Sh*t Crazy Newsroom Callers Say

by - September 11, 2013

Caller: Who's directing or producing?
Me: It depends on the show. We have different producers and directors. What's your question?

Caller: I used to be a director there. Can I talk to Jonathan or Katie?

Me: A Katie doesn't work here, and Jonathan is currently directing our 5:00 show which is on the air right now, so I'm not going to transfer you to him.

Caller: Oh, well I wanted to let Jonathan know there was a misspelled CG.

If I could have slapped this guy through the phone, I would have.

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  1. That happened to me a lot, Ashton. A surprising number of viewers think it would be okay to bring the newscast to a halt so they can talk to the talent or a member of the crew. What...they can't wait a few minutes until the cast has ended? The thing that pissed me off the most was when one of the management suits would call in the middle of a newscast (sometimes one that I was producing) and ask questions, give advice or convey unnecessary feedback about what they were seeing as they watched from home. Their timing sucked! I was already busy communicating with the director, with the anchor or anchors via IFB and with teams in the field that were powering up, powering down or racing to the scene of a breaking story. I didn't need any additional distractions from armchair quarterbacks at a time when one second can make the difference between a tight cast and a sloppy one.

    I was a very detail oriented producer. I made a habit of checking and double checking the CG roll for the show in the last couple minutes before air, often in the commercial break prior to the open. In my early years as a producer I called the shots as a TD. The director/switcher advanced the CG at my command. It was done "blind" and on the fly. There was no CG preview monitor to make sure the next graphic was correct. That's why I always double checked. I concede that broadcast news is infinitely more complicated and challenging today and I can understand how spelling mistakes can sometimes slip through.

    1. Permit me to follow-up with a clearer explanation of my duties as they related to the character generator. When our station first acquired a CG, I was the one who programmed it. I was the fastest typist in the building and I knew how to assemble graphics to look their best on air. I was also very detail oriented and CG mistakes were rare. I entered all the CG data for my show. In the control room, I frequently operated the CG myself because some of the directors I worked with were reluctant to assume responsibility for the unorthodox method I used.

      Essentially, I introduced the Action News format at my station, having been inspired by WPVI-6 Action News in Philadelphia, an ABC affiliate that assembled the greatest news team and best news program of all time. I watched PVI on a daily basis, learned their production technique and attempted to implement their fast paced, "lead with local" big city philosophy in my own newscasts. It included a style of using the CG that had not been attempted at my station before. To give the newscast a faster pace, I employed the Channel 6 technique in which the CG is cut in and out instead of faded in and out. In those early years, packages were not pre-produced with the graphics already inserted. It was done live on air. Using my Action News method, a package began with the first CG already punched up on the screen, typically "Joe Blow, Newscenter - reporting." The graphic remained on the screen a much shorter amount of time than before, changing within 2 seconds to a locator caption "(City/County)." The locator caption then cut out within 2 seconds. In other words, two different captions were efficiently displayed and dropped within the first 4 seconds of the package. Voice overs were handled the same way. CG's were cut in and out and sometimes advanced in a series live on air rather than faded out, advanced, checked on the preview monitor and then faded in. Two of the directors who worked with me feared a screw-up using my blind method of inserting graphics. Seeing as how there were no job descriptions or union rules to follow, I often jumped out of my chair and operated the CG during the news blocks, allowing the director/switcher to take over during the weather and sports segments.

      I was fortunate enough to land an interview and audition at Philly 6 and meet the big boys who had become my idols in the new business. One of them died tragically in a skydiving mishap only a few months later. There has never been and will never be a newscast like that of WPVI during the 1970s and early 80s.

    2. The way we put in CGs, full screens and over the shoulder graphics has changed a lot since I started 4 years ago. Producers have always been in control of creating the supers, but that process has evolved twice in my career. When I first started we had to send requests to production for all full screen graphics and over the shoulder graphics detailing what we wanted. Now there is a program embedded in the program I use to create my rundowns and scripts that lets me see the graphics as I build them.