Five essential skills for a newscast producer

MadiProducingIf you want a job in television news, be a producer.  At any given time, more than 20 percent of all the job ads posted by TV news outlets are for producers, but just a tiny fraction of journalism graduates have any producing experience at all.

Madi Van Zile is one of the exceptions.  She took part in a newscast producing internship through the University of Mississippi, which led almost immediately to a full-time job at WTVA in Tupelo.  With three months on the job now under her belt, Van Zile believes she’s identified five essential skills that a journalists needs to become a TV news producer.

  1. The first skill is one of the first lessons taught to everyone in their first journalism class: Know how to write a story.  While the producer may not be the one going out to cover the story, he or she ultimately makes sure that what is being read by the anchors is easily understood by the audience. That means using short and concise sentences that an anchor can read clearly without stumbling and that are designed to keep the audience engaged.
  2. The second skill I believe all producers should have is another skill that every journalism graduate should be familiar with: Video editing. Nine times out of ten, the reporters will have their videos, VO/SOTs, VOs and packages edited for the producers before they leave for the day. However, when breaking news happens, the producer may have to take over, and even on a slow day, the producer may need to edit some tease footage or anther element within the show.
  3. The third skill that I believe every producer should have is knowing how to stack a show. Stacking a show is at the very core of what a producer needs to know because producers decide which stories need to be put at the top of the newscast, which need to run later in the show or which need to be pulled altogether.  For the 6 p.m. show, I focus primarily on local news and important information that people need to know for the rest of the day or for the next day. Hard news stories such as crime, localized national stories or breaking information usually make it to the top of my newscasts. On the flip side, small event stories or ‘fluff’ stories do not usually make it into the ‘A’ block (unless it is a really slow news day). There is no perfect way of telling a new producer a basic format of what stories should be at the top of each newscast every night. They have to get the feel of what they believe the viewers at home want and what feels natural for the station. It takes time and communication with each reporter, news manager and anchor in the early stages of being a producer to get the idea of what the new station wants to classify as ‘important.’
  4. Speaking of communication, every producer should have good communication skills. One of the first things I do every day when I walk into the newsroom is ask my reporters about the stories they are covering. Are they doing a live shot? Are they going to have enough information to turn it into a package? Have they communicated with their interviews? Do they need any extra equipment? If a producer just assumes that their reporters are fine and that they can just stack the show when the reporters return to the newsroom, they are surely mistaken. Communication continues throughout the day, but it’s a balancing act.  If I call every five minutes for an update on their story, my reporters would not get anything done. A producer needs to find the happy middle between not communicating with his or her reporters and not trusting them.
  5. The last skill that I believe is essential is time management.  For most stations around the county, their primetime newscasts usually run 30 minutes.  A new producer might think that it is overwhelming trying to oversee every news story for the newscast. However, if one takes into consideration all the commercial breaks, weather and sports, an average 6 p.m. newscast only has around 10 minutes of news. That makes it all a little less daunting.

There is a reason why most students studying journalism go into reporting instead of producing. Being a news producer can seem extremely stressful, and though they are often unnoticed by the audience, if anything goes wrong, they are usually the first ones blamed. However, I would not have asked for anything else than what I am doing now: sitting in the booth, waiting for 6:00:00 to hit and to hear WTVA’s intro music for the start of another night’s newscast.

Madi Van Zile is a 2016 graduate of the Meek School of Journalism & New Media at the University of Mississippi.

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Take a hike to find a story

Most journalists know that to find really good stories they need to step away from the computer. Sure, there a ton of information online that could lead to a story, but nothing beats getting out of the office. And the best way to observe what’s really going on in a community is to walk it. But where to begin?

Credit: National Geographic

Paul Salopek, Out of Eden. Credit: National Geographic

Writing in Quill, the SPJ magazine, Jeff South of Virginia Commonwealth University shared a process developed by a retired editor at National Geographic. Don Belt helped plan the Out of Eden reporting project, launched in 2013, which sent Putlizer Prize winner Paul Salopek on an around-the-world journey (still underway) to tell the story of human migration.

Since then, Belt has developed a university class to teach students to find untold stories by taking a hike. Here’s how he describes the process:

Slow down, carefully observe and use the tools in their hip pockets to tell the subtle, powerful stories that ‘fast’ journalists often overlook in the rush to feed a 24/7 news cycle.

Students at VCU piloted the course, and told stories about neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia, that challenged their perceptions and opened their eyes.

For educators wanting the full “Out of Eden” experience, Belt offers campus workshops supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. If that’s not possible, why not encourage students to do what Jeff South suggests and “stroll as they troll for untold stories.”

