Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tips for running the morning meeting

While I know there are a lot of rookies out there among the producer ranks, it occurs to me there are also some newbys running assignment desks. Yikes. Talk about the deep end of the pool.

Over the years I've worked with numerous people who manned what I consider the toughest and worst job in any newsroom. Being an AE is like having homework all the time, and I'm honestly amazed more of them don't go postal after having a scanner in their ear for several years while dealing with angry staffers. The job is so hard I have never, ever heard anyone say they wanted to be an Assignment Editor.

If you're new at the AE thing, you need to set some ground rules. Because most morning meetings have two major problems: they're run backwards, and they're too long.

That said, reporters tend to come to the morning meeting looking at the AE as some sort of supreme oracle who has an unlimited amount of story ideas up his or her sleeve. Well, guess what... the AE rarely gets to leave the building. So it is up to the people on the street to come up with most of the story ideas.

But here's where the Assignment Editor makes a common mistake. The morning meeting sets the tone for the whole day, and if it starts with the Assignment Editor running down a list of stuff in the daily file, your station is starting the meeting backwards. When an AE goes first, he is, in effect, letting the reporters off the hook.

People who come to the morning meeting need to come armed with at least two solid story ideas. So what the AE needs to do is start the meeting by going around the room and asking every single reporter for his or her ideas.... without mentioning a thing about what is in the file. After each reporter has shared story ideas, the AE should then ask anyone else in the room (photogs, producers) if they have any ideas. (Photogs, by the way, should be encouraged to attend the meeting. They are on the street more than anyone and frequently have good ideas.)

After collecting and discussing the ideas (and keep the discussions short), then and only then should the AE share the stuff in the file. And after all that is out on the table, the News Director should then make the decision as to what is to be covered.

Trust me, this works. If you're an AE, you'll end up with a lot more ideas from the staff and the meeting won't be as stressful. The morning meeting needs to be a sharing of ideas, not just the doling out of assignments.

Finally, a note to management and producers. If you don't like an idea, don't rip it apart in front of the staff. Do that often enough and you end up with reporters who are afraid to bring ideas to the table for fear of being ridiculed. If you don't like something, talk about the idea that you like better.

Make the morning meeting a positive experience for all. Reporters and photogs are more challenged when they get to do stories they've found themselves than those which are simply assigned.

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