Posted by: Josh Hinkle | March 3, 2009

The Multitask At Hand

Cedar Rapids Police bar check at 2nd Ave & 5th St. SE

Cedar Rapids Police call at 2nd Ave & 5th St. SE

12:07 a.m. – I’m standing on the corner of 2nd Ave and 5th St. SE in downtown Cedar Rapids. As the wind burns my face in the subzero temperature, my station sits snuggly on the adjacent corner, laughing at me with its warmth and solitude. My current location is anything but lonely. A crowd of 40 or more bar patrons stand near at least seven police cars. At the entrance to the pub, hard rock blares and officers cover a person on the ground with a blanket. This can’t be good, I think.

This was the scene greeting me on the first early morning of my new shift at work. Midnight to 8 a.m. wasn’t that different from 3 a.m. to noon, but it came with a whole new set of responsibilities… and an extra iced coffee from McDonald’s. Before this new schedule, I would arrive at work to prepare for the morning show as an anchor, then head into the field as a reporter afterward. Now, in addition to my anchoring duty, I was about to walk into my revived role as a producer.

Anchor Josh                                 vs.                               Producer Josh

Producer Josh vs. Anchor Josh

At previous stations, I produced various shows. If you aren’t familar with the title, let me attempt to explain. Hmm… let me see. Well, if you’re my grandmother, the best example would be the leader in your church quilting group, mapping out each block of the entire pattern and guiding the others to completion, while swapping local stories of the gossip persuasion. Gotta love ’em!

Basically, it’s creating something to share with others, to enhance their lives for a purpose, and to spread a little bit of news along the way. In a producer’s case, he or she writes the majority of the stories you see in a newscast, makes decisions about which stories appear on-air, and monitors the news of the day to make sure you stay current. Producers mold the show you watch. The look and the feel of that show comes, in large part, from the producer.

A few months ago, I told my news director that I’d be happy to fill in as a producer for the show I anchor, if she found herself in a bind. Now faced with a staff shortage, she moved the weekend morning show producer to the weekday morning show. I therefore took up the slack on the weekends.

Being able to step into other newsroom positions can be beneficial. Knowing how to do other jobs has paid off. When a photographer editing the story I’m reporting is called out to breaking news, I’m able to step into the edit bay with ease. Lately, I’ve also been shooting the video more often to brush up on my videography skills. It’s surprising what you forget or don’t pay attention to when you don’t do something regularly. I had to relearn some of the processes. In producing, I needed to know how to print the scripts and load the teleprompter for the studio. As a photographer… well, my old skills are coming back faster than I’d predicted. Actually, I sometimes volunteer to shoot the video, like in this gas drive-off story, taking tips from the photographer I’m paired with that day. I’ve found even they can forget what it’s like to be away from the camera at times:

KCRG-TV9 photographer stumbles into interview

KCRG-TV9 photographer stumbles into interview

This idea of stepping in where needed is how I came to snap digital photos among that early-morning corner crowd. It was 12:10, and I’d already been denied information by police. My new bar buddies weren’t saying much either. Gloveless and wishing I’d ordered a hot coffee from McDonald’s instead, I hurried back over to my station to begin my producing shift. If I didn’t start soon, there would be very little to anchor later that morning.

The multi-tasking didn’t stop there. While producing, I post updates throughout the night on Twitter. The responses I receive there are much easier to take. My patience wears thin for some of the late-night callers on Newsline 9. I take a lot of drunk calls. A lot of people with too much on their mind that late at night. A lot of people who should be asleep. Still, I remain calm and try to answer their questions, even it’s something as simple as telling them the number for Pizza Hut… and then crushing their cravings by telling them Pizza Hut isn’t open at this hour.

So far, I’ve been a photographer, reporter, producer, and operator. By 3 a.m., other staff members start to roll in. As the show starts to come together, the editor handles the video I’ve selected, the director puts the finishing touches on the rundown, and I head to the make-up room to transform myself. By now, I notice I need a lot more under-eye concealer than usual. One last call to the police station to check on my neighboring incident. Nothing yet.

Normally, the producer will sit in the control room with the director, audio and chyron (the words you see on your screen) operators. He or she has a direct line to the anchor’s ear, able to tell them when to skip a script or prepare for potential problems. Producing for myself, I alone have to be aware of all those things in the studio. The director wires a system to speak to me, but he has enough to worry about on his own. I’m glad I’ve gotten good at multi-tasking by now:

In addition to my regular anchoring and producing necessities (yes, that includes jeans and tennis shoes on set – what you can’t see won’t hurt you, people! Comfort matters at 5:57 a.m.), I also communicate with viewers through Twitter live during the newscast. This adds an extra interactive element, but it requires a lot of attention and can’t create trouble with the show.

After an hour, we’ve had our share of hiccups. But that’s to be expected at 6 a.m. with a
small crew, most of whom are multi-tasking, too. I admit I also make my own mistakes.
You do the best you can with what you have. At least, that’s what I have to tell myself.
Just like with those crazy callers, I have to keep my cool. My last duty of the day comes
with a final phone call. Police say it was a bar brawl, and the man under the blanket was simply cold… alive, but cold. By this time, I’m ready to crawl under my own blanket in
my own bed with just one task – to sleep.
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Responses

  1. Josh:

    A great insight at what you do at KCRG. A lot of people think what you people do is easy because you make it look that way on the air. I think your post shows that is far from the truth.

  2. Thank you for answering my questions about what a producer does. I’ve always been a fan of behind-the-scenes info.

  3. Thanks, Steve. I think producers get that questions a lot – what do you do? Hopefully this gives insight, especially in the world of early mornings.

  4. TV news can look polished, but it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make it happen. Even when you think you have created the best show possible, something usually goes wrong. I find it never seems as bad to the viewer as it does to me – probably because it’s my baby.
    I know you’ve witnessed the changes working at the Gazette recently. These things happen, and it’s not always what we want. But, in order to best deliver meaning and purpose to viewers and readers, it’s important to adapt. I’m trying!

  5. Great description of handling many elements to get the information out. Loved the 20 second video. Hopefully you got a nap after this shift!

  6. You better believe I slept after this shift. Midnight to 8 a.m. zaps the energy out of me!

  7. That was very interesting. Neat video too. I think it would be neat to be on a tv news crew, very challenging as well. I admit I should have taken some journalism classes. I have done some newspaper writing.

  8. Thanks for the comment, Chris. Working in TV is great, because it’s always something new.


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