Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Producers need to "ask" instead of "order"

Someone recently wrote in asking for any insight I might have about the relationships producers have with the rest of the newsroom staff. These days, producers end up being in some very contentious relationships, especially with field crews.

The reason, to most of my generation, is obvious. But first, a little history.

When I broke in during the early 80's my first station didn't have any producers. Those of you who just fell off your chairs are now wondering how this was possible. Well, the anchors produced the show. (Some of you are doing this on mornings and weekends right now.) The director timed the show, told the anchor the status during every break, and the anchor decided from the set whether to drop or add anything.

Then, in the late 1980s, something changed, and I think consultants (here we go again) had a big hand in said change. News departments became "producer driven" rather than "reporter driven." In other words, producers had more clout. Years ago a reporter would come back from a story and tell the ND the story deserved to be the lead. Or a reporter would bring in a great story idea to the morning meeting. Or a source would tip off a reporter to a big story. Then, all of a sudden, producers started coming up with stories, and (here's where the problems all started), started killing story ideas presented by reporters who were actually on the street digging up stories.

You see where I'm going here?

Now, let's add in the experience factor. Since there weren't enough experienced producers around and few people coming out of college wanted to be producers, rookies started being hired to fill the post. All of a sudden you had someone 22 years old making management decisions.

And giving orders to people who had been in the business for years.

That's where the animosity started.

I remember calling in on several good stories and having them killed by kid producers. I remember being pulled off great stories to cover garbage that a rookie producer thought was better. This happened to just about every veteran in the business. The rookies started giving orders, and in many cases, that power went to their heads.

So now, rather than have a tight knit news team, stations became divided. Producers versus everyone else.

Bottom line, here's what everyone who works in the field thinks: How can someone who has never covered a story make decisions about news coverage?

But back to the original question: how can producers develop better relationships with the rest of the news staff?

The answer is that they must treat the rest of the staff as equals, not as subordinates. They must ask the crews in the field to make judgments since they are not there. They must seek the opinions of everyone else. And, if they are rookies, they must show respect to those who have been around.

You may have the title of producer, but that doesn't mean you're an expert in the field of news gathering. It doesn't mean you're more important to the news department than anyone else. It means that you are assigned to organize all the news that has been gathered into something coherent and appealing.

Producers are simply parts of a team. When they accept that fact and become team players, relationships will improve.

And here's a really wild concept: if you're a producer, spend some of your days off with a crew in the field. When you actually experience what goes on out there, you'll undertstand reporters and photographers a lot better.


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