Why I Think News Producing is the Best Job Ever!
Wikipedia defines a news producer as “..one of the most integral members of any news-production team. The news producer takes all the elements of a newscast (packages, video, graphics, etc.) and compiles them into a cohesive show.”
The movie “Broadcast News” in 1987 summarized it by titling “FUTURE NEWS PRODUCER” over a young girl writing to her pen pals as her father approaches.
He says, “Finish quickly. I don’t want you getting obsessive about these things. Good night.”
She thinks about and storms out of her room, approaching him with a huff: “Dad, you want me to choose my words so carefully and then you just throw a word like ‘obsessive’ at me. Now, unless I’m wrong and… PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I AM.. but ‘obsession’ is practically a psychiatric term… concerning people who don’t have anything else but the object of their obsession — who can’t stop and do anything else. Well, here I am stopping to tell you this. Okay? So would you please try and be a little more precise instead of calling a person something like ‘obsessive.'”
Fast forward years later, Jane is confronting a network exec and my favorite line from the whole movie happens.
And that, my friends, is the stereotypical news producer. Whether we started as “know it alls” and found our mothership, or learned to know it all on the fly, being a news producer deserves a little more praise than it currently gets.
If you’ve interviewed with me or worked with me, you’ve heard me say it – producing is the best job in the room day-to-day. Let’s me shine a light in this corner so you can see why I think that.
You start the day with a clean slate. An empty rundown. A possible Murrow canvas, or a newscast that could save someone’s life, maybe even hope of story that will make people smile at a good deed in their community. Empty rundowns full of possibility.
You then go to a meeting where all the stories are pitched. It’s a room full of quick banter and sarcastic quips blended in with real stories that have actual impact. You have to pick between them, debate them, select the best ones. Bonus if you walk out with YOUR story idea being selected.
Then the fun begins. There’s stacking and there’s producing. Big difference. You carefully select each and every story, its format, its placement in the show, how much time it demands, and how you will present it to the viewing community. Your art has begun, and it’s never the same art piece twice.
Somewhere in there, you’re going to be the one who picks up a phone call from an angry viewer, and over the years you’ll find creative ways to quickly end these calls leaving them a little less angry and little more devoted to your news brand. You’ll aim to “always win them back” and when you do, you’ve got bragging rights. When you don’t, well they were unwinnable anyway, right?
You’ll get a rundown perfectly set and timed. Then 3 more things will happen. Depending on the time of day, this might be when you verbally arm wrestle another producer for that content. That’s a fun moment too.
Then you’ll start writing. Weaving words and phrases together in a flow that feels like a symphony when done right. Whether you’ve got a LOT of stuff to get in and you have to write it like an Eminem rap, or you have difficult topics to digest, you are in your groove. You’ve got that look on your face that says “Don’t bother me. I’m in the middle of greatness.”
Now it’s time to bring the words to life. You think of all the technical elements, graphics, opens, stingers, presentation platforms, etc., you have to make the scripts jump off the page.
“DO WE HAVE VIDEO OF CHICKEN WINGS?” – You bellow to the desk.
“Ask the editor, but we can go shoot some if you need it.” – The person holding two phones shoots back at you.
Of course you need it. THERE IS A CHICKEN WING SHORTAGE!
You are now sorting back through all the video and information options you have from CNN to Slack to AP to Facebook Groups to Reddit. You find several new stories. (But YOU found them so no arguing with another producer). Now you’ve got to make room. Some story must die for this one to live. You’ll re-work the writing process to account for gains and losses. Somewhere in this process, you’ve learned to type so fast you can feel your heartbeat in your fingertips.
Now the anchors and managers come in to review the show. They make suggestions. You take some. You leave some. You explain some of your decisions, and you might see the big mistake you were about to make in the B Block (thanks for catching that, Bob!).
Shoot. You forgot to eat your lunch. It happens. You heat it up while scrolling through Twitter and bring it back to your desk. Maybe you leave for lunch and catch some fresh air.
As the show gets closer, the room gets louder, more hectic. You are still writing, focused on your cold open, maybe tweaking the teases. The director calls you “Do you really want to do back to back OTS’s?” he asks. “No. Thanks. Dangit.” It’s fallout from those changes you made.
You are accustomed to asking nobody questions but getting everyone to answer. You just have to say it loud enough. “WHAT IS ANOTHER WORD FOR NEIGHBOR?” “IS THIS ELON MUSK STORY NEW OR DID WE ALWAYS KNOW HE HAS ASPERGERS?” and the like. You are surrounded by your own room of Wikipedia people.
Then you find your headset, if you are lucky enough to have one of your own or don’t have headset thieves in your newsroom, and head to the control room.
You prep the rundown for air, greet all the production team, make sure IFBs are working and live shots are up. It’s time.
Then the call comes from the desk “Breaking News. Fire. Downtown at 1st and 2nd Street. Lead with it.” Before you can even say “how the hell am I supposed to write breaking news with that little information?” you’ve already reformatted the top of the show and you are already telling your anchors about it.
But now you’re 20 seconds heavier than you like to be and dammit – you aren’t going to kill anything in the show. The open rolls and the newscast has started. You somehow have your finger lingering above IFB buttons while timing the show and checking a text message from a reporter.
You respond to the message when the live reporter tosses to their package. Shoot, the live shot went down. “ANCHORS – READ THE TAG. LIVE SHOT IS DEAD”. Well, you just got back some of those 20 seconds. TV karma is real.
30 minutes or an hour feels like just minutes in the booth, and before you know it you are counting down the final 10 seconds with a live look at that fire downtown. “HOLD THE SHOT!!! HOLD THE SHOT!!”
3 — 2 — 1.
“GOOD JOB EVERYONE” you say as you unplug your headset and walk out of the room, back to the newsroom and almost in the same breath say “WHAT DID THE OTHER GUYS LEAD WITH? DID THEY HAVE THE FIRE? DID WE GET IT FIRST?”
You get back to your desk and see the remaining half of the lunch you still haven’t eaten. “Tomorrow I’m taking a real lunch break” you say as you walk out the door.
It’s just a job with so many skillsets you have to command and so much adrenaline you can barely sit still for the first 30 minutes after your shift. (Hence, why gathering at bars post-show is so dang popular).
Even WRITING all of that makes me giddy with the excitement of producing news.
How do I define it? It’s just the best job ever and it has so much possibility each and every day.
I lived by the motto “You are only as good as your last newscast.” Because tomorrow – today won’t matter. It’s video vaper and you’ve got a whole new canvas to create.