July 29, 2007

Man behind the curtain

an interview with...


assistant news director

WPBF-Channel 25

Since the late ’80s, Steve Boyer has worked in the newsrooms of WFOR, WPLG, WSVN, and WPBF – more than half of South Florida’s seven English-language news stations. He’s seen it all, but you’ve never seen him.

The University of Miami graduate has had titles like “assignment manager” and “assignment editor,” which means he’s never on camera. And he likes it that way.

More than seeing his face on TV, Boyer loves “the constant deadlines, reporters doing stand-ups, the battle for stories in the morning meeting, anchors going live with breaking news, and the whole chaotic control room scene. The workday flies by. It's truly never a dull moment.”

So basically, Boyer prefers an adrenaline rush to an ego fix.

Why behind the camera instead of in front of it?

I never loved the whole on-air scene. I enjoyed watching people who were good at it conduct interviews and go live. But I preferred the whole process of newsgathering from the assignment desk perspective. I liked taking that call or hearing something going down on the police scanners, knowing about things first, and figuring out the logistics of getting people from Point A to Point B. I loved watching it unfold on the air, knowing I had a hand in getting it done.

An average day for an assistant news director?

My job is about 50-50 editorial and administrative. I attend the morning and afternoon editorial meetings and pitch my story ideas and help guide the assignments. I handle recruiting, performance reviews, scheduling, and vacation allotment. I liaison between the news department and the engineering, production, sales, and business departments. I orally critique the 4, 5, and 6 p.m. newscasts with the anchors and producers every day.

The biggest misconception average folks have about your job?

The sheer administrative weight of the job. I’m part ATM machine, travel agent, talent coach, equipment procurement manager, snack-and-beverage provider, confessional priest, big brother, coach, and cheerleader.

You've taught broadcast classes at UM. What were some of the students' misconceptions about working in the field?

Most thought being a reporter would be this glamorous, fabulous, awe-inspiring position of respect. In fact, reporters are private-first-class soldiers in the newsgathering war.
In reality, it's a hot, sticky, constantly changing, thankless job in a world where people yell at you to get off their property, everybody has an opinion about your hair, the live truck doesn't work, and someone is always saying, "Why do I have to work with that photographer?" You never hear any praise but constantly receive criticism.

For someone who wants to steal your job, what do they need to do?

Be well read. Be a leader. Be a good (maybe the best) listener in the newsroom. Sometimes be the first to arrive and the last to go home. Manage fairly and consistently. Keep your temper in check, but don't discount the effectiveness of an occasionally loud voice.

Walk a mile in your colleagues' shoes. Occasionally, I try to get out on the road on a big assignment with reporters and anchors and photographers – like the gubernatorial election, the presidential debate, post-Katrina, and the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion. No one can tell me I haven't been there in the heat of the battle, or that I don't understand what they're going through.

You've also worked for four South Florida stations. Are all they largely the same?

Every station has its own personality. I worked at WPLG during its glory years, when every newscast was No. 1, we broke every big story, and we had the best on-air talent in the market. No one could touch us.
Then WSVN went independent and expanded their product into the Newsplex, and the market went schizophrenic. It was a period of chopper wars, and everyone went breaking-news crazy.

Now WFOR is trying to emulate WSVN, which is tough to do. WTVJ is suffering from budget cuts and has dropped significantly. WSVN is strong and true to their brand and position. And WPLG dropped their 5 p.m. news in favor of Dr. Phil but is stronger than ever in the mornings and at 6 and 11 p.m.

If you could surgically implant one piece of advice into the skulls of new grads and young pros, what would it be?

Be a concise and accurate writer. Be stingy with your words. Adjectives and superlatives are not your friends. And never be clever, when what you really need to be is clear!