Life and Times of a Chase Producer

I just started doing some freelancing again, pitching story by story. Who I am working with will be revealed in due course once the first new story is published. (Promise! I’ll post it here).

As I wait for phone calls from potential people to interview, I am thinking back to my chase producing experiences at the CBC. I always try to go back to the methods I developed while I was there to keep my productivity up as a freelancer. It was a time when the expectations were high, and the pace somewhat crazy. The things I learned at CBC have helped me support my growth as a journalist. Here’s what I did and what I learned in that intense time.

The example I am using here is from the time when I was chase producing for a regional current affairs program, similar to the local shows you’d hear from your local CBC stations in the morning, at noon or the 4-6 slot. Those shows are a mix of interviews, music, news and weather reports. Most of the interviews were 6-7 minutes long and we usually had 4 interviews in the course of an hour.

Here is the way my day would unfold:

8:30 – story meeting with the producer, the program host and the researchers and associate producers – 5 new story pitches were expected each day from each of us. So I constantly had to be on the lookout for good stories. Usually two or three of those five were chosen as topics to ‘chase’ (hence the term ‘chase producer’). They wouldn’t all have to be for the next day’s show — the producer would designate which ones he wanted for which days. Sometimes they were for the next day. And, if there is a very time sensitive story, it might even have to go in today’s show two hours later. And, sometimes the stories just didn’t pan out. C’est la vie. If I stick to this plan, my success record was pretty good.

9:00 – 3:00 The chase begins. My time was mostly spent doing research to determine the most suitable guests, including phone numbers. Potential guests would be phoned to check out their suitability and availability to appear on the show. Lots of waiting around for phone calls to be returned. If the potential guests didn’t call back, I’d call the next suitable person on the list.

In between waiting for phone calls, I developed story ideas and did research for new ideas to be presented at the next day’s story meeting. The show was mostly comprised of single interviews, so I was generally looking for one guest per story.

So I phoned. And emailed. And phoned and emailed. Rinse and repeat. Some days were easier than others. Vacation time, like March break and Christmas, made it harder to book guests. If it looked like a story I’d been assigned wasn’t going to come in for the next day’s show, I talked to my producer to let him know we needed to change course. If a story wasn’t coming together by 3:00, I usually quit chasing it and focused on something that looked more likely.

Generally, it was expected that at least one story I was working on for the next day would pan out. Many days I had two stories ready to go (which, if we already had enough for the next day’s show, the extra one could usually be scheduled for the day-after-tomorrow show). If the stories were fairly easy, I could do three a day. But that didn’t happen too often. On days when I was working on subjects that were more complex, I only did one.

The bottom line was — an occasional day when a producer didn’t have a story for the next day was generally acceptable. But it better not happen too often. That’s why was always a good idea to have extra stories my back pocket almost ready to go. (I remember one memorable days when somebody else’s guest bailed fifteen minutes to air time. The producer dropped a 15 minute interview on my desk on a reel of tape and told me to find a good 5 minutes and have it ready in 20 minutes to go to air. I did it. I’m proud of that.)

3:00 – With my guests confirmed for the next day, the last part of the day was spent preparing background notes, scripts and questions for the host. Do you ever wonder how a program host is able to know so much about so many things and sound so relaxed with all the people they’re interviewing? Most of the time, the research staff has prepared the materials for them. The host uses the materials prepared by the production crew as the roadmap for the interview. The background notes gives the host the larger context so they can make the interview their own. If, for example, the host gets caught in traffic and show up late, they’ll still sound totally in control of the materials as though they did the whole story themselves.

5:00 And then I went home, still looking for story ideas all the way home. And the next day it started all over again.

And now, in my freelance practice, I try to keep the same flow. The key is to be working on several things at once. Keeping new ideas flowing, trying to stick to deadlines, but understanding that things don’t always pan out. But, always having another story in the wings so everything doesn’t come to a grinding halt.

This was from a time before there was social media. My rhythms are slightly different now but basically the same. The secret to success is having more ideas than I can use in various stages of readiness. And that way, I stay on top of things without panicking about the prospect of dead air.


Save the Date – Word Out! Media Skills for Writers and Creatives – March 25, 2023

I am delighted to announce that Word UP, a writers organization in Barrie, Ontario, has asked me to do a workshop for them on March 25, 2023, via Zoom from 10 am – 3 pm.

