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.
I expected to get TV news journalists talking with my article on where the producers are and how to keep them. But I must say, the response has been more than anticipated.
Between LinkedIn, Twitter, website link, emails and DM’s this discussion has been seen more than 35 thousand times. I am sharing this number because frankly it seems staggering.
I know a lot of VP’s and other hiring managers follow my posts. I am asking, can we start looking for real tangible ways to offer more support? The old adage, the job is tough, you have to suck it up is only partly true nowadays. If you really stop and look, the job is even harder than when we veterans sucked it up and pushed through. Did this right of passage really make things better? Just because this is how we’ve done it is easy, doesn’t make it right.
As many of you know, I believe that if an issue is brought up, possible solutions must follow. So I want to share the issues brought up the most besides pay, which frankly is a given. You want to have producer candidates and keep the veterans, pay them to make it worth their while.
Sometimes producers reach the limit of what they can realistically do but feel like bringing that up could cost them their jobs. The intensity of the all day tight deadlines gets very mentally taxing, especially over the past year and a half. Sometimes they have life issues that come up and want to be able to discuss how to handle that and keep working if at all possible. They want more training, even if they are considered veterans to remain inspired and connected to other producers.
Let’s expand on these issues and some easy to implement solutions, to start of create change. Producers know they are the solutions branch of the newsroom. They have to make everyone else look good all day each day. They have to absorb everyone else’s challenges and frankly as a result the really passionate producers do not complain. They just do the work. So if you have a producer that kicks butt all the time, is dependable and always says, “Yes” when you ask for more, that producer may still need help. In fact, that producer most likely needs support in some way. Maybe it’s a reminder that they are valued. Maybe it is a nudge to let the manager know, actually that producer cannot work an 11th day in a row (Yes this does happen). These producers need to be pulled aside and asked, “What can I do to help make your job easier?” Then do all you can to fulfill on that request. These are the reasonable employees, the steady. I have to emphasize this because these are the producers I am seeing posting regularly now that the job is taking a real toll on their mental health. A lot decide to walk away from the job, even though they love the work. The demands become too much.
It isn’t in most great producer’s nature to say no or ask for help. So if they do, they really need it. Again, managers can help with this right now by simply doing more check ins where they ask “What is your biggest challenge right now, so I can help ease it for you.” More communication and chances to mention needs can make a huge difference.
This is a very mentally taxing job anyway. The last year and half has not helped anyone. Producers need to take their time off. Many are not, or might be asking for a little more time. With so many broadcasting groups not offering significant raises its worth mentioning, providing more time off and reminding producers who generally don’t use their vacation days that they need to schedule some can be a huge difference maker. This doesn’t cost the company much. It does require disciplined scheduling, but it is so worth it to prevent staff burn out. Once COVID subsides, setting up fun activities producers can go do, like a free meal on the bosses without the bosses also helps. It can ease tensions between shows, let them relax and if the situation feels right they can talk about their challenges and help each other cope.
With the new knowledge that newscasts can be produced from home for example, let’s talk flexibility options. Producers have lives. Sometimes they might have a real legitimate challenge balancing obligations at home and work. Caring for a sick parent, and a child needing to go home sick are two common examples. I received nearly a dozen messages from former producers who really miss producing, but had to choose taking care of their kids over the job. This comes up a lot. News is less flexible than a lot of other careers for parents. But there are ways to help. If there is an issue where a producer needs to come in a little later in their shift to cover their spouse having a flight delayed, or an obligation they cannot cover through daycare, the producer often has to take a vacation day. But should they have to? What if they could log in from home to get the newscast covered until coming in? Its time for conversations like this to happen, to provide a little more flexibility so more producers can keep working.
Several educational and manager types reached out to me struck at how often training came up. Even among producers with a lot of on the job experience. A quick explainer, producers tend to love a couple of things the most about their job:
Thinking of new ways to make the newscast visually exciting Learning new things, period
Producers tend to be life long learners, tinkerers and have a real creative flair. Yet their job is in some ways the same routine each day. They have to be highly disciplined to get the newscasts done. Once the many challenges to pulling that off are mastered, they want to reward themselves by getting more creative. Often, they will hit walls: Writers block, too much showcasing, too little showcasing, figuring out performance area usage. They have to dabble a little all the time. That’s why seasoned producers will ask for side projects. To keep that tinkerer inner self satisfied. They need chances to come together and learn and create.
Writers in other industries have conferences all the time. But there is not enough of these kinds of gatherings for producers. Yet. Again with a little creativity, especially with virtual options, more get togethers and training sessions can happen. The connections from these gatherings are also important to feed that it’s a vocation element of this job. Talking with others in the same boat is a real help. A help that doesn’t diminish with job experience.
Let’s address the mental health element a little more as well. Stations could bring in counselors more regularly and offer meditation sessions etc. It might seem hokey at first, but look at the tech industry. This type of benefit extra is offered a lot. Catering to your staffs mental health also increases employee output. It makes you a quality employer who gets quality returns.
I hope these ideas are a good start toward investing more in producers in the industry. There is hard work to be done for sure in terms of pay etc. I do tire of the my hands are tied mentality though when it comes to making efforts now. The ideas listed above have minimal cost but will offer high returns.
In the past few weeks, I have seen several posts on LinkedIn either asking where are producers, or appeals from stations and broadcasting groups that frankly as of even a year ago would never have to worry about enough applications. This isn’t a surprise to me, since I talk with producers at all levels all the time, but it is a wakeup call for the industry.
