My time as a producer for Annenberg TV News was an intense internal psychodrama that ran the gamut of emotion from fear to anxiety to relief to triumph and back to fear. It was a taxing and difficult experience that challenged me on multiple fronts. I hope, through this outlet, that I can provide some advice for the next batch of students who feel ready to lead the ship of state towards broadcast greatness.
1. Lead, lead, lead.
I think I underestimated the extent to which producing is a leadership position. What does it take to be a good leader? Several things. For one, you must have a good sense of what you're leading. How much have you worked at ATVN? Do you know, in a holistic sense, how the whole show gets put together? If not, you may have a rough time. It's also important to know who you're leading. Know their strengths and weaknesses and how you can allow them to reach their full potential. Have conversations with your reporters and multimedia journalists about stuff outside the media center. Have a vision for how you want the show to run and communicate it clearly with others on your team. Be decisive and take ownership and responsibility for the choices you make. Be open to feedback and constructive criticism. Don't be afraid to ask for help or delegate.
2. Keep calm and carry on.
On the night before one of my production shifts, I had a particularly strange dream. I dreamt that I had arrived three hours late to the media center and instantly received a collective glare by everyone present. When I reached the halo in the center of the room, I was told by my executive producer that the lead story of the day was no longer the one I pitched the night before but rather the fact that I was late to my shift. The anchor would announce in pitch-perfect broadcast tone that buffoonish lead producer Adam Askenaizer was late to his shift today. We'd get some voice over of me stumbling in, followed by a sound bite of me apologizing and promising to do better next time, plus a full-screen graphic listing some of my other notable mess-ups.
It's funny in hindsight, but I think this dream was a clear indication of how afraid and intimidated I was by the media center and my producer role. I rarely slept well the night before my shifts and was always suffused with anxiety until the end of the crew's post-mortem meeting after the show ended. I've read that excessive stress causes your brain to release a chemical called cortisol which fuzzies up many of your mental processes. I believe that I must've had pretty high cortisol levels throughout my shifts. It was often hard for me to process basic tasks or follow a set of instructions given to me by others in the room.
My point: find ways to keep your cool. Do you meditate? Try it. Breathing exercises? Go for it. If you've spent a lot of time in the media center, this may not apply to you. However, in my experience the place feels like an endlessly undulating pressurized panopticon. It reminds me of what George W. Bush said about the Oval Office, that it's round so you have no corners to hide in. Similarly, there's no hiding in the media center. Actively seek out ways to stay calm and collected during your shifts. Try to anticipate what problems you may run into that day and plot potential ways to solve them. This can be difficult because of all the curveballs the position throws at you, but some level of preparedness can go a long way.
3. The virtue of debate
I was in debate club in high school and loved it. I didn't think I would need to use those skills for television production, but they certainly come in handy. Over the course of your shows, you will be asked to justify the editorial decisions you make to your executive producer and faculty advisor. Use compelling arguments based broadly on good journalistic principles and more specifically on good television news standards. What does our audience care about? What's close to our community? What's "newsy?" Which stories have compelling visuals? Draw upon these principles to make your case. Don't say you made a story the lead because you felt like it. And definitely don't say that you don't really know why you put story 'X' first and story 'Y' last. Folks will tell you that it's your show and that you take ownership of it, but this is only really the case if you have compelling reasons for the decisions you make and can articulate them clearly. Otherwise, you're giving up that ownership to other forces.
I hope this helps. Good luck out there.