How to Gather, Edit, and Organize News for TV
Learn the ins and outs of television newsrooms
In my previous article here on Better Marketing, I have discussed how field reporters write their news scripts for television, where I emphasized that a broadcast journalist writes for the audience’s eyes and ears (check full story here).
However, a reporter’s script is merely Stage One of the news operation and production’s intricate process. After a reporter writes a script, they will send it to the newsroom, where an entire workforce refines it to make the story suitable for TV.
In this article, I will walk you through the process of Stage Two, wherein you will learn the critical roles and functions of a newsroom. Here I will introduce you to the desk editors, field producers, segment producers, associate producer, and the executive producer.
These people are responsible for news preparation. If you aim to work in the television industry, you may strive to attain one of these positions. Perhaps then you may design your own program, and if you wish, utilize these forces that you may use in building such a career.
The Newsroom’s Operation and Production
The newsroom is the haven of reporters, desk editors, producers, and news anchors. In most broadcasting corporations, their newsroom is on the ground floor for convenience because reporters are always running with their crew.
A typical newsroom setting has multitudes of televisions on the wall, which are tuned in to various television channels.
These televisions serve as monitoring screens to watch the news or to simply observe other networks’ stories, especially if they have exclusive or breaking news broadcasts. Ideally, newsrooms are beside a studio where the network’s live newscasts happen.
A newsroom is always a busy place, and the people who work there will without a doubt use profanities. The atmosphere may seem toxic, but will also undoubtedly be exhilarating.
On weekdays, when the clock strikes 4:00 p.m, the newsroom transforms into a jungle. Workers become highly agitated because the two-hour count down has begun for the most crucial time slot, the prime time newscast.
There are two central departments in a newsroom. First, news operations consist of reporters, camera operators, drivers, field producers, and desk editors.
Second, news production utilizes segment producers, associate producers, and the executive producer.
There are many more roles in the production department that need not be elaborated upon at this current moment, as my focus here is merely the vital roles for the preparation of a newscast and not specifically a live airing.
News Operation: Desk Editors and Reporters
A newscast would not be complete without your army of reporters, as they are the ones who always gather the news in the field by attending press conferences and take part in the interviewing of sources.
The public is much more aware of the reporters’ duties and not as much is known of the responsibilities of the people behind the cameras. Therefore, I introduce you to the reporters’ direct supervisors inside the newsroom — the desk editors.
Desk editors handle reporters’ assignments, pitch stories to the producers, conduct initial editing of the reporter’s script, and control coordination between the people inside and outside of the newsroom. In my previous television station, a desk editor handled a maximum of five reporters.
However, this number of reporters may vary from network to network.
Each desk editor handles specific social issues that they focus on. For instance, a political desk editor would be responsible for managing reporters assigned in all significant political beats such as the Office of the President, Senate, and the House of Representatives.
These beats usually relate to each other. Therefore, it is only proper that one desk editor has supervision over them all.
Reporters with regular beats oversee rising stories in their jurisdictions.
They will report these to their desk editors as running stories. In most cases, the desk editor will help their reporters create a better angle for their pitches. Every day, the desk editors, along with the operations head, hold a story conference for their reporters to make the next day’s coverage list of assignments.
One thing you have to know is that these desk editors are former seasoned reporters. Therefore, a fresh graduate cannot be a desk editor as this role is a senior supervisory position. Desk editors already have existing contacts, which may help their reporters book interviews with sources. It is a must that the desk editor was a former reporter, regardless if it was on television, online, or print.
The vital factor is that this editor needs to have field experience, so they understand the struggles of gathering news remotely.
So, if you are a novice reporter, your excuses won’t work on these desk editors, and as I have said, they’ve been there and done that. Instead of whining about not being able to complete a task, the editor will guide you on how to successfully get things done.
Apart from guiding the reporters, a desk editor should also be a good salesperson. A desk editor needs to be able to sell the reporters’ stories to the executive producer for the newscast’s lineup, and in particular on prime time.
Most reporters aim to be part of the prime time newscast because on average more people tune in to this time slot, which ultimately means better exposure.
Therefore, to be part of prime time news, a reporter’s fate lies in their desk editor’s ability to sell the story. It is also inevitable that the desk editors will have friction with each other, as some of them more naturally sell their particular stories better than their counterparts.
Initial Refining of News Script
If the reporter’s coverage made it to the newscast’s lineup, the desk editor would inform them to write the news script. Once done, the reporter will send it to their desk editor for an initial perusal and editing.
Typically, reporters write a very long script, even though the maximum time allotted for a news package is only two minutes. Therefore, the desk editors will edit the script to shorten it for a tight two-minute duration. But sometimes, desk editors fail to do so because they sympathize with their reporters’ efforts.
