How Do I Get My Worth? The Truth About How TV News Jobs Are Filled.

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

More ghosting

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.

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New journalist in town. How to quickly gain credibility? Drive the DMA

It is no secret that you will likely move several times as a journalist. It can be hard to make a good living