Kianey Carter is a producer with nearly a decade of experience. She’s worked in newsrooms in Fresno, Raleigh and now Phoenix while working just about every newscast possible.
There are many schools of thought on this topic, I believe the relationship a producer has with her reporter is the most important one in a newsroom. Don’t get me wrong, as a producer you need to get along and have good relationships with everyone, from the assignment desk to the studio crew but without your reporter, your newscast just won’t be as good. Let me explain myself.
After the stories are pitched and reporters are given their assignments, the producer goes back to her desk and begins to craft her daily masterpiece. What do you need for this masterpiece? A dynamic lead, a great second story and an extremely teasable quarter hour. For many of us, these come from the reporters. VOs, VOSOTs and weather will fill the other bits, but reporters are what gives our newscasts meat.
As you’re sitting at your desk trying to figure out how this masterpiece is going to come together, you need to go and have a conversation with your reporter. You have the gist of their story from your morning meeting, now you need to figure out how you’re going to set the table for them and then figure out what they need from you. This might be the most important, and sometimes only, conversation you will have with your reporter. Make sure to take notes! Once you’ve had this conversation, go ahead and write the toss. If you try and wait until later, it will escape you. I PROMISE your toss later will never be as good as the ideas that were swirling around your head after this meeting.
After you’ve talked to everyone about what they’re going after and what they need from you, understand your job isn’t over. I don’t suggest you call or email your reporter every hour to see how they’re story is coming along but you should email or call or chat with them once they get back in house, just to check and see if anything has changed. During this meeting, you’ll usually find out if they have any good soundbites for teases or if you need to rearrange some things in your rundown.
This might sound tedious or very amateurish but have your reporter read everything you’ve written! I’m talking teases, tosses, headlines. This way they know what you’ve written and if something is incorrect, they can fix it. In my nearly 10 years of producing, I’ve never been ashamed to ask someone else to read what I wrote and to change whatever is wrong. Our job is to be accurate and factual. It sucks to have a reporter correct your anchor on air because you didn’t have the right information in a toss or hear your reporter complaining in IFB about how the tease was written poorly and not right. I just shudder thinking about it.
While all of these mechanics and “official” things are great, you also need to just talk to your reporter, not about their story but about their life. Find some time before meetings, in between meetings, while walking into the building or to the coffee machine and just chat. What’s their life like outside of your windowless newsroom? Do they have kids? What’d they do over the weekend? Get to know the people that you are constantly calling, emailing or just plain bugging. I bet they have pretty interesting lives plus they’ve see everything you haven’t. Reporters and photographers are the ones hitting the streets and meeting all the characters you see in their stories. They’ve got some wild stories, believe me!
In my time, I’ve had some really good relationships with reporters and have become good friends with many. What I have really noticed is once I make the effort to help them, they’re more likely to help me. Think of the times when you’re in a jam, short on time and still have four teases to write. I’ve definitely turned to a reporter and said, “Can you write a tease on your story for me?” While they might curse me under their breath or in their mind, they’ve helped. Being the keeper of the time, reporters have definitely come to me and said “Hey, my story is longer than a 1:20. Can I get an extra :15 or :20?” While I curse them for coming to me late with this request, I usually oblige or we negotiate a compromise. Not because they’re my friend but because I know and understand how hard they work and that they’re not just trying to hear or see more of themselves on tv.
The one takeaway from all of this: make the effort. It will usually net your great things. We are in the communication business and if you don’t communicate, your goals will never be met.