Sunday, January 1, 2012

What it means to be a TV news producer-2

Commits alumna SHALINI SEN (Class of 2007) is a senior assistant producer with ET Now in Mumbai. Here she talks about three major aspects of television news production: content management, time management, and people management.

There is a single word that can describe what a TV news show producer does: Everything! I realise that may sound scary, but the truth is if you are a producer, the show is your baby. If the end product looks and sounds good you'll feel like a proud mother. And if it does not, you're the one who will get all the flak for it.

As a producer, you need to deal with three major aspects: content management, time management, and people management.

The producer decides what news makes it on to the show and what doesn't. When you have 22 to 25 minutes to fill and a barrage of information coming your way, your news sense has to kick in and be able to filter out what can be done away with or pushed to a later slot. On a particularly news-heavy day, you will be trying to squeeze in as much information on the show as possible. And then there are days you will be scrambling for every tiny piece of news you get to fill up your show. Both extremes can be quite daunting. And while doing this you also have to handle your reporters out on the field. Dropping a story that a reporter worked hard for is not going to earn you any brownie points. So PR skills are a must if you don’t want to bruise anyone's ego.

ADRENALINE RUSH: One thing that a live news producer deals with every day is breaking news. It sends your perfectly planned show into a complete tizzy, but it's also a huge adrenaline rush. The whole production team has to work together like a well-oiled machine to handle it. From putting the news out on the ticker, getting your reporter ready to come on air, informing your anchor about the development, and how it changes your show – and putting it all on air within a matter of seconds, preferably before the other channels get it out. It requires calm nerves, above-par coordination skills, and a firm grip on the situation. Any anxiety you show will reflect on your anchor and make the whole channel seem unreliable. And we certainly cannot have that.

That said, in such a situation a few errors are bound to be made and the trick is to correct them as quickly as possible. There isn't always time to double-check every fact, every spelling boo-boo, and every grammatical error. But a keen and alert producer catches the error before the viewer does.

With pre-programmed shows, however, it is the exact opposite. The pace is different and the expectations are different as well. Since the show is not live, there is no sense of urgency involved. It involves a lot of planning and pre-production to get every single detail right and there is absolutely no room for errors.

So there are many hats a producer has to wear: scriptwriter, fact checker, copy editor and team leader.

READING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE: The only way to be all of that is to read. Read, read, read, read! Newspapers, books, magazines, articles on the internet, pretty much anything you can get your hands on. It almost always leads to interesting conversations and subsequently interesting story ideas.

Every person joining the TV news industry aspires to be Barkha Dutt, covering wars and political upheavals and whatnot. While it's a great aspiration, it involves a tremendous amount of hard work. Don't be disillusioned when all you do in the beginning is log tapes and ingest footage. However mundane it may be, it all adds up to a significant learning curve. It builds your TV news sense and helps you think visually when you go on to write your stories.

It's not an easy job, but ask the editor-in-chief of any news channel and they will tell you: It is the desk and the producers that ultimately run the channel.

  • Back in March 2008, Shalini Sen was preparing to head off to Mumbai to join UTV and she wrote then that she was just as scared as she was nine months previously when she joined Reuters in Bangalore. “But this time,” she wrote, “I know for a fact that the fear isn't of business journalism and number-crunching and finance jargon.” And then she wrote about how financial journalism is essentially no different from other forms of journalism:
I guess no one really joins the field of journalism with business news as their first choice. It's always crime or political or sports news that everyone wants to cover and I was no different. For a student of Literature, I was completely out of touch with Maths and accounting principles. But when I got the job at Reuters to cover financial news I knew the only way I could have fun at work was when I learnt to have fun with numbers. And if I could do it, I'm sure anyone can.
What I learnt was it isn't so much the numbers, but it is how you interpret them that matters. No number on its own has any meaning. It is always relative to other numbers. And a very handy website helped me understand financial jargon better. (The site is for equities news in the U.S. but most of it holds true for business anywhere in the world.)

And as in every other branch of journalism, staying abreast with everyday news is essential.
Financial journalism is essentially no different from other forms of journalism: the what, where, who, how, when, and why formula still applies. Facts and figures have to be checked and re-checked and like always the deadline is sacrosanct. If we can just get our heads around the fact that there are just a few more numbers involved, it really is not difficult at all.
Also, with so many business stories on television and in the newspapers every day, it has become quite easy to understand financial news. I guess all it takes is a little interest and a willing mind. 

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

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