Should anchors help write newscasts?

Anchoring, Know Your Newsroom, Producing Comments Off on Should anchors help write newscasts?
Jul 092014

Here’s an age old debate. Should anchors help write newscasts? Some say yes. Many say no.
The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. It all depends on the resources used to build newscasts and the makeup of the newsroom itself.

Let me explain. If you work in a newsroom where there is one producer for two hours of a morning show, or the producers are very inexperienced, anchors need to have more of a hand in writing the newscasts. It’s just smart business. If there is a story that is legally dicey, either the anchor needs to write some stories to give the producer time to work on it. If the anchor is a more seasoned journalist than the producer, then the anchor needs to write the dicey story. He/she should have a better understanding of the potential legal ramifications of a mistake. Again, it’s smart business.

Recently I spoke with a producer who got stuck producing three hours of a morning newscast, alone. The anchors not only did not write anything, but the male anchor yelled at this producer for a mistake in a graphic in front of guests in the newscast. This is just plain wrong. News flash for this anchor: You are a journalist not an actor. Help get the newscast on the air clean. You are part of a team. Pitch in. The producer was asked to do too much. Management was not fair in this situation. Do not make it worse by hanging that producer out to dry. Step up and help. If you do, you generally win a huge advocate. I promise that anchor this, if that producer gets a chance to burn you later, that producer will take it. If you are late to work, regularly take dinner breaks that are too long or make a fact error in a script , management will find out. That producer will also share what you did with the other producers and managers. You are now marked. It will come back to bite. Why not just pitch in, be a team player and help write instead of taking that risk?

Now let’s talk about well staffed newsrooms. If there is an EP, producers and AP’s then anchors should have a chance to jazz up scripts and not have to write large sections of the rundown. If that producing team cannot pull off getting the newscasts done in a timely fashion with that much help, there is a serious problem. EP’s and producers in this environment need to understand that anchors need time to look over the sheer volume. Too often the “systems” are messed up in this scenario. Producers are not time managing well. AP’s are not being asked to do the right things. EP’s are not delegating properly. The anchor should not be responsible for picking up that slack.

I recently spoke with an anchor in a top 20 market who was told he was responsible for any fact errors in the newscast, not the EP. He was also told that he had to write significant sections of the morning newscasts. This anchor works with a staff where there is a producer for each hour in the morning, an EP and several AP’s. It is common in this scenario to have the anchors helping to look for fact errors. But to write significant sections of the newscast? I quickly found out that the producers were simply not getting their writing done in time. With that much help, a veteran former producer cannot help but ask: Why? (And no, they are not also desktop editing or contributing to the web.) In this case, it really is better to make sure the anchor has time to read over all scripts, HELP look for errors and focus on “performance.” That is why there are so many content generating resources dedicated to the newscast day part. If you really need the anchor to write, have him do stories that showcase his personality. Write about subjects he knows a lot about, to save him time and help him come across authoritatively. (See “How to Get Inside Your Anchors Head”.)

Too often in newsrooms the work load is not divided up equitably, or even sensibly. This is to me one of the largest problems local newsrooms face as they try and “modernize” and command three screens (TV, computer, smart phone). The “systems” in newsrooms need to be reviewed better and corporate needs to respect what management needs. Too often managers are forced into positions to make anchors responsible for all fact errors, or to require producers to produce three hours a morning, solo, because of decisions made in an office several states away, by number pushers. The question of whether an anchor should write for newscasts highlights this larger problem. Cutting fat is one thing, breaking down systems is quite another.

