Local TV news: Who puts it together, and what in the world is an SOT?

August 20, 2018

Local TV news—millions watch it every night. But few may know about the professionals—aside from anchors and reporters—who put together a 10 p.m. newscast, or how to decode the lingo.

As a communications professional, you likely deal with reporters more often than anyone else from a television newsroom. However, you may not know that to do a story on your researcher, program or initiative they have to run a bit of a newsroom gauntlet.

Let’s break down who’s who in the newsroom and look at some of the more common lingo.

News director: This is the person in charge of all news staff. Typically, news directors aren’t involved in the day-to-day newscast production. They handle the overall direction of the news department from  hirings to editorial content and budget.

Assistant news director: People with this title are charged with overseeing the day-to-day production of newscasts. They typically oversee the execution of the news director’s overall content strategy.

Executive producers: In large markets there are typically three executive producers—one each for the morning, evening and night time newscasts. Executive producers are generally the gatekeepers of content. They plan coverage, select stories (including deciding what reporters will cover that day) and oversee producers. Executive producers are typically more involved with helping “craft” reporters' stories from conception to execution. However, depending on the newsroom, this can fall to producers.

Producers: Producers without any adjective before their title are the ones who put together the newscast. They aid in the editorial process by talking through reporter stories and selecting all other news-related content you watch on television. Producers also write, create graphics and, sometimes, even edit video for newscasts. They are also charged with “stacking” the show. That means they place stories at certain points in the newscast that fit flow and other factors.

Writers: Exactly what it sounds like. They write content. Unless it is a very large market, you won’t find very many writers around.

Assignment editors: In a nutshell, these people keep everything organized. They know where reporters, photographers and others are. They aid in dispatching reporters to breaking news sites. They call about stories, news releases and additional information. They sift through court documents and listen to the scanners. In some newsrooms, assignment editors also write for the website.

Markets: There are 210 markets in the United States, ranked by the number of TV homes (PDF) in the viewing area. New York is market 1, Los Angeles market 2. The Twin Cities is market 15, Duluth is market 140 and Rochester is market 153.

Package: These are pre-produced news stories that a reporter is typically involved in. Usually, this is the outcome of a story you work with a reporter on.

VO/SOT: That translates to voiceover/sound-on-tape. While a reporter may read these, a majority of the time they don't. These stories are typically shot by a photographer, written by a producer and read on-air by an anchor.

Chyron/lower third/banners: These are the graphics that pop up with a person’s name. Space for titles is limited, so when working with an expert/researcher/faculty member with multiple titles, please provide the one that is either most important or most relevant to the story.

The positions we described are typical positions you’ll find in a large market like the Twin Cities. Smaller markets may not have the resources to support all of these positions (e.g., some stations have a news director, but skip over assistant news director or executive producer). As for the lingo, we've barely scratched the surface here.

This post is part of a series on local television news. Stay tuned for what a typical day looks like in TV newsrooms. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to the Public Relations team in University Relations at unews@umn.edu.