TV news salaries drop

For the first time in 15 years, people working in local TV news have started making less money than they did the year previously.  According to the annual RTNDA/Hofstra University survey, overall salaries fell about 4.4% in 2008 – and if you factor inflation into the mix, the survey says real wages fell by 8.2%.

The positions that took the biggest hits were those of reporter (13.3% drop),  news anchor (-11.5%), weathercaster (-9.1%) and sports anchor (-8.9%).  Only assignment editor and art director salaries held steady.

The picture varies by market and newsroom staff size, but the overall salary drops are hardly unexpected in the current economic environment.

SalariesWhat the survey does not reveal is the salary picture for entry level positions.  According to the University of Georgia’s 2007 Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates, TV news salaries for recent grads had been slowly improving in recent years, though salaries were down slightly for 2007 from 2006. 

The 2008 survey should be released in early August and it will be interesting to see if those starter jobs are again losing ground when it comes to pay.

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News anchor roles changing

It’s an unfortunate reality that a good portion of students go into broadcast journalism because they want to be on TV.  They dream of being someone like Oprah or of anchoring a newcast because they think it looks fun and easy.  They may be right about the fun part, but it’s probably never been easy, and now anchoring is becoming much more demanding.

In an interview with TVNewsday, Susana Schuler, the VP of News for Raycom, said that every anchor at her stations should be reporting. 

It keeps them connected to their communities.  It gets them engaged in what their audience is interested in.  So the anchor role is evolving.  Their connection to a community, to the audience remains critical, but their role in the future has to go way beyond their performance in a newscast.

And it’s not just Raycom that’s demanding more from the people on the news set.  Recently, a news director at one of the Cox stations was calling for references on a potential anchor and asked only questions about the candidate’s reporting, leadership and mentoring abilities, not about his ability to deliver the news.

So what’s the takeaway from all this?  It’s more important than ever for today’s job seekers to be journalists first and to showcase their reporting and storytelling, but it’s also important for those who want to be anchors to look for oportunities to manage newsroom projects or to make time to mentor those with less experience or who lack a certain skill set.  Getting that experience and then selling yourself as an anchor who can deliver the goods both on air and off is the key.

Pros and cons of sharing news video

It’s happening everywhere. Stations from Tampa to Los Angeles are forming local partnerships to share news video. The arrangements vary from market to market, but so far stations owned by Fox, Gannett, Scripps, Tribune and Meredith have jumped into the new pools.

The benefits for the stations are obvious. Sending one photographer to cover an event for several news organizations at once should save all of them money. The networks have been doing it in Washington, DC, for years. Among the other arguments in favor:

  • Video from pre-arranged events like news conferences all looks the same anyway, so there’s really no need to send more than one photographer.
  • Stations that participate in pools will have more photographers available to shoot enterprise stories that could make each station’s newscasts more distinctive.

Not everyone is buying it. Emily Barr, news director at WLS-TV in Chicago, is keeping her station out of the pool. She told the Chicago Sun-Times that sharing video could compromise her station’s independence and flexibility. It’s probably no coincidence that WLS is the top-rated station in Chicago. The number one station in Atlanta, WSB-TV, isn’t joining the pool arrangement there, either.

No market has been doing this long enough to measure the real impact on local TV news. But some concerns may be well founded:

  • Stations using pools could decide to cut their staff rather than redeploy them to cover other stories. That could make local newscasts even more alike than they are now.
  • Stations may decide not to send their own reporters to events that are pooled, so they won’t get any independent coverage.
  • Even if reporters are present, they may not be able to use a pool camera to shoot unilateral footage. That’s been a problem in DC for years. In my experience, it was almost impossible to get a second, independent camera sent to a pooled event.

My former colleage at Poynter, Jill Geisler, warns of other hazards, including the possibility that events designed to draw pool coverage will proliferate, as pols and PR types learn how to game the new system.

But video sharing appears to be on the verge of becoming the new normal. Should viewers worry that stations are saving money at the expense of quality ? Or will these collaborations actually improve local TV news?

Multimedia portfolio creation

We keep telling everyone that it’s important to create a new kind of resume that showcases multimedia skills.  The best way to do that, of course, is online, but what should your Web portfolio look like?

At Arizona State University, Prof. Serena Carpenter requires students in her Online Media classes to create their own multimedia resumes.  In her blog, she describes the tools used to build the sites.

The sites were created using HTML/CSS, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver. During this exercise, students are given the freedom to express their creativity by designing their own sites and producing their own content for their online resumes.

Viewing all the examples should give you some ideas on what works and what doesn’t, but here are a few you should definitely check out:

  • Maxine Park – visually appealing and though she does feature a photo of herself, it doesn’t shout, “All about me!” as some student sites tend to.
  • Carleen McGillick – a simpler site designed for a public relations student – it’s clean and easy to navigate.
  • Mark Crudup – this site is quite plain, but it showcases a unique element about the journalist – his interest in science and medical writing.  In today’s environment, you have to sell the employer on what’s special about you.

How TV news reports audience decline

Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times posted a very short, but interesting tidbit yesterday.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication found that over the last nine years, newspapers and wire services wrote more than two thousand stories about the woes of print and television. Leading the way were the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Television, meanwhile, carried a total of 22 stories about the decline in news audiences.

Maybe TV has learned a thing or two from those sales guys who always say business is good – it’s certainly tough to foster confidence in an industry that’s routinely predicting its own demise.

Yes, the audience is changing its habits.  But what would be interesting to know is how much reporting has been focused on those changes and analysis of how traditional media can adapt. 

The more we can learn about serving today’s audience needs, the faster journalism organizations can rise to the challenge.  Let’s see more than 2,000 stories on that!

There will be jobs

Optimism doesn’t exactly rule in newsrooms today, but the AP’s Micah Gelman is bucking the trend. He’s just been named executive producer for domestic video, a job that didn’t exist when he got into the  business a decade ago as a local TV news producer. Gelman believes more new jobs will be created and they’ll require new skills in addition to many of the same skills a TV producer needs now:

Is future of news hyperlocal?

The folks behind voiceofsandiego.org, an online news source run as a nonprofit, firmly believe that they way they’ll succeed is by staying focused entirely on San Diego. Could their site and other “hyperlocal” Internet outlets fill the void caused by failing news organizations?

This CNN story does a decent job of reviewing the state of play.

Generally, the people who run hyperlocal Web sites say they are optimistic about the future of the news business. They say they won’t be able to replace all that’s being lost as large news companies crumble but say they are excited about the fact that they’re able to offer something new — at least for the moment.

The long-term economic viability of any of these sites remains an open question. And some critics, like Robert McChesney and John Nichols, say nonprofit news sites are not a solution to the economic problems of news organizations. Writing in The Nation, they call the fixes being tried so far “triage strategies.”

They are not cures; in fact, if there is a risk in them, it is that they might briefly discourage the needed reshaping of ownership models that are destined to fail.

Spot.us founder Dave Cohn, whom we’ve written about before, tells CNN that what journalism needs is “10,000 startups.” And that could easily happen if many of the journalists now out of work decide to try their hand at an Internet news site. According to Paper Cuts, a blog that tracks newspaper layoffs, almost 25,000 print journalists have lost their jobs since the beginning of 2008, not counting job losses on the broadcast side. Sobering, isn’t it?