Multimedia Journalist

Great Expectations

In Producing on May 4, 2011 at 8:08 PM

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here is a saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. On entering my semester as a producer, the only aspect of that statement that seemed applicable was the fact that a lot was expected of me. In my semesters as an assignment desk editor and multimedia journalist at ATVN, I had come to regard the producing team with a mixture of awe and horror– it seemed they were perpetually busy, shockingly bold and desperately stressed for the duration of the day. The stamina, patience, focus and intelligence this position required seemed far beyond my capabilities.

Signing up to take the class and undergoing producer training sessions only exacerbated my fearful perception of producing. There was so much I was responsible for and so much I had no experience doing. iNews became a frightful maze of buttons and keyboard shortcuts, the graphics and video ordering systems were cryptic and I had no idea how I would find the time to write teases and the top of the show. I didn’t know my producing teammates very well yet I knew that working together effectively was imperative. On the night before my first producing day, my frantic scanning of every news website on the internet and my nerves kept me from sleeping. I tip-toed into the newsroom at 7:30am sharp the next morning, running on four cups of coffee, my parents words of encouragement and sheer adrenaline. Basically, I was terrified.

However, as I got into the rhythm of that first day, I was amazed at how quickly I learned. While I had feared that I would be outpaced or overwhelmed by my duties as a producer, I realized that I was largely responsible for the pace and atmosphere of the newsroom. Although I was intimidated by the idea of leading and directing the reporting staff, multimedia journalists and graphics artists came to me with questions or looking for assignments and I realized that I had the power to shape their stories or graphics. And despite my anxiety about collaborating with my teammates, I realized they were looking to me to communicate and share suggestions just as much I as looked to them.

While much is expected of you as a producer, so much is also given to you. Each week is the opportunity to craft something great. While the news is beyond your control, you chose what stories are important and how those stories are told. You can inspire and encourage new reporters, multimedia journalists and assignment desk editors to challenge themselves and develop new abilities and interests. You can build great relationships with your staff that extend beyond the newsroom. And if anything, producing provides you with an unparalleled learning experience–I have learned more about myself as a leader and a journalist this semester than in any other journalism course I have taken at Annenberg. 

My biggest piece of advice for a new producer? Be a little afraid–not because you won’t live up to the expectations others have for you, but because you can do amazing things with the power and potential you have.

See my original post on ATVN here.

Lessons Learned

In Producing on April 19, 2011 at 6:03 PM

My view of an ATVN newscast prior to my day of air shifts was simple and frankly, naive. An ATVN newscast is 30 minutes of local, national and international content planned, written, shot and edited by a student staff over the course of about eleven hours. Overseen by the executive producer, a producer oversees a newsroom staff of about 30 throughout the news day. The producer also works with the two news anchors, along with a sports and weather anchor and a rotating team of reporters. The show is filmed live by three cameras and it takes a studio crew of about 10-15.

With so many people and so many hours, what’s difficult about putting together a show by 6:00 p.m.?

As I have learned over the course of my now ten day-of-air shifts, everything is difficult. An ATVN newscast is a living, breathing, constantly changing and often misbehaving creature. My time as a producer challenged me on every level I could think of- logistically, emotionally and even physically.

Logistically, getting even the smallest thing delegated, assigned and completed is overwhelming and time consuming. Negotiations and arguments take place every step of the way with every person on your staff, from the planning phases in the morning meeting to the panicked, rapid-fire editing at the end of the day. With your producing team, you debate about what should go into a story, which reporters or multimedia journalists should be assigned to which story and what video or images should be incorporated into the show. With your anchors, reporters, multimedia journalists and assignment desk editors, you must explain exactly what you need them to accomplish and when it needs to be done. You must continually check back with them to make sure they are on task and focused or are just doing exactly what you asked them to accomplish. While managing your staff, you are also responsible for perfecting the rundown, storing countless details in your head about which keyboard buttons to press and which formats are best for which types of stories. You must get every story entered into the show as quickly as possible without getting distracted by staff out in the field, ensuring that your teammates can start on their respective jobs.

Emotionally, you must have incredible patience and rock-solid composure. The eyes of the newsroom are on you for leadership and guidance and you cannot betray your respect or morale by yelling or crying under pressure. When things beyond your control fall through, you must clear your head instantly and move onto your backup plan. When a staff member does a poor job, doesn’t seem to listen to you or has a poor attitude about working in the newsroom, you cannot allow yourself to get angry and have to continue working with them with the end goal of a good show in mind.

Physically, you have to brace yourself for the shortest eleven days of your life. The time moves by quickly under the pressure of an approaching deadline, making you forget to eat or grab a drink of water. You don’t notice the fact you’ve been sitting in front of a computer for at least three or four hours or that you’ve been up since 5:00 a.m. The adrenaline it takes to run the show keeps you going, but by the end of the day, even conducting a full conversation with someone was difficult.

I’ve faced many, many challenges as a producer. But my greatest triumph is that I learned from each one. I did not let the times I made mistakes, lost my temper or moved too slowly be forgotten nor did I let these challenges bring down my spirit. Instead, I focused on remembering them and correcting them for my next shift. In my last show as a lead producer, I had never felt more confident or more calm in the newsroom. Problems arose as always, but I was able to handle them quickly, patiently and efficiently.

See my original post on ATVN here.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

In Producing on April 16, 2011 at 7:51 PM

To the viewers, a tease is the first video they see in the newscast and the intriguing thing that makes them sit down and watch for what comes next.

In the newsroom, the tease often becomes a quick twenty-second editing project assigned to the most novice of multimedia journalists (MJs). As a producer trying to get my show edited and on the air by 6pm, editing teases is a trivial task that just needs to get done quickly. Unfortunately, I often forget the purpose and power of a tease crafted to fit the script I have generated.

On my day of air, the way I approach teases tends to cause a disconnect between the video being shown and the words being read by the anchor. “Writing to video” is a golden rule in the highly visual medium of broadcast journalism– I’ve heard it from my professors at Annenberg since Day 1. However, after analyzing my teases in previous shows, I realized it was a principle I had sort of cast to the wayside for the sake of efficiency.

With this reflection in mind, I entered my day of air shift with the goal of making good video the central part of the newscast with good writing to follow. I tried taking careful notes on what video we shot or received over the wires. I pressed multimedia journalists and reporters to clearly describe their footage and clarify which shots they thought were the best. I took time to envision what video I would want in a story as a viewer before assigning someone to edit it.

Sometimes this thoughtful planning and debriefing worked- giving MJs clear and precise instructions sometimes paid off, as it gave them a guide on how to edit and select the best shots. This allowed them to edit faster while also producing a more interesting, visual piece. And most importantly, it allowed them to understand the story better, making their writing more accurate and precise.

Other times my ideas were replaced by what the MJ determined was the best, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I always admire a reporter, anchor or MJ who feels committed and passionate enough about a story to challenge a producer’s opinion. The news-gatherers are usually the people who know the story the best, so I also learned that it can be beneficial to step back and allow a reporter to exercise some creativity.

And then there were the times where this just didn’t work at all, reminding that each person values different elements of a story or defines “interesting” or “visual” in different ways. This came up in discussions with my producing team in regards to what video or graphics should be included. Our discussions got far more heated than I had expected! Again, the conflict between artistry and efficiency came up as we tried to shape our show under the looming 6:00 hour.

In my opinion, the key to resolving this debate is training writers and editors to be both creative and fast. In my remaining weeks as a producer, I will continue to take time to talk through what video we have, what types of shots and interviews are the most interesting and talk to my MJs about they process they go through as they edit and write.

See my original post on ATVN here.

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