Truth be told, one of the single most important relationships in a newsroom is that between anchor and producer. If you don’t click, chances are your newscast won’t click and someone or all of you will be shown the door. You don’t have to like each other. But you do have to work well together.
These two jobs are so intertwined, it can be very hard to form an alliance. This is because the people doing the two jobs don’t always understand the intricacies of the other side. In many cases, anchors are seen as self-important divas who lord it over everyone else. Anchors can seem detached and uninterested in all it takes to put a newscast together by taking long lunch or dinner breaks and seeming to have endless personal conversations on the phone. I knew a couple of news anchors that watched baseball and football games while people all around them were slamming to make air. Producers resent this type of behavior immensely. But let’s look at it more closely. What we producers don’t often see is the constant pressure anchors feel to perform, against the odds. Also some of the phone calls can be radio interviews, networking calls to connect with community leaders and calls to help management vet out a potential new employee. Nowadays anchors are being asked to blog and tweet and write articles for hyperlocal magazines and internet sites. The push is always on to increase their exposure. Then, after all that, they have to be refreshed and full of energy to “perform” on air. In fairness, many anchors are dealing with producers that are undertrained (see Throw me a lifeline) and defensive about it.
Now, a look at behind the scenes as a producer. We spell a lot of the pressures out in “Hey she got more time,” but in summary, there are constant unrelenting deadlines and if anything goes wrong in the newscast, including anchors stumbling or seemingly having a low energy day, producers get called to the carpet by management. Frustrations can then come with this relentless pressure and it can cause producers to lash out. The number one thing a producer has to learn, no matter what, is to not yell at the anchors. Remember, anchors are not only the face of the station, they are the only way anyone “sees” a producer’s hard work. When you ask viewers about newscasts they do not say: “I love channel “X” because they have really interesting tag elements and natural sound that makes me want to keep watching. Oh, and I also love their teases, they really hook me in.” They say: “Oh so and so is on that channel. I like (or don’t like) him/her.” The viewer’s opinion of that anchor is also the producer’s responsibility. You help the anchors connect with the viewers.
Producers must deliver strong content and the anchor must be able to sell it convincingly and authoritatively. This requires getting to know each other and trying to downplay each other’s weaknesses. Read that again, and notice the word “downplay.” There are a lot of producers who relish seeing their “lazy” anchor sweat on set if, say, the anchor is weak at adlibbing breaking news, or stinks at chat. The person who loses the most from putting an anchor in an extremely uncomfortable position is the producer. Yes, the anchor gets embarrassed on television and if this happens repeatedly can stiffen up on air and have trouble with job performance. I still contend putting anchors in bad positions is worse for the producer because you showcase to the whole staff that you are petty and untrustworthy. You are not professional. When you get assigned to another newscast, those anchors will be on the defensive and unwilling to give up some of those dinner breaks or make phone calls to help you. Remember this is a small business and news managers are not the only ones vetting potential new hires. Anchors are paid to be in the know too. Again, so we are crystal clear, some of those phone calls you see may not be to the family at home or a friend the anchor gossips with. In fact, many times the anchor is networking. That means if you want to get out of the business and stay in town, your anchor is potentially your greatest asset to help with references. Let’s say you want to move out of town to another station, your anchor may be your best asset to help you get to the market where you want to go.
We producers do not always give our anchors enough credit for what they do leading up to the newscast. Even if the anchor really is lazy and spends most of the shift leading up to air on the phone “fooling around,” we are paid to protect the anchor on the air and not put him/her in uncomfortable positions. You are paid to make your anchor look good, even if that person, in your opinion, doesn’t deserve it.
Producers, often you are the one who have to start the smart alliance. You need to sit your anchors down and establish expectations for both sides, in a respectful way. Believe it or not, because so many shops are producer driven, anchors wait for you to take the lead in the relationship. They recognize that many times your job is the one that’s harder to fill. They realize they are the face of the station, but in today’s economy no one is safe in the newsroom, and anchor pay is often cut to make up for budget shortfalls. The anchor may not want to start pushing because of fear of a backlash from the producer. Anchors get that you help them keep their jobs. As the show manager, the producer can break the ice and help you both be more comfortable with your mutual objectives. We have delved into some how to’s for this in “Anchor’s away. How to handle a difficult anchor,“and “Your Producing Voice.” We won’t stop there. This smart alliance needs a lot of nurturing so you can both excel. But for now, keep this in mind: You don’t walk in the other’s shoes. You can respect that at times those shoes are a tight squeeze, and the other person sometimes needs help with the pressure of that tight fit.