Colleagues create textbook during pandemic

Published! Middle Tennessee State University colleagues (from left to right) Dr. Sally Ann Cruikshank, Dr. Keonte Coleman and Dr. Christine Eschenfelder pose with their newly published textbook in the  School of Journalism and Strategic Media’s student news studio. Photo by Dan Eschenfelder

When I received word from Dr. Christine Eschenfelder that she and two of her Middle Tennessee State University colleagues had written a textbook during the pandemic, I wanted to hear how they did it.

Dr. Eschenfelder, Dr. Sally Ann Cruikshank and Dr. Keonte Coleman, all faculty in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, were motivated to write “A Complete Guide to Television, Field, and Digital Producing” to fill a need in the curriculum in their school and in other communication programs.

During the pandemic, they developed the concept for the book, secured a publisher, and wrote the book, in spite of all the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

I asked the three to share their experiences in writing the book.

Dr. Christine Eschenfelder is an associate professor and recipient of the MTSU Outstanding Teaching Award and broadcast industry awards. Her research focuses on broadcast journalism education, newsroom diversity, and women in broadcasting.
Twitter: @cceschenfelder

What inspired you and your two colleagues to write “A Complete Guide to Television, Field, and Digital Producing”?

We all worked in television news before our careers in academia. I was an on-air reporter and producer. Sally Ann and Keonte were also producers. Television news producers are in great demand. It’s an important and exciting job that many students don’t know about.

We and some other colleagues in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media are developing a producing concentration. I created a new producing class for the program and wanted an updated text that focused only on producing and the three areas of producing — television news, field, and digital. The three of us talked about it and agreed we should write one! Little did we know we would be writing it during a pandemic.

How did your teaching experience and your broadcast experience help inform your approach to the book?

My personal experience in television newsrooms inspired much of what I wrote for the text, which includes lessons on writing, ethics, and stress management. I thought it was very important to address stress in this industry. I called upon a dear friend and fellow University of Florida alumna Dr. Kortni Alston to contribute to that section.

Years of practice, learning from my own mistakes, and things I learned from my amazing news colleagues over the years are part of what I share in the book. I also learned a great deal as a graduate student and researcher, which informed some of the content.

I love to teach producing. I have taught it for several years. Classroom experiences with my own students gave me ideas on topics to cover and approaches to that content. For example, when covering headlines and teases, my students enjoyed seeing examples both good and bad. They also needed several opportunities to practice writing headlines and teases. Graphics mistakes always made them laugh but also taught a valuable lesson. Thank you to my students! So many of them are enjoying rewarding careers as producers. Two of them are featured in the book, Grace Whitaker and Chris Peralta.

When Sally Ann, Keonte, and I got together to plan the chapters and content, we were so like-minded! All our ideas flowed together beautifully.

What were challenges or advantages to working on a book during the pandemic?

As professors, we were busy moving all our classes to a remote delivery. We also had to adjust our own family and personal lives. That was very stressful for everyone, of course. It was a challenge for me personally to find a quiet place to think, focus, and write. I like to write in my campus office or in a coffee shop. I found myself, however, trying to write at home. My husband and teenage son were also at home, so it was a bit difficult to concentrate.

My wonderful co-authors made all the difference. The advantage was working with Sally Ann and Keonte. We met via Zoom, texted, and emailed each other frequently. I always looked forward to our Zooms because we laughed, commiserated, told old newsroom “war stories,” bounced ideas off each other, and encouraged each other every step of the way. Sally Ann’s fabulous cats would Zoom bomb us. My son and husband made a few cameos. Our collaborative energy and bond is one of the bright spots of the quarantine for me. I never thought I would be collaborating on a book during a pandemic! I don’t think it would have been possible without Sally Ann’s and Keonte’s positive energy.

Who is this book for?

The target audience of the book is students in a producing class, but chapters in the book could be assigned to other courses. A freshman or sophomore level survey course for incoming majors could assign chapters including “Day in the Life” and some of the producer profiles. Any journalism and social media class could make use of the social media and metrics chapters. The self-care section break offers a lot of tips and resources for journalists. This text could also be used in a media management course. We think this would also be a good handbook for professionals already in the newsroom.

Dr. Sally Ann Cruikshank is an associate professor and award-winning television news producer who has led journalism workshops around the world for students and working journalists. Her research focuses on mobile technology and social media.
Twitter: @sacruikshank

What inspired you and your two colleagues to write “A Complete Guide to Television, Field, and Digital Producing”?

Really, my love of producing inspired me. I spent my pre-academia career as a television news producer, and, despite the importance of the producing, no one ever seemed to understand what I did. My family still probably couldn’t explain to you what my job was like in the newsroom.

