For months, articles have been posted on LinkedIn and publications that report on media, about the growing decline of applicants for TV news jobs. I have written quite a few myself and touched on something important that needs to be said in more blunt terms, so it hopefully resonates better.
Journalism can be a vocation that warrants, even commands good pay. From the time I entered J-School, aspiring journalists were told this is a calling. This is a vocation. This job is hard and you will pay your dues and you may never make a lot of money. But you will love the job. There is nothing else like it. Or is there?
A lot of outlets allow you to tell stories, research issues, explain concepts to communities and most importantly help you advocate for others. The vocational element of journalism is not the top sell anymore. Read that again. This calling is rapidly losing appeal. There are other outlets that can and will feed journalists’ souls.
Broadcasting companies push this it’s a calling, vocation attitude. It’s a reason given for not being able to pay well throughout newsrooms. It is time for broadcasting groups to understand that several generations’ worth of the workforce, don’t agree. They want good pay and feel the training they got warrants the money. It is also easier than before to look up and understand the huge pay differences between newsroom employees, station managers, and the executives telling you, not to push too hard on the money, it’s a calling and privilege to be a journalist. I am asked all the time if that is true, shouldn’t that apply to the executives as well? In addition, many stations are making good money, even though the pandemic. Journalists understand this. They know there is potentially more money available, but the corporate level is not releasing as many funds as it could. One of the most common reasons given is because the company has to research and create digital platforms. While true, there is a missing link that needs to be stated clearly.
Executives need to understand, the commodities that make the company profitable, are the journalists. They to a large degree are the product, because their critical minds, fact-finding training, and ability to boil down complex material so the community can absorb the information is what the executives sell. Journalism has to be done well, to make it viable long term. Cheapening the product has led to issues with credibility and frankly relevance. Put it on any platform you want. If the product is weak, it will not sustain anywhere. Discerning minds are the most precious resource a newsroom has. Invest in the brains of the room.
Going to more digital products makes sense, but you still need skilled professionals with the ability to share information in a relatable way. In fact that commodity is still absolute. The platform is secondary. So it is frustrating to see the same issue happening with digital producer pay. Many make even less than the TV content generators. Yet this is the platform of the future. Please explain the logic?
Journalists should not be shamed for asking to make a livable wage and rewarded for the training they received. In fact, it’s time to do more comparison research to see what other content creators make and raise producers, reporters, and digital content creators’ salaries. The initial sting is going to be cheaper than the cost of letting this issue continue to fester. Journalism has suffered enough. Credibility is too at risk.
Journalists can and should want to make good money. They take on a lot of responsibility and sacrifice a lot of time with their families. Being a doctor and a politician are vocations too. But you do not see people in these roles struggling to pay their bills each month. It’s time to pay journalists their worth, recognizing this reality instead: Journalists are experts, skilled, highly marketable, and extremely important to a well-functioning society. Let that role reflect more in their pay. The pandemic has created an opportunity to restructure. Why not start to design these changes now?
As an advocate for TV journalists over the last decade, I have been watching a new reality form in the broadcast industry. A reality you need to know about, in clear terms to protect your interests as you grow your career, and frankly try to survive TV news. Its time for candidates to align together more, to help everyone make more money.
As the broadcasting industry has grappled with how to modernize and be profitable in the digital age, it has greatly changed the way it recruits for strong candidates. Some of the changes are a good thing. More groups consolidated and realized they needed to centralize recruiting. That’s why if you look at LinkedIn most of the talent acquisition leads and recruiters you see from broadcasting groups have been at it for up to 10 years. No more. The jobs were not really around before, for news people. News Directors and AND’s bore the brunt of recruiting. Once the push began to increase digital imprint, digital products and frankly try and find out how to even make money in the digital arena, these news managers needed help. Too much to do, too little time to do it. Hence all these “recruiters” reaching out to you that you had not heard of before.
Many companies have done this “heavy lifting recruiting” wisely by also setting up targeted screening, to help weed out people who are not serious about being journalists. There are more ethics tests (YES YES YES) and targeted writing tests. Veteran journalists saw this happen before. In fact there is a set of ethics tests most of us had to take get jobs 15 to 20 years ago. Again a good thing.
Centralizing a lot of the recruiting, can also mean a few not so good things for the candidate pool.
Job Candidate Realities
Blow 1 interview may not get opportunities
Anti agent pushes
Less wiggle room on pay ranges
If you are wanting to put yourself out there and see what kind of job you can get, you HAVE to go through interviews with talent acquisition in most broadcasting groups. The ones that do not have full time recruiters, are outsourcing with headhunter type agencies. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you nail the interviews with these talent acquisition experts. Many of whom, do not have a news background. Again, some companies are working around that by creating sets of journalistic questions and targeted writing tests. The reality is though, there are specific things a candidate will ask about in terms of day to day responsibilities and support systems that you may not be able to get answers to easily in the interview process. While asking some of those questions, you might be miss read, and end up with a “meh” review by the recruiter. That can close a lot of doors.
