Help Wanted: Newscast Producers
They're so scarce that barely qualified candidates can get jobs.
By Lou Prato
Lou Prato is a former radio and television news director and a broadcast journalism professor at Penn State University.
While there's a glut of reporters fighting for jobs in TV newsrooms these days, there's a big help wanted sign for the less glamorous but equally important job of newscast producer. Producers are so scarce that news directors in all markets frequently hire candidates who are barely qualified.
"It's like mining for gold in a mud puddle because they're in such demand," says Mike Rindo, news director at WWMT in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which, combined with Grand Rapids, is the nation's 38th largest market. "I'd like to hire producers who have three to five [years of] experience and in many cases I'm hiring producers with one to two years experience."
In Amarillo, Texas, Lynn Walker can't be too picky, either. After nine years as news director, he knows his is an entry level market. "We're the 130th market and we have a tough time finding someone with experience," Walker says. "But I've got the top 50 markets calling me and saying, 'Do you know anybody that's got two months experience producing?' There's just a desperate cry for producers out there right now."
Because of the critical need, producers can move more quickly to bigger stations and better paying jobs. "I was looking at somebody at a sister station that's in the 175th market," says Lucy Riley, news director at WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama, the 111th ^arket. "The person went right past me and got a job in Nashville," which is a top 40 market.
Indira Somani was hired fresh out of graduate journalism school in the fall in 1993 to produce a half-hour-long early morning newscast in Springfield, Illinois. She now produces the 6 p.m. news at WSBT in South Bend, Indiana. It's a higher profile newscast in a similar sized market.
"I got this job after going to a convention and then getting many calls from many people, even news directors who didn't think I was ready for their shops but wanted to keep tabs on me," Somani says. "I always realized there was a demand but I never realized the demand was so great."
The need for producers increased last year when many local stations expanded their news offerings in the wake of switching network affiliations (see The Business of Broadcasting, October 1994). But there are other reasons as well.
"Part of the problem is there are so many other venues for producers that never existed before," says Will Wright, news director at WWOR in the nation's number one market, New York City. "People are going into talk shows, magazine shows and all the cable outlets doing news, even the religious channels and MTV. We're all looking for the same people..."
Joe Rovitto, a television news consultant, says producing has been "a forgotten or ignored talent" in newsrooms for many years. "Not any more," he says. "Now a lot of stations have turned to producers, and the writing and production techniques of those producers, as a way to differentiate their newscasts to attract viewers."
News directors agree that the role of producers in newsrooms has changed. "Producers used to just stack shows, take stories and stick them in," says Joan Barrett, news director at KPNX in Phoenix. "Producers are now mid-level managers with responsibility for creating and formatting their shows and supervising the reporters and photographers working for those shows."
Barrett also believes young people seeking careers in TV news are not encouraged to go behind the scenes. Others agree, adding that ego is a factor.
"It's not a glamorous job," says Rindo in Kalamazoo. "You don't get on television."
Journalism schools get some of the blame. "I think a lot of the journalism schools are basically trying to crank out reporters." says Amarillo's Walker. He says there should be more schools like the University of Missouri, "where they train kids to be producers."
Mark Millage, news director at KELO in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says, "It seems in college that people are always trying to do that plum job which is being the on-the-air person, not the behind-the-scene person." Millage says he gets 20 applications from aspiring reporters for every person looking for a producing job. Most news directors tell similar tales.
"In my first 10 months in the 19th market in the country," says Barrett in Phoenix, "I hired six producers and had 40 applicants. I hired one reporter and had about 300 applications."
One way Barrett and the others are trying to resolve their dilemma is by recruiting neophytes and training them in-house. "Some of my shows are training shows," Barrett says. "I just promoted an associate producer who graduated from college a year ago and had her doing graphics and writing and so forth, and now she's one of my producers."
But breeding newscast producers has its drawbacks, too.
"Once I get them to the point where they are really doing good work," says Rindo, "they get plucked by the big guys." l ###