Contracts: Read the fine print

If you’re lucky enough to find a TV news job in these tough economic times, make sure you take a close look at any contract you’re asked to sign.  You may not have much say over the terms, but you should at least know what you’re getting into.  And this cautionary tale should prove the point.

According to a Texas newspaper, the Beaumont Enterprise, a TV meteorologist is suing the local NBC affiliate over a provision in her contract that forced her to pay $10,000 to leave the station.  Rocio Garza joined the station last summer as the morning forecaster at a starting salary of $25,000.  Her lawsuit says she tried to get out of her contract earlier this year, unhappy with the progress she was making at the station.  Management said no, unless she paid the “liquidation fee.”  This fall, she was demoted to weekends and eventually resigned.  Now, she’s fighting in court to avoid paying the fee.

However this particular case turns out, it’s a clear reminder that contracts–especially for first jobs in TV–are written to protect the employer.  And that’s nothing new.  When I took my first CBS News contract to a lawyer, he read it carefully and then laughed out loud.  The contract was binding on me, he said, but not on them.  They could let me go but I couldn’t quit.  I signed it anyway, and was able to negotiate better terms in later contracts.  But at least I had read the fine print first.  You should too.