Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Anchor checklist

Since I got a good response from the reporter checklist, thought I'd do one for anchors.

Over the years I've worked with a wide variety of anchors; some who were top of the line and others who phoned it in and picked up a check. You can find great anchors in small markets and lousy anchors in big markets. Some are leaders in the newsroom, others feel it is their job to read the prompter and do nothing else.

If you're new to the desk it can be a daunting experience. The toughest thing for a young anchor is not getting a big ego. That anchor title can do weird things to normal people, and turn friendly co-workers into monsters. Great anchors are still team members, still "one of the guys" who will do everything from knocking out a package to changing the toner cartridge in the printer. Lousy anchors look at the rest of the staff as underlings, and won't even make a fresh pot of coffee in the break room.

Being a great anchor is a combination of talent and psychology; you need the gravitas to carry the newscast while maintaining your humanity to treat even the newest intern with respect.

That said, here's the checklist:

-Write your own copy, or at least re-write the stuff you've been given. If you've ever seen an anchor who regularly stumbles while reading, you can be sure that's an anchor who is always reading another person's copy. While some anchors can do it, most are a lot better at reading stuff that originated in their own heads. You talk the way you write, and if you're writing your own stuff you're going to talk normally.

-Know what you're talking about. (And with election night coming up in two weeks, that's a must.) If you find a story in your rundown and don't know anything about it, take some time and do a little research. The Internet is an encyclopedia at our fingertips, so there's no excuse for reading a story and not knowing what it is about.

-Get a pronunciation guide. If you can't pronounce the President of Iran's name, learn, lest you sound like an idiot.

-Learn to mark your script. If you've got a camera change coming up, note it in bold magic marker on the bottom of the preceding story. You don't want to get to the next story and then realize you're on the wrong camera.

-Read your copy aloud before air. If you run out of breath at any point, your sentence is too long. Cut it in half.

-Learn to change cameras seamlessly. Finish story number one on camera one, look down at your script, and then look up at camera two. Easier for the director to punch, and a smoother look for you.

-Ask reporters about their stories when they get back to the station. Don't depend on your producer to do it. Stories change, and what looked like the lead in the morning meeting might really be a story that belongs in the second block.

-Take responsibility. The producer may be putting the newscast together but your face is the one on camera. If there's something wrong in the script, fix it before you go on air.

-Don't take a two hour dinner break. Nothing separates anchors from the rest of the staff more than this. If you're one of the guys, act like it.

-Go over the newscast with the director before air. He'll let you know if there are any problems in the script.

-If you find any stories that might be questionable, discuss them with the News Director. If the ND isn't around, pick up the phone.

-Do the menial stuff. Make coffee, take the script to the director, bring food back for the staff members who don't have time to get something to eat.

-Remember that interns are not your personal servants. They're there because they want to learn something. Take time to teach them.

-Take your producer and director to lunch once in awhile.


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