Where Are All The Executive News Producers?
Everyone who has experience in a newsroom should read this. Not just managers or producers.
When I initially wrote this, I was in a Groundhog Day of searching for a Morning Executive Producer. So was literally just about everyone else. My paltry “Come work in Market 102” posts were being dominated by big groups with a list of job openings in much more desirable places. (I could sell you on Nebraska, but that’s not the point.) Good candidates are getting swept up fast, and there isn’t really a list of backup candidates.
Executive Producer Candidates, you are the PS5 of the News Universe right now. Everyone wants you and nobody can find you.Tweet
I recently saw one of my mentors post a job listing for a “News Manager Apprentice”. I think collectively those in news content production are seeing the lack of middle management candidates or lack of people willing to hear them out. This is a good step in that direction.
What’s with the drought on EP’s?
I really didn’t have a desire to be an EP until someone approached me about it. I actually flat out said “NO! I want a rundown and reporters and a night shift and leave me the hell alone. I don’t want schedules and boring meetings and battles between EP and ND.”
This person, Peggy Phillip, was my News Director at the time. I would also have been filling the shoes of an experienced and beloved EP – and I was no “Brandon”.
She explained to me that people followed me, whether I like it or not. When I was mad at someone, the whole room was mad at them. When I was happy, everyone around me was happy. “Use your power for good and not evil”, she jokingly said to me, though I’m not sure how much she was joking. (Hey, I’m vocal and passionate!).
She finally asked me if I would just “fill in” for a bit. Knowing I live to make my boss happy, she knew I wouldn’t say no. What did I find?
It really was a whole new world, the next level, the higher calling in my love of producing. No more BS VO’s about Iowa Flooding or searching for a kicker when I hate kickers. I got to impact MORE newscasts without some of the “crap” producers end up with. But there’s EP “crap” too. There’s also glory in both positions.
Let’s go through some of the benefits (and maybe a few “I wish I knew that before” things) of being an EP. You don’t have to be a producer to be considered. Reporters, Anchors, Photojournalists, Editors, anyone who’s a “leader” (whether you know it or not) can be great EP material.
Executive Producers are higher on the salary scale and hold such an important position in the newsroom. You aren’t intimidating enough to be the “boss” people tend to avoid, and you are still in the mix of the newsroom every day, not getting pulled into a barrage of meetings (ok SOME meetings, but not all of them).
You are frustrated with pay scales in your current position? Unfortunately, in each market, there really is a salary cap for even the most experienced producer or reporter. If you are (even with a great journalistic calling) motivated by money, taking a step up is the next logical choice (or going to a bigger market.)
MO’ PROBLEMS (RIP Biggie)
Yes, you have to deal with more problems, but all those things you complained about as a producer and didn’t think anyone understood? Now you can help fix them. You are the liaison between the boss and the people working their butts off to help point out the immediate areas for improvement, long-term projects, and for-the-love-of-God-can-we-get-better-toilet-paper.
Before you even approve a single script, you can take the voice of the newsroom masses to the higher-ups.
You can help revamp a failing assignment system. Re-arrange the newsroom for better communication. Come up with SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for new employees or new products. Search for better equipment (at reasonable prices) and being able to say “Hey I found new Tripods that won’t break the budget. Can you take a look?”
I once had someone who was applying for the job I was vacating tell me “I just want more power.” I’m not referring to the egotistical power to misuse. I’m talking about the power over more stories, more shows, and more producers and reporters who are hungering for help. You get a bigger picture view of the day and can help accordingly.
There isn’t a position in the newsroom who can’t do this. Traditionally, producers move up the management ranks. This poises a “you have NO IDEA what it’s like in the field” complaint from reporters, MMJs, and photogs. As a reporter who moves into management, you know exactly what “swing by and pick up a VOSOT” means and how much time it takes. You’ve seen the look in the eyes of a parent who just lost a child as you tried to hold it together and want to do the best story possible, while the producers just ask, “Did you get good bites?”. You’ve worked with producers and have seen good practices and bad ones. Assignment editors see the whole newsroom and are very well-versed in all successes and problems. They can make great managers too.
David Jones, Former News Director at WLNE in Providence, Rhode Island, was a reporter. He told me, “If you have on-air experience you have a unique background that your team will greatly appreciate. I’ve worked with a lot of strong news directors that didn’t have that background, but some of the best worked in the field at one time. Reporters and photographers know better than anyone the challenges in the field and what it takes to get the best story possible. I can’t say enough about the importance that perspective brings to the overall success of the newsroom and engagement of the team. When they know you know their challenges first-hand, the working relationship is that much stronger. “
You get more of a chance to fix the habitual issues of your newsroom, or bring an idea to life, or work on special projects (they need a producer to go to the Super Bowl? You are higher on the totem pole!)