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Three of four U.S. journalists feel more engaged with audience thanks to social media

The advent of social media has, of course, fundamentally changed journalism in the U.S. and around the world.  According to research conducted by Dr. Agnes Gulyas of Canterbury Christ Church University in the U.K., 78% of the U.S. journalists she surveyed indicated social media had helped them become more engaged with the audience.  They also noted a shift in the news and information power structure as 62% responded that the public has more influence in social media than professional media organizations.

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Gulyas, who surveyed hundreds of journalists on these issues in 2013 and again in 2016, also found that the use of social media is prompting growing concern among journalists who fear “social media is undermining journalistic values” and an even larger group (73% in the U.S.) indicates speed is trumping analysis in journalism, due to the influence of social media.

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Despite the angst, more than two-fifths of U.S. journalists believe social media has had a positive impact on journalism overall and, it’s clear that social media has played a significant role in three key areas of journalistic practice: promotion of content, monitoring news and information sources and audience interaction.

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Gulyas presented her results at the World Journalism Education Congress in Auckland, New Zealand.

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Salaries for TV news reporters, producers increase

When newly graduated journalists start getting those first job offers, they’re often at a loss as to how much they can expect to be paid.  The annual RTDNA Salary Survey is one of the best places to start, and this year’s graduates are getting some good news for a change.

According to researcher Bob Papper, “The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries rose by 4.8% in 2015. That’s more than double last year’s 1.9% increase.”

For those just starting the job hunt, it’s particularly important to look at median salaries by market size as indicated in the graphic below.  If you’re a reporter about to be hired in a very small market (151+), an offer in the $26,000 range would not be out of whack, for example.

Courtesy: RTDNA

Courtesy: RTDNA

No surprise that the salary showing the biggest increase was for digital content managers — up 25% year-to-year.   What does seem strange is that news producer salaries continue to be relatively low compared to news reporter positions.  For as much as news directors moan and groan about the lack of quality producer candidates, they might want to take a look at how much they’re paying for this key newsroom position.

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Local TV news grows again, but…

There’s more local TV news on the air than ever, and more is on the way. That’s the headline from the latest RTDNA research conducted by Bob Papper. The median amount of news aired on weekdays, 5.5 hours, broke the old record by half an hour. More than a third of stations surveyed said they added a newscast last year, and a third said they planned to add news this year. But the number of stations producing that news continues to slide, which raises this question: How much of what viewers see on many of local TV stations is diluted or duplicated content?

controlroomThe report found 714 stations producing local TV news, down just slightly from last year’s 717. Another 339 stations–a record high–air news produced by someone else, up from 328 a year ago. Put another way, one-third of all stations airing local news don’t produce it themselves.

A look at long-term trends tells the story more clearly. Ten years ago, there were 778 news producing stations. That number shrank dramatically during the recession, and hasn’t recovered. But the number of stations carrying news they don’t produce has grown substantially in just the last few years. Three years ago, 235 stations fit that description. The new record of 339 is an increase of 44 percent. Let that sink in for a minute.

What does this new local TV landscape mean for viewers and journalists? My chapter on local TV news in the 2014 State of the News Media report lays it out. “You can argue that every time you add an outlet, that unless you add a commensurate number of staff people then you’re just spreading yourself thinner and thinner,” Papper said at the time (emphasis mine).

We won’t know the results of the annual RTDNA staffing survey for another month or two, but my guess is that, when the numbers come out, they won’t show anything like a proportional increase in the number of people employed in TV newsrooms. The conclusion is inevitable: producing more TV news with a higher airtime-to-staff ratio affects the quality of the product, and not in a good way.

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Advice for newsroom interns

It’s that time of year. Students are frantically looking for summer internships or stressing about how they’ll manage to survive through the (unpaid) internship they already have lined up.

We’ve shared advice on how to make the most of your newsroom internship on the blog before, but there’s always room for more, right? These tips are from Laura Gassner Otting, who focuses on nonprofits, but whose suggestions are absolutely on target for journalism interns as well.

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Local TV news profitable on air, online

There’s certainly no reason to rest on your proverbial laurels if you work in TV news, but neither is it time to call the undertaker. The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that 2015 marked another strong year for the TV news business.  Nearly 60% of TV newsrooms reported that they made a profit on local news and just 3.7% reported a loss. (To put this in perspective, according to the researchers, profits peaked peak in 2013 at 65.7%.)

Courtesy : RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

Courtesy : RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

The news is not all good, however.  According to the lead researcher, Bob Papper, on average, the amount of station revenue generated specifically from news slipped for the first time in the last 3 years, dropping to 47.7%.  Median revenue also fell from last year’s 54.5% back down to 50%.

“But there’s a caution in the numbers.  As I’ve pointed out before, a high percentage of news directors say they don’t know the answer to this question,” wrote Papper.

It’s also important to note that, once again, station websites are contributing to the overall profitability of stations.  Far more stations indicate their online efforts are making money than draining dollars.