If you have a bad day, and blow the interview with the recruiter, that person weighs in on your prospects with other jobs at that group as well. You need to know this, and not act like the interview with the recruiter is not really that important.
There also is a lot more frustration for candidates because ghosting is getting almost epidemic in the industry. A lot of it, isn’t even intentional. There is confusion over who’s responsibility it is to keep up with the candidate and let the finalists know they did not get the job. Most groups are great about the early weeding process. If you did not make the first cut you will likely know. But if you get to a finalist stage, it can be very stressful when suddenly it all goes cold. Asking too much about what’s going on, could also hurt your reputation. Asking at all can even get confusing. Who do you contact, the recruiter or the news director?
Then there is a growing sentiment, once offers are about to be administered to pressure candidates with agents not to use them. You need to know this, because you need to understand why. This business is at a tipping point. When large companies try and prevent an important level of advocacy it is not to help the candidates have more fulfilling careers. It just isn’t. The biggest reason this is happening, is honestly to keep the train steamrolling down the track. The companies have drawn out the process to fill the openings with this centralized recruiting in some ways. Many companies don’t want to add a layer of who talks with the agent.
Another reason is a little less innocent. Many broadcasting groups are mandating pay ranges more at the corporate level than before. Read that line again, News managers are getting less flexibility over what they can offer in terms of pay, and how they spend their salary budgets. This is a big reason why you are not seeing higher pay for producers and MMJ’s especially. It takes a long time for companies to understand the wages are not sustainable for candidates when salary ranges are this centralized.
This needs to be crystal clear: The media expert groups you are seeing all over LinkedIn telling you they “represent you for free” or to sign up for “as low as 5 dollars a month” are usually paid by the broadcasting groups to fill jobs. They have to find candidates at or UNDER the pay range allowed by companies. So when you are asked for salary ranges, you can set yourself up for less pay. The role of that group is to fill vacancies, and get paid by the companies for making the connection.
These groups can be helpful in terms of finding openings. So if you sign up, counter this by telling those groups, you do not want to fill in an estimated salary expectation. If that is a condition upon being listed, say you will only accept higher end wages, even if they tell you to lower expectations. Whatever they recommend to ask for, add a little more money to your accepted range. Candidates need to push these groups to say, the only way these jobs are going to be filled is if you increase the salary range. They CAN advocate if pushed and some do a little bit. If you make more they will also. But this is key: If you just agree to the range they suggest, this helps companies keep pay down. In fact, this is part of the reason why pay increases are slowing down. Even if these companies say they advocate for you, remember if you are not paying them, companies are. If the majority of candidates use that knowledge to push for a little more than the usual “going rate” the pay ranges will need to be adjusted at the broadcasting group level. It helps these groups pressure companies to increase pay ranges also.
So what else is a job candidate to do? Get training on how to advocate for yourself. If you do have an agent, hold your ground and insist that the job offer goes to your agent first before you accept any position. The intimidation can seem scary, but remember, it is not in your best interest to leave your agent out of the process. If you are being told to leave out your agent, that should make you think, “What does the group not want me to get?” Often its higher pay. It also sets up conditions where if you are treated badly later, the company has to answer for it more. With the way work conditions are, you need to think hard about this. The companies offering to “represent you for free” or a few dollars a month will not help if you end up in miserable conditions. In fact, they don’t try to prevent that at all. It’s not their goal. Agents keep track of which companies treat employees best. Then they warn the companies being unfair to clean up their act. So keep that level of advocacy in mind.
Lastly, aim high on the salary when you get to the final stages. If you do not get the money right away, you won’t get it at all at that job. Never forget that. Even promotions have set “budget limits” if you are at the station or in company already. Get training on how to tell when you hit the right number. There are tell tale signs.
TV news journalists have to get bold NOW about what is needed in terms of pay, and hold firm. These companies will continue to stick with low pay limits if candidates keep settling for less money. You need to have realistic ranges, but you need to stick to the high end of those and not settle. Time to work together to force broadcasting groups to increase pay ranges. No matter if you go it alone, with a headhunting agency or with an agent. Every type of job seeker needs to work together to push for more money. The timing is right, because broadcasting groups see that there are so few candidates for nearly every position now. So seize the moment, and demand more money to take the job offer.
For the last 10 years or so the job interviewing process has largely gone downhill in many newsrooms. Many stations did little vetting. Many barely let candidates see much of the newsroom before being rushed out. If you asked a bunch of questions during an interview, you were labeled a potential trouble maker. More companies are not wanting to pay for plane tickets or meals. Some require the candidate to pay upfront for all these costs. And many would “tease” with one job description, then place the new hire in a different job once he/she arrived.
The thing is, most millennials are very aware of their wants and goals and less tolerant of being “played.” They are placing expectations on hiring managers and companies to be treated a certain way or they will just leave. And a signed contract doesn’t always matter. If the job is not what was promised in the new hire’s mind, they will find a way to go.
