If you are one of the lucky victims to be enrolled in Stacy Scholder’s producing class for Annenberg TV News next semester, oh boy, is this the post for you! As someone who’s been through four years of ATVN foolery and has been chastised by Stacy more than a couple times this semester (all warranted, if I’m being honest), here’s some totally qualified advice to help you lead a successful show you can actually feel proud of when you force your friends and family to watch it.
So, I’m secretly a fraternity brother. Fight on! Okay, it’s a professional fraternity technically, so it’s more of a school club with networking resources and the occasional social extravaganza than it is a Greek organization (the Greeks wouldn’t want me, anyway). Still, this organization that I am leaving unnamed is highly structured in its traditions and values, making all pledges memorize 10 essential jewels to shape their character for the better.
These 10 jewels have really helped me orient myself as a professional, so now I will be sharing them with YOU, you lucky duckling! If you’ve made it this far in reading these producer blogs, you totally deserve this.
Jewels #1 and 2: Resourceful and Curious
When it comes to pitching stories, some of the best ideas I’ve had are the ones I’ve found just being nosy. In early March, I saw that my friend got the COVID-19 vaccine at Keck on her Instagram story, so I reached out and asked how she did it. She told me that since she was a TA for a USC film class, she was able to classify herself as an education worker, qualifying for the vaccine.
That got me thinking – does any student worker, being employed by USC, qualify as an education worker? I reached out to the heads of my various departments (I have like three student jobs because I’m crazy), and they didn’t know anything about that at first either. But after they asked some higher-ups, they confirmed I was eligible and sent me the info I needed. Since all this happened on a Wednesday that I was lead producer, this became our lead story. We broke the news to thousands of USC student workers who didn’t know they qualified for the vaccine! And it’s all because I was nosy… or in more polite terms, curious.
As journalists, it’s our job to pry. I’m a huge fan of using my own resources – the people I follow on social media, the Facebook groups I’m in, the gossip around town – to find story ideas that aren’t covered on City News Service or in other news outlets. We have a unique connection to this community (duh, we go here!), so we need to be resourceful in our pitches! May you break other epic stories during your semester, too!
Jewels #3 and 4: Enthusiastic and Creative
I’m super annoying during pitch meetings, because I’m highly enthusiastic about my own stories. When it’s my turn to talk, I’m like, buckle up, buckaroos! While there are definitely a few groans sometimes, especially from Stacy once I get to my kickers, I think enthusiasm is super important when it comes to lifting spirits during an early morning meeting, before people have had their coffee and some of us are still in pajamas.
My mentality is, if I love my pitches, I’ll love our show, and I’ll make other people love it too. I’ll make MJs excited about the stories we’re telling, whether it’s LA’s latest vaccination site or National Banana Day. Enthusiasm is contagious. So is creativity! I love being creative when it comes to adding a bit of flair to the shows, like replacing the outro music with Dolly Parton’s vaccine-themed rendition of “Jolene” the day we covered her vaccination as a kicker. People have told me that they can tell when they’re watching a show I lead produced, and nothing makes me happier. So, use your imagination to make people learn and laugh at the same time! For me, that’s what the joy of producing is all about.
Jewels #5 and 6: Generous and Humble
I’ve really tried to embrace positive affirmation this year, meaning when someone’s doing a good job, I tell them. When our art director, Olivia Corish, comes in with her brilliant graphic designs, I tell her how amazing and talented and spectacular and innovative she is, and it makes a positive Zoom environment where we’re all able to communicate how admirable each other’s work is. I love being generous with my compliments, because I genuinely do admire other people’s work and creativity.
Complimenting people also helps keep them humble, because they don’t have to compensate for insecurity with their words. It also makes everyone a little more joyful, I think. During a stressful producing day, I think people need this.
Here’s a conversation I had with Alan Mittelstaedt, the faculty advisor for the Politics Desk (which I am also an editor for), a few weeks ago at the end of a Politics meeting:
Me: Alan, anything to add?
Alan: Nope. Thank you all for your work.
Me: Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Alan: Kate, you taught me to say that phrase.
Me: What phrase?
Alan: Thank you for your work.
Me: *cries of joy*
It works, people!
Jewels #7 and 8: Reliable and Proactive
Looking to the future, something I’d love to see future ATVN producers do is cultivate a better relationship with USC, and the various organizations that exist within it. I think it would be really useful for producers to start building a repertoire of sources they can go to – whether it be a specific person from USC media relations, a head of a department, or student leaders from cultural organizations – to easily reach out to or find related contacts from.
If we are proactive in investing in our sources right from the start, building that trust with these sources then continuing that relationship throughout the semester, we can avoid a lot of headache from the last-minute source-finding that often comes with day-of-air production. We can also help make ATVN a more reliable representation of USC perspectives that aren’t just our friends and Media Center colleagues.
Jewels #9 and 10: Honest and Respectful
Here’s a big piece of advice, that we all secretly know and pass down, but isn’t anywhere in writing (Until now!): Don’t let Stacy scare you. This is easier said than done. Stacy will tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong in the most blunt way possible because she wants you to set higher standards for yourself, and I admire the hell out of that. Her honesty will force you to be better, so do yourself a favor and be honest with your teammates, too.
Sometimes, honesty necessitates confrontation. If someone says something that makes you feel uncomfortable, call it out on the spot! (Unless it’s inappropriate to do so or not the right time, in which case you can wait until later.) If you hear a racist or otherwise discriminatory comment, intentional or not, it’s SO important to say something right away, because producers are supposed to set an example for the MJs. We’re student leaders in this newsroom. If we let things like that slide, we’re creating an environment in which people don’t feel like it’s normal or necessary to speak out against things like that.
If you’re scared of confrontation, consider this piece of advice my therapist once gave to me: The most loving thing you can do for someone is point out when they’re being harmful, because they may not realize it, and will continue harming others. Being honest with someone is an act of love, because you’re trying to help them, ultimately. This is all part of creating a respectful environment, even though public confrontation may seem counterintuitive to that goal. Trust me, it does a lot more good than not, and I’ve seen that play out so many times this semester.
I know firsthand how hard it can be to call people out – I’ve definitely felt like a villain before, made even worse by the inherent hatred toward outspoken women that I sometimes project onto myself – but as a leader, I know in doing so, I’m helping to keep people safe. The people perpetuating the issue may take your callout personally or get upset – that’s okay! If you feel comfortable, talk to them about it one-on-one afterward, and explain why you felt it was important to speak up. I’m always willing to do this with people, because having those conversations is part of the work. Like I wrote in a previous post: It’s an honor to be able to use my voice to change this industry for the better. That applies both to the stories I tell, the way I engage with my colleagues, and my methods of leadership in the newsroom.
So there we have it: THE TEN GUIDING JEWELS!
The semester can get tough, but if you remember your values and hold onto what gives you your spark, you will INNOVATE and INSPIRE and DO GOOD RESPONSIBLE HARD HITTING JOURNALISM! You might even cause some laughs along the way, or make friends with some awesome people – shoutout to Alex Song, Alexis Gebhardt, Evan Falstrup, Olivia Corish, Annaliese Tusken, and Savannah Welch. You all inspire me constantly. And I’m sure you will too, gentle reader!
Fight on forever, and feel free to reach out if you ever need support, advice, or even just someone to listen. Hey, maybe we can all make a producer support group! I’m sure a lot of us need it.