Learn Critical Media Skills that help you manage:

  1. Social media – define your social media goals so you focus your message to your ideal audience. We’ll discuss which platforms to choose and how writers and creatives are using social media in innovative ways
  2. Creating an online press kit – We’ll talk about the role of websites in a social media dominated era and how planning a social media content schedule that tracks your accounts can help you.  
  3. Legacy media – Why is print, radio and TV still important? What traditional media organizations are covering literary and art information?  How the gate keeping process works in traditional media organizations, how to get your info to the right people.
  4. Writing a press release – Get attention that works to your agenda. Samples from Word Up and others shared as examples.
  5. Podcasts, blogs and influencers – Why they are an important part of your marketing plan, how to connect with them to guest on their platforms. How and why to choose these platforms to grow your list.
  6. Tools of the trade – Discover what microphones, apps and equipment you need and may already have, to get started.

The First 9 to Register have the opportunity at first choice to have voice work critiqued. Registration is only $10, thanks to funding received by Word Up!

To register, go to the Word Up! website here

Cameras and built in Microphones – A Marriage of Convenience

wedding-rings-public-domainOkay, so yes. I’ll start out by acknowledging that Marriages of Convenience can sometimes work. And built in microphones in cameras can sometimes work too.

But for the most part —  an external microphone is always the better bet.

In the next few articles, I’ll talk about the various kinds of techniques and gear that video makers can use to get good sound. To begin with, some words about those built ins and why they’re not the best idea.

Stand the same distance from the person you’re going to be shooting. Ask them to talk. Close your eyes. What do you hear?

If you’re no more than a foot away, you’ll likely hear the person pretty clearly.

Step back about four feet.

When I did this yesterday, I heard:

a) the person’s voice. I had to strain because her voice was very soft. Some of the words were lost.

b) the ventilation system in the room.

c) the person sitting next to me coughed. It was loud.

d) And then an ambulance went by.

Built in camera mikes will pick up all of that sound. They are what are called “omni directional” microphones. Which means, they record everything they hear, at the same sound levels as your ears are hearing.

So, my recording picked up:

a) the main speaker. But she was very soft. I could hear her most of the time, but I was straining.

b) the sound of the constant furnace, which also masked the sound of my speaker.

c) the cough. Really loud. Ouch. My ears hurt.

d) and then the ambulance sound, which masked the cough, the furnace and my speaker.

Many video makers I talk to say that sound is one of their biggest frustrations. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many easy ways to get good quality sound from the get go, and make it sparkle in post.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing series of posts about Getting Good Sound for Video.

Next in the series, choosing the right kind of microphone.

Interview Basics – Part 2 – Recording the Interview


Okay, so you’ve done your preinterview and know what you are going to ask.  It’s showtime.  

Before the interview:

Organize your technology. Arrive early. Check out the location that you have chosen. Make sure that no loud noises or construction crews have appeared since your last visit. (This happens. Frequently – when it does, think fast. And change location)

Be organized and calm. If you are flustered, your guest will be flustered too. The best way to relax your guest is to be relaxed yourself.

Check your gear. Take your time, do a short test recording and listen back to make sure your gear is working correctly. If you are working with a camera crew, make sure they have about half an hour before the shoot to set up.

Greet your guest. Say hello. Be friendly and personable. Make the person feel at home.  Resist the temptation to talk too much about the questions you’re going to ask.  You don’t want the freshest, best responses coming out before you’re rolling.

When you’re ready to go ..

Greet your guest. Say hello. Be friendly and personable. Make the person feel at home.  Resist the temptation to talk too much about the questions you’re going to ask.  You don’t want the freshest, best responses coming out before you’re rolling.

Keep your questions short and tight. The listeners want to hear your guest, not you. Your function is to get your guest to talk about the issue/subject. Avoid long and rambling questions. They are usually a sign that you don’t really know what your question is. Especially if your guest has to ask “excuse me, what was the question?”.

Stick to the questions you’ve pre-scripted. When you planned your questions, you crafted a “flow” to the conversation. Your questions are your roadmap. If something interesting comes up, and you have time, you may want to follow the tangent. But always return to your questions and keep the interview on track.

Avoid jargon. If your guest uses a term that your listeners won’t understand, ask “what’s that?”. Your listeners are not experts. Your role is to make the interview understandable. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations and “shop talk”, unless your target audience is a professional group that understands the shop talk.

Watch the clock. If your interview is scheduled to go ten minutes, don’t make it fifteen. Or five.

After the interview …

Check your recording.  Technical malfunctions can happen, even to seasoned pros. Make sure the recording is there.

Thank your guest.

Respond to her questions. Like “when will it be done?”. “When can I hear it online?”.

Confirm contact info.

And then, pack up, go home and get your post-production done (editing, packaging with themes, voice intros etc).  If you’ve followed these instructions, you won’t have a lot of editing to do.