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.

How To Showcase: Think Chapter Book

Honing Skills, Producing, Survival Kit Comments Off on How To Showcase: Think Chapter Book
Nov 052013

News managers keep looking for show doctors. They keep asking for producers who showcase in their newscasts. But what does that mean? Recently I asked that on the Survive Twitter line, and got interesting comments like “owning the lead”, “big treatment off the top with little treatments throughout the show”, and “eye catching informative way of telling the story in the first 100 seconds.”

All of these are accurate to a point. But my favorite description was “finding that little something- that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.”  When managers ask for showcasing, that is what they really want. And you execute this in the ways listed above: Owning the lead, big treatments off the top with little treatments throughout the show and eye catching elements to tell the story.

When I teach a producer how to showcase, I often describe it as creating mini chapter books. There are several techniques used to showcase, but you need to have the mindset in play first.  So let’s begin with this concept when constructing your lead.  Chapter books have a table of contents, then each chapter has a title, and information that leads to a conclusion.  The biggest thing I see producers forget to do at when showcasing, is spelling out why. That is when we begin to think about how we are making the story relatable to the viewer.  So, when talking the government shutdown, or Syria or that standoff that lead to a crash, you have to come right out, with the table of contents, showing what the viewer will learn with your coverage.

Let’s take Syria as an example. You can create an extra element right out of the gate, with a split box showing video of people hugging and crying in Syria, side by side with American’s protesting. This sets up the hook of why you are covering the story.  People need help, American’s worry it could cause pain and loss for fellow American’s as well.  That is the message the video sends, boldly.  The line: These are the images the President must look at while considering whether to take military action in Syria.

Then you set up your table of contents with some brief summary of the days events. This can be a graphic, or a few simple directly referenced video elements. But never forget to catch the viewer up on the basics, so they are ready to go in depth with you.

You say those brief lines, “Tonight inspectors looked for chemical weapons and your neighbors (assuming you had local protests) protested the idea of military action in Syria.  Now the President has made an announcement about US involvement many expected, and a requirement most did not.” (Congressional approval)

Next you title each element with a super, over the shoulder, monitor graphic, double box for team coverage, or whatever your station uses to brand. As you go to each element, use some sort of graphic element to “label the title” of each chapter so the viewer understands each element has something new for them.

Once your coverage is done, you need a conclusion. Many consultants call this a “button up”. It can be a summary graphic with bullet points. It can be a what’s next graphic, it can be an image that sums up the day’s events.  Many times it is simply a push to the station’s web page for more information. (Just offer a nugget of what kind of extras will be on the web page, just saying for the latest go to our webpage is throwaway. Twitter is an easier way to check for random information on a subject.)

So how does the mini chapter book idea relate to those “little treatments throughout the show”? Well, whether you are dedicating 10 minutes or 45 seconds to a story, if you are showcasing you still need  to clearly define “that little something that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.”  That means you are not going  to just go into the story with  the phrase “and now…”  Say you take a court case, like Jodi Arias, and want to show how different she looked between the verdict and today’s sentencing phase. You can show a split screen image of her, but you must explain why.  That is a table of contents.  Then you break each part down, and have a conclusion line at the end of the vo/s or vo/vo/sot or however you cover the story.  See the pattern? While condensed the chapter book idea still helps you clearly spell out each element so the showcasing makes sense.

This idea even works on memorable moments, which are a very important way to showcase, in a newscast that deserves a mention. Remember even with these moments, you are showcasing a “little something that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.”  So you need to look for chances to have your anchor connect with the viewers.  A fancy graphics package and use of sound, and several reporters covering the lead is great, but if the anchor comes off as just reading, and not involved the viewer will not accept your showcasing.

So when you look for things your anchor can expand on, think table of contents.  Here’s an example using recent video of a  snow skier that was coming down a mountain, crashed and was rescued by an avalanche rescue airbag.  Have a still image of the skier in a monitor graphic next to the anchor. The anchor says, “We are about to show you how a skier escaped an avalanche burying him.  Take a look, see anything special on him?  Because something he is carrying will save his life.”  Take video full. (In this case there was no nat sound only cheesy music) Have the anchor talk the viewer through each frame. Then when the skier is up on his feet again, say.. “did you see the special equipment? You may not because it is quite small.”  Then show a graphic of some types of avalanche airbags.  “Here’s what they look like, easy to carry and easy to find.  These are all images from online stores that sell them.”  Then 2 shot reaction for button up.. There is a set up, a chapter of information, then a conclusion. A mini book.

