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So you want to work on the news desk?

Natalie Lisbona, News & Features Producer

Natalie Lisbona is one of the best news producers I’ve had the pleasure of working with, although I’ve never worked in television news. Many television magazine shows, and of course the topical and current affairs series, employ news producers to research, cast and find strong current news stories.

When a major story breaks you need to find an angle on the story that suits your particular show. In the case of a daytime show like ‘This Morning’ you are most likely to want a human interest angle. The competition for the people who feature in a news story will be fierce – from newspapers, magazines, radio and television. All of them want the exclusive, or at least the first interview. As a producer or show editor you want a news producer, reporter or researcher who will pull out all the stops to secure that person. Sometimes the subject of your interest will swiftly find themselves in the arms of an agent and you’ll end up in a bidding war. If you can’t afford ‘em you can’t have ‘em.

Sometimes the interviewer makes all the difference.  If someone who suddenly finds themselves in the news has always loved Fern Britton and believes her to be honest, fair and the interviewer most likely to put their point of view across sympathetically, then that will determine their decision as to which show to go on first.

Sometimes it is the skill and diplomacy of the news producer or researcher. A personable and/or creative approach may just work. Whether that be turning up on the doorstep with a bunch of flowers and a personal plea from the famous presenter, or joining up at their gym so you can charm them whilst relaxing in the Jacuzzi!

Hard-nosed journalists can get themselves a reputation for behaving ‘unethically’ in such circumstances but they can argue that nothing should stand in the way of an exclusive! Whatever your thoughts on the matter if you’re thinking of doing a news  job of some sort then you have to comfortable knocking on the door of a recently bereaved person to ask them to come onto television and talk about their loss.

Natalie is thoughtful, sensitive and persistent.  She has a moral code combined with the tenacity required to get what’s needed for a story.  She bought me the Girl with X-Ray Vision – and what a story that was!  If I start telling it now we’ll be here forever but I promise to bring you that fascinating story (and lesson in how to make compelling television) very soon!

So how did Natalie get into the news producing side?  Time for her to take over and tell her own story

The News Producer’s Story

“I started my career at Sky News the way most people do, as a runner, which means making teas and coffees and being a general dogsbody. But after just 8 months there, and begging everyone for a break, they entrusted me to book high profile guests such as the late Benazir Bhutto, Benjamin Netanyahu or Sir Richard Branson .

I also did a stint on the foreign desk based in the office where I worked on providing material on the Kosovo war in 1999. I remember once there was an earthquake in India and they wanted me to find a survivor to talk live to phone.  I found an Indian Temple in Manchester and called to ask if anyone had any relatives in India at the time.  They gave me several mobile numbers and I kept calling until I reached someone who spoke English.  I found someone who was still trapped in a public sauna after the building caved.  The resulting story, told over the phone, made a heart rending interview.

At Sky News I grafted until I worked my way up to produce slots on the programme and never looked back. From there I moved to work for the Associated Press Television News and then programmes like Kilroy, The Wright Stuff and eventually This Morning. Now I run my own business Central Features securing strong real life stories for the media (http://www.centralfeatures.com).

So what skills do you need to work on the news desk?

Well you’ll need a lot of Chutzpah with a capital C, and I’m not exaggerating.

Securing interviews with the big news story of the day is an extremely competitive job, let me tell you. It’s what I have been doing for the last 13 years. You’ve got to think on your feet, outside of the box and never take ‘No’ for an answer.

It’s definitely not a job for the meek.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat outside someone’s house for hours and hours in my car waiting for them to come home, needing a pee and starving (yes I really did order a pizza to the car) and then when you do finally see them you have to find the right way to approach them to come on the show.

Then there was the time I found myself on some dodgy estate trying to track down a well know celebrity’s mother, only to be chased by two very angry Rottweilers.

I just loved my news editor that day when she ‘suggested’ I knock on the front door of the man who had just caused a major security scare by gate crashing Prince William’s birthday party. Cheers.

It’s very important that you aren’t judgemental, you could be talking to a murderer, paedophile or prostitute – yup I’ve spoken to all three.  Your job is to get the story before your competitors, in any legal way possible, check them out and make sure you craft a good TV interview.  You’ll need to report the facts accurately and try not to dramatise the situation. It helps if you already have some form of media legal knowledge as there are lots of tricky legal points you can’t broadcast, your job is to make sure you know all of these so that the presenters do not slip up on the programme. Journalists are not exempt from contempt of court, but don’t let that put you off, normally you’ll have a red hot team of lawyers to run things by.

I’d say one of the most crucial gifts to have is to read between the lines as you won’t believe the number of times people have fibbed to get on TV and get a free trip to London! If your instinct is telling you to triple check them out- do it, corroborate everything they say. If something just doesn’t sit right, check your facts again and again.

I absolutely love working with real people, I think it’s the best part of working in TV.  Most the people you’re dealing with have, all of a sudden, found themselves in the middle of a media frenzy, so it’s your job to make them feel at ease and help them tell their story.

So if you want to work on the news desk, remember your three C’s. Corroboration, Compassion and a bit of Cheek!”

Thank you to Natalie, news-hound extraordinaire.

And don’t forget to come back for the story about the girl with x-ray vision – that’ll be up on the blog in the next day or two.

3 comments

  • So You Want to be a Television Presenter? Part 1 « So You Want to Work in Television? says:

    […] This may be a similar route to the one above, or you may already have experience in other media (newspapers, magazines, radio) as a reporter. The most obvious kind of reporter is the one you see all the time on news programmes. They need to recognise a good story, research it, find suitable experts and case studies to interview and generally be able to direct the film themselves. I have not worked in news but it’s a fair guess that news reporters need to demonstrate a skill for journalism and would benefit from qualifications or experience in that area. You need proof of your ability to construct a story. (Read Natalie’s blog on being a news producer if you haven’t already done so: http://wanttoworkintelevision.com/2011/03/24/so-you-want-to-work-on-the-news-desk/) […]

  • Finding a Television News Scoop – The Girl with X-ray Eyes « So You Want to Work in Television? says:

    […] If you read the post about working on the news desk (http://wanttoworkintelevision.com/2011/03/24/so-you-want-to-work-on-the-news-desk/) you’ll know I mentioned how Natalie (the news producer at the time I was editor of […]

  • IMPORTANT NEWS FOR WRITERS & THOSE INTERESTED IN DEVELOPING IDEAS FOR TV! | So You Want to Work in TV says:

    […] and while we’re talking about her you might want to read this article she wrote some time ago So You Want To Work on the Newsdesk. And she’s totally mad offering this incentive to come see her excellent brother and his […]

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