The One Criticism You Never Want To Be Told

Getting Along With Peers, Political Hotbed Comments Off on The One Criticism You Never Want To Be Told
Feb 132014
It’s a fact of life, in news, that your work will be criticized a lot.  It can be hard to take, but you must if you want to succeed in the business.  However, there is one criticism you never want to be told:  That you blame others for your mistakes.  If you do, you will quickly be labeled a  complainer, trouble maker and bad at your job.  You cannot afford to have this label.
So what do you do to get around?  For starters check out our recent “Take Ownership” article.  Next, do not complain, about how the newsroom runs, to other staff members.  I recognize this is a tough one, because news people are infamous for their after hours gripe sessions.  It is VERY hard not to engage in the complaining and you may even feel alienated at first.  But believe me, it is worth it to not get involved.  Remember a key staffer will be at the gripe sessions:  the newsroom snitch.  Any complaints you make will be reported, and if you directly complain about how others are doing their jobs, and that it’s keeping you from doing yours, I guarantee that it doesn’t matter whether you have a valid point.  You will be labeled a complainer who passes the buck.  Also, there are many times your coworker is not your friend, says a few more generic complaints to get you rolling, then uses your words against you later in front of management.  End result:  You look like a complainer.
Blamers do not get as much leeway.  They do not get a benefit of the doubt.  If you are known for passing the buck, management will build a file on you quickly and work to get you fired or banished to the one shift no one wants, so that you hopefully just go away.
The final thing you can do to avoid this horrible label is this:  When you have a complaint in your mind, think of proactive solutions you can help implement.  That way if you get cornered at the station party or management backs you into a corner with an intense line of questioning, you can try and deviate the attention away from you and toward a solution that builds team.  If my EP just disappeared when I had to make key decisions, and I got called on the carpet, instead of saying “Joe EP is never around to ask.”  I would say, “I think I need to go over potential pitfalls in my rundown a little earlier when Joe EP is less busy.”  This raises the issue that Joe EP is not around, without me calling the person out as slacking off.  If management asks “Where is Joe EP?” say “Not sure, at that time of day. I just try to execute what I am asked as best I can.”  Let the managers duke it out.  Meantime you look like a solution finder instead of the dreaded blamer.
If you sense you are already labeled the complainer, stop your gripes immediately and have a clear the air session with your immediate supervisor.  Look that person in the eye and say, “I am here to help this newsroom by doing my best each day.  I want you to know I am glad I am here and will do all I can to help.”  Then do what you are asked and keep your mouth shut.  You can turn this reputation around as long as you do not let it linger long.  It is worth the extra effort, remember being labeled a “complainer” can be a career killer in this ever competitive business.

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.

 

One of the youngest on staff: How to hang with the veterans and gain their respect.

Getting Along With Peers, Political Hotbed Comments Off on One of the youngest on staff: How to hang with the veterans and gain their respect.
May 212013

When I started out in the biz, I was one of the youngest producers ever hired at the station where I worked.  I was so young, my anchors were close to my parents age.  So were many of the reporters and photojournalists, not to mention much of the production crew.

During the interviews leading up to this job a news director from another station told me, “You are impressive, but how will you manage anchors who make three times what you do, and are old enough to be your parents? How will you make them respect you?”  Truth is, that question was much easier to answer in an interview, than to live out each day in a newsroom.

That is not to say that if you are young and driven you should not go for big opportunities.  But you do need to have a small arsenal of techniques to handle the hazing headed your way.  Keep the following in mind:

  • Respect is earned
  • Set expectations
  • Focus on team
  • Avoid running to the bosses

The first thing you need to understand as a newbie, is that you are not respected just because you were hired for a particular job.  Respect is earned.  News people are incredibly harsh critiquers.  Our brains are wired to find weaknesses and anomalies.  You will be picked apart, especially if you are young.  Many stations are hiring people before they are ready for a particular job, because it can be hard to find someone at all.  This is especially true of producers and writers.  So you are going to have to come in, be professional and work your butt off.  You have to earn respect by consistently doing good work, visibly pushing yourself to be better each day, and respecting those around you.

Which leads to my next point. Set expectations.  Set them for yourself, and those around you.  If you are a reporter, talk through your thoughts on how to handle a story with your photographer (if you are lucky enough to have one).  Explain to your producer when you will call in and when you need script approval to ensure you can get your pkg in by deadline.  Producers: You need to tell your anchors what you need them to do in terms of writing and/or copy editing the newscast.  You need to sit down with the production crew when you get the job, and see what you need to provide when, and explain your goals for the newscast.

You also need to remember that you are part of a team and focus on that.  This can be a really good thing for a newbie producer.  You do not have to go it alone.  You do not have to have all the answers.  You just need to always clearly explain that you want to be part of the solution for any issue that comes up.  For example, check in with your anchors regularly and ask if they are getting what they need.  Listen to their feedback and take it to heart.  That shows professionalism and maturity that will earn you respect quickly.  If you are a reporter or photojournalist, ask your counterpart what they need from you to thrive at their jobs.  Again, you will gain so much respect.  The best part, you will have stronger allies when you do make mistakes, and, you will make them.  You want a support system around you to help pick yourself up, dust off and heal the bruises.  This is a hard biz, you need all the support you can get.