Partner these posts with two more important factors: The rate of employees unionizing in the journalism industry is increasing, and a lot of veteran producers are posting about mental health issues and that they are getting out of the business as result. Now we have a better overall grasp of this issue. For a long time the broadcasting industry has recognized producing is a very difficult job. The industry conceptually understands that a big reason is a lack of training. Part of that happens at some J-Schools because frankly, producing needs to be an entire specialty track not just a course you take in case you cannot get that reporting gig. But there’s a bigger factor: Constant practical training needs to happen during a producer’s first job. Most “starter” newsrooms lack the staff to really do this. So producers have to train themselves through trial and error. Does that take grit and persistence? Yes. Does it weed out the weak of heart. Sure. But this isn’t the 1980’s anymore. The industry needs to understand that adding digital responsibilities along with making your own graphics and editing your own VO’s has made the job even harder than when you “bit the bullet and made it.”
The industry also needs to recognize that just because a producer made it for 3 years doesn’t make him/her an expert necessarily and the support needs to continue. No, these producers no longer need to be trained almost daily, but they do need to brainstorm how to showcase, they need to be encouraged how to make the newscast feel like they accomplished something more than slamming a bunch of stories on the air while barely able to even take a quick bathroom break then know they have to do the same thing the next day. Rising up in the producer ranks doesn’t make the job easier. Managers, you take on more responsibility as you move up. The decisions you have to make every day can be very hard, and draining. But you get to take breaks. You can schedule some downtime in your day to relax. And you should. It keeps you fresh, your brain power strong and your mental health more intact. Producers on the other hand, keep adding more complicated elements to their job. More showcasing, more problem solving about why a certain 5 minute period in their show suddenly is losing audience, more tweaking. It is a constant challenge with no real break. No real stride even if you are constantly putting out best effort as expected. This is a job that doesn’t let down. It gets easier in some ways, but the intense constant deadlines do not let you rest in your day. This has to be understood at higher levels. Your veteran producers are tired. They often feel taken for granted. They sometimes question, “Is this all I have to look forward to?” Eventually most realize, they can work smarter not harder in something other than broadcast news. So just when they are at maximum talent, just when they hit the so called 10,000 hour rule, many who don’t want to go into management, but are a huge talent quit. A loss the broadcast industry, with constant staff cuts, constant new editorial demands and constant pushes for savvier editorial techniques really cannot afford.
So how does the industry fix this problem? First let’s stop talking about journalism as a vocation. Yes, no matter what the work hours alone make this a passion type career instead of just a job. Yes, you need to really care about what you do. The issue is, for profit companies use the idea of this is a vocation to not properly compensate for expertise. The mindset is limiting. Executives in these groups are paid well and often receive bonuses for their advanced understanding of the nuances of this business. Seasoned producers need some caveats also. For years the pay issue has come up. Every excuse imaginable has been made. The bottom line is the news industry’s biggest commodity, largest asset, and greatest offering are the people who make its product, the news, credible. This isn’t just about profits, its about long term product stability. Telling veteran journalists who can offer so much insight to suck it up with yet another 2 percent raise and be ok with that because this is a vocation is piss poor. Without these producers, you have a weak product. Call up a newscast from a large market from 20 years ago, then look at modern newscasts at the same station. The new newscasts have more glitz, but focus on the journalism. There is no comparison in content. Viewers know it, that’s why they are looking online. They want facts. They want to be given real information and tools to analyze what is best for themselves, their families and the community at large. Veteran producers know how to do that and make it look good. You have to invest in that if you want the industry to survive long term.
Let’s go back to the need for producers period. You can shoot great stories from iPhones. You can produce news from anywhere now, with a computer and a WIFI link. It is time to spend a bit less on the latest equipment and invest in your people instead. Some broadcasting groups are hiring producers in training. Yes, it is a start in investing in the future. But this is a drop in the bucket. There has to be more investment in training and compensation from the beginning producing job until the last.
There also has to be more investment in listening to the needs of your producers. A key point of contention: No downtime. The tight constant deadlines make this impossible during a given day. But broadcasting groups could start offering more PTO time for producers. Some groups make you earn your time off as you work. Why not set up 2 weeks guaranteed time off at the start of the year, with opportunities to earn more time off as they put in extra hours for those specials, etc you ask them to do above and beyond their newscasts? Producers cannot just run to the doctor quick then come into work. They have to be there to monitor their shows from start to finish if you want high quality. So they need to take more days off.
To keep producers inspired many newsrooms essentially pit producers against each other in terms of who’s considered the best. It is very rampant and very toxic. There is an easy fix. Each newsroom needs to create mission statements for their newscasts that states purpose of the show, and audience goals. Every hour is a bit different this way. By focusing on the content needs, this helps producers stop demanding all the elements for their newscasts and helps them share more easily. Collaboration is huge if you are a producer. Fellow producers are the only ones who really understand what you go through each day. Closeness needs to be fostered.
There is so much more that can be done, but these suggestions really start to address what I hear most from producers. They need time off to regroup. They need support. They need to have each other to lean on. They need to truly be valued and have it shown by more than an occasional thank you and a “treat” brought to the newsroom once in a while. Those are nice gestures. But they need more. The lack of candidates tells you that in stark terms. So please broadcast industry wake up. Deliver. Everyone wins.