Lesson Plan: TV Newscast Producing (Week 1)

What is a newscast producer?

A newscast producer is the person who is responsible for choosing stories in a show, and organizing it in a way that best serves viewers.  It is an extremely high stress position because in order to be a good newscast producer, you need to know how to multi-task and deal with different types of personalities in a newsroom.  A producer researches stories on news wires, communicates information to and from the assignment desk, assigns stories to writers, and also supervises the stories being written.  A producer is tasked with building a show rundown, which is the order of the stories that will be aired.  A producer must also balance the stories an anchor is given to read, along with the stories that the reporters are working on.  There is usually one producer for each newscast, which can either be a 30 minute newscast, or a one hour newscast.

Story Blocks

A story block is a collection of stories in between commercial breaks.  For a 30 minute newscast, you would have a total of 4 blocks:  A, B, C, D.


The A Block:

This is the first block of a newscast.  It is where the newest, and most important stories go.  The A block starts with a show open, highlighting 3 or 4 top stories.  That’s followed by an opening shot of an anchor team introducing the show’s main story.  The A block is usually topped off by a live shot reporter, a short story or two, followed by another live shot reporter on a different top story.  At the end of every block is a tease.  That’s a 20-25 second script that gives us a glimpse into stories that are coming up later in the show.  Viewers are “teased” into sitting through the commercial break in order to see the full story that was previewed.


The B Block:

Some producers see the B block as a place to put less important stories.  That is incorrect.  The B block is very important to a newscast, because it is a space where a show can set itself apart from competitive stations that are on the air, in the same time slot.   Originality is key, and it can be a big undertaking for any station.  Think about it.  Every newscast will have all the big stories that’s happening in your city.  A fire, an arrest, a shooting, etc.  The B block is a place where an enterprise story by a reporter can be placed.  It is also a good spot to put an investigative reporter piece – something original that a viewer cannot see on any other station.  After a two minute enterprise or investigative piece, a producer may choose to put other local and national stories, shorter in nature, to fill out this B block.  The block would also end in a 20 second tease, highlighting a story that’s coming up next, and the extended weather forecast.


The C Block:

The C block is usually about 5-6 minutes long.  The bulk of the C block is made up of an extended weather forecast.  The C block should start with a softer story, or a feature story, preferably community based.  If it is a local feature, even better.  Usually, producers like to put a story here that allows for the anchor team to have a little banter after they read it, and invite the weather man to say something about it.  It makes for a softer transition to the weather.  You would NOT want to place a story of a murder right before tossing to the weather.  There is one exception.  If you are following breaking news, you put the breaking news wherever you are able to.  That means, if you get word of a murder, or a plane crash, or some other huge breaking story, and it happens to be at the top of the C block, you do it there anyway.  The transition to weather will be difficult, but viewers will appreciate that your station is the one that brought them the breaking news in the first place.  They will forgive a newscast if it is a “tough/awkward” turn to weather in this scenario.  The weathercast is usually about 3:30-4:00 in length.  It is during this weathercast that the meteorologist gives the highly anticipated 5 day forecast.  Viewers, especially those watching the morning and late news, are most interested in this part of the newscast.  Weather is a huge draw for viewers.  Tease weather every time you can, especially if inclement weather is upcoming.  The C block usually ends in a tease, with one or two stories to tease.


The D Block:

The D block is usually the shortest of the news blocks in a half hour show.  That’s because a producer builds a show “top heavy.”  Producers usually run out of time in this block.  They usually try to build at least 3 short 20 second stories here.  But it’s important that you only tease ONE story at the end of the C block.  If you tease more than one story, and you only have time for the anchors to read one story, you would have teased a story that you would not have given to the viewer.  Teasing a story and not following through is a terrible mistake to make.  That is one way to lose the trust of viewers.  Often times, viewers lose loyalty to a station if this happens.  Viewers keep score.  Providing poor and unconfirmed information, having a delay in providing breaking news, and teasing stories that are not included in a newscast are all things producers try their best to avoid. 

Timing of News Blocks

The first block, or the A block, should run 10-11 minutes, if the first commercial break is 2 minutes long.  Why?  Because you need to make sure the viewer stays for the full weather cast.  This is a technique used to keep the viewer to the quarter hour mark, at say 15 minutes into the program.  That is why the weather begins around 13 minutes into the newscast and the weathercast usually lasts about 4 minutes long.  The Nielsen ratings system measures the number of viewers tuned in for each quarter hour.  A good producer will not go to commercial break at the 14 minute mark, because sometimes viewers pick up the remote control and change to another channel.  If a channel is switched by a viewer before the 15 minute mark, the station would not get credit for that viewer for the first 15 minutes.  

In-class exercise

Watch two different local newscasts.  How did they build their half hour?  Were there differences in story selection in the A block?  How did they use the top of the B block?  Was there any breaking news in parts of the newscast, other than in the A block?