Getting into TV news doesn’t mean you have to be a reporter. There’s so much more to the business that being an on-air personality, but many people don’t think about it. When I worked in TV news, even my own family had no idea about the dozens of people it takes to put a show on the air.
If you’re a student who is trying to get a career in TV news, there is a world of opportunity, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. With that in mind, I’m presenting the first installment of “The Starting Lineup,” breaking down the positions in a newsroom and their duties. TV news is basically broken down into three parts – editorial, production, and creative services.
This person runs the station. He or she sets the editorial vision of the news team and oversees operations. They are also in charge of hiring (and, gulp, firing), setting budgets and managing the day-to-day affairs of the station. They review work, set goals and guide the news operation forward. Basically, the boss.
The producers are the people who create the newscast, and decide how everything will look. They decide which stories will air, where they will be placed in the newscast (start of the show? Near the end?) and what form they will take (will the anchor be reading the story while video is playing? Will the story be a package produced by a reporter?). The producer calls the shots on that particular show, and is responsible for making sure everything is executed correctly. Everything you see on the air is a result of planning by the producer. They draw up the blueprints.
The people you see at the desk every night at 5 p.m. Think of Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, or Diane Sawyer. The anchors are the ones who, essentially, read the news. They present the stories to viewers and guide them through the newscast. Most anchors are also required to shoot their own stories, and may sometimes produce their own shows! Mainly, though, they are that constant presence for viewers, sharing information from the anchor desk.
These are the men and women on the street. Reporters are the people who actually write the stories that air. Right now most reporters are referred to as “one-man bands,” and are responsible for doing everything on their own – researching stories, writing, shooting interviews and footage, editing everything together, and presenting it on the air. Reporters are also required to be live on the air at the scene of a story, and do much of their work from the field.
The assignment editor organizes, researches, and assigns stories to reporters. They are the funnel that takes in piles of story ideas, decides what is important and what is not, and gives those assignments to staff members. If a story changes in the middle of the day, it’s the assignment editor’s job to divert the reporter to something else, and relay that information to producers.
Often referred to simply as a “photog,” these people will shoot and edit stories for newscasts, but do not report on the air. Many are also responsible for operating the mobile live truck that allows reporters to present a story live from the scene. They are the workhorses of a news team.
It’s the people who do the weather! You’ve seen them every night standing in front of a green screen with a map of the U.S. superimposed behind them. Meteorologists track the weather in a given area, using data from the National Weather Service, local weather information, and their own meteorological knowledge. Being one usually means you need to study meteorology in college, although some stations have begun using the cost-cutting option of having reporters do double-duty, reading temperatures and numbers from the NWS.
This one should be obvious. They’re the sports guy/gal! The people who cover local, regional, and national games and present those stories to viewers. Essentially, they’re just like any other reporter or anchor, except their entire beat is sports. Usually they will get a three-minute segment each night to present highlights form games, scores, analysis, and their own stories they wrote/shot/produced.
The team behind the scenes.
They are the engine that makes the show run. The producer builds the show, and the director drives it. The director calls out directions to the other production staff, telling people what’s next, and what needs to happen to get it on the air. They decide what cameras will be used, how video elements will be played, and what needs to happen to advance the show from one element to the next. In the booth, they’re in charge.
The technical director, or TD, sits at the “switcher,” the big board with all the buttons that control the show (what camera is being used, what video is playing). You have probably seen a TD board before, when Darth Vader decided to blow up Alderaan in Star Wars (watch for the board of blinking lights and levers). The director calls the shots, but it’s the TD who actually pushes the buttons.
Ever see all those cool graphics on screen during a newscast? People’s names, screens with phone numbers, credits, those are all built by the graphics operator each night before the show.
You can’t have a newscast without sound! The audio operator is in charge if making sure everyone’s microphones work, controls the volume of those mics and controls when that sound goes out on the air.
Although there was TV before teleprompters, anchors still like being able to read the words on the screen. The teleprompter operator controls how fast those words move, and keeps the same speed as the anchor’s read rate.
Most production staff work in a control room, away from the anchors. The floor director is the exception. They are in the studio with the anchors, pointing them to the correct cameras, positioning cameras, and telling anchors when they are going into and out of a commercial.
Many stations have what is called a “creative services” department. If you are interested in video production, but not journalism, this department may be for you. Creative services employees are typically tasked with shooting local commercials, or creating promotional videos and materials for the station. If you’ve ever seen an ad about “the number one news team! On the air and online! Where the news comes first!…” it was built by creative services.
Of course, all of this is just for your average local news station, which is where you would likely start on your first TV job. The bigger the station, the more jobs there are! If you get your start in one of these areas, the possibilities after that are limitless.