We Need To Talk About Local TV’s Producer Shortage
I wish I could tell you the producer shortage in our industry is fixed and we can all move on to other pressing matters, but I cannot. While every broadcast group is trying different tactics to recruit and retain producers, over the past 18 months owning Talent Dynamics I’ve seen the worsening effects the lack of producers, EPs and assistant news directors have on all markets, especially mid-size and smaller.
In 1997, I was a 6 p.m. producer in Pittsburgh. I still had graphic artists, although we were not ordering many same-day animations back then. We had a full control room with a director, TD and audio operator. We had videotape for playback, we had only one non-linear editing suite and we still had editors. The job of a producer was simpler then. They focused on producing, creating the rundown, writing the scripts and providing the context of why stories were important and in a newscast in the first place.
Today, the world of a producer includes all that, plus creating their own graphics, editing their shows, putting automation codes into scripts and transcribing sound bites because in many cases they don’t have associate producers or writers.
We have also added so many more newscasts. The 90-minute news hole is now a two- or three-hour-plus news hole in the early evenings, so we need more producers to cover that ground.
All the while, until recently the pay had not moved as well. Talking just this past summer with a news director, I learned they were still paying producers the same salary I had in 1997. To their credit, that particular station has since dealt with the pay issue, but I am sure they are not alone.
So, what are possible solutions? The first and most obvious is we need to value the producer position more with increased pay. What we pay producers in many newsrooms is less than what we pay reporters. Can a station get a newscast on the air without a reporter? Yes. But can it get a newscast on the air without a producer? No.
It’s possible that emerging technology like AI can help deal with graphics, pulling soundbites and versioning digital contributions, but will that take enough off producers’ overfull plates?
GMs and news directors need to find out what makes their producers tick, what motivates them to do such a difficult job. Perhaps there’s a way to give producers a day to work on other projects instead of their normal shows. Maybe that means field producing, working on elections or some other special project that is important to them.
We also need to recognize that not enough college students are eyeing producing careers. This is an issue stations can tackle in-house by giving the newest hires a path to growth and launching producer training programs. The industry needs to invest in coaching for producers like it does for on-air talent. New entrants need to know they are being invested in and can grow.
The producer shortage has been years in the making and it won’t be solved in a month or a year, but the actions broadcaster companies take today will pay off in the long term, and it can’t afford to sidestep the problem any longer.
Gary Brown is the CEO/Owner of Talent Dynamics, which offers broadcast TV news placement and talent coaching.