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.


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, 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. 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?

Press freedom and the Web

Here’s an Internet irony: the Web has made it possible for almost anyone to be a journalist but it’s also made the world more dangerous for anyone practising journalism. For the first time, according to the Committee to Project Journalists, online journalists are the largest group behind bars around the world. And all journalists are threatened, says CPJ’s Joel Simon, because militant groups no longer need journalists to get their message out and they’ve learned they can spread fear by attacking and murdering journalists.

Simon told a conference on Capitol Hill last week that in the past ten years the number of journalists killed in the line of duty has skyrocketed, primarily due to the Iraq war, which he called “the deadliest conflict for journalists in history. War reporting is  obviously dangerous, but CPJ says most journalists killed in Iraq did not die in combat; two thirds of them were targeted and murdered. 

CPJ and other journalism groups are calling for the passage of the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act that would require the State Department to report annually on the state of press freedom worldwide and provide grants to strengthen media independence.

In connection with World Press Freedom Day (May 3), it’s important to note that a democratic system of government doesn’t ensure a free press. To the contrary, some of the countries ranked highest on CPJ’s “impunity index,” countries where journalists’ murders go unsolved, are nominally democracies: Russia, Colombia, the Philippines and Pakistan. Just another reminder that a free press should never be taken for granted.

Preparing to lead a newsroom

The news business is notorious for promoting well-qualified journalists into leadership positions with little or no preparation. Some of them do just fine but others struggle with new and different responsibilities.

It’s a big leap from producing a newscast to inspiring a staff; from running an assignment desk to changing a newsroom’s culture. It’s hard enough to take over a newsroom in good times, but new leaders face even bigger challenges now. Even seasoned managers have a tough time handling layoffs and budget cuts. In this economy, staffs are more stressed than ever and morale may be low.

Many newsroom managers wind up learning what they need to know by trial and error but there are other options. Here’s a list I put together for a former student who’s just been told he’s being promoted to a leadership job in his newsroom:

Do it yourself training is available free or at very low cost, and you can do it on your own schedule. For starters, get these RTNDA publications: Incoming: Advice for the Newly Named News Director and Ready, Set, Lead: The Resource Guide for New Managers Yes, I wrote them both, but did I mention they’re free?  Next, check out NewsU for online training. Click on the Leadership/Management tab. Some courses are free, others are reasonably priced.

For out-of-the-office training, RTNDF offers a series of inexpensive two-day leadership workshops. Check for a current schedule. Poynter has a long list of terrific leadership seminars, including one designed specifically for new managers. An excellent choice if you can spare a week.

The Carole Kneeland Project puts on a newsroom leadership conference each fall. Applications are due in the spring. The Knight Digital Media Center has an annual program that’s also worth investigating. So does the Media Management Center at Northwestern’s Medill school of journalism.

Finally, take a look at the Center for Creative Leadership. While the other programs listed here focus exclusively on newsroom leadership, CCL trains leaders in all fields. Their courses are expensive, but everyone I know who has attended one raves about them. Many of their programs require a longer time commitment than a news manager can make, but they do have a three-day Foundations of Leadership course that could be worth investigating.

What other options for news leadership training would you recommend?

Doing more with less

Almost every broadcast newsroom in the country is facing the same challenge. How can they continue to produce quality journalism on more screens with fewer people?

“It’s a struggle but we’re doing it as a team,” said Dan Salamone, news director at WOIO-TV, Cleveland, Ohio, at an RTNDA panel I moderated on Tuesday. His newsroom has shrunk from110 people two years ago to 70 people today, but digital technology has helped to fill some of the gap. The station uses Skype for live shots and shares video with a competing station, WKYC-TV, to save on costs.

Staffers who used to do just one job at WOIO now do several. Newscast directors, for example, help out on the assignment desk after completing their duties in the control room. As Salamone put it: “Versatile is valuable.”

At WFIE-TV in Evansville, Indiana, general manager Debbie Bush no longer has a news director; instead, a content manager is responsible for all news and production. The station reviewed all positions and eliminated some in order to put more journalists in the field. They hired some VJs and cross-trained other staffers to make them more productive. Now, news people may run studio cameras while production staffers may shoot news. It’s not only more efficient, “it breaks down walls,” Bush said.

Veteran anchors at WFIE have new duties as well. They’ve been assigned to mentor individual reporters and to approve their scripts. Everyone on the staff is expected to be on Facebook and Twitter, to push news out on multiple platforms. And everyone contributes content, Bush said, even the sales department. That sounds like an ethical quagmire, but the example Bush gave was of a sales person taking pictures of a breaking news story and sending them to the station to post on the Web, just as a citizen might.

One consequence of layoffs and budget cuts is that “the top performers are the ones that are left,” said Steve Jones, vice president and general manager of ABC News Radio, New York. The downside is that many of them are working in fear that they might be the next ones laid off. So managers need to make an even bigger effort to communicate openly with the staff, Jones said, being candid about what the future might bring and offering regular, positive feedback.