When I joined Professor Stacy Scholder’s class, Television News and Sports Production, one of the first things I was curious about was whether there were tips and tricks about producing that only someone who went through the class would know.
Specifically, I wondered if I could glean insights from previous producers who learned through their own trial and error experiences. Having worked three years as a reporter and anchor for ATVN, I knew that lead producing was one of the more demanding jobs in the media center (MC) because of the sheer number of responsibilities I had seen producers deal with on a daily basis. With the global pandemic making that job even harder over Zoom, I knew going into this semester that it was going to be quite the journey. As it turns out, the advice I received reinforced an idea that I already knew: There are no shortcuts to good producing. Even in the virtual setting, there are always the fundamentals, such as news judgment and technical skills.
That’s not to say there aren’t some tips here and there that we could all use before producing our first day-of-air newscasts. Here is a list of some of my takeaways that I would like to pass along to future lead producers:
1. Write good pitches
Every morning at our 8 a.m. pitch meeting, the producers meet with the reporters and multimedia journalists (MJs) to discuss story pitches for that day’s show. Toward the beginning of the semester, although I personally wrote pitches I thought were decent enough, I put more of my effort into trying to support the pitches of others thinking that if I were in their shoes I wouldn’t want my ideas to be given less priority than the producers. What I learned, however, is that the pitches put forth by producers are extremely important. I learned this lesson early on when Stacy helped me realize that one goal for the semester should be to improve my pitches, and so I did.
Producers are supposed to have a vision for the newscast, so it’s important for them to contribute their knowledge of what’s happening in the news. If they are creating the show rundown, basically the road map for the newscast, the least they can do is contribute stories that are highly feasible and newsworthy. A producer can’t just lean on others to pitch all the stories. Another tip I would offer is to relate the story as much as possible to two things: the USC community and what’s new or at least current. Although these aren’t the only two things that can make an ATVN story newsworthy, they are high on the priority list.
2. Keep a notepad handy
There are a lot of moving parts during a day-of-air newscast. There are anywhere from 8 to 12 stories being produced before the end of the day, up to 5 or more MJs and reporters simultaneously working on stories and clocking in and out of their shifts at different times, multiple graphics and video being gathered and edited, and a constantly changing rundown depending on the content and news that develops. It is therefore very easy to lose track of things during the process, so take notes. Although my notes from older shows seem utter nonsense to me now, I do know that in the moment my notepad was a complete lifesaver, and I heard other producers in my class (and Stacy) say the same thing. Having notes of the things you need to remember can be very helpful, and that can create a sense of comfort and confidence as you work. It also means less clutter on your desktop as it is physically separate from your computer and can give your eyes a break from the glare of the monitor.
3. Keep track of your MJs, reporters, and anchors
Although this is something that is typically tracked more by your executive producer (EP), I have noticed that when you keep a list of who is coming into the newsroom and when they are leaving, things tend to run more smoothly.
When I openly and regularly communicated with my EPs about this and even helped check in with our correspondents, the whole producing process felt more fluid and productive. If four MJs, let’s say, were arriving at 11 a.m. and I knew each by name, when my EP asked me to assign them stories I was more mentally prepared to do so and the process ran quite smoothly. I could also tell that the EPs, MJs, reporters, and anchors all really appreciated it not only when we efficiently explained their story assignments but also that we were looking forward to them arriving for their shifts.
4. Lastly, take care of yourself
This is a highly underrated tip for lead producers. The morning meeting begins at 8 a.m., and the show is only done when all the elements are finished, so if you are sitting in the same chair for 13 hours until the show is published at 8 or 9 p.m. (at least in the virtual setting), it is important to find ways to take care of yourself. Whether that means getting up and stretching your legs for thirty seconds every hour, or notifying the EP when you need to grab a coffee, snack, or meal during an appropriate window (i.e. 11:30 a.m. is a golden opportunity for lunch), or even keeping water and snacks accessible at all times, taking care of yourself impacts your ability to execute the production responsibilities with a healthy and positive state of mind.
Although there are many more producing tips that go beyond what I’ve mentioned here, these four should be a good start. A final tip I would give that Stacy gave me and that went a very long way is to reach out to previous producers for their personal tips. The reason I say more than one is because all of their experiences or insight will not only differ slightly but also overlap in some key areas, reinforcing the importance of those areas. All of this advice, combined with the fundamentals in Stacy’s class, should set you up to succeed as a lead producer for ATVN.