Courtesy: RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

Courtesy: RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

What’s particularly heartening in the research is that at least some of the profits are going back into newsrooms.  Nearly half of the stations (48.3%) report budget increases in 2015.

All of this should be good news to the thousands of broadcast journalism graduates hoping to enter the workforce.  The industry is evolving but not dying, yet.

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TV anchor/reporter sees advantages in live streaming

KFDM-TV in Beaumont has close to 140,000 page likes on Facebook and that makes up a sizeable instant audience for the station’s live streaming efforts.  KFDM anchor Tiffany Murphy found out herself just how much reach Facebook Live can have when she was sent to cover a fire at the local Humane Society.

MurphyFBLive“I only have 2,700 followers, however, the live video was shared 166 times and seen 42,000+ times with a lot of engagement,” said Murphy.

In fact, that story generated 59 comments with lots of interaction between Murphy and her audience.

“After reporters get the basics down, I think it’s important to show viewers that you are a real person and interact with them,” she said.

One of the reasons Murphy is so effective with live streaming (in addition to the time she’s spent in the field as a reporter) is that she is also an old hand at Periscope.  She routinely used the app to multitask when she was reporting solo in the field.

“Let’s say you’re at a news conference; you can set up your iPhone on a tripod and the producers will watch, and they’ll know immediately what you know. You won’t have to stop down to communicate with them,” Murphy said.

For anyone going live, whether it’s with a truck or through social media, Murphy has some good advice:

  • Don’t try to memorize a script, use bullet points to guide the flow of the information you’re delivering and practice before you go live.
  • Make a game plan for the live shot.  Will you be moving around, showing the audience something or doing something on camera?  Be sure you think it through.
  • Whatever you do, be honest.

“It’s OK to say you don’t know something and to say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to find out.”

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What makes people trust the news?

trust-headerYou’ve heard, no doubt, that Americans have little confidence in what they see, hear or read in the news media. Last year, according to Gallup, trust in media set a new low with just 7% saying they have a great deal of confidence in the news. What’s to be done?

A new study offers some clues. The Media Insight Project asked people why they rely on certain sources of news and information as opposed to others. The results show that consumers make decisions based on specific factors, and those factors vary depending on the topic and the platform.

The number one reason given for trusting a news source is accuracy, with 85% saying it matters most. Having the latest details was cited by 76%, and being concise was valued by 72%.

The study found that people who follow different types of news value different factors. Political junkies trust news sources that emphasize experts and data (79%). Consumers of lifestyle news say they want their news source to be entertaining (53%). People are much more likely to want their source to be concise and get to the point for national politics (80%) than sports (61%).

And platform matters when it comes to trust in news. Just 12% of Facebook news consumers have a lot of trust in the news they see there. LinkedIn ranks highest among social media, with 23% saying they trust news they encounter there.

Digital news consumers decide whether to rely on a specific news source based on additional factors, mostly having to do with presentation. Load time matters a lot to 63% of consumers, as does not having ads interfere with the news. For 60% of consumers, having content that works well on mobile phones is important.

It should be obvious that news organizations and journalists want and need the public’s trust. If a news source isn’t trusted, why would anyone turn to it (supermarket tabloids aside)? So credibility is often tied to the bottom line: a trusted news organization is more likely to enjoy economic success. The study offers this confirmation:

While most people report all of the trust‑related factors are important, some people place a higher value on them than others. And those news consumers especially concerned with trustworthiness are also the most likely to report that they take valuable actions — such as paying for news, spreading news to friends, and following the source on social platforms.

One more thing:

About 4 in 10 Americans (38 percent) can recall a specific recent incident that caused them to lose trust in a news source. The two most common problems were either instances of perceived bias or inaccuracies.

That may not seem like a big deal, but consider this: participants in focus groups said that a bad experience with a news source left them feeling like they had been personally wronged, taken advantage of, or fooled. Earning trust is difficult enough. Rebuilding it once it’s lost is even harder, something all journalists and news managers would do well to bear in mind.

 

 

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How much effort should journalists put into Twitter?

If you’re strapped for time, a Facebook post will likely do more for your website than a tweet.  That’s according to research released on the NiemanLab website by Parse.ly, a social analytics tool used by hundreds of news organizations.  The key finding from monitoring traffic referral sources for about 200 of Parse.ly’s client sites?  Just 1.5% of traffic for typical news sites comes from Twitter.

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The graphic above shows Facebook and Google as the big dogs when it comes to traffic drivers.  However, Parse.ly maintains Twitter does play an important role in the news ecosystem.

“Though Twitter may not be a huge overall source of traffic to news websites relative to Facebook and Google, it serves a unique place in the link economy,” the report said. “News really does ‘start’ on Twitter.”

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