wish.  You do not want pressure from the staff to be the person that tells management all the issues in the newsroom.  Nothing good will come of that.

One final but crucial thing to keep in mind, never use the knowledge you have to attempt to curry favor with the ND or another manager you fear is out to get you.  Do not let on that you know anything.  Do not ever bring an issue up with the ND then say, “Well your EP told me (fill in the blank).”   Knowledge is not power if you share that you have inner insight.  It can make you a liability.  Stay out of it all.  If you have an issue that is driving you crazy, DO NOT use your inside knowledge to push your own agenda.  You will pay for it.  Do not say “I know you were warned about these live trucks needing this part by the managing editor on June 10th.” or “I know you were told this reporter is consistently making fact errors by the EP on multiple occasions.”  If you must bring an issue up, make the argument the way you would with no inside knowledge.

Bottom line, your goal needs to be delicately getting out of being the manager’s confidant.  You want to give very little in the way of advice, so the manager moves on.  Long term, as tempting as knowing the station gossip is, you will be better off.  There are too many ways you could set yourself up for trouble.


The Interns Are Uprising! But Is It Their Loss?

Political Hotbed, Smart Alliances Comments Off on The Interns Are Uprising! But Is It Their Loss?
Jul 172013

The interns are staging an uprising. And many big media executives are sweating. Charlie Rose has already settled a lawsuit against his production company. FOX Searchlight lost a case and is appealing. Now MSNBC and “Saturday Night Live” may have to go to court. Each is accused of working interns to the bone, having them perform menial tasks that regular employees should perform, and not paying them a dime.

Whoa, Millennials! Way to stick it to Old Media!

Except… I think I’m going to have to side with Old Media on this one.

As TheWrap points-out in a nice piece which puts a face on Hollywood interns, the unpaid internship is the way to get your foot in the door in television, film, and journalism. The real threat of these lawsuits isn’t to the big media companies’ bank accounts. The real threat is to next year’s crop of interns and the ones who would be applying the year after that. You see, in this age of “we make billions but we still only buy that stiff, generic toilet paper for the company’s restrooms because it saves us ten-cents a roll,” we may not see paid internships as a result of these lawsuits. We may just see internships go away. And that would be a shame.

I did it. I should say my mother, father, and I did it. I don’t know how we scraped together enough money for me to intern at Dispatch Broadcast Group’s DC bureau the summer before my senior year in college. But we found nearly $1,000 each month — from somewhere — to pay the rent on an apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was within walking distance of the Metro’s Red Line, which I would take downtown to Dispatch’s suite in the National Press Building.

I held the reflector above the correspondent’s head, my arms aching, as she sweated through standup after standup in the stifling heat that just seems to lay on Washington in the summertime as if trying to literally smother it. I grabbed the camera and tripod and began shooting a news conference one morning when our staff photojournalist got stuck on a Metro train because of some delay in Northern Virginia. Thank goodness he showed-up in the middle of it because I was a horrible photog. I wrote packages and VO/SOTs out the wazoo. Some days I didn’t even get a thank you from the correspondent. But, boy, what a thrill that my words were being read by her or the big time anchors at WTHR in Indianapolis and WBNS in Columbus!

I wasn’t getting paid with money. But that news organization was giving me something I would’ve been willing to buy. Their correspondent and photographer were showing me literally how you get around Capitol Hill as a journalist (this was pre-9/11 but security was already tight and the word “labyrinthine” is never so apt as when it’s used to describe the Hill’s hallways, tunnels, special subway system, and liveshot/news conference locations — each with their own quirky nicknames. You’ve got your “Swamp” and “Triangle.” Plus, there’s no telling who you’ll spot in the Ohio Clock Corridor.)

Just to give you a feel for how big a financial struggle this was for my family, there were many days when I’d wander down to an ATM outside the National Press Building and there would be no money. And I was a college kid, super hungry all the time. I’d call my mom pleading for another 20 or 30 bucks. She’d say she couldn’t believe how expensive Washington was because she’d just given me $100 a few days before. And I’d say, “I know. It’s unbelievable.” And she’d say, “Well, I’ll try.” And somehow she’d scrounge-up some money, run it to a teller at Bank of America in our hometown, and within 24-hours it would be in my account. I must have used credit cards, too, to survive. They practically hand them out as welcome gifts at colleges, after all.

But that wasn’t the end of the scrounging. In the fall, I began my training as a student at the Washington Center for Politics and Journalism, which came with a small stipend but more importantly included an internship at CNN’s Washington bureau.

