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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

No One Wants To Get On a Train That's Going Nowhere


As lead producer this week, I realized regardless of whether you are managing the phone calls at the assignment desk or the progress of a reporter's package, you must provide straightforward direction and develop an effective and efficient set of skills for the team and yourself. In theory, the processes and methods for guidance should be different depending on whether you are working with a reporter, a multimedia journalist, an assignment desk editor, or an anchor, but the foundation remains the same. Clarity is key, and without it there is no way of providing direction. As a producer you must become a professional in goal setting, relationship building, organizing, and delegating. Without these characteristics not only is it difficult for your teammates to trust you, but it is also impossible for them to understand your vision and help you achieve it.

Goal setting starts from the moment we put our story ideas on the white board. As a team we lay out a broad plan and jot down the goals, elements, and bases that need to be covered for each story. However, it is specified goal setting that is needed when it comes to guiding certain individuals. For instance, assigning reporters to different stories can be a struggle, especially if there is a lack of motivation on their part. This assignment tug-o-war does not need to become an issue. The producer has the power to decide what best suits the reporter and convince them of this. I find at times reporters or multimedia journalists are not fond of an assignment merely because they have no idea what an impact they could make with the story. This is where goal adjustment would come into play. Rediscuss the story with your reporter; let him or her know that their effort on this piece is part of the big picture goal. Then, guide the individual reporter by providing examples of how to cover the story, describing what potential elements to include, and reminding them that you are only one call away for advice. Providing them with this detailed, specific direction is the entire first step. Once the reporters are out the door you are hoping they will take those mutually developed goals with them out the newsroom door. Whether or not they indeed remember the direction the team set, the goals must be reiterated throughout the day, and this is the producer's job. I tried my best to align each member of the team for a unified purpose--a 30-minute error-free, student-produced, informative yet entertaining news segment that would make us all proud. Despite being short-staffed on the MJ front late in the afternoon, each reporter, assignment desk editor, and teammate maintained our vision and we were able to pull off a successful show. 

Relationship building within Team Monday is already budding, meaning that with a little more guidance the team will begin to fully trust each other. Each week I feel the team becoming more and more cohesive. While I do understand that each team contributor has separate reasons for working or volunteering at ATVN, no one will have a reason to follow the producer's lead if they do not trust him or her. Establishing strong connections by simply high-fiving an MJ for doing her first phone interview or incessantly thanking someone for taking an extra shift will give people reason to respect you as an approachable authority figure. Additionally, providing them with straightforward tasks will give them reason to trust the work they are doing is in good hands. In the newsroom, we are not following the leader wherever he may go. We are following him or her to a place they have persuaded us, by means of trust, will lead to a strong, accurate, and professional newscast. The relationships the leader builds are based on personality. I learned I could not let the frustration and stress transform me into a ball of nervous, irritated energy. In fact, by turning that anxiousness into excitement relationships in the newsroom will take a turn for the best. A good leader is direct and open to feedback from everyone and encourages all teammates to develop that same outlook.

Organization is a given. Without it there is no progress, and we saw that this week as a team. The morning was a little slow while I was attempting to plug in and format all my stories for the day. Luckily, this week's graphic's teammate, Robbie, helped me organize the assignment desk by marking all the stories for which they needed to start making calls. He did a great job of stepping in and guiding in a direct fashion. Next week I plan on taking this same approach. The calls we get out in the morning are beyond the most crucial organizational blocks of the newscast. They determine our potential interviews, what we will be able to package, and how we can find out more about a developing story. It is so satisfying that each week I am able to learn something new from one of my classmates. The strategies we are sharing as a producing class will only make each and every one of us a better individual producer.

Finally, above all, it comes down to delegation. This is where hesitation can, and will, cripple a producer. There is absolutely no time to dilly-dally with your decision-making. Decide what you want and let everyone know immediately. Otherwise, the reporters, MJs, anchors, and assignment desk editors are all left confused. This skill is one I plan on focusing on the most. There are times I feel I just cannot commit and that has to change. The more confident I become with my other skills I know I will be able to develop a sense of overall ability as a producer. I still have plenty of polishing that needs to be done in terms of goal setting, relationship building, organizing, and, of course, delegating, but being aware of these needs is part of the learning process. The only way to help, guide, and lead a team is by knowing it all, or at least most of it, yourself. Even though exact direction is impossible with constantly changing newsfeeds, as leaders we want to be, at the very least, getting off in the right neighborhood. 

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