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What's a Producer Do Anyway?

By: Ashton King
By: Ashton King

news producer (noun): A news producer is one of the most integral members of any news-production team. The news producer takes all the elements of a newscast (packages, video, graphics, etc.) and compiles them into a cohesive show.

One of the first things you learn working at a news station is that the phone never stops ringing. To many of the people who call, the anchors are the only people who do any work. The producer seems to be the most unrecognized role in news.

As a producer, I hope I can give you a glimpse into what it is I do every day.

Producers are the creators and keepers of the show. Everything from the news content to sports and even weather is our responsibility. We have to know a little bit about every story that airs., and if something is wrong, it ultimately comes back to us.

I kind of fell into producing. As I mentioned in my first post, I did not go to school for broadcast journalism. I got my degree in print journalism - newspaper and magazines. I took a lot more grammar and editing classes than the broadcast degree required, which I think are important skills for a producer to have. I worked for a campus publication for 3 years, mostly working in layout and design, which is the print counterpart to producing. As a layout and design editor, it was my job to determine in what order and format stories were printed.

I got my job with WTVY thanks to a friend. I was hired on a temporary status to produce the morning show. It was just good luck that I had a knack for producing. Since then, I've worked on every show WTVY airs.

Here's a rundown of my typical day:

  • Morning News Meeting - 9:00 a.m.
    • This is where we assign stories for the day.
  • Produce Live @ Lunch 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.
    • I find stories for the show, put them in order, write and edit video.
  • 11:00 - 11:45 a.m. - Divide news content between the 5:00, 6:00 & 10:00 shows
  • 12:00 p.m. - Live @ Lunch airs
  • Lunch Break 12:45 - 1:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Rundown Meeting - 2:00 p.m.
    • We discuss the rundowns for the shows.
  • 2:30 - 5:45 p.m. - Work on News 4 at 6
    • I build graphics, write stories, approve reporter scripts, edit video, etc.
  • 6:00 - 6:30 p.m.- News 4 at 6 airs
  • Post-show Meeting - 6:35 p.m.
    • We discuss any issues with the shows.

Once stories have been assigned to reporters, it's my job to decide where and in what format those stories will air. My goal is to have completely different lead stories for the 5:00 and the 6:00 shows each day. Both shows are different and target different audiences. Those audiences determine where the stories go. For instance, more women watch News 4 at 5:00, so stories that deal with school and children often run there.

The toughest part of my day is establishing flow. Some things are simple, like don't put a story about death right before weather. Some days, though, none of our stories have a similar theme. That makes setting up the shows more challenging. The analogy I like to use when training new producers is to imagine yourself as a viewer watching the show from your couch and ask what story would you expect to see next?

This is what I look at all day long. Rundowns are the framework of our shows. It's where I put all of the stories that will be included in our shows for the day. Each line contains the scripts that the anchors read on air.

Reporters write a majority of the stories that you see. But nothing makes it to air without the producer's approval. The producer is the last line of defense for mistakes. We double, triple, and in my case quadruple-check everything before going downstairs to the booth.

Once in the booth, also known as the control room, the producer shares control with the director. The director is in charge of making sure the anchors look at the right camera, the video rolls when it needs to and graphics are put up at the proper time. The producer is responsible for keeping the show on time. We're also quality control, making sure everything that goes on the air is correct.

One of the first things I learned as a producer is that it's all about balance. Not only do producers have to rely on themselves to put on a good show, but they also have to rely on everyone else to ensure it goes off smoothly, and at times that can be frustrating.

Producers are the middle-man of the newsroom. We coordinate with the assignment editor, reporters, anchors, sports department, meteorologists and production. We're involved in every situation, and more often than not how the producer reacts sets the tone of those situations. In times of crisis, it's the producer who answers the question, "what do we do now?"

I hope I've shed some light on the role producers play in the newsroom. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below, and I'll do my best to answer them!

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