I started in news as a country radio producer and presenter. The very best thing about local news in the country is that it isn’t given to you; you have to search for it. You must also be able to do everything – source, interview, edit, present and produce while on-air. It’s fantastic training and should be mandatory for journalists starting out.
When I first started in news we had reel-to-reel tape recorders and interviews were played in the studio on what were known as ‘carts’. This required a broader skill set than the current methods of recording and editing using computers and it was great training. When the station switched to computers, my job became a lot easier, particularly switching while on-air.
I moved to television news after a few years, still in the country (WIN News), and again learnt just about all there was to learn about producing television news. When I moved to Ten Capital News in Canberra, there were several people to do the jobs I’d previously done on my own, but having a full understanding of each task enabled me to do my job properly and to ensure my team did too.
While I was there, we installed new software to run the news, which had been introduced at WIN while I was producing there, so I was able to train the Ten News staff on its use. My favourite benefit of the new software was that it freed me from the stopwatch and calculator I’d been using for years to calculate how much air-time was left and what stories, intros etc. needed to be added, padded or cut because of technical difficulties, overruns or breaking stories.
My role as a news producer included a daily conference call with our affiliated newsrooms across the country to discuss upcoming stories, including outlining our stories that could be aired nationally. I would then decide which stories I would take for the Canberra audience and weigh these against our local stories to plan the bulletin. Throughout the day, the planned run-down would inevitably change as stories were filed. Sometimes filed stories were different to what was first planned for them as new facts emerged or talent (the interviewees) lived up to or failed to fulfil expectations. Other stories were longer or shorter than their expected times, which could result in them being dropped, repackaged or re-ordered.
This role also included working with our Chief of Staff (who sourced and coordinated stories for our newsroom’s journalists and camera-operators), editing journalists’ stories before they voiced them (including, if necessary, the story angle) and their intros, rewriting intros from other newsrooms to fit our local market, writing ‘throws’ for our newsreaders and much more.
A good news producer needs excellent time management and solid news judgement, as well as the ability to make quick decisions, multi-task, work to deadlines, perform under pressure and communicate with journalists, presenters and crew.