If they find the additional information essential, more likely, they will retain it. During the script editing, desk editors also frequently call their reporters for clarification on particular details in the story. Once done, they will send the script to the production department, and more specifically to the segment producers.
News Operation: Field Producers
Another team that stays outside the newsroom is the field producers. The field producer and their team are composed of camera operators and broadcast engineers.
This team is always outside and roving because they can be deployed everywhere.
They are the ones using the mobile newsroom, which is also known as the Live Van. In the instance that an executive producer wanted to do a live report of specific field coverage, then they would coordinate this plan with the desk editors.
As an example, the U.S President would have an unscheduled address to the nation. The desk editor would send a reporter to the White House to cover, and a field producer with their team to set up a live feed for broadcast.
The reporter may also do their live report at the specific venue because it is the job of the field producer’s team to automatically build a live-point area. A live-point site has proper lighting, still camera, moving camera, and sometimes even a teleprompter.
A correspondent doing live report | Image: Pixabay
There are three types of a Live Van: one is called the Electronic News Gathering or ENG. This van has a pole in it, the pole’s height can be adjusted to get a good signal as this directly connects to the television network’s tower.
The other one is the Satellite News Gathering or SNG, which has an attached satellite dish. The SNG is more desirable to use in rural areas where the television’s tower signal can no longer be reached.
The last type has these two features also, which are more functional in remote coverage, especially in natural calamity settings.
However, as technology improves and becomes more modern, some television stations provide their reporter with portable live equipment — the TVU system. This technology runs on broadband, using the internet to transmit videos and conduct live reports.
But the danger of this equipment is its dependency on an internet signal. If the location has a poor internet connection, reporters struggle to transmit their broadcasts live.
Line Vans both ENG and SNG | Image credit: News and Records
Inside the Live Van are editing tools used for remote editing and various camera shots. The person who is responsible for operating these machines is the field producer. This person acts as editor, director, and the team’s supervisor in the field.
Editing inside a live news van | Image credit: CBC
Suppose you wanted to have a career as a field producer. In that case, you need to have technical skills such as linear and non-linear video editing.
Hence, have an aesthetic understanding of camera angles because, on the field, you are the director. Your role strategically placing the cameras in proper areas for better shots.
Television networks’ field producers compete for good spots in the venue, and if you are late, you will settle for the bad ones. If that happens, start praying, and expect to be summoned by the big boss.
Moreover, as a field producer, you need to be a people person with good management skills. As a piece of advice, television networks compete with each other, but that doesn’t mean that you have to. I suggest it would help you to be friends with your counterparts in different television networks.
The more friends you have, the better.
When unfortunate events occur, such as your team getting stuck in traffic or arriving late, other groups would adjust and give your staff a decent spot. So, it is beneficial for you to build an excellent professional relationship with other networks’ team for a pleasant experience on the field.
News Production: Segment Producers and Associate Producer
We are shifting back inside the newsroom, and I will introduce you to the segment producers. They are the ones responsible for the final refinement of the reporter’s news script.
Expect that once they have the story, it is vulnerable for intense editing. Segment producers have to be strict as they ensure that the news fits the program’s writing style, branding, and duration.
As I have said with my previous articles about broadcast journalism and television, these producers know how the business works, and many times journalists do not.
Furthermore, a segment producer is similar to a desk editor. Each one is assigned a segment to focus on. For instance, in sports and many stories related to it, one segment producer refines all the scripts.
This pool of segment producers is supervised by an associate producer.
Technical Visual Input
The production team is responsible for the news program’s look. Accordingly, when a segment producer refines a script, he would start including all the essential technical visual aspects of it.
Some of these are character generators [CharGen], written in a one-sentence form. In a much simpler explanation, it is like the sub-titles of the story. Hence, if the story requires illustration and text graphics [GFX], segment producers would inject those as well.
Then the creative people would make those technical visuals appear on TV screens. Check the sample script below and how it looks like on screen:
Created by the author based on NBC News story
In comparison to a news package, the news items are short stories that run very quickly in seconds. These items will be read by the news anchors on a teleprompter.
Sometimes, a news item has a soundbite toward the end.
A story can be a news item even if it lacks footage, or the details are still half-baked. But, in most cases, due to limited time, a news package will be turned into an item to squeeze everything in the lineup. Below is a typical style of a news item script:
Created by the author based on CNA News story on August 28, 2020
Writing News Anchors’ Lead-in
After refining the script, a segment producer needs to write a lead-in for it. Lead-in is the anchor’s dialogue to introduce the news and the reporter.
Just a caveat, don’t be surprised that these lead-ins are written in all caps, so that, the anchors can read it easily on the teleprompter.
