When people ask about my job, I feel there is never enough time to actually explain exactly what it is I do. When I say I’m a news producer, that sounds super flashy and cool, but let’s be real. No one who isn’t in the television business actually knows what a TV news producer actually does. I’ve never really put into words exactly what a day looks like for me, a local news producer in market 106. I think now’s the time.
My job is to produce the noon and 5:00pm newscasts Monday through Friday. Each day, I’m supposed to be at the station by 9:30am. For whatever reason, having to be at work on a :30 never works for me. Not sure why, but I can’t get here earlier than 9:35-9:40. This is a problem, because my first order of business is to help run the morning reporter pitch meeting which starts at 9:30 sharp.
In this meeting all of our reporters, who are each assigned a certain “beat” of news to cover (i.e., education, crime, universities, etc.) gather ’round a big table in the conference room and pitch story ideas to the Executive Producer, the Assignment Desk Editor, and yours truly. The stories will either get approved or not, and then we’ll send them on their merry way to go write, shoot, and edit PKGs, VO/SVs, or VOs. Maybe one blog post I’ll explain what all of those are. But it is NOT THIS DAY.
When the meeting is over, I get to my desk to start working on the noon show. The noon is a bit different from a normal show for me. I act more as an associate producer than a producer, so I’ll just skip to my 5:00pm show to explain.
Between 2:00 and 2:30pm, the 5:30pm and 6:00pm producers make their way into the station. Around this time, the Assignment Desk Editor has a finished rundown of all the stories the reporters have successfully gotten throughout the day. The three of us producers then overlook the rundown, and silently pick stories we’d like to run in our shows. (Doing this while keeping in mind the “feel” of each of the shows. My show’s demo is all the moms that just got done watching Oprah, so I usually run health, education, and human interest stories.)
At 2:45pm, the EP calls the producers into the conference room and briefly goes over the biggest headlines both nationally and regionally for that day. She also assigns us each one VO to write and edit for later shows. Then, on to the mudslinging.
The 6:00pm producer picks the lead for her show first. Then the 5:30pm producer picks his lead. Then I pick mine. The idea is that all three shows lead with different stories, unless there is a huge news story that everyone’s talking about. Then we’re allowed to all lead with the same story. (Yesterday, for instance, we all led with Haiti stories.) Then we’ll pick the stories for the rest of our shows. Each day the 6:00 and 5:30 producers rotate who picks first, but I always pick third. The curse of the 5:00pm.
This is the part where math comes in. I start out with a certain amount of time I’m allotted for my show. Today, I’m going into the meeting with 5:00 to fill. (This is after the things that were already teased to me, the time for sports, the time for weather, and the time for commercial breaks.) I suck at math, but I’ve gotten really good at subtracting time.
After we all pick our stories, we put them in our show rundowns and organize them to our liking. This is called “stacking.”
When my show is stacked, I go through each story script and put in the graphics behind my anchor, name supers, hit times, etc. Then I check each script for spelling, accuracy, read rate/timing, and flow. The hardest part of my job would probably be dumbing down each script. The average reading level of our viewing audience is 8th grade. Yes, 8th grade. It’s my job to make sure everyone watching can fully understand what we’re talking about in 45 seconds or less. That’s a definitely drawback to the job. I love writing, I love flowery language. But in broadcast, there is no room for that, lest you want to put your readers to sleep.
After each script in my show looks good to me, and all the graphics and supers are in place, I head to the control room. I usually try to make it back there by 4:50pm at the latest. Then, using a computer and a monitor, I frantically pull up each piece of video in my show and watch them to try and catch flash frames, jump cuts, bad audio, or anything else that might make the viewer freak. This is the part I wish I had more time for. But the reporters are scrambling to get their video sent to the system on time, so they rarely have their video in before I get back there anyway.
When the show starts, the director takes control. The director rolls video, takes those name supers, advances those graphics, and puts that show I put together in motion. For me, it’s all a matter of timing. I watch the clock, making sure my anchor doesn’t read too slow and make my show heavy (over time) or too fast to make my show light (under time.) Same with my weather anchor and sports anchor. If the video isn’t in, or if I get too heavy, stories have to die. Some promos in the commercial breaks have to die. If I get too light, I’ll have to pull a backup story that’s already been edited and written to put in place of other stories. I can’t really describe the frenzy of the control room, but it’s definitely a heart-pounding, sweat-on-your-brow, tense environment. It can be good if your show is clean, it can be volatile if your show is a mess, prompting your director to shout profanities and nasty names at you.
After the shows air, all of us meet and talk about the things that went wrong in each show (called “discrepancies.”) If your show goes off without a hitch with no discreps, you get a clean show. And that’s awesome. But if some video has flash frames, or if your audio is over-modulated, or if a super is misspelled, prepare for the pain. Discreps aren’t fun for anyone, but ultimately, the blame falls on the producer. Cue stress. That’s the worst part of the job. If I screw up, it’s my fault. But if someone else screws up, it’s also my fault. Talk about pressure.
But the best part about it is, then I get to go home.
And do it all again tomorrow.
Even when discreps fall on me, the newscast is over. It’s in the past. And all I can do is look at tomorrow and ask myself, “What can I do better next time?” And the blessing I have for working in a small/middle market is that I can make this mistakes and learn from them, and still have a job the next day. In bigger markets, I won’t be so lucky.
And that, my friends, is a day in the life.