An EP recently asked me to write an article on this subject. So what makes up a producer’s newsroom? There’s a traditional answer and a more big picture answer. Let’s start with the traditional answer. In a producer’s newsroom, producers have the most control over content.
Often in these newsrooms, producers come into editorial meetings with a defined idea of what the top stories are and assign crews. That’s not to say that reporters do not pitch stories, but often producers are required to pitch stories and have a rough outline right away. Reporters are often brought into editorial meetings to be told what their story is. Furthermore, when judgement calls are made about how to handle situations, producers get final say.
But let’s think bigger picture. Why would newsrooms call themselves producer shops? Let’s break down what the goal is for newsrooms that call themselves this. They usually have ambitious mission statements or news philosophies. Some examples: On Your Side, Holding the Powerful Accountable, Coverage You Can Count On and (call letters) Investigates. By the nature of these slogans, these stations MUST source build. If they do not break new content or at least new angles, then they do not live up to the philosophy. Can producers source build? Sure, but frankly you have to get out and mingle with people to really get deep sources. This means reporters and anchors are every bit as important in driving content. The emphasis on “producer” is as the creator of original content. So a “producer’s newsroom” is a newsroom where all the journalists collaborate to produce compelling content, that is original and/or emphasizes community impact. This also involves a lot of showcasing, so you will find very strong line producers in these newsrooms. You also will find great storyteller reporters.
A true “producer’s newsroom” needs to have a heavy emphasis on showcasing the information in compelling ways, so that the viewer is well served. It should have an ambitious slogan and truly live up to it. The managers should create a truly collaborative environment where every journalist, whether a producer, reporter, photojournalist, video or assignment editor has a say in what the stories will be and how they will be presented. This will make the newsroom more representative of the community and help better serve the viewer. In these newsrooms, when calls are made about how to handle situations, there often is a clearer answer because of the defined slogan. If not, management tends to make the call on a case by case basis.
One of the most read articles on “Survive” was “Producer Driven Does Not Mean Absolute Power.” Many newsrooms call themselves “producer’s newsrooms” or “producer driven” simply because they give producers more power and their opinions more weight. But the emphasis on producer needs to be broader scale than the person who puts together the newscasts. For newsrooms to remain relevant in the community, they need to have a variety of journalists weighing in on the stories and the impact they can have.
In a time when many question whether television news will remain relevant or if social media will take over as the top news source, the definition of “producer’s newsroom” needs to be taken seriously. The term producer really needs to be looked at. If defined as “creator of compelling relevant content” the newsroom will change dramatically. Newsrooms that de-emphasize the role of reporters and anchors really tend to struggle with relevance and original content. Showcasing also suffers if the reporters and anchors are not invested in the information. A true “producer’s newsroom” needs to be a place with a well defined slogan, rooted in watchdog journalism with an emphasis on investigative and showcasing. This will create relevant stories, with characters, powerful images and crucial information viewers need to know each day. The reporters will come across as genuine and invested in the community they serve. The line producers will go home gratified because the information they helped generate actually impacted people each day as well. By redefining “producer’s newsroom” TV stations across the nation can reinvent themselves and reconnect with the communities they serve. May the title no longer reference a power struggle in newsrooms, but instead focus more on the collaborative efforts a newsroom puts forth each day to best serve it’s community. I truly hope all TV newsrooms become this kind of “producer’s newsroom.”