THE PRODUCER SURVEY: The Backbone of the Newsroom Speaks Up
Now the producers get to sound off about success, struggles, and other stuff when it comes to their role in local news organizations.
“Producers are the backbone of any news organization. You can have a great face, strong arms, tough feet, and capable hands – but as anyone who has experienced back pain will tell you – if the spine isn’t strong the rest of the body suffers.“Jennifer Hardy
The body is suffering in some local news outlets, but if you listen to what the backbone is telling you then you can strengthen the whole body. This is a survey done (non-scientific) about producers in the local news industry. Nearly 50 responses came in during the first 24 hours the survey was posted.
You are still welcome to sound off: THE PRODUCER SURVEY
- These are experienced producers, most with at least 2 years of experience. Less than 5% have been in the business one year or less. 49% have more than 5 years of experience.
- In some cases, stations are just $2k – $4k away from keeping a producer who is otherwise thinking of leaving.
- Give them a break. 50% of them “Rarely” or “Never” get a break. Less than 8% “always” get a break.
- You can still save (some of) them. While only 5% say “No Way” when thinking of leaving local news and 34% say they are definitely leaving, you’ve got 60% who are stuck between “Sometimes” and “Often”.
- While we’ve seen a growing crisis in trying to find future leaders, 74% say they want to be a manager or they have been thinking about it.
The smart kids- who everyone else always knew as the brains. But who I just knew as my soul mates.Josie Geller “Never Been Kissed”
That quote from “Never Been Kissed” resonates with me as I write this, as producers are my own soulmates. We’re the “bossy” ones. The “annoying” ones. The ones you roll your eyes at when we ask for something “crazy”. The ones who always have that “producer look” on their face when they are mesmerized by their own rundown and trying to keep up with a thousand moving parts.
THE STORY OF PRODUCERS
Producers historically have not made much money. It used to be seen as the “Golden Ticket” into any newsroom. Start there and you’ve got your foot in the door and you can work to any position you want. You take the leap, and crappy pay, and hope the Chocolate Factory is going to make you a star.
Little by little, like adding one more pair of jeans into that suitcase that’s already full, producers were given a lion’s share of work. I sometimes ponder now how it took me an entire day to fill a 30-minute newscast before the advent of the internet and social media. I know it DID fill the day, but with everything producers do now vs then, it’s mind-boggling on 30-minute slot had one broadcast-only focused producer.
“Just make them a producer if they can’t do anything else”Said by some people at station or corporate leadership that don’t understand what a producer actually does.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a reporter struggling or an anchor moved up too quickly, and someone in a leadership role (at various stations) have said to me “Just make them a producer.” I could only bite my respectful tongue for so long before I said, “You know – when you say that you are grossly underestimating the work a producer does. The specific set of skills needed to craft a newscast, deal with personalities, coordinate coverage between newsroom, talent, production, and the field. You have concerns that person can’t write a 1:30 package well? Why do you think they can write an hour-long newscast?”
Here’s the good news. This is not as common as I thought according to some of the written responses.
“I’d like to see them try, fortunately though, I’ve not run into this much in my career.”
“Actually, I’ve never heard a manager say that. (I should also point out that I was a manager in two former newsrooms.)”
“Never heard of this. Lol. Producers are one of the top positions in the newsroom I feel.”
“I’ve honestly never heard this because the newsrooms I’ve been in valued producers. But the position is extremely vital to the newsroom and takes a detail-oriented and quick thinking personality, definitely not meant for everyone.”
” I’ve never felt that way in my newsroom.”
“I’ve never heard this. In fact, what I’ve seen most often is it’s easier for reporters to call out than producers, because producers can just fill their newscasts with other content, but without producers, there would be no newscast.”
How refreshing! There are places where the producers are at least at surface level valued in the way they should be.
Let’s look at the list of skills a producer needs to have to be considered “good”:
- Knowing local news
- Knowing national/world news
- Can research these items and break them down into easily digestible chunks of time
- Knows all the ways to get content (CNN/Network Affiliates/Social Media/Newsroom Email, etc.)
- Puts all that in logical order or order of importance with good flow, cadence, and style.
- Knows the layout of the set the assigns proper information in rundown columns.
- Can get a picture from email/social to on-air with proper branding and fit.
- Can style the rundown so a director can read it while formatting it so anchors and reporters can digest it as well.
- Can log multiple soundbites with the newsroom chaos around them.
- Can create graphics and lower thirds by the Style Guide flawlessly.
- Fixes mistakes others make who don’t know the Style Guide flawlessly.
- Can manage time like it’s a bomb about to go off.
- Can lose an hour of time for a “meeting that could have been an email” and still get the job done.
- Can produce any daypart newscast you have, even with the different formats and processes of each daypart.
- Has to keep up with changes people make to the rundown unexpectedly, like always looking for a needle in a stack of needles.
- Has to be able to explain ^^^^ all of that to anyone who doesn’t understand. One reporter who never learned to put in supers correctly can suck 10 minutes of your day. An anchor who adds a story but doesn’t format it right? Then the director is mad at the producer.
