Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What it means to be a TV news producer-1

Commits alumna KHUSHBOO JALAN (Class of 2007), who has been with CNBC-TV18 in Mumbai for almost four-and-a-half years now, is the producer of the channel’s flagship show, India Business Hour. Here she outlines the news producers' responsibilities, from attending editorial meetings to “rolling” their shows:

News producers are part of the editorial team in a news channel and form the core of the news desk. Every channel defines a news producer’s role in different ways and a producer is also known by many different names in different channels.

A news producer is expected to have editorial knowledge that will facilitate crisp, factual content/output generation.

The daily edit meet is conducted in order to get an idea of what is expected from reporters, companies, political authorities, and other sources during the day and to decide what each news-wheel will contain. All members of the team, including the news editors, sit together and get a sense of stories likely to be worked on through the day, the events, announcements expected, etc. The producer then works on structuring the show, deciding what news is priority, and in what fashion the news has to be presented (“reads”, “links”, “packages”, etc.).


News producers collect information from various sources (including news agencies and reporters) and write “reads”, or reports for the anchor to read. “Reads” are accompanied by visuals, graphics, VTWs*, etc. A news producer decides what visuals or graphics are best suited to accompany a read. Reads are also sent in by reporters and are subbed by news producers before being put on air.

Graphics are created/subbed by producers to accompany reads, anchor links, packages, etc. The producers can either use set templates created by the graphics team or get special graphics made (by the online graphics team).

This role differs from news channel to news channel. News producers are expected to have working knowledge of video editing software (the most commonly used software is Avid). Video editors are available to do the major editing work but in some channels a producer does a considerable amount of video editing (bites, visuals, teases, headlines, etc.)


Reporters who attend events or are on the field meeting company executives, government officials, or other sources, send the interviews/tic-tacs**/bites to the office as direct feeds from the OB (outdoor broadcast van) or uplinked from the OB or sent on tapes) and producers go through the feeds and identify the appropriate bites for their shows.

Reporters also send flashes (important pointers from the bites/speeches/press conferences/interviews) which go on air and which are helpful pointers for identifying the most important portions that should go on air. Producers have to be quick to make sure the bites are put out on air as soon as possible. A number of times bites are taken on air ‘live’ as they are coming into the system.

Reporters file their news stories (packages) and then get them video-edited. Producers go through the scripts, which are generally cleared by the news editors and prepare the Astons (or supers) for bites and “Topics”, which accompany every VO, or voiceover, in a package. Topics are usually four or five words long and have to convey the essence of the story.

Producers also put in graphics in a package if necessary (usually if there are too many figures, charts, quotes, etc., or if there few supporting visuals for a story). After a reporter has completed editing a story, the producers check the packages for any visual/audio glitches and to ensure that the correct visuals/bites, etc., have been used and the package is ready to be taken on air.

News producers also “roll” their respective shows. Rolling a show means that the producer sits inside the PCR, or production control room, and along with the crew (studio director, switcher, sound person, teleprompter operator, production team) ensures that the show is on air on time and news is put out in the correct order.

The producer has to constantly communicate with the anchors and the studio crew, informing them what needs to go on the show and directing them on what visuals/graphics, etc., have to be taken on air.


A producer has to be quick and ensure that reads/bites/packages are ready to go on air. The producer should be prepared to make changes to the show cue if a news item needs to be moved higher or lower depending on its importance.

News shows are generally rolled live and hence the producer has to be capable of handling “Breaking News” situations. The producer should be able to put out the news as and when it comes in, accompanied by supers, topics, visuals, or other elements. The producer has to also decide which guests would be appropriate to talk about the particular news item on air and with the help of the guest coordinators ensure that the guests are willing and ready to talk “live”.

The team sitting outside (assistant producers) provides support in terms of writing, cutting visuals/bites, creating graphics, ensuring reporters are ready on time for their live links, etc. Some shows are also pre-recorded and they have to be laid with graphics/VTWs/topics, etc., which is called “patching” a show. This is also done by the producer.

A CRUCIAL ROLE: One of the main duties of a producer is to manage time inside the PCR, i.e., ensure that breaks are taken on time and the show ends as per schedule. This includes ensuring that reporters stick to their allotted time limits. A producer also has to make sure that all the necessary news items are carried on the show and to ensure that the show still finishes on time. This includes accommodating "Breaking News" which is not accounted for when the show is timed before going on air. So we always leave a buffer time when we plan the show. Managing time is one of the most challenging aspects of rolling a show.

Broadly these are the functions of a news producer. From taking editorial calls to ensuring that the show looks good on air, a producer does it all.

*VTW stands for Voice To Words. There are two kinds of VTWs used at CNBC-TV18. TVTs or Translation VTWs are used for bites in languages other than English (we translate them into English and put it out in sentence case). Regular VTWs are used to show either highlights from a person's interview or additional information for packages/reads/tosses***, etc. These are in title case.

**Tic Tacs are basically mini interviews, Q&As, conducted by reporters on location. We either use sound bites by themselves, or, in the Tic Tac format, more than one bite with the reporter's questions. The reporter holds the mic and asks questions and then turns the mic to the interviewee for the answer. So, "Tic Tac".

***Reporters often do live "links". Pre-recorded reporter links, which go on air later, are referred to as "tosses".

  • Want to know how to have a successful internship at a TV news channel? Read this post.

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