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The importance of follow-up questions

News conferences are part of every journalist’s work life. Some reporters can’t go a week without covering several–largely because the newsmakers on their beat hold group sessions regularly but rarely schedule one-on-ones.

It’s not easy to get good material from a news conference, but some journalists are skilled at it. What’s their secret? Good follow-ups.

Bob Holt (above right, in blue shirt) covers sports for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is known as the king of the follow-up. If he doesn’t get a good answer to a question, “he’ll ask it three or four different ways,” Ron Higgins of the New Orleans Times-Picayune told  

There’s a fine line between pressing for an answer and just hogging time, but Holt appears to have avoided alienating his colleagues by combining a “folksy Midwest charm and aggressive interviewing methods.”

People kind of make fun of me for, I don’t know, wearing people down. I’m not comparing myself to [late CBS newsman] Mike Wallace at all, but if you ask someone enough questions … I just have a natural curiosity that I think every reporter should have. I just like to ask questions.

Those questions are carefully researched and planned, and that’s the real key to Holt’s success. He also packs a lot of confidence and doesn’t take it personally when a coach takes offense at a question.

My thing is if a coach will give me access, then I don’t mean he can kick me in the face or anything, but if I have access, I don’t mind a coach unloading on me. As long as there’s a give and take to it. As a matter of fact, a lot of times it can be pretty healthy.

After more than 30 years on the sports beat, Holt has earned the right to ask more than one follow-up. The next time you cover a news conference, take note of the best answers and then look at the question that led to the answer. There’s an art to asking productive questions, and it can be learned.


They See Me Rollin…

How NOT to get ahead in broadcasting: be seen yukking it up in a station vehicle. Just ask the putz driving the news cruiser recently seen losing a race at the Albuquerque Dragway (a slash of asphalt presumably reachable only after one left turn).

UPDATE! Web sources reveal the news crew was actually shooting a feature story on drag racing and, ahem, needed point of view footage! That changes EVERYTHING! Still, do as I do and keep it chill behind the wheel. That way you'll be around to drop knowledge on a generation of news nerds, instead of rushing headlong into such a brazen career move. Remember...

Seven Good Reasons NOT to Drag Race That News Car. 

7.) Two Words: Condiment dislodgement. Even if you do make it to Victory Lane, you'll surely be slathered in petrified ketchup, Starbucks stir sticks and dozens of unread press releases.

6.) Those door stickers are only rated for 70 MPH. Lose 'em and you'll have to explain to your News Director why the custom wrap job he had to pay for out of his budget is now draped across a scarecrow outside Meth Valley Mobile Home Park.

5.) Top out in fourth gear and that dealer recall your station didn't tell you about is gonna cause the windshield to implode.  You'll know when it happens...

4.) Take home whatever women is impressed with THAT performance and that video below won't be the only thing only going viral.

3.) No one ever made anchor after getting caught racing news units. Well, there was that one dude.

 2.) Eighteen seconds of dragway adulation isn't worth losing the chance to work every single holiday for the rest of your life. Or is it?

And finally, the Number One Reason NOT to Drag Race That News Car...

1.)  It ain't yours.

Hell to Quell

And so begins a NEW chapter in The Book of Lenslinger, in which our elusive news shooter sheds his street cred for a peek at the bigger picture...


Weathered SlingerWhen last I left you, my head was in a fog. Some days, it still is. But if eighteen months of lurching uncertainty have taught me anything, it's that 'Living in the Past' is a better Jethro Tull album than recipe for glee. Ya feel me? Probably not. Doesn't matter. I'm writing for myself these days. When I'm writing at all. Once upon a time, frothy blather dripped from my every pore and formed unsettled puddles of snark.

No more. Now, I struggle with where to begin and how to end. What gives? I use to dry-fart shiny passages while waiting for stoplights to change. Hell, I once sneezed an entire thesis while ordering take-out! These days, I can't so much as scribble a grocery list without struggling over tone. What gives? Why can a guy who used to churn out words at a dizzying clip find himself unable to jot down a web address without hours of soul-searching? It's simple, really....