For the people who have heard the old “Just make them a producer if they can’t do anything else”? Here’s what they have to say:
“My job is harder, and sending someone incompetent to work with me adds dead weight to my already heavy workload.”
“Everyone is not a producer it’s takes a lot of to manage the different tasks.”
“If they want a good newscast, they need talented employees. You get what you give.”
“Hahaha! I’ve seen “anyone” be able to be a reporter. I’ve seen the most incapable human being ever hold an assignment desk position. I’ve the “call-in-sick-once-a-week” guy hold up a job as a photog. I’ve seen an idiot remain an anchor. I’ve seen the unqualified be managers. I’ve never seen anyone but the best in the business be able to be a producer for more than one 2-year contract.”
“Try putting ‘anyone’ in that position for a day with no help and see how that works out for you.”
“It’s degrading. Not only does it say they don’t value what I do, but it sends that message out to colleagues.”
“It’s the most crucial role for a newscast. You truly can’t have a show without someone putting it together. Why trust that with someone you can’t trust to do their original job?”
“Yeah, that is so not true. I know reporters have it tough, I wouldn’t want to be them. However, producing is the toughest job there is.”
” LOLOL This is why in every newsroom you have zero experienced producers dying … you also have understaffed producers everywhere. If this statement were true no one would be hiring. It’s not important you hire them, but keeping them or keeping them in the industry. We must protect them at all costs.”
“Producing isn’t easy. It’s emotionally intense and requires a certain set of skills. You must be calm under pressure and a good communicator. It isn’t for everyone.”
“The lack of respect for this role is ridiculous. Out of any other role we aren’t even the backbone, we’re the entire vascular system. Without us they couldn’t even function. If reporters went on strike we could still get the day done, if assignments, web, etc… we could get it done. Editors, directors and producers that’s whose really important.”
MOTIVATION & FRUSTRATION
I asked these producers to sound off about what motivates them and what frustrations them.
What would motivate them more?
I know some of you managers are looking at this like “So you want to make more, but do less?” Kinda. But not in the way you think. They aren’t looking for an easy way out. They are trying to do what you want them to do – and they’re motivated to do that (more on that in a minute).
They want a job that pays well with a reasonable workload with schedule flexibility, getting praise when they do well and better managers to handle it when they don’t. That doesn’t seem too unrealistic, does it?
Wonder why all your scripts are block copied from network or from a previous show? Why there aren’t “fresh tops” being put on stories that carried over? Why there isn’t a lot of “showcasing”? Because the producer is doing a truckload of things that have nothing to do with the actual art of broadcast producing.
Here’s what other duties these producers are also assigned:
Also got a few comments on this one:
“Graphics, FCC reports, prompter.”
((Side note: Whoever thought having a producer run prompter has a complete misunderstanding of what a producer does in the booth and what the priorities are. Yet are the same people who are mad we didn’t take a live picture of the warehouse fire on CNN Channel 2.))
“I don’t edit all of our video but I do make custom graphics in Edius for the show and reporters.”
“Also write headlines for newscast ticker and newsbreaks for our subchannels.”
“Scheduling interviews and live segments every day.”
((Side note: Scheduling interviews and live segment is like herding cats that just got a bath. Respect should be given to anyone who handles this.))
“Writing for other newscasts (we don’t have APs so we are assigned duties in other shows), writing promos, creating graphics.”
I am in a social group where someone said their News Director told them to “Showcase” more. Dress up the newscast. Make it look better. When the person asked “how”, the News Director couldn’t tell them what to do.
I can tell you from personal experience that few things are more frustrating than “Don’t do it like this” but when you ask for an example of how to do it, one cannot be provided. I spent a week I should have been on bereavement leave working on a project that initially “looked good” but then weeks later out of nowhere wasn’t done correctly. I asked repeatedly for specifics of what it should look like and all I was told was “You should know how to do this.” I pushed for answers. What changed since “looks good?” and can I get an example of one that was done correctly? I was belittled and almost walked out the door. If we’re doing something wrong, SHOW US how to do it right. Don’t just negate every effort we make.
So now back to that “They want to get paid more but do less” interpretation of the graphic?
Here’s what they love about producing:
They. Want. To. Craft. The. Newscast. Like. You. Want. Them. To.
They want to spend time crafting your newscast to make it look better. They want to showcase. It’s an art form in itself. Art takes time. Even if you just want to craft up the lead, that takes time (and the lead itself can change several times in a day, so it’s usually being done under pressure).
These producers who responded are what I would consider “The Good Ones”. The ones who want to be there and show up daily to work hard for you and the viewer. They ask questions, group up on social media, all to find a way to be better at their craft and to make their job better. To be better – for YOU, managers. LISTEN to them.
Now let’s get to what is frustrating or challenging your producers at the ground level. I asked “What is the hardest part of producing for you?”
Here are some answers:
“Being expected to do everything myself and being considered a failure for needing/asking for help.”
“Writing concisely – I tend to get too long.”
“The pay not matching the stress level and workload.”
“Being creative when I have so many things on the checklist that need to be done that I didn’t have to do years ago. (Edit my own video).”
“Dealing with the different personalities.”
