More than one hat

Want to be a TV news producer or reporter? Be prepared to wear multiple hats. Mary Ellen Hardies, who produces the 6 p.m. newscast at WCMH-TV in Columbus, Ohio, does a lot more than assemble a rundown and write lead-ins. She screens video on her desk top, makes all her own graphics, and now she’s Twittering five times a day about what stories the station is working on.

I don’t even know who they are but there are hundreds of people following my every move. It’s driving our traffic up. We have a lot of young viewers contacting our Web site because they saw something on Twitter.

She’s not the only one whose job has changed. During a panel discussion at the RTNDA convention in Las Vegas this week, Hardies said the station’s reporters are doing more, too. “All our reporters have Blackberries,” she said. “I’m in touch with them every hour, hour and a half, to get them to update what they’ve been doing.”

The reporters send in bullet points that the web producer turns into sentences, Hardies said. Those updates also go to everyone in the newsroom via a listserv, which has dramatically increased communication between producers and reporters in the field.

I know exactly what they have. I write lead ins based on what I know they are going to say. There is more being expected but as you are writing you are the most knowledgeable person on all of these stories. Our communication has improved because we are requiring more.

Dow Smith of Syracuse University questioned what’s being sacrificed in newsrooms where producers wear so many hats. If they’re spending so much time on technical issues, how much attention can they pay to editorial supervision and content?

To tell better stories it takes a lot of interaction with reporters…Producers have to get up from their computer and talk to the reporters one on one. 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. That helps the process of telling better stories. The future of local TV news is going to have to be better storytelling, otherwise, with the Internet, who needs it?

But Victoria Lim, a multiplatform journalist who recently left WFLA-TV in Tampa, said having to do more actually made her a better storyteller. “There’s more than one story to tell,” Lim said.I’m taking advantage of the strengths of each medium” writing for TV, online and print. Hardies said technology also has changed the content of TV stories. While they haven’t gotten any longer, Hardies said, reporters are using their 1:10 differently.

The reporter isn’t telling the whole story. The producer creates a 45 second anchor tell with graphics that gives the meat of the story. The reporter is going to explain the impact, the emotion.

With everything that’s on her plate, does she ever have time to think…or even breathe? Absolutely, she said. As a self-described “control freak,” Hardies loves having more responsibility. “I still have ten minutes here and there to take a breath, step back and look at the big picture,” she said.I don’t feel harried every day.”


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