Q&A with KCCI Producer Alex Payne

I had the chance to sit down virtually with Alex Payne, a producer for KCCI and former DMACC student and editor of The Campus Chronicle, and talked to him about how COVID-19 has affected his everyday life and what he’s learned from his experience at DMACC.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

KCCI Producer and former Editor of The Campus Chronicle, Alex Payne

Q: I know you were on the Chronicle. So what is that transition from going from a college newspaper to a professional news source like?
A: Working on the Chronicle, I learned a lot about working with other people to put together a story and management team. And as a producer. That’s basically what I do. Managing a group of reporters, with story ideas, looking over their stories, helping them come up with what angle to take their story, or how to put their story together. So, being an editor on The Campus Chronicle really helps me take what I learned from that, and bring that into a professional newsroom. And I think it prepared me better than some other people who were right out of college, going into a newsroom were able to do.

Q: With COVID going on, how has that affected your work?
A: We’ve gone from a very crowded newsroom full of people to one that is scattered from all over with people working from home, people working at separate locations that we set up across the Des Moines area, to some reporters working out of closets in the basement, and people working in conference rooms upstairs. So, it’s been difficult. Having people so spread out. Now, communication isn’t as easy as just yelling across the newsroom. You have to text all these different people or use other communication chains that are kind of an added stress to our daily work, since there’s already a lot of stress factors working in a newsroom with things happening instantly and trying to get the latest updates to a story. Then separating everyone out. It just makes it more difficult.

Q: I know you wrote a book about the history of Altoona. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
A: I’ve been a part of the Altoona Historical Society since I was in junior high. And I was always kind of interested in putting this together and it just so happened that the publisher of these books that I was interested in contacted us and said that they were interested in having someone write a book on the history of Altoona for them as part of their “Images of America” series. So I worked with a group of people from the historical society to put that together.
We knew that the Altoona 150th celebration was coming up in 2015. So while I was editor of the Chronicle, that’s when this whole process of writing the book came about. I worked on getting it published, and then, when the 150th celebration came around, we wanted something a little more in-depth. So I wrote a second book, going a little more in-depth on the history of Altoona. When we did the first book, it had a lot of standards that we had to meet, and word limits and different things like that, that we had to follow. So when the 150th celebration came around,we went with a self-publisher which lets you kind of do whatever type of book you want. And so, I worked on a more in-depth book on the history of Altoona that was a hard bound.

Q: What does an average day on the job look like for you?
A: Right now, we have a lot going on with the pandemic and some stuff looks different most days. I don’t really have a set schedule. Typically as a producer, I would go in and look through my emails, catch up with the other producers and people in the newsroom on what the news of the day is, and work with the reporters on coming up with stories. We’ll meet and talk about story ideas and decide what stories they should cover. Normally, in our control room, we have a technical director, the director, audio, and then the producer in there. But now we’re all scattered, and they’ve created different parts of the control room throughout the building. So I go to our producer area, and booth our show, which as a producer, your main thing is timing the show making sure it’s on time. If we start getting heavy, then I need to find stories to kill. And so I’ll kill those stories, and make sure everyone is aware that those stories are killed. And if there’s any breaking news in the show while I’m back there, I’ll write up the breaking news and make sure it gets on.

Q: What do you wish you knew about like journalism and producing before getting into the job?
A: I never really wanted to be a producer. It’s just kind of the role that I got into. It was a position that was open at Channel 13 that I took, and I was really good at it. So they asked me a couple months in if I wanted to go full time, and I went full time. And then KCC heard about me and offered me a job. And so I went over to KCCI, and I always wanted to be a reporter so I could be out there covering the stories. But now more than six years into this, it’s difficult to get out of producing. I’m sure I could, but I kind of settled down into it and I don’t really want to leave. It’s not really how I pictured it. So, I am going to grad school to be a teacher. I’m doing that while producing. I still think journalism is very important. It’s just I wish I would have known earlier that what I wanted to do in journalism wasn’t really producing and that I could have maybe jumped to reporting or something different in the journalism field earlier.

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