An MMJ Life | A guide to making deadline
Written by Heidi Wigdahl
I’ll never forget the panic I felt on the third day of my first job in market 153. I was covering a drug bust, about an hour away from the station. It was my first package and it was set to be the lead at 5 p.m. I can’t remember what time we got back to the station, but at 4:50 p.m. my coworker came into the edit bay. I hadn’t tracked yet. She (thank you, Ali Lucia) edited my package and I somehow made slot. I never want to make that same mistake again.
As a multimedia journalist, not only do I need to anticipate the shot but I need to anticipate my entire day. It’s laughable to think everything will always work out exactly as planned because we all know how unpredictable news is day to day, even hour to hour. But it’s the question I get asked the most from younger journalists: How do you manage your time?
We all develop habits that help us make slot (I’d love to hear yours in the comments) but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Before the shoot
After the morning meeting, I’ll start making calls. If I’m getting voicemails, I will call other people in the office until I reach a live person. This means I can find out quicker if the person I’m trying to reach is even in the office that day. Many times I’ll get ahold of someone who will track that person down for me. Once I leave the station and am driving, I can’t make and answer calls like a two-person team. While I’m driving to my shoot, I think about possible focuses for my story and make mental notes of elements I’ll need for my piece. If I’m solo on a complicated story, I’ll write down (before driving) questions I can’t forget to ask. As an MMJ, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the framing, lighting and audio and forget to ask an important question.
During the shoot
When shooting video, I try to have clean clips. I think about it this way: If I fed back my raw footage and they put it on a timeline, could it almost air as is? I don’t have time to be scrubbing through video of me trying to focus on objects or trying to white balance. This helps me when it’s time to edit. If it’s a late shoot, I’ll make mental notes of sound bites I might use in case I don’t have time to log everything. If it’s a press conference, I’ll write down time codes and include a short explanation of what he/she said next to it. I’m also always thinking about what shots I’m going to use to open and close the package. Before I leave, I make sure I have cell phone numbers. I’ve wasted a lot of time in the past trying to get ahold of someone on their office number after an interview for clarification.
After the shoot
While driving back, I’ll think about my possible opening and closing shots and try to write to them. This is also when I’ll inevitably end up in a fast food drive-thru (I’m still working on eating healthier). To log, write and edit, I try to give myself three hours. So if my package is at 5 p.m., I want to be back at 2 p.m. (I realize not everyone has the luxury of putting together only one package a day). I love lists so I’ll usually have one that looks like this (see picture below). These mini-deadlines help me stay on track. I’m always renegotiating how much time I can dedicate to each part of the process. If I have a feature package with a lot of nats, I’ll give myself more time to edit. I’ll do the same thing if I need to make a graphic or edit a lot of pictures. If I’m fronting a story, I also need to budget in time for putting on makeup.
After the package airs
This is always the hardest part for me—giving myself a deadline after making deadline. I’m never able to write my web script and VOSOT until after my package airs. I love having a log because not only does it help me write more concisely, it’s a great reference for my web script. I’ll usually include information in my web script that I didn’t have time for on-air. This is also when I’ll go through my equipment and make sure everything is charging that needs to be charged.
Of course, there are days when everything goes wrong. But even then I’m giving myself mini-deadlines to avoid tracking my package at the time when I should be sending it.
Heidi Wigdahl is a multimedia journalist at KARE-TV in Minneapolis, Minn. She is the recipient of two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, as well as a regional Emmy for “Best Video Journalist.” In 2015, the Tennessee Associated Press named her “Best TV Reporter.” Heidi previously worked at KTTC in Rochester, Minn. and WBIR in Knoxville, Tenn. She graduated from DePaul University where the College of Communication named her “Journalism Student of the Year.”