Talk about doing the job of regular staffers! I was quite literally former CNN economics/political correspondent Brooks Jackson’s researcher, field producer, and tape logger — a job I particularly despise to this day and still have to do. But demand payment? Are you kidding? Brooks was like my father-away-from-home offering me advice about the biz and life in general. He is still a wonderful mentor and friend. Plus, it was through him that I met Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, when Brooks interviewed him in a majestic room inside the Treasury Building. On other days, Brooks would introduce me to some of the smartest people in the world studying this issue or that at the Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution, Cato Institute, or Congressional Budget Office.

Believe me, 90% of it wasn’t glamorous, though. There were hours spent transcribing long interviews and adding asterisks around soundbites that I thought might work for Brooks’ next piece. I would get dizzy searching for b-roll in the bureau’s cavernous video library, where the numbering system never seemed to make sense. Plus, there were lots of long days. When I worked for him, Brooks was reporting for Wolf Blitzer’s show, which at that time didn’t air until 8 p.m.

Keep in mind, Brooks was working even harder than I was. He was logging, researching, and corralling interview subjects before I got to his office in the morning and was staying much later than I was at night. He also always wrote his own package scripts. So maybe some of this passion for a good ol’ fight against The Man comes from interns who worked for network divas who expect producers and interns to do everything for them.

However, to sue Old Media or New Media because you weren’t paid for the time you toiled away preparing interview materials for Charlie Rose or because you were asked to help book guests for MSNBC seems to me to be the height of ungratefulness.

Do you realize what a chance these broadcasters are taking even letting someone as unqualified as a college student, like I was, in the door? Do you realize the damage you could do to a world class news organization with one screw-up that gets on-air? But even without having had any qualifications — and even with all the real world education you got and the contacts you made through that opportunity — you’re going to turn around later and demand that they pay you?

Excuse me, but unless there was some egregious treatment by these media companies that I’m not aware of, the former interns behind these lawsuits will not be receiving any sympathy from me.

And to current and future interns: If you’re not getting anything out of your internship, quit. Otherwise, suck it up and take in all you can take in. At the end of it, if you didn’t have the time of your life, it’s not an attorney you need to consult. You need to go see your college’s career counselor because apparently this one’s not for you.


For more information on the federal rules governing internships and whether your station/network might be at risk of a lawsuit alleging that interns should’ve been paid, the U.S. Dept. of Labor has created this fact sheet. In addition, you’ll want to consult your company’s attorneys to make sure your current and future internship programs meet the guidelines.

Matthew Nordin is an investigative reporter at WXIX-TV in Cincinnati. Join him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @FOX19Matthew.


Managing more seasoned journalists.

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on Managing more seasoned journalists.
Jul 072013

Here’s a situation I am asked about a lot. A young producer is put in charge of a newscast or shift and the seasoned veteran reporters and anchors seem to challenge the producer’s every decision.

I recently wrote an article about earning respect as a young journalist, which can help somewhat.  But let’s delve into more specifics on this scenario.

When a producer, especially a young producer, starts a new job or takes on a new newscast you must lay ground rules quickly.  How?  Sit down with the key players you will deal with each day, one-by-one.  Spell out what you plan to do to help that person in their job, and in turn what your expectation is for that person to best contribute to the team.  Emphasize team from the beginning.

This helps you nicely reiterate the person’s role and that you expect them to also lead by example.  Case in point:  A producer recently contacted me about a longtime anchor in a market who pitched a holy fit on the set.  (Apparently he did not read “Why Don’t You Show Us How It’s Done Then”).  How do you get that person to settle down?  First, know that the anger comes from somewhere.  So, let the person vent to you in a meeting.  Then ask the person to work with you to come up with a solution.  In other words, the person has to take partial responsibility for handling his/her own frustration.  You set up that you are willing to help, but that you are not the sole solution finder.  Then, after you two come up with a solution, reiterate to the anchor how crucial he/she is for building the team for your newscast and/or shift.  Then ask the person if you can call on him/her for help as you grow the team so everyone can get more satisfaction from their jobs.  This, again, nicely and professionally allows you to set your own expectations for the anchor.

If it is a reporter being difficult, you can handle the situation in much the same way.  Sit down and have a “clear the air” session.  Remember, these reporters often have a reason for being angry.  You owe it to the team to listen and try to help.  Talk through a solution together.  Then ask for the reporter’s help to be a role model as you build the team.  Most of the time the reporter:  a) wants to be appreciated b) wants validation that his/her opinion is even considered when decisions are made and c) wants to be part of the team, not just a warm body handed an assignment to execute each day.

Finally, keep in mind, that sometimes the biggest help for managing more seasoned veterans is time.  If you know what you are doing, and effectively perform your job each day, many of these sticklers end up becoming your biggest advocates.  They are just tired of “training” people and resent that management “seems to leave the newscast vulnerable.”  If you know your stuff, you will gain respect over time.  Be patient.  Listen.  Have reasons for the decisions you make.  It will work out.


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