“I’m always striving to be a better writer. I’ll read things my anchor writes and think ‘Wow, how can I create something that powerful?’”
“Trying to fill the show with hour show quality content and the unrealistic expectations of my managers.”
“My company has gutted our station to the point that producers have no help. I feel that in my managers’ eyes, it’s more important to crank out content. A lot of stories need depth and perspective, and that takes time to craft. That’s in addition to working with reporters on their stories, and writing close to 30 items on my own.”
“Not rushing through my work.”
“Trying to balance breaking news with finding moments in my show.”
“All of our software is so old and outdated it’s a struggle to have to continually fight it just to get a newscast on the air.”
“Coping with the daily contradictions from above me on the food chain. Being told to innovate and showcase, then being told no don’t do anything new, then being asked why I didn’t innovate.”
“Trying to balance so much responsibility on one pair of shoulders.”
“Having to rely on other people to complete their work and complete it on time and well.”
“Having to change things on the fly and no one even offers to help.”
Several people also mentioned writing teases. There is a need for tease-writing training at the producer level. I always thought of my teases at the dessert of the rundown – and nobody could write them but me. However, when people aren’t good tease writers they will avoid doing it or do it at the last minute, leaving those teases pretty much useless.
**Of course there is a good argument in the news world about how much those teases actually work vs. just tossing to break.
“YOU TALKING TO ME?”
Now the producers are going to sound off to other specific roles in the newsroom. Please take this with a thick skin and an open mind. I asked producers what’s one thing they want to say to their Anchors, Reporters, EP’s, News Directors, and Companies.
The benefit of me writing this article is I’ve been a producer, EP, Asst. ND, and News Director, so I feel all the pain and know all the processes top to bottom and can give some perspective to each.
I’m not going to quote for quote the “Read Your Scripts Head of Time” because there were about two dozen. Suffice it to say, producers are frustrated when anchors don’t pre-read their scripts.
((And yes, we get it – you might be doing back to back newscasts or also reporting or also doing community events – but still – make every effort to read all your scripts.))
Now the quotes:
“I sympathize with you that year after year more work is expected of you, but trust me, trust me, 100-times more work has been thrust upon me (producers), yet you still expect me to cater to you the same way I did 5 years ago.”
“Be gentle, while we appreciate feedback give it kindly, and understand we have a lot on our plates.”
“Copy edit early so I have time to edit to how you rework a script.”
“I’m working on it. My anchor, as much as I love and respect him, wants instant answers and action. Sometimes it takes a minute to get the information or figure out how I’m going to handle breaking news.”
“I’m not the one reading a story on air, so I don’t mind changes but please make sure you don’t totally throw off the video timeline or make a VO tragically longer. Also, when you write a script, make sure you know how to format it.”
“Thank you for being managers, without necessarily having that job title.”
“Please help if there’s breaking news. The show is a team effort.”
“The grass looks way greener on your side of the fence.”
“Please be as invested for every show as you are for the flagship 11pm. Dig into scripts, write segments you’re passionate about.”
“If you have questions or opinions about the stories we are covering and the order they are in, please weigh in at a point in the day when things can still be changed. When you weigh in half an hour before the newscast, there is very little I can do.”
“I’m working solo on an hour-long show. Keep that in mind before you start asking for things that would take two or more people n a good day.”
“‘We’ve always done it this way’ is not a good enough excuse to not test new things.”CAN I GET AN “AMEN”?
“Be patient. If you don’t like the way we wrote something, please talk to us instead of changing an entire script we wrote. There may be a reason behind WHY we wrote it that way.”
“I wish we had time for you to show me how to be a better writer.”
“If you have a story idea when you get in, you need to write it yourself. You come in when I’m in crunch time.” – A Morning Producer
I cannot tell you the number of battles I’ve faced or acted as a mediator with anchors as a producer and as a manager.
The way I see it, I am writing my scripts FOR THEM. So I need to write in a way they can deliver. I need to know their cadence, their ability to turn a fun sentence into flair and not read bland, their preferences in scripts.
For example, I had an anchor who loved to say the word “Folks”. I hate that word. I am not a Folk. My viewers aren’t Folks. He disagreed. So we agreed to disagree that I would never write it but he would ad-lib it and I’d have a physical twitch every time I heard it.
I had another anchor who didn’t like to read contractions on air. She thought that the way she said “Can’t” sounded too much like “Can”. She asked producers to avoid contractions. Ok. Do your best to make them look good.
If you notice an anchor changing a lot of your scripts, talk to them about why they are doing that and how you can get better to write for them. (Yes, play to ego, it’s okay that anchors have ego – they have their face out there for the world to see and have to deal with viewers every time they so much as pump gas.)
Anchors, here’s what happens when you change a lot of scripts. You take the voice away from your producer, and little by little you whittle away their desire to write good scripts for you because “They are just going to change it anyway.”
