Friday, August 08, 2014

NEWSTEAM, ASSEMBLE

"You've got one of the hardest jobs in the newsroom," says Lauren (not Malibu Lauren but Redhead Lauren) to Jonathan (JWahl, not JHarp). Seeing me, she adds: "That, and producers."

Satisfied that all is right with the natural order, I retreat to my desk on the raised platform and survey the room, just now starting to stir into dayside. The morning crew has finished its two-hour newscast and is prepping for midday. Katlyn is at her station up top, blanket-wrapped and focused. Like me she's a producer, the pilot of the 11 a.m. cast. She's been here since four so she's deep in the pre-flight corridor, paying attention to the hundred little things that can go wrong.

Here's a story: a MUG-VO followed by a SOT fullscreen. The anchor starts reading the script, and then the director puts up a mugshot of someone, followed by video that leads into a soundbite. After that there's a fullscreen slide with bullet points.

Here's the drill: Make sure you have take mug and take VO commands. Build the mug and fill in the fields — hed, subhed, name. Create the lower third. Follow that with the SOT and take fullscreen commands. Write the fullscreen. Is it a reveal? How many reveals? Put those commands in brackets in the script. Put in the font for the SOT. A dozen little things to decide and do, and then it's on to the next one. Oh, and is there an OTS with that story? An animation? A projector shot? Or maybe it's a two-shot.

Do that two dozen more times and you've got a handle on the mechanics of the job. Don't forget the topper and the teases and the kicker and it's Bob today, not Kevin, so change all those fonts.

We are the producers. We are the ones who — for some bizarre reason — have been entrusted with large chunks of time on the public's airwaves by the Powers That Be. And get this: we are allowed to put on the air pretty much anything we want — always within reason, of course, but it's your canvas, so in the middle of all that mechanic madness there can be art. 

We are the producers. We are the ones who have to have dead eyes and dead calm when the newscast is on and decisions are being made on the fly. Almost never does a newscast go exactly as planned — a live shot glitches, a reporter brings in a 1:53 story when you've budgeted 1:30, the anchors go long or finish early — and the producer has to make those mid-course adjustments to keep the plane in the air and bring it in for a landing at exactly the right time. For me the plane takes off at 3:58:26 p.m. and lands at 5:00:00. I don't get a do-over.

"Gooseman," Katlyn blurts from her desk, calling dibs on a story about a man who dresses his pet geese in clothes and feeds them Skittles. This is why people think we are insane.

We are the producers. We herd beautiful cats for a living, knowing there is no way in hell we will ever tame them, all we can do is try and keep them in sight, and if we show one moment of weakness, one sliver of uncertainty, the cats will turn on us and chew through our throats. It's their nature.

"The Gooseman Cometh," Katlyn says with satisfaction, typing the font for her kicker. And another day at the Paragraph Factory swings into full gear.

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