MORE TRAINING (whether you get it or you need it)
This is one of the faults in the stars of becoming a manager. Nobody really trains you to do it. You were great at your previous job, and usually logic tells the manager you’ll be good at a job with more responsibilities. This isn’t always the case, and you have to learn a lot of new things. Or you GET to learn a lot of new things.
You get to learn about OSHA rules, and car accident protocols, and how to handle broken equipment. You need to know what you can or can’t talk about when it comes to HIPAA rules about sicknesses or family issues. You need to know the laws about breastfeeding for new moms or work limitations for those injured. You learn how to get in touch with attorneys to legally review a script and more about copyright laws when it comes to third-party content.
You need to have a skill set to calm the conflict and resolve it. This might singlehandedly be the hardest part and something there isn’t perfect training for at any level. You might be used to be being the ringmaster of the drama, the person whom everyone confides in, the “pulse” of the newsroom attitude. You can’t be part of the gossip mill any longer. More to come on that.
The great thing is there are a variety of ways to learn management techniques. Poynter, i-Media Strategies (if you don’t know Kevin Benz, get to know him. Brilliant!), Carole Kneeland Project (more for ND’s and AND’s, but a great resource for EPs with higher goals as well), just to name a few. LinkedIn is full of webinars and advice on how to be a better manager. How to have tough talks. How to effect change. How to get “buy-in”. How to “manage up”. A treasure trove awaits. In larger companies, you’ve got ALL those EP’s who’ve been doing it a while to coach you up or calm you down.
You should also talk with your News Director, GM, other managers, etc., about what they expect from you as a manager. Some shops have EPs as glorified producers, still line producing daily or filling in, others might have you more focused on coaching reporters, and you can also be put more involved with special projects. Find out where your job begins and ends.
I know when I was nightside producer, I knew everything. I chose the bar we went to after work. I usually had an influence on where we ordered dinner from each night. I chose the lead story with minimal interference above me and was open to suggestions from others around me.
As I became a manager, I couldn’t be the person going to the bars, but sometimes (like during breaking news) I could get the station to pay for dinner. I had to balance telling my “friends” what to do. That reporter who wanted to leave early on Fridays and would ask for a look live package, maybe as a producer I’d let it slide. As the EP, knowing my boss wanted live, live, live – I had to force the topic barring extraordinary circumstances. I also had to answer “why wasn’t she live?”
I was young on top of all the New EP challenges. I was just 25 years old trying to battle with people who had a decade or more experience than me. I actually had a good, but dramatic, reporter say to me during an ethical debate, “How old are you? 25? You are a baby. You don’t even know what you are talking about!” (Yes, in those days comments like that didn’t flag an immediate HR issue.) I did get an apology later, but nevertheless, my age wasn’t equal to my ability in the eyes of some. I had to overcome that and prove my age meant nothing but my intelligence did.
MORE INFORMATION (Formerly describe as “gossip”)
When you were in the worker bee ranks, you probably – just like me -knew all the gossip, staff secrets, and drama. Who was dating? Who wasn’t speaking to whom? Who comes in 15 minutes late? Who’s furiously looking for a new job. Etc.
When you get to management, and I’m not sure if I’m going to know the perfect words to say on this, but you get to know more “stuff” (that you might classify as gossip or secrets.) The ONLY caveat is – YOU CERTAINLY CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT WITH ANYONE OTHER THAN MANAGERS. This is hard. We are in the business of sharing information and secrets about people we investigate.
I once was in a Department Head meeting, and I said “The staff is asking what is going on with XXXX. How are we explaining that?”
My boss snapped “Tell them to mind their own businesses.”
I laughed as I said “We literally pay them to NOT mind their own business. They get paid to get up in people’s business daily. Now tell me how to explain it to them or they will make up something on their own.”
One of the biggest complaints I hear either directly or through the grapevine is that managers play “favorites” or “gossip” too much.
We are also can figure out “gossip” sometimes without words. I was once in an editorial meeting as Asst. ND, and I saw two people in the room looking at each other. Constantly. Stars in their eyes. Adoration. As the meeting wrapped up my boss and I were in there alone and I said “I think XX and XX are hooking up.” He thought I was nuts. I said that I knew the look people give when they are in love, having mistakenly dated too many co-workers before, and I was sure there was something going on there. Turns out there was, but I can’t tell more than that BECAUSE I AM A MANAGER.
MORE TIME TO DIG
Without the news producing or reporting deadlines on you, there is more time to dig. One of my favorite things to do. New Fiscal Budget comes out for the country? Dig into it. Find local connections. Want to find some good Special Report material? Dig through IRE, NPPA, Investigative Reports, Facebook Groups, etc.
News Director keeps saying “We really need to improve the bathrooms?”, but keeps getting sidelined? Create a list of “needs” in the bathroom. Dry shampoo, blow dryer, ring lights, tampons, tissues (good ones), cubbyholes for each on-air talent, etc. Get a list together and total the price and present it.