When I became a professor, I learned that most of my students thought your only path to being a television news journalist was an on-air reporter. The textbooks I browsed only supported this notion, including producing as an afterthought in a section or chapter or not addressing producing at all. The same seemed to be true when it came to digital optimization, as well. I found so many great resources for multimedia reporting but little focusing on how behind-the-scenes journalists operated.

With Christine and Keonte as colleagues, I found two kindred spirits who realized the importance of teaching producing, not just to aspiring producers, but also to reporters. If everyone in the newsroom understood the fundamentals of producing, whether for television or online, newsrooms would run a much smoother. We, along with some other colleagues, are in the process of developing a concentration on producing at MTSU. We couldn’t find a book that fit what we needed, so we decided we should just write one. Fortunately, our publisher agreed!

How did your teaching experience and your broadcast experience help inform your approach to the book?

My broadcast experience really informed the chapters on field producing that I wrote. When I worked as a producer in Miami, Florida, I split my time between live producing and special projects producing. We did so many live shows from the field, and I worked on several lengthy investigations. When it comes to field producing, the technology has changed quite substantially, but the fundamentals have remained the same. 

When it came to the digital producing part, my teaching was indispensable. When I left the newsroom, we were really just starting to focus more on our online presence, and social media were starting to become a bigger thing. I started teaching when I was a master’s student at Ohio University, and I had the opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone and learn some new digital tricks. Since then, I’ve really worked on keeping up with new trends in the digital news world, which is super fascinating. I also talk to my students a lot about how they access news online and on social media. 

Even though I didn’t work much with digital producing during my career, I really couldn’t have written this book without the network of journalists that I still have from my days in the newsroom. They were so generous to talk to me about how they work now and what constitutes success in the digital world. My husband also is a journalist who has spent most of his career as a digital producer, so, as you can imagine, he is one of my biggest sources for information.

What were challenges or advantages to working on a book during the pandemic?

Writing a book during a pandemic was a real struggle for me, personally. I do my best writing at a coffee shop, which provides just the right amount of ambient noise for me to work. After working in a newsroom for so many years, I write best around noise and bustle! I wrote almost all of this book at home, in a small apartment, where my husband was also working, where there are also two needy cats, and plenty of household chores to distract me. I’m amazed I managed to get it written, honestly.

I do not recommend writing a book during a pandemic lockdown, but if you do, write it with Christine Eschenfelder and Keonte Coleman. The regular Zooms we had to check in with each other were the real highlights of the book writing process, and really working during a pandemic in general! We would complain, laugh, and support each other, and it made a huge difference. I definitely wouldn’t have crossed the finish line without them.

Who is this book for?

Of course, this book is primarily geared toward aspiring journalism producers in all types of media. Although part of the book addresses television news specifically, the field and digital producing sections apply to journalists in any field. Newspaper journalists routinely go live from events in the field, and everyone needs to understand search engine optimization. 

This book would also be a great resource for journalists already working in the field. As the name suggests, it’s a handbook. We really intended it to be a reference book that would benefit anyone in the newsroom. 

Dr. Keonte Coleman is an assistant professor who was an award-winning television news producer before transitioning into higher education. His research focuses on journalism, diversity, leadership, media and higher education. Twitter: @KeonteColeman

What inspired you and your two colleagues to write “A Complete Guide to Television, Field, and Digital Producing”?

The expansion of news content to all media platforms and the advancement of technology have created a tremendous need for news producers. This book is the only text to focus on the three areas of news producing (television, field, and digital), while also being the newest text released in years that focuses solely on news producing. It will help journalism programs, especially those that don’t have faculty or staff with producing experience, train their students to get the jobs that are available right now. 

How did your teaching experience and your broadcast experience help inform your approach to the book? 

I’ve taken lessons that I’ve learned in the newsroom into the classroom, and after years of teaching, I learned how to hone those lessons for students. In the book, I share the news producing skills that I try to impart to all my students, such as being prepared for the day and having multiple backup plans, while also staying flexible to take advantage of the unexpected. The book includes tips and tricks to help aspiring and early-career producers prepare for a job that requires paying attention to details and possessing creativity, flexibility, and leadership skills.  

What were challenges or advantages to working on a book during the pandemic? 

The biggest challenge for me was trying to concentrate long enough to focus on this task instead of all the pandemic news that had me worried about family and friends.  

The advantage of working on this book during the pandemic was having two great co-authors who had so much positive energy that I looked forward to our Zoom update meetings. We would spend a good portion of the meetings decompressing from the pandemic, and then we would check our progress and set new writing goals. 

Sally Ann and Christine invited me to participate in the book project, so I never wanted to let them down. I’m so thankful they gave me this opportunity.   

A Complete Guide to Television, Field, and Digital Producing now is available for adoption and individual purchase from Routledge.

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