Sinclair Broadcast Group just completed its fifth annual Producer Academy for college students interested in pursuing a career in broadcast news. What’s Sinclair’s message to these students? And what is it hearing back?
Sinclair Broadcast Group completed its fifth annual Producer Academy on January 12, a free workshop for college students interested in pursuing a career in digital or broadcast news producing and reporting.
The workshop started as an in-person event but, due to COVID, has been virtual for the past couple of years. More than 70 students attended this year’s Producer Academy.
Among the presenters were Lane Michaelsen, a group news director at Sinclair corporate, and Cathy Hobbs, a news director at WCIV, Sinclair’s ABC affiliate in Charleston, S.C. The Producer Academy gives students the opportunity to learn about the industry and for Sinclair to learn about the students who may become future local TV news employees for it. So far, Sinclair has hired 12 as a result of the workshops.
What is Sinclair’s message to these students? What traits is it looking for from these students in order for them to be potential hires? And what concerns do the students express about working in local TV news, as many of whom admit they don’t watch it?
“My main message is everybody is a journalist,” Michaelsen says. He wants to impress upon the students that they will be part of a team of journalists moving beyond any segmentation in the newsroom.
“One day you might be a photographer with your iPhone because you were out in the field and you spotted something going on,” Michaelsen says. “You may do a Facebook Live because you are the person with the information.”
Michaelsen sees Sinclair’s Producer Academy as a great way to connect with early career journalists to show them the reality of a local TV newsroom.
“They need to have an idea of what they could be facing and how exciting it can be,” Michaelsen says.
To be considered, students must be enrolled in college, any year from freshman to senior, submit a resume, and answer some screening questions.
The students represent more than 50 colleges and universities all over the country including North Carolina A&T University, University of Arizona; University of Oregon; Penn State University; University of Houston; Brooklyn College; Virginia Tech; University of South Carolina; Elon University; University of Maryland and Hofstra, to name a few.
Hobbs’ message to students may sound like be a cautionary tale, but it’s a reality check about the local TV news business for students who might see just a paycheck or glamor.
“You have to love news,” Hobbs tells the students. “You have to love it because it can eat you up and spit you out. We work holidays. We work extra hours. We fill in on the weekends and the morning shift. If you don’t love it, then you are just not going to want to be here.”
This year’s one-day workshop was broken out in sessions with time allotted for questions and feedback from the students. In addition to covering what students can expect in the newsroom, other topics include using data in news stories, how to create unique stories for digital platforms and how producers can contribute creatively to the news content gathering process.
Michaelsen is looking for active participants during his workshop, but says he’s also hoping to learn from the students.
“What are they thinking about when we talk about multiple platforms or having a beat,” Michaelsen says. “I suspect people of a younger generation have a different idea of what beats they think are important to their audience.”
Hobbs looks for news producers among the students who have a deep feeling of curiosity because that “helps you develop story ideas,” Hobbs says. “Great writing and great producing is when you are curious. Good journalists ask good questions.”
Hobbs tells the students that news producers are the architects of the newscasts and that it’s up to them what to create. “It is not an assembly line,” she says. “How are you going to open up your show, get into the story?”
Michaelsen sees producers as content creators for television, digital and social media. “The secret sauce is looking at the content and matching it to the platform and the audience that is using that platform,” he says.
Is the fact that many of the students admit to not watching local TV news an impediment?
Hobbs says she asks that question. “I have even asked them if they have gone to our website, and the majority of them say no, but they may say that they follow a reporter on social media,” Hobbs says. “My question then is, if you are not consuming this in a traditional fashion, how do you think that you are going to get people then to watch TV news?”
Michaelsen sees that as an advantage. ”People can come in with this preconceived notion of what local news looks like, and we are battling that,” he says. “What we need to do is produce programs this generation will want to watch.”
Due to a shallow pool of available news producers, students just out of school can expect to fill jobs in larger markets right away, instead of starting in small markets and moving their way up.
Hobbs, in DMA 89 at WCIV in Charleston, S.C., says: “I used to never hire anybody out of college; now that is pretty much a regular thing.”
Over the years, the one question students pose most often is in regards to their mental health.
“Because of the atmosphere, the stress, the work hours,” Hobbs says, “they are very interested in a work/life balance. I have never heard it as much as I have in the past year.”
But once the students understand that their jobs as journalists are about accountability, and providing solutions that make a difference, “that is what excites them and can keep them coming back every day,” Michaelsen says.
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