I am speaking solely based on my experience, which does not represent all television networks’ styles. See the sample lead-in below for your reference:
Created by the author
If the segment producer is done with the script and lead-in, he will send this to the associate producer for checking and organizing.
The associate producer [AP] is the right hand of the executive producer. They will generally assist in putting the news program together.
Part of their role includes writing, editing, organizing scripts, and make simple editorial decisions when editing videos for newscast’s bumpers, teasers, and wire copies.
Commonly, the AP is the one to rewrite stories from wire copies such as Reuters and Associated Press. By subscribing to these news agencies, the network gets access to footage and accounts overseas. The AP can do a news item or a news package using these wire copies and ask a reporter to voice it.
Coordination with Desk Editors
The producers have constant coordination with desk editors. They will be asking for more information, substantial research, and additional footage for the story. Once all scripts are finished and already sorted, the AP submits everything to the executive producer.
News production: Executive Producer
The executive producer [EP] owns the show and always gets the final say on which story goes on-air. They also decide if the story deserves to be a news package, a live report, or a news item. Hence, invited resource persons for live-studio or phone-patch interview.
News Lineup Judgement
For this topic, I will be focusing on prime time newscasts based on how my former executive producer did the lineup for an hour news program. Our prime time news had four commercial breaks, which we called “gaps.” Each gap is composed of stories based on their importance.
If there are breaking news and controversial stories, that is the top story, which automatically part of the first gap. So, what if there’s no breaking news? Here’s what my former EP did (please understand that not all EPs have similar methods).
Gap 1 consists of crime and consumer stories: our EP then inserts the crime stories in gap one as this news has compelling videos. The audience is always hooked on watching these kinds of narratives. Once the airing starts, the goal is to get more of the audience to watch the program and increase the ratings.
Apart from crimes, gap one also includes consumers’ stories such as commodities inflation, fare hike, petrol price increase, or decrease, among others. This news is highly relatable to the audience because everyone is affected. These stories would help the public prepare their budget for daily expenses and savings.
Gap 2 is about politics and human interest accounts: some viewers are not into politics, but still, these are the stories they need to know. Political news videos are repetitive and somewhat boring; therefore, these stories need to have provocative soundbites to be enticing.
Human interest stories are implanted in the mid-part as well to sustain the audience’s interest by arousing their emotions.
Gap 3 can be regional, international, weather, and sports: this portion of the newscast stands like a balance beam between the first two gaps and the final one. The first two were all about hard news. Therefore, domestic or regional and international news can be included here to sustain such a presentation. Eventually, weather bulletin and sports news are injected in gap three’s latter section to serve as a transition to the last gap, which caters to feel-good and happy stories.
Gap 4 is all about the feature, lifestyle, and entertainment: similar to a fairy-tale book, the audience loves happy endings. Therefore, gap four is about soft stories such as lifestyle, feature, and entertainment.
Bumper and Teasers
A bumper occurs at the beginning of a newscast, and teasers appear before commercial breaks. A bumper consists of the newscast’s headlines. At the same time, teasers are selected stories that the audience could watch out for in the succeeding gaps.
Writing a bumper and teasers should be in a summary form, which is enough to give the public a glimpse of what they can expect in the entire show. Also, if the station secures an exclusive story or interview, brag about it, and put it in the bumper and teasers.
Check the sample script below supported by a clip from ABC Word News Tonight:
First two headlines of the video below. The illustration was created by the author
ABC World News Tonight with David Muir | Video credit: YouTube
News bumpers and teasers, according to a study, enhance the audience’s information recall and comprehension. Therefore, viewers allocate more attention to news stories introduced to them compared to those stories that are not.
Consequently, this strategy is not merely for the program’s beautification but also for sustaining the audience’s interest in watching the entire newscast.
An hour news program is not easy to produce as many people behind the camera work immensely to prepare the news and make it suitable for public consumption.
In this article, you managed to learn the vital roles and functions in the newsroom, which I dubbed — Stage Two for easier understanding.
Next to this is the final stage, Stage Three, where the program gets on-air. In the last step, you will get to learn more about the executive producer’s full responsibility.
Thus, his close working relationship with the director, floor director, and news anchors. By the end of my three parts broadcast journalism articles, who knows, it may help you kickstart a career in television. Better yet, creating your news program online with your own structure, style, and branding.
Start small then go big with this essential and practical knowledge in making a newscast.
Communications & PR Specialist | NZAid Fellow | MA Intl. Dev. | Ex Reporter for TV5 & Bloomberg TV-PH | Former Editor-in-Chief of the Philippine President | Toastmaster | Freelance Contributor | Storyteller of Life & Love