This is leading to interesting discussions on LinkedIn and in newsrooms all over. How do we stop these mindsets that you can just walk on a contract? How can you just decide the day before not to step on a plane for the interview you said would attend? These are complicated questions, with multifaceted answers. But there is a core area where the answers start to become clearer. Showing mutual respect.
In the last year alone, I have experienced where candidates were told to front all interview expenses, were brought in early to save the station money and left stranded in a hotel for a day with no means of transportation, and were told to figure out if they wanted a job site unseen. Some were screamed at on the phone after turning jobs down or asking follow up questions the manager did not deem necessary to answer. All though it may not seem like it right now, trust me, gone are the days that the hiring company calls all the shots. Here’s why. There were too many years where these millennials witnessed their parents and frankly their grandparents get screwed by companies. Respect is earned, and hiring managers do not start with a gold star. You have to earn it from the first conversation to the last. It is too easy now to network and find out who treats interviewees well, and who doesn’t.
Which leads to how millennials are going to change the interview process for the better. Many are demanding to know what the expectation is from the start. They want to work for management teams that can clearly define the requirements for the job that is open. They expect to see the station and meet their potential coworkers. They expect to be taken to lunch and told more about the community they are considering living in. They expect stations to have a plan to help them grow their skill sets so they can continue to become better at their craft. In fact, they want guarantees that they will have support and training opportunities. They also want it understood that they will not be hazed. This included during negotiations. If they want more money or benefits, they expect to be able to ask and be told why if the answer is no.
This is a group that is largely unafraid to raise issues to HR. And this is a group that is not afraid to say, “enough” if they feel they are being treated unfairly. That begins during the interview phase. If you won’t invest in a plane ticket or a meal while in town, this is a group that will say “pass.” Market size is not the only selling point anymore. I say this because a lot of the larger market stations are becoming the nastiest about interviewing. Calling a prospective candidate and telling them everything that sucks about their resume to try and see what kind of moxie the person has is not smart. Frankly, the old school intimidation tactics many news directors still lean on, are back firing. These millennials are demanding open communication from the get go. Don’t play games. Say what you want. Say why you want it. If you have a concern about a candidate’s experience level, say so right away and talk it out. More mid market managers are starting to realize that they need to take the time and create more detailed vetting for the interview process to make sure all parties understand expectations. They know they must be clear from the get go. That’s because more interviewees are making it clear that accountability is expected from both parties from the beginning. So managers if you rely on the statement “because I said so” it is time to move past that crutch. If you like seeing how a candidate handles intimidation during interviews, you are in for a hurting. This is a group that will say, “I pass on your game.” They value mutual respect more than almost anything else. They have goals and they will achieve them. Help, or get out of the way. And if you mistreat them, they will let others know not to bother to work for you.
Bottom line, loyalty is not given to stations and managers just because you made a job offer. It is earned each day. This is a group that is not afraid to stand up for what they consider fair treatment. This is not a group that expects to work at the same place their entire career. This group knows it will have to move just to survive. Putting down less ties, means taking away a lot of management’s power to bully. I recently had a management team beside themselves because a client turned a job down, in the person’s hometown. The station took that emotional tie for granted and frankly treated the candidate poorly during the interview process. This journalist is not unique in deciding that being treated with mutual respect is more important than job location. Many are saying “You can find the good in many places to live. Managers must prove they are worth you investing your time working there each day.”
So watch out TV news. Recruiting may be getting harder. Managers will need to be ready to wine and dine from the interview process and beyond, to keep from being labeled a place to avoid.
Everyone knows that in a lot of ways this is a small business. But many journalists today think that likely means you just need a few peers and a boss, maybe two, to root for you or serve as references. This is simply not true.
What “this is a small business” really means is there is a high probability if you decide to chew out that producer who you thought was clueless, or cuss out the “snooty” anchor or just walk out because you have a new job and are sick of these (insert expletive); that will be the person the hiring manager for your dream job calls because they are buds. Don’t believe me? Wait and see.
Most companies ask for a reference list. But those references are not the people they actually call. They call their pal from back in the day. Or they call a friend of their pal from back in the day. Why? Well, your references think you are great, right? Hiring managers know this. The more important question is: What did most of the newsroom think about you? Or maybe that hiring manager thinks the ND on your list sucks. “I’m not calling (insert name). I used to kick that person’s &** when we competed in (market) X years ago.”
So, with all this in mind, you need to expand your list of references. How? First, don’t act vindictive when you leave a station, even if you feel totally justified. I promise, at some point, it will come back to bite you. It can happen YEARS after the fact. But memories are long. Next, do your job and don’t whine. Seriously. You just have to save the griping sessions for your mom, spouse or friend outside of the business. And understand that the best reputation you can have is that of a team player. It’s your best shot at preventing a bad reference.