Friday, January 30, 2009

Definition of Assignment Editor

When I give tours of the assignment desk I describe the desk and my position as the central nervous system of the station, or compare it all to that of a teacher in a classroom. Everything in the newsroom has to come through the desk or there will later be mass chaos.

There can be way too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to figuring every part of the newscast that include the stories, reporters, photographers, edits, live trucks, locations, etc. When left to one or two seasoned chefs, a newscast can be a five-course meal that fills you up and leaves you wanting to come back. When too many cooks get involved, you're left with an explosion of marinara sauce all over the ceiling and burnt pasta.

I live in reality and producers usually live in producer dream land. I'm often called Dream Killer when I force the producers back into reality and tell them they can't have it all. For example, there's simply no way to have four reporters live in four different location when you only have three photographers available.

I am the front line of defense when it comes to getting the news on the air. I listen to 13 emergency scanners, check all email that comes to the newsroom, answer the phones, make calls to set up interviews, check on possible stories, confirm facts, assign photographers and reporters to cover the stories, etc. I'm also the first to be yelled at and blamed when something goes wrong. I'm not the first to be congratulated or recognized when something goes right.

Then there are the viewers and callers who add a whole other element to my job. I know the station is doing its job when in the same day I'm yelled at for being right-winged and liberal!

I've cried and prayed with people who reach out hoping for someone to help them. There were lots of prayers after 9/11 and lots of tears with a woman who called after her 2-yr old baby girl died of the flu.

I've been called the nastiest of names, the worse being called c*** three times by the same viewer the three times he called because he was upset that programming moved the triple overtime Golf Masters to a little box on the TV to put a Broncos pregame in the big box on the screen. WARNING: you cuss at me and I will hang up on you! Treat me nice as I've never done anything to hurt you. :)

I've listened to people tell me their conspiracy theories, of how they created the earth as god, and have a special place in my heart for a few annoying, but lovable, viewers who seem to have only me to call on a regular basis.

That's really just a small glimpse into my my life as an assignment editor. For a more complete definition and explanation of an Assignment Editor and Desk, check out the links below.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I am an assignment editor

There really is no better look to describe my feelings about my job than my profile pic - taken of me on my wedding day as a pin stuck me in the process of fixing a strap on my dress. Anticipation. Excitement. Pain. Emotions a bride can experience on her wedding day. Emotions I live through on the job. At the end of the work day though, the job isn't going to be sweeping me away for a honeymoon.

The honeymoon in my career ended just a short three months after I landed my big TV job in the big city. Yet, almost nine years later, I'm still here through the bad and the good, I've worked hard to make my career work - hmmm, much like the effort it takes to make a strong marriage.

I am an assignment editor in Denver. I didn't even understand or know the role of the assignment editor when I drove from Nebraska to interview for a weekend position a few months after graduating college. I don't even remember why I sent my resume to the station, but I know it wasn't specifically for the news desk. I got an email asking if I'd come out for an interview. Then I got a call saying there was a hiring freeze and there was no longer a full-time position open, and the station couldn't fly me out for an interview. I didn't hesitate; I said, I'll drive out and would take a part-time position.

The thought of my first real job after college and out of Nebraska filled my mind. I didn't even stop to ask what exactly was an assignment editor. I'd worked in the NBC station in Hastings, NE for over two years in college. There was no assignment editor position there. There I did everything but report on the air. I figured as long as I wasn't asked to be a reporter, I could do any job since I'd already been doing it.

How naive I was.

I arrived for the interview and was shown this big desk with all these police scanners all over. I was shown a big dry erase board scribbled with all colors of ink. I was told that was how photographers and reporters were tracked through the day. I interviewed with several people, including an executive producer who asked me something about covering news. I assured her I knew that I understood the city news was completely different than my experience covering county fairs and farm markets. She looked at me with a blank stare and then it seemed like she was trying to stifle a laugh. She obviously did not think I knew what I was getting into.

My boss was impressed with all I'd done in college and at the news station in Nebraska. He liked that I took initiative to come out on my own for the interview and didn't expect to be put up in a hotel or to be taken out for lunches or dinners. (I didn't even know I could expect such things!) He hired me on the spot.

I entered a world of television journalism where the news was producer driven and it was the desk's job to make it happen. I entered a world where I, at 22 years old, was in charge of telling photographers that had been in the business as long as I'd been alive, what to do. It was easy to see that I was thought of a niece or a little girl who knew nothing. I'm good at taking things in stride and just thought this was my initiation into a life where I was in charge of my own insurance and making 401-k decisions. I knew I was extremely lucky to be working in a market 18 television station right out of college. I got to skip the years spent in small markets working my way up to the big markets.

I thought I knew it all and was so happy the path I'd set in place in 8th grade, when I watched news coverage of Operation Desert Storm and decided I'd some day be a journalist, had actually led me right where I wanted to be.

One Sunday in January, just three months after starting and a couple of weeks of going full-time, I came to work to face an angry news director. She took me to her office and said, "This is the most embarrassed I've been in all my years as a news director. What happened?" I barely made it through the conversation without crying as I explained what I'd heard on the scanners, who I'd called, what I'd told the producer, and why I'd left when the producer told me I could leave.

The night before there was a plane crash about an hour east of Denver. I couldn't get confirmation on what had happened as emergency officials were still trying to figure it out and trying to figure out whose jurisdiction the plane had even crashed. I believed it was a small plane with no more than two passengers. I stayed past the end of my shift until the producer told me she and the writers would figure it out. I walked out of the station shortly after 6:30pm. I left the desk empty because at that time the desk wasn't covered after 6pm.

I walked out after a plane carrying team members to the OSU basketball team crashed near Byers, Colorado. Ten people died in the crash. The eighth anniversary of the plane crash was remembered this week, Jan. 27th.

The station was the last station to figure out what was happening. The station was the last of the five news stations to broadcast any information on the crash. The station was the last one to get a crew to the scene. The station was the last one to be live from the scene.

I know I have my boss to thank for not being fired. He stood up for me. I'd done everything right. I'd been told to leave. What I did wrong was be green and listened when I was told to leave.

From that point on there was never a night not covered by an assignment editor. To make that happen, I went to a four-day shift with extra long hours on Saturday to cover the entire day. I was happy to do it. I was thankful for a second chance.

Eight years later I'm still here on the assignment desk, but now I've earned the respect of my coworkers and I work for the 10pm newscast Monday - Friday. I may still be thought of as a niece or new to the business, but now I'm the favorite niece and have a little news wisdom.

I've created this blog to reach out to my fellow assignment editors. Regardless if the producers, writers, reporters, photographers truly know it, we do rule the news room. Together we really can rule the world!

For those of you not on the news desk, not even a part of the news world, I hope you can find some humor in what I have to say, find some useful tips, and see just how surviving in any career is like surviving any relationship, yes, even marriage.

Speaking of marriage, I married a fellow journalist, Shawn Montano, two-time NPPA Editor of the Year. He teaches and discusses editing in his own blog at Check it out.

That reminds me of some future topics I'm planning to cover:

Incestuous news room or true love?
How to handle crazy people on the phone
Steps to prevent my tush from molding to the shape of my desk chair
Scanners, voices, scanners, voices
When the desk feels the pinch of the economy

and much much more

Please share your opinions, own stories and ideas for future posts.