This also is a very small business.  So, do not go running to the bosses and report issues unless it is dire.  By dire, I mean you are about to put the station in serious jeopardy because of a fact error.  If you tell “Mr. 20 years at the same station” to tag out with “13 News for You” instead of “News 13,” and he tells you to screw off, that doesn’t count.  Write down what you told him and when.  Then, it’s up to him to step in line.  Often, newbie journalists panic when a veteran tells them no.  The fear is they are questioning your authority and will get you in trouble.  That is sometimes true.  But, if you do what you are supposed to and deliver a message from management asking for that new out cue or for something to be included in a live shot or pkg script and the veteran blows you off, the veteran will eventually pay the price.  Let that person hang him or herself, by him or herself.  Write down when you told the person, then let that person sink or swim on their own.  You cannot control that person if he/she is defiant.  Focus on what you can control, and be ready if you are asked about the situation with clear documentation in hand.  Then show what you did and ask what more can you do in the future to handle the situation better.  That is not running to the boss, that is managing.

So hang in there newbie newsies.  The hazing can be tough at times.  But it does get easier.  In fact, the person you thought was enemy number one, can and often does become your greatest advocate.  You just have to earn your stripes.

 

The smallest market that Nielsen ranks is Glendive, Montana, #210. It is among the more beautiful places you’ll probably never see. The Yellowstone River flows through the middle of town, according to the chamber of commerce, and you can see a triceratops skull found in 1991 and attend Buzzard Day, no date given.

Glendive is one of those places people would rather visit than live in, though. That’s probably why it only has 4,000 TV-viewing homes. I’m sure there have been some wonderful journalists who’ve gotten their start there. But being that Buzzard Day is listed among the top attractions, I’m thinking it was a lonely start.

So what do you do? You’ve gone to college for four years and made your parents proud. Someone has actually hired you based on a reel you’ll replay in ten years and cringe. And now it’s time to move to someplace like Glendive and become a full-fledged, paid journalist.

Most of us have been there. But the shock was much worse for the young woman who wrote to me recently, whom we featured in last week’s article. She actually had a job in one of the nation’s top markets doing “fun stories and the traffic.” Yes, she’s beautiful. But that didn’t keep her from getting laid-off. She’s managed to find a job way down the ladder. Not in Glendive. But way down the ladder.

“I am not only burnt out but discouraged,” she said during one of our e-mail exchanges, which she is allowing SurviveTVNewsJobs.com to quote.

See, she not only worked in that big market but it was also her hometown. The natural support network of friends and family isn’t there anymore.

On top of that, she’s come to the realization that she’s not a journalist. Among other reasons, she just doesn’t have the fire in the belly that’s required to persevere through all the indignities heaped upon you in that first TV news job.

“Yes I should be thick skinned and not let this run me down, but in reality I think my mental health is more important than keeping up a fake smile to get through this,” she said.

Early on in our e-mail conversation, she told me that hosting is actually what she’s meant to do, not reporting TV news or anchoring. I was actually relieved. Would you want a doctor or an attorney whom you could tell really wasn’t into their profession? It’s a recipe for malpractice. However, this young woman was being honest that she didn’t feel the calling to be a journalist. She isn’t going to pollute TV newsroom after TV newsroom with mediocre work just to have her face on television, all the while secretly yearning to host a talk show.

You may fill in the blank with the name of the colleague in your newsroom who meets that description here: ___________________. Extra points if you think TV news was originally just going to be a part of his or her five-year plan.

So I told her to go for it. God bless her for admitting she’s not journalist material. Plus, with media companies clamoring to create their own syndicated shows outside the Hollywood system and adding local talk shows adjacent to their morning or afternoon newscasts, there is a growing need for hosts with the skills to pull them off. This has the potential to be the best time for on-camera talent to work in local television since the days when stations produced their own children’s programming and hired a host to introduce movies.

In this young woman’s case, though, she’s under contract. I know how much she wants to leave and get on the host track immediately. But I urged her to either stick it out in her current reporting job or try to come to some mutual agreement with station management. Broadcast news is a small world. Word gets around. You don’t want to be known as the person who skips out on contract commitments.