A final point, by showing you different times to use this concept for showcasing, the goal is to encourage you to think beyond the lead story to showcase.  A true show doctor adds little extras throughout the newscast, so the viewer is constantly reeled back in with information he/she can relate to and talk about with others.  Afterall, a compelling book always creates good conversation after you’ve finished it.

 

When to wipe between stories.

Honing Skills, Producing, Survival Kit Comments Off on When to wipe between stories.
May 062013

With the constant push for more and more content, I am seeing producers use wipes between stories to keep up the pace.  This can be a highly effective technique to showcase stories.  It also can be very uncomfortable to watch if misused.

So when should you wipe between stories?  There are three common rules:

  1. If stories have the same type of subject with a common link (i.e. – three crime stories that happened overnight, three parades on a holiday etc.)
  2. To showcase different elements of the same story (i.e. – “Here is what the fire looked like when it first started.”, then a wipe to more fire crews arriving on scene, wipe to helicopter dumping water, then a sot from a worried neighbor.)
  3. To showcase a section of news (like national headlines, local headlines, craziest vids of the day etc.)

When you veer from these rules, you can put anchors in some interesting situations.  For example, it does not work if you have a taped interview on a serious political issue, then wipe to vo of a charity event.  A wipe needs the stories to be related somehow.  Morning show or weekend producers, with one anchor, often use wipes to get around a pre-recorded interview.  That is, they wipe out of the interview to avoid making it obvious that the interview is pre-recorded.  But that is not the best technique.  So what do you do?  Well, you can have the editor end the taped subject on an image that does not show the anchor.  That way you can show the anchor back on the set to do a transition line without sweating it.  Or, you can wipe to a story that is related.  For example, in the case of the pre-recorded political interview, wipe to a quick followup about a political story.  Then show the charity event, with the first line on camera.

Bottom line: Wipes are effective when the stories have a common link of some sort. They do not help you pick up the pace if the stories have nothing to do with each other. In that case you confuse and slow the viewer’s reaction down.

 

How to “go big” on national breaking news

Producing, Survival Kit, Writing Help Comments Off on How to “go big” on national breaking news
Jan 242013

A producer recently emailed asking about ways to handle big, breaking national stories.  Do you sacrifice local and fill the a-block?  How without offending the viewer who might want a lot of local?  What a great topic, since it is so easy to go online and on cable news and get that national story.  So let’s delve in to ways to do this, without offending local viewers.  Also, I would love to hear your feedback on whether you think going big on a national story, locally, is effective since social media and online news are so relevant now.  Please go to our FB page and talk about it.  This debate will continue to grow as TV redefines its role.  When you discuss it, consider these key points.  They can help you decide how much to do on large scale national stories during your local newscast.

  • Viewers are used to getting news at this time of day, from you
  • Viewers feel a connection to your anchors

 

Both of the points listed above come down to one important point, when deciding how to cover a big national story:  Trust.  Viewers trust their familiar, local, anchors and like checking in that time of the day with those anchors.  They are prepared to see your anchors giving them the most important news at that time.  That’s why so many newsrooms go big, even when the story is not local.

The producer that emailed me specifically mentioned the Newtown school shootings.  This is a different scenario than the fiscal cliff, which is easy to localize.  The day of the shootings, you are still figuring out what the basic facts are, so localizing can be a little more difficult.  Blowing out an assumption, to turn local angles can backfire.  So localize as much as you can but, do not feel you must have a lot of local tie-ins in order to go big.  Large market producers will tell you this is an opportunity to let your anchors own the big story, just like a local breaker.  That means avoiding a national package.  If you are allowed to get a live shot from the affiliate feed, go for a custom and let your anchors debrief the anchors with questions you think your viewers would want answered.  Make sure you have a set up spelling out the basic facts and setting the scene, so the viewer understands the scope.  This can be done with vo/sots, a package you write for your anchors, or a combination of nat sound, vo’s, vo/sots and graphics.  Do what you need to really spell the story out in an effective way for your viewers.  The point is owning the story, instead of seeming to hand it off to a network reporter and moving on.  Handing it off can encourage a viewer to switch channels.  Remember, the viewer has a trust connection with your anchors.  They can tell the story well, and should.

