Around 5:25 p.m. on Monday, five minutes before the 5:30 p.m. newscast began, I started rewriting the top of our show. Throughout the entire semester in my producer class, our professor, Stacy Scholder, told us to protect the top of our show, cover ourselves and always have backups. I did none of those.
Although I’ve gotten into the habit of writing backups for live shots, I did not have one for the beginning of the show, which included a cold open (a soundbite after the teases and before the welcome lines), an anchor introduction and a video package.
With ten minutes to go, I started to get worried. Nearly everything else in the show—graphics, scripts, videos—were ready to go, so I was simply sitting in my chair waiting. Five minutes later, I realized that I couldn’t take any more risks and began to make changes. It was at this point I realized the most important quality for a producer is the ability to perform under pressure.
In the few minutes before the show started, I removed the cold open, the anchor introduction to the story and the package, and wrote an alternate intro for our second story in the rundown. I then moved the original package to the top of the B block (the part of the show after the first commercial break) and wrote a new intro for that. Thankfully, watching it back, you can barely tell how much I was freaking out.
The ability to work under high levels of short-term stress is, I believe, a good representation of television news producing. Although stress doesn’t kick in during the day until around 4 p.m. or so, when it does kick in, you can feel it. With any job, but particularly this one, there are hard deadlines that, if not met, can result in going to a black screen on air. But like any good athlete, you have to be able to block out all the white noise and people yelling around you and focus on what you need to do.
So, if you happen to be a future producer for Annenberg TV News reading this blog, know this: producing may very well be the toughest and most intense thing you do, but you will learn some of the most applicable skills—not just working under pressure, but cooperation, news judgment and many more—for your life.