I had a newsroom once where an entire daypart just threw scripts together because a bossy, condescending anchor re-wrote everything top to bottom. Video didn’t match. Timing was off. The anchor threw his hands up at bad writing and the producers vowed to never craft stories for him again. I meditated as best I could, but this was a tough battle. Both sides were firm. When I told the anchor to bring me examples of bad scripts, he said they all were bad. So I went into previous versions and found producer scripts and handed them to him, in front of me as the News Director, and said “Tell me what’s wrong with this script.” All he could say was “I just don’t like it.” Don’t be this anchor. Respect the work the producers put into writing and if it sucks, talk to them or management about it, don’t just crap all over their work with your own handy work.
I’ve worked with great anchors who point out gross errors and help mentor people around them. They realize their experience can help the people around them. Be these anchors.
The interactions you have with the producers can define the show. They are at least 1/3 of the presentation you give, if not half, and you are the megaphone. Both sides command respect. I think one producer wrote it best:
“Let’s be a team as make each other look good.”
Ah, the ongoing battle (whether private or public) about “who has it harder”, reporters or producers. We know BOTH sides work their tails off, and we know both sides have complaints about the other as well as praise.
But if you really want to know what producers might be thinking, here are a few things for the reporters to digest:
“While I agree we all should be given breaks, it’s bull$hit that you get to take them and as a result make my job harder, but I can’t take them and still have to pretend that I do in my time card.”
“I don’t like creating more work for you but I don’t always have a choice.”
“Get your things in on time and stop procrastinating. This isn’t college.” (Getting things done on time was mentioned a lot, so suffice it to say – get things done on time).
“Learn how to pull file video.”
“Be curious. I don’t have this problem with the reporters on my shift, but I watch the dayside reporters wait for stories to come to them. They don’t make calls or ask questions when something gets brought up not connected to their story. We’ve missed out on big stories because of this.”
“Make sure you know how to format your scripts (proper production commands). Don’t save all of your best lines for the package. If your intro isn’t good, you might lose people who would stay around and watch your piece. (As a producer, I will probably tweak it anyway, but it helps when you give me a better starting point.)”
“When I give you an amount of time you’re allotted for, that doesn’t mean you can just go over it and not tell me.” – Every producer ever who has to hit a meter and even just a few seconds can mean the difference between a click or not.
“We’re not here to be your scapegoats. Yes, I know you bemoan “THE PRODUCERS” who told you that you can’t go over 1:30 for your story. But we have to hit our commercial breaks at certain times, because that’s what the news director ordered us to do. And if we don’t hit those times, the news director isn’t going to the reporter who sent in a 2:20 epic saga, the news director is going directly to the producer.”
“That I’m there to support them but, I can’t always hold their hand.”
“Please always let me know when there is an issue in the field that could delay your live shot.”
“Maybe do your own research for your own stories instead of relying on me every morning? Heaven forbid you send in story ideas too.”
“They should learn how to write their own intros and write supers. If all you’re doing is one story a day there is no reason you can’t complete it.” – Producers everywhere echo this.
“Write like you talk! Stop regurgitating cop talk.”
“Please give me super times and TRT.” Another Commandment on “How to Get Along with Your Producer.
“Trust your producers, even the new ones. They’re just learning & your too high expectations will only make them doubt themselves more.”
“Please actually learn about the story you’re assigned instead of writing your script entirely based on the last package script you can find on the story.”
“Tell the story the way you want to tell it. Chose a location you think is appropriate. I do not have time to do your job on top of my own.”
“You have one, maybe two stories to focus on, I have 30-40.”
“Producers are not against you. We want to work with you to make your story the best it can be. When we ask for the best stuff for set up… we mean it. Please don’t give me a sot that is used in the beginning of your package and write an anchor intro that is more than… ‘this is happening, so and so has the story'”
“Change up your scripts for alternating hits more.”
There will also be several “good jobs” and “thank you” comments in this thread, so that’s positive news that when even given a chance to complain, some people thanked you!
I will admit I’ve never been a day in and out reporter. What I have done is researched a story enough for a reporter that I might as well have done the story. I’ve gone out on stories with reporters and done live shots for them to see how the workflow is.
Being a reporter is not easy, no job in journalism is, and like other positions more and more get dumped on reporters. Live tweet. Instagram. Facebook Live. TikTok. Get the interview. Yes, all the way across town.
But there are those few things you can and should do to help the process move along between reporter and producer.
You should know how to balance asking for guidance on a story and asking someone to do all your research and be honest with yourself when you do this.
“Well, who do you want me to talk to? What’s their number?” instead of “I’m a little lost as to who to talk to, what about XXX? I’m going to look up their number unless you have it handy.”
“I don’t have the information about crimes numbers in our area. Can you print that out for me?” instead of “You said the FBI has crime stats available on their website. I’m going to look up that link if you don’t have it pulled up right now.”
I actually had someone say to me once (ok, maybe dozens of times in my career), “Can you send me that news release?”
“It’s in the email”, I say, focused on writing another story.
“Can you just forward it to me?”, they ask.
“It’s right there in the email. I’m in the middle of something.”, I would respond.
“Ok can you just tell me what it says?”, they’d persist.
OMG. Read the email.
Don’t treat reporting like you are standing at a school lunch line with a tray waiting for someone else to put food on it. Do your digging. It’s what you are GOOD at, right? If we don’t tell you enough YOU ARE. And if we enable you too much, we need to stop and we’re sorry.