However, fate ended-up coming to her rescue. Another company is about to buy her station. The ownership change, she says, is offering her an “escape.” She turned-in her resignation letter last week and hopes to return home soon.

Best of luck to her, wherever she’s reading this now.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

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

Why don’t you show us how it’s done then! The result of on set rants in the booth.

Getting Along With Peers, Political Hotbed, Producing Comments Off on Why don’t you show us how it’s done then! The result of on set rants in the booth.
Jan 092013

So now we know that anchors often resort to onset rants, when they are super frustrated and feel there is no other outlet.  Anchors, we get it.  Other journalists understand some of these issues are hard to take, but it’s time for you to see what impact that moment of weakness has on the rest of the team.

First, the producer.  Let me clue you in on a little secret, producers tend to be control freaks, who place a lot of their self worth on their work.  Their biggest points of pride, the writing and flow of the newscast.  The writing is their stamp, on the newscast.  So when you the anchor make fun of the writing, right or wrong, for many producers it is a deeply personal insult.  In some ways it is the same as viewers sending scathing critiques of your clothes, hair or delivery.  It takes awhile for many producers to understand that the writing has to be a team effort. (see “How to get inside your anchors heads”).  Anchors can say the  critiques are not personal until you are blue in the face, most producers never buy it.

The producer is also the team leader, especially in shops with newscasts that are more content driven rather than personality driven.  So when you make fun of the writing or complain about how it made you look, you are essentially calling out the newscast leader as a fool.  That is how it feels to the producer, and the production staff.  Again, think about this.  I personally know of only one anchor, foolish enough to call out an AND or ND in the middle of the newsroom.  Producers are a type of manager as well.  Show enough respect to talk to the producer one on one.

That said, producers read “I can’t believe that aired again!” and understand, anchors usually do not go off on the set unless they feel they have no voice and that any suggestions in the past were ignored.  So, if the anchors are constantly calling you out on the set, it can be a message.  You don’t respect us, and therefore we don’t respect you.  As the leader of the newscast, you have to try and make amends.  It is important that you not only allow critiques to happen, but actually acknowledge them and make changes at times.  You are fallible.  Everyone is fallible.  Recognize it, grow from it, and allow yourself to self reflect.  Leaders help those around them rise up.  Are you doing that or serving your own self interests?  Spell out to the anchors, that you will really listen to what they have to say.  If you go against their advice, say why.  One more thing, solid leaders also admit when they make mistakes.  If you can set that tone, chances are the people around you will too, and all of you will grow together.  Set up basic trust, that is crucial especially during breaking news.  All of you need each other.

Anchors need to consider another thing before ranting on the set.  It undermines your authority with the production staff as well.  No one wants to sit and hear someone being criticized openly.  If you can say that about the producer, what do you say about the production crew behind their backs?  It causes a sense of superiority that is not appropriate.  Production crews and producers are fully aware of how much they impact your success.  Never, ever, forget that.  Every time you sit on the set, you are placing your fate in many hands, no matter how talented you are.  Do you really want them collectively saying “Why don’t you show us how it’s done then?”  They will monitor how long you take to do your hair and makeup, they will help managers figure out if you take three hour dinner breaks, even on big news days.  In other words, if you regularly rant on the set, you better be the hardest working journalist in the newsroom EVERY SINGLE DAY, or you will have a host of enemies waiting to watch you get yours.  It is just the truth.  A producer I used to work with purposely used words her anchor struggled to pronounce in copy, and especially during breaking news, just to trip the anchor up.  She was tired of the on set rants.  I watched a production crew, purposely call up a mic line early to catch an anchor in a rant, on live TV, just to make her shut up.  I have also seen producers lobby together to request that anchors be fired, because the on set rants became too much to take.

News is stressful.  We all have moments of weakness.  But when those moments happen on set, they are not easily forgiven.  They create the “us vs. them” mentality that damages so many newsrooms and so many newscasts.  Anchors, stop those rants.  Producers, give anchors a forum to talk with you about concerns, and really listen and learn from the information.  Make it your pledge for the new year.  You will be shocked how much better all of you perform when you set aside the ego, and focus on team.

Bad Behavior has blocked 495 access attempts in the last 7 days.