If you can't understand how such a thing can affect one's literary output, you've obviously never had your soul stepped on.  I have - the day my beautiful wife announced she didn't want to be my beautiful wife anymore. To say it shook me to the core is underselling it. I curled up into a fetal ball and wept for the better part of a year. After a great deal of wallowing, I got up off that floor and followed some of the smartest people I knew straight down the interstate. That's right, if the collapse of a twenty-three year marriage wasn't enough personal upheaval, I decided to leave a job I truly loved. Which is why you'll find me ninety minutes south of the Piedmont, thrusting lenses into the hands of Millennials and pleading for a little sequencing. You guessed it...

I turned house-cat.

Officially, my title is 'News Operations Manager'. It's a lofty appellation, alright, but after seven months of equipping young journalists with all the tools of television, it's one I'm comfortable with. And now that I'm seemingly secure in my new surroundings, I'd like to get back to writing again. 'About what?' you ask. TV News, of course. It's what I've always written about and for the past half  year I've been preaching my prose to a collection of twenty-somethings - most of whom have never even heard of 'Lenslinger'. I'd like to change that and this long-delayed blog post is the first wobbly step in that direction...

So join me, won't you, in my renewed efforts to get my mojo back. I greatly appreciate all the reader e-mail I've received - even the ones calling me a coward for staying quiet so long. I have no idea where this blog will go next, but I can assure you, it's going somewhere. The tone may change, the bitterness will surely fade - but I promise you I'll call it like I see it (at least as much as I can I can while staying employed). Whether or not you'll join me remains to be seen, but in the end it doesn't matter. A writer's gotta write, a bird's gotta sing and this bruised news shooter simply has to run his mouth on-line.

Stay tuned...

5 things I wish I new when I started my TV news producer career

WDAMProducerOne of the most popular pieces on the Fast Company website right now offers up nine pieces of advice for someone just getting started in a career.  It’s worth the read if you’re a recent grad looking for work or are relatively new on the job.

Now, if that job you’re seeking is that of a newscast producer, Advancing the Story rounded up some advice that’s tailor made for you.

1.  It seems silly now, but until I started my first job, I don’t believe I fully understood the responsibility I have to viewers. That said, it took all of a day before it hit me like a brick. Whether it’s calls, emails, or Facebook comments, I quickly learned how deeply embedded viewers are in the news-gathering process,” said Miriam Cresswell, newscast producer at WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.  “As a producer, you’re not only a decision maker in the newsroom, but you’re also a decision maker within your community. The stories you choose, as well as how you choose to cover them, directly affect your viewers. Because of that, I have to continually ask myself, “Is this important to my viewers? What do they need to know? What would they want to know?” There’s a good bit of power in a producer’s hands, and if you want viewers to keep tuning in, you can’t take that lightly.”

2.  “I didn’t realize how stressful the producer role can be,” said Erica Davis, a producer for the 6 p.m. show at WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. “If something goes down or goes wrong in the control room, you’re the first person people look at to fix it. Management and the other people working expect you to be the one to take care of any problems.”

She also thought the pay would be a bit better.  “Coming out of school, I was under the impression the producers made better money than reporters did. But honestly there isn’t much difference, and for the amount each does and the responsibilities of each, I was surprised to learn this.”

3.  “I knew as a producer I’d have to be a jack of all trades, but I didn’t realize how much. Daily I write, act as phone book for MMJs, stack the show, build graphics, run the TelePrompTer, edit video, and pull video from network,” said Brit Stack, the executive producer at KALB-TV in Alexandria, Louisiana. “There have also been times where I have had to go shoot video, haul boxes of paper for the printer, and I’ve even had to run the audio board once or twice, which is hilarious because it was of necessity and I had no clue what I was doing.”

4.  “One of the things I didn’t know that I definitely know now is the tremendous amount of responsibility that goes with producing,” said Doug Morris, a producer for the 5 p.m. newscast at WDAM.  He  also made the point that the producer must be the brains behind the whole operation.  “You’ve got to be the architect of the broadcast to look it over with a very sharp eye because missing any detail could lead to a mistake on air.”

5. “I  didn’t know anchors have different read rates,” said Tamara Hinton, a producer for the 10 p.m. show at WDAM. “Honestly I thought something like that wouldn’t have a big effect on the show, but it has a huge effect on the timing of the show which obviously the producers are trying to perfect for each show.”

So, what have we missed producers?  What do you wish you had known before getting into that control room for the first time?  We’d love to have your comments.

Thanks to newscast producer Pete Porter for his help in producing this post.