Even as a News Director in a previous market, I produced the Hurricane Special. My producers were overloaded, and some were new to the area and didn’t know much about hurricanes. My weather team was so knowledgeable they really did ALL the work. I just put it together with fancy graphics and made sure it stayed on time. But I was doing what I loved.
MORE ACCESS TO MORE PEOPLE
You can spend an hour with the marketing team, talking about their goals and workflows. “Why don’t we get POPs on the air faster?” Attend a sales team meeting. “You all see a lot of news businesses and get story ideas. Let me explain the fine line between a story and an ad….. but please pass along any ideas that come up!” Talk to engineering about their priorities, and what the common complaints they have are of the newsroom staff. True story – there was once a help desk ticket I saw that said, “I need you to move my mouse from the right side of my computer to the left side.” Things like that make the engineers roll their eyes and they have long memories.
You get to spend a little more time with corporate when they are in town, so you can be an advocate for the newsroom. You get exposed to research and rating data that sometimes aren’t shared station-wide.
You get invited to high-profile guest discussions, like with the Mayor or the Senator. You would never have time for that in your day-to-day reporting or producing role. You get to hear their concerns and ideas, and then bring back better story ideas to the newsroom.
YOU CAN STILL DO WHAT YOU LOVE
I can only speak for smaller and middle markets, but there are more opportunities than ever to do your job and do what you REALLY love. I still love producing a newscast from time to time. I was the queen of turning a VOSOT into an anchor package for a REALLY good story when I produced or EP’d. There are managers who still go out and report on promotable stories, or even run out in the day-to-day workflow when staffing is low.
Yeah, we do it because of cuts and staffing, and blah, blah, blah, but we also secretly LOVE it.
When Nebraska got hit with record snowfall this year, I spent a lot of time at work – but man I love my own bed, and with my AWD CrossTrek I could tackle any snowfall. I went into work VERY early, and I thought “Hey. I’m driving. People want to know what the roads look like. I’m going to set up my car to have a dashcam so people can see what the roads look like.” Now, I am NOT someone who wants to be on air. I hate my voice and certainly don’t have a face for TV, plus I like as little makeup as possible anyway, so all that said – I still LOVE telling stories. So, I did. I did “LIVE DRIVES” for one or two events and they were so well received I started doing it every time there was severe or winter weather. It was work, and it wasn’t on the list of News Director duties, but it was FUN! I even had someone approach me at a station event and say, “You are the one who drives around in the snow with her dog!” Yes, I am!
My former Assistant News Director at Channel 8, Brent BonFleur, has a reporting, assignment desk, and digital background before he got into management. He STILL regularly goes out to cover breaking news when we need help. He even called me one Sunday morning while leaving the dog park he saw a fire. He sent pics, video, and info and asked me to post them if I had time. OF COURSE, I DID! 10 minutes later, we pushed out the story and went on with our day. It took the load off the one reporter we have Sunday mornings so she could focus on her story.
My AND regularly cranked out Anchor Packages on stories he’s passionate about and went for a tour of a COVID unit at a local hospital when they finally let us in and fronted that story that night.
His journey to management wasn’t a typical one. He told me, “I started at KLKN out of college as a weekend producer/reporter. I really wanted to be a reporter, but they didn’t have any open positions at the time, and with the weekend producer job I was still able to report three days a week. I enjoyed being on air but really preferred just telling good stories. So, when I was offered a job as an assignment editor, I thought it would be a good way to get off camera but still get to do some storytelling. Plus, the pay was a lot better. Fast forward a year, and I was offered a promotion to Assistant News Director. Getting into management has been an unexpected but great experience. It has helped me grow a lot as a leader and, I think, made me a stronger journalist overall. It has also opened up a lot more in the way of job opportunities because I have a more diverse skill set now. The cherry on top is I still have the opportunity to go out and report when I want to.”
God as my witness, if I have a manager who can fill in produce, do digital, anchor or report, they are all that higher on the candidate list! We have to know how to do it all now.
YOU CAN GO BACK
If you try a management role and it just isn’t for you, you didn’t “fail” and can now never go back to reporting/anchoring/reporting. You just go back to those roles with a fresh new perspective of how things really work at the higher levels. You can be a better inspiration for people around you who are complaining by giving context to that challenge. You also have a better respect for the people who DO manage, knowing the decisions aren’t easy or lackadaisical.
In a recent survey I did for producers, the majority of respondents either want to be a manager or are at least thinking about it. Yes, it was just a small sample of people, but these are the hard-working producers with experience who might want a leadership role.
If you want to know more about being an EP or have questions about moving up, send me a message. All confidential. I have no dog in this fight other than wanting to keep good people in this business.
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