When you can add tidbits of local reaction, do it.  Let your anchors help you find this information out.  It really is an effective technique to have your anchor say something like, “I just called so and so, and that agency would handle a situation like this, the same way.”  Again, your anchor is acting as an advocate for the viewer, let them ask the questions the viewers would love to ask themselves.  Let the anchor “own the story.”  The viewer trusts the anchor and wants to see him/her in that role.

Another solid technique is letting the viewer know about local stories coming up, and when they will see them during this national coverage.  Some mention it as an umbrella lead and some do it with teases off the top of the newscast.  Some just have the anchors mention there is a lot of local news coming up in 5 minutes.  That way, viewers know you are also on top of the “big” local news of the day as well.

The key when determining how much coverage to give a big national story is the potential impact it will have on your viewers.  For example, the Newtown school shootings were so shocking, viewers would crave information.  By not covering it much, you would actually encourage viewers, used to watching news at that time, to switch channels.  The viewer’s gut feeling would be “This is a huge story, I need to know about.”  They want to learn the information from journalists they trust.  You can encourage them to further believe that it is your anchors and reporters they need to trust.  Do not just shove a national pkg off a feed into the a-block and let it go.  Let your anchors ask the questions the viewers want answered.  Continue to build the trust. That way when a big story happens, your viewers will turn to your newscast first, no matter where the story came from.

Taking Teasing Challenges Head On.

Survival Kit, Tease Writing Comments Off on Taking Teasing Challenges Head On.
Jan 142013

Whenever I publish an article on teases, journalists talk it up on Facebook and Twitter.  Teases, as I have said before, are not natural to us newsies.  So we have plenty to discuss because teases are a completely different writing style.   I asked on FB and Twitter:  What are the biggest challenges you face when writing teases?  Here’s the list and some fixes.

Tease writing challenges

  • Making the time to write them
  • Not giving away too much of the story
  • Picking what to tease
  • What order to put teases in

The number one secret of killer tease writers is this:  Make time to really work on your teases.  These are not the elements you save for last and just throw something in to get them done.  Teases make or break your newscast.  You are judged on them harshly and often.  They have to be a priority.  They need a special amount of time set aside.  Give yourself a chance to write and read over the teases to challenge yourself:  Are these really the best I can do?

That said many of you mentioned writing the teases right after you write the story you are teasing.  That can be an effective technique, as long as you go back and look at them again.  Why?  Often you end up giving away too much of the story. Sometimes you need a little separation from writing the story, to see what your short term memory actually retains.  What is it about that story that made you want to tease it in the first place?

Picking what to tease is very challenging, especially when you look at your rundown and think, the stories all sound run of the mill, with no good sound, average video and the same old facts.  This is key.  There should be a reason every story is in your newscast.  It may be that a little tidbit is interesting, the fact the fire happened in a key demo of the market you are tapping into, or because you need video on a day when you have few resources and too many copy stories.  Realistically not all of the reasons are super compelling, but they are reasons that have WIFM (“What’s In It For Me”).  So draw on the reason why the story is in the newscast and try to build on that for a tease.  Viewers do not expect every story to be a gut wrenching, heart stopping, amazing moment.  Remember at their core, viewers want tangible relatable information.  Information is teasable.  Just don’t oversell. (see “Reel ‘Em In Without Exaggerating”).

Finally, order.  How many producers have wasted way too much time on this?  For the most part, the way to “stack” teases is this deep, deeper, next.  You can play around with the deep, deeper part, but not the next (unless you are in the second to last block of course).  If viewers see a pattern (and they can and will recognize it) of you teasing next right off, they will not stick around for the whole newscast.

So now you can take  those teasing challenges head on! Go knock ’em dead.

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.

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