If a producer shows you how to put in graphics, take notes. Don’t ask 10 more times. Don’t always say “I don’t have time to do that.” Don’t just write scripts as words, know the formatting of the script and be clear between producer and reporter who is responsible for what. Who writes the intro? Who puts in production commands? Each shop will be different, but at the end of the day what isn’t done by others HAS to be done by the producer. A little give and take go a long way.
We’ve ALL got too much to do. Let’s respect that instead of making it a competition.
I once had another reporter who I would jokingly, but seriously, say would give me a nightly “10 Reasons I Can’t Go Live Tonight.” Every. Single. Night. Yet her photog would be sitting reading a book and she would have her package put to bed already.
One night she did a story of a missing kid. She said there was no place to go live. I told her 3 good options of live locations and how we could craft her story around it. She said she just wanted to go live at the Monitor in the studio. I said, “That missing kid isn’t behind the monitor in the studio. I need you out live.”
She just didn’t WANT to go live, making me have a nightly discussion about where she had to go live. Don’t be that reporter if you are in a shop driven by live reporting.
MID-LEVEL MANAGERS (EP’s, Managing Editors, Digital Content Managers, etc.)
There’s a mix when it comes to mid-level managers – either they aren’t doing enough or are doing too much. A blessed few hit the sweet spot.
“Thank you for being supportive and helpful but not micromanaging. I can always ask a question without it being stupid.”
“I’m lucky to have a great group on EPs at the moment.”
“Thank you for helping when breaking news comes in.”
How can those mid-level managers improve or what can they discuss in the social groups of their own to find a better balance? There were plenty of “Stop Micromanaging” and just as many “Help Me!” responses. Here are some more specific comments:
“Put your foot down. Anchors aren’t always right.”
“Pitch in before the last minute. Please don’t schedule manager meetings during a show. No one is left to help.”
“You need to get involved. I have an EP who sits in her office and pokes her head out 15 minutes before a show to ask if anyone needs anything. It’s extremely frustrating for people who don’t stop working for 8 hours before their show.”
“It helps when you actually can do the job of the people you supervise. I’ve taken orders from too many people who have no idea about how we get things on air.”
“You don’t need to tell me when I mess up. I know that.”
“Don’t give more attention to another show.”
“(Ours works dayside, but is supposed to oversee us in the morning too) You realize you’re in charge of us too, right? That you’re supposed to also help us and take us to task about our shows too?”
“Stop micromanaging. If you want to produce then do that. But trying to control a show and do things EXACTLY the way you want without a conversation on what needs to be done just is not it. You can’t be a leader if all you want to do is micromanage the hell out of a show.”
“We can’t fit every piece of news into our shows. Sometimes we need to sacrifice a pacer for a moment between anchors.”
“Nightside sets us morning folks up to fail.”
“We have reached a point where producing is much more than wordcraft. We spend just as much time on every script coding and making graphics and finding video. Please take that into account when you say things like “I know its 15 minutes before air, but I want to change your show”, “the reporter can do that” (no.. they will write it but they don’t know how to do the rest), or “I’ll help you with that” only to not do it correctly and then be unhappy when something goes wrong.”
“How do you expect me to do all of these things? Delegate? To who?” – At every level, I feel this one. Even as a News Director I was told to “delegate” tasks when I literally had nobody to give the tasks to without having to take one of their other tasks away. When you have a small staff, there is nobody to delegate to much of the time!
“We feel you too. We’re all under a lot of stress and we’re working jobs where we get no appreciation and no respect. If you know of a job opening outside news, let us know!”
“We want support and encouragement. I can take criticism but sometimes it’s nice to know you’re doing a good job.”
“We should be a more cohesive group & follow the lead of our News Director. This isn’t a competition on management; we should be solid as a group on managers.”
“Help me understand what you’re looking for on a more regular basis.”
“Your help is welcome as long as you get your hands dirty. Communication is key. Talk things out, get to know people, their strengths and weaknesses.”
Here’s what I can tell you about that mid-level manager, especially if they are not locked into the newsroom all day long. They have tasks you might never see:
- Watching a demo of a new product
- Assisting (or in charge of) hiring new producers and reporters. Some ND’s put this on their mid-level managers to go through the weeds and then bring the top 3.
- Working on paperwork like FCC reports or EEO reports for hiring. There is a lot of paperwork in management you’ll never see from a producer ground level.
- They might be working on holiday schedules. Or any schedules. And it’s a thankless task, especially when 2-3 people are constantly changing their requested days off.
- One a meeting that could have been an email
- Getting new corporate guidance on something.
- Creating workflows or SOP’s (I know I spent a LOT of time in my office working on these stream-lined ways of improving efficiency)
- Setting up interviews for the morning news
- Working on a special report or special coverage coming up.
- Any meeting about anything random, from ratings presentations to sales discussions to new timesheet system to manager meetings to promotions meetings. Meetings endlessly.
There are just a lot of tasks these managers have that don’t involve them always being in the newsroom. The key to a good working relationship is to have a one-on-one with the manager about what your expectations are and how they can better help you.
I’ve had producers who would say “You don’t help me when I need it”, but I asked them 4 times if they needed anything and they said “No”.
True story here. I had a new producer who had been trained. I asked her weekly “Is there anything you need more training on? We can schedule that time.”
“Nope. I’m good!”, she said with a happy smile.
“So the cut-ins are ready to go?”, I asked.
“Yep!” All done!”, she said with the same smile.
10 minutes later. Anchor storms into my office, “Uh. The cut-ins were empty. I had to literally ad lib with no video. Why didn’t you train her?”
I walk up to the producer, “What’s going on? You told me the cut-ins were done?”
“I know, but I don’t know what a cut-in is.”, she said back, still smiling.
This is where the line between micromanaging and trusting producers can get muddy during the first 6 months. Should I have looked at the cut-ins to make sure they were done? Yes. (Should the Anchor have too?? YES!) Did I have any reason to believe a smiling happy person would just flat out lie to me? No. But her fear of asking for help right in front of me was more than just not doing the task.
Be okay asking for help, I beg you. If you don’t get it 1, 2, 3 times it doesn’t mean you stop asking. (And take notes so you can say “On December 3, January 12, and Feb 3, I asked for help and I didn’t get any. Those days we also had bad newscasts. What do I need to do to actually get help when I need it?”)
I am terrible at asking for help and rarely get it when I do. That’s why I punctuate this part so much. Many of the mental struggles and anxiety episodes could have been relieved by asking for help louder and more often. Was I not asking strongly enough? Was I sounding like I was joking when I asked? How can I better communicate that I NEED HELP?
NEWS DIRECTORS, YOU’RE UP!
Now for the one thing the producers want the News Directors to know. We’ll go right to the quotes:
“Risk your neck for me. That’s what leadership is all about.“
“Making more with less does not work.”
“Learn how to talk to people.“
“It’s not a coincidence that people keep leaving the station for non-news jobs. There’s a bigger problem at play here.”
“Stop hiring more managers and hire folks who are boots on the ground.“
“Invest in people. I’m in a market I want to stay in, but can only do that if I continue to grow. Not everyone wants to work somewhere two years and leave.“
“The environment is toxic and people are burned out. They just want to feel appreciated and respected.“
MORE: What Is Burnout?
“Listen to your rank and file employees when they have an issue with their supervisors.“
“You literally don’t pay attention. You have no respect for me as a human, I am simply a breathing body that can do the news to you.“
“Please be involved in your newsroom. Watch the shows when you can. Don’t ignore drama if you know about it. And even if someone is in a contract … if they get a better opportunity presented to them … please please please try and support it. Contracts should be illegal … especially when you are not on air. And everything is case by case but if that person has committed to that contract and is at the near end of things (less than 6 months) support your employees going to bigger and better things.“
“Please watch the shows we spend hours putting together.”
“If you cared about employees’ well-being then maybe everyone wouldn’t want to leave.”
“News is harder now than when you were reporting. Physically, mentally, emotionally harder to be a producer. And as a result, your standards for time off and length of shift just don’t fly anymore.”
“I know you were in the trenches, but that was 15 years ago. You don’t have any idea what it’s like to produce during a pandemic or the added stress we have on our plate day in day out. And when I tell you our mental health is suffering, don’t respond with “well we did it, sometimes you have to sacrifice”. Take yourself out of your ivory tower for once and listen to those you’re supposed to be in charge of.”
“I can’t take this anymore. I haven’t left yet because I can’t find a job outside of news, but when I do, I’m going out the door. Are you going to do anything to keep your producers? Perhaps treat us like humans with actual lives outside work?”
“I know I’m reliable. I know I can cover nearly any position in the newsroom. But please don’t take advantage of that. I’m more than willing to pull more than my weight when I can, but I need breaks and time off too.“
“Please make sure that you’re not only speaking to me in rundown meetings or story planning. Get to know all of us on some kind of human level.“
“You can’t keep doing more with less ad expect not to always waste time replacing people/looking for new hires. Also, everyone deserves work/life balance.“
The disconnect seems to be the big issue here – that the News Director doesn’t understand or respect what’s happening at ground level. This is where I feel transparency is important.
Once I was in a newsroom the day it was announced our company was being sold. I made sure my door was open all day for people to ask questions as the dreaded “All Staff Mandatory” meeting was coming up in a few hours with the new owners in tow.
Nobody asked me anything. I even told my boss how odd it was everyone was going about their business normally and even wondered if the general habit of not reading email was biting them all in the rear end right now. I sat all day with anxiety waiting to get questions I had no answer to, and nobody came in.
15 minutes before the meeting, I came out in the newsroom and said “Ok you guys. The new owners will be here soon. Does ANYONE have questions that they are too scared to ask and want me to ask for them anonymously?”
The questions rolled in. A roar took over the room.
I laughed as I calmed everyone down and said “Oh thank goodness! I thought you guys didn’t care or hadn’t read your email about it! You were all so cool and calm today!”
Several people said, “We were cool because you were cool. If you weren’t panicking, why should we?”
Lesson learned. The team reacts to how you react. This isn’t just on big “we’re being sold” days. This is every day. Are we honoring that as much as other demands we have as News Directors? I know I missed this mark often.
I hope some of these answers give you something to think about, News Directors. I know they sure did for me. And remember this important quote:
“It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”Carole Kneeland
We can always evaluate our methods, communication strategies, and relationships with our team and vow to improve them, one employee at a time, no matter how much experience we have or what market size we are in.
Right now I’m out of work and looking at a plethora of opportunities. At this time I’m also doing learning courses on LinkedIn for a variety of things. One of them is leadership, even though I’ve been a leader for 20 years, I don’t do it right all the time. I care about being a good leader and some of the lessons I’ve learned in a calm training environment will stick with me for life.
We’ve got less forgiving employees than in past years. One mistake can make or break you. One mistake gets shared with the whole team in group chats or social media. Two mistakes get you crucified. Three and you’ve lost the room.
Regardless of your workload, we have to have time for the people. We have to make them a priority. I had a boss who would pull me out of important conversations for whatever was on his mind. I finally had to tell him that no matter what, barring a major emergency, meeting with a person cannot be interrupted. It makes them feel like they aren’t important. I had to make a point to shut down email or move away from my computer and put the phone in a drawer to avoid being interrupted during meetings with employees. They need to be the focus.
When you DO focus on the people, watch what happens:
“Thanks for giving me a chance I wasn’t in the business for a while and he gave me a way back in.”
“THANK YOU! Thank you for trusting me, mentoring me, believing in me, pushing me out of my limits. She’s really changed me as a producer & as a WOMAN in this industry.”
“Thank you! My ND is also amazing. A great mentor.”
COMPANIES, YOU AREN’T OFF THE HOOK ON THIS ONE
This was the comment section with the least amount of praise. Take that at face value. It could be because most employees aren’t sure how the corporate level works. I’ve worked with many companies and I still am not 100% sure on some items.
There’s a genuine misunderstanding of how you can brag about record profits or huge corporate bonuses while someone reading it is pulling a double because you put in a hiring freeze. Is there a way to help the newsroom “boots on the ground” understanding how the corporate level works? Do you think more of shareholders than producers? Does the Board even know that a producer reported they are getting $20k in overtime because of gross staffing issues?
Here’s what they had to say to the corporate people reading this:
“If the only way to make profit is to destroy a producer’s life, then it’s not worth making profit. Let’s all admit defeat if that’s the only thing you can come up with and throw in the towel. Think harder. Think outside the box people.”
“Keep seasoned employees. They don’t need to be trained.“
“We need more money. I know no one gets into news to become rich, but people also shouldn’t have to work two jobs to pay their mortgage. There’s a reason people are leaving the business.“
“Offer remote positions….. you’ll keep good people for the long haul.“
“What works for one station doesn’t work for all of them. Also, benefits and salaries suck, across the board.”
“Pay us more and check-in on our mental health.“
“Keep the free food flowing.”
“Stop assuming everyone gets holidays off. Stop changing our PTO policies to where they don’t make sense for newsrooms.“
“Please give us more PTO.“
“Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Invest resources into real journalism not throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.”
“Invest in decent equipment. If we had a functioning system to do news it would make my life 10 times easier.“
“The newsroom is a toxic environment that we bring upon ourselves by understaffing, overworking, and denying vacations. People consume news differently now. We need to look at how we create it and how we treat those who created and see if that needs to change as well.“
“How is it possible for us to lose two reporter positions, a producer position, a sports position and an anchor position… and you have the gall to funnel millions of dollars into a morning and evening news program that no one even watches.
“Take a comprehensive review of staffing levels and compensation. The whole “do more with less” thing is driving people out of this business.“
“Pay your people appropriately. It’s embarrassing when there are reports of surplus profits but you’ve got producers & reporters barely making $35,000/year.“
“Don’t ever get rid of your photojournalist crews.“
“Let us hire more staff… and pay people their worth. We can’t hire our open positions because the pay is crap. And that is putting more responsibility on those still in the newsroom who are doing the work of 2-3 people daily for no extra pay. The ones still working are getting burned out and are about to quit.”
“Benefits matter. Make things unique and special. Everything from 401 k to medical/parental leave need to be up to par. It’s so hard to find talented producers let alone keep them. It’s at the point where stations need us more than we need them. Salary needs to be up to par-maybe even further.”
“You should value your staff more.”
I don’t think there’s anyone in this survey, or in this industry who doesn’t understand that we’re in this to make money. We know we are a business. We just don’t always understand why the people at the top get richer, and someone is working 2 extra jobs to make ends meet at your smaller markets. Transparency, again, is cool and it’s a fundamental pillar of what we do in journalism. Holding powerful people accountable also includes you. Just help us understand. Help us see the forest through the trees.
Also, when people you trust at a station level tell you that you’ve asked for an unrealistic timeframe on a project, LISTEN. When they tell you the news system doesn’t work right, LISTEN. When you see an exodus happening, we don’t expect you to part the Red Sea, but we do expect you to ask what is happening FOLLOWED BY “How do we fix this?”.
I have a fundamental belief in “Don’t bring a problem without a solution”. Or an idea. Or a possibility. Or a discussion to be flushed out.
Here are some of my ideas, and ideas sparked from other conversations I’ve had, and take them or leave them, but it might get a discussion started.
- Decide how you want to divide or not divide content producers. Do you want to have digital vs. broadcast? Or want them to know how to do it all? The intricacies of each are monumental. It’s not just “posting a web story”. It’s breaking news alerts. 5 social platforms. OBS or whatever you use to live stream. Double-checking and troubleshooting those streams.
- Most places lean toward “Do It All”, so I am a fan of then having all “Content Producers”. Half the day they work digital, half the day on a 30-minute broadcast. This means broadcast producers will also know how to live stream the news conference. This means a digital producer can also booth a show. It helps with scheduling issues. It gets you more content more places.
- Swarm Produce. I heard a consultant talk about this and I wish I could remember which one, as I’ve worked with great consultants. But this is where the rundown is set up by maybe a Senior Producer or EP, and all available people in the newsroom “Swarm” the rundown and write stories. It puts the priority on the NEXT newscast and doesn’t leave a 10pm producer in the background while all hell is breaking loose at 5pm.
- “One Story. One Producer.” This is something I’ve never understood fully that we have one story and 5 people touch it. So, for example, the bank robbery story comes in. A producer writes it for the 5pm. A digital producer writes for the web. The reporter might social post it. The assignment manager might make some calls on it. If you have this ONE STORY have ONE PERSON be the expert in it and write for all platforms. I just wrote a bank robbery story, I know it better than anyone else so why not write it for the web as well and post it to social with the crime scene photo? I logged a news conference so I’m going to pull bites for my 5pm and the 6pm, 10pm, and MORNING SHOW and send those out to producers!
- There is a producing “Call of the Wild” I’ve seen in some chats to rotate people through different dayparts so nobody gets stuck on a crap shift for 2 years. Yes, this comes with training and scheduling challenges, but it could also keep more people when everyone is sharing the workload.
- Get Otter or another Voice to Text service. This changed my producing life. This way you can record a long news conference so not everyone has to stop and watch it, and the script of the news conference is playing out live to anyone with access. Faster social quotes, better information for the newscast about to start, and a list of things the anchors can ad lib about. If you read faster than you watch, this gives you SO much time of your life back.
- Figure out a way to do mental health checks with your team member and talk to HR about how to do it. Some of them are strong and won’t show it, but they are crying in their car on the way home. Others will act out in different ways and you think it’s a disciplinary problem when it’s really just the mental health impact of the workload. People want you to see them as people and not bodies with a number on a spreadsheet.
- Before you approve a new sales initiative, look at the workload it’s adding to the staff. When every “sponsorship” or “special report” comes with extra work without any additional people or equipment, you are stretching the staff even thinner. Have clear standards of logo sizes and what can/can’t be ethically done and make sure the sales team knows it (and lives up to it). I once had a Friday 5pm newscast that had 2 liveshots and a package all connected to sales and I had two reporters. We literally couldn’t cover actual news that day.
- Figure out a better training plan for new producers. I hear it from green producers and experienced ones. They are thrown into the lion’s den on day 1, generally greeted by an overworked producer trying to train on the fly and literally doesn’t have time to do it right.. Then months later you wonder why that producer isn’t doing better? Could you create training videos for them to watch so trainers don’t have to repeat themselves 6 times a year? I’m also a fan of SOP’s or “How To” guides in a shared space. At my last station, there wasn’t a single thing you did as a producer in the NRCS or digital platforms that wasn’t spelled out one point at a time.
- Evaluate your pay structure. Fast. Before we cross the “Too Big To Fail” line. There is a growing trend of “I just won’t work for that amount of money.
Speaking of pay, let’s dive into that section of the survey. There was only one respondent in the 100’s market. Everyone else was Market 90 – 7. One person was happy with what they made. ONE.
All told, it would take $317,000 to make this group happy with their pay. 9 people would be happy with a raise that equals $5,000 or less. HOW CAN YOU NOT AFFORD TO KEEP THOSE PEOPLE? The average pay in Top 20 markets was $50k, with just two people above that threshold.
Someone in Market 90-ish is making $35,000. It would only take $3,000 to make them happy. How much does your recruiting cost again? And all those job listings?
The average amount of a raise from the respondents was $9.6k, and that with the low ballers and the people who want a significant raise included.
When you start to talk about it more, remember this graphic.
IN SUMMARY (THE TAG)
We know money doesn’t grow on trees, and it’s not a magical fix, but I hope this gives you a little perspective into what your producers are or might be thinking. I hope it spurs discussions, productive ones, in your working groups. I hope it allows the walls between positions to come down a little so we can all see a little more of each other’s perspectives.
To make sure you know I’m not just “siding” with producers, here are some of the other articles and surveys I’ve worked on during 2021.
- Should I Stay or Should I Go?
- Where Are All The Executive Producers?
- What Your On Air Talent Might Not Be Telling You
- PART 2: A Topic So Insightful It Deserved Two Parts/Improving Relationships Between ND’s and On-Air Journalists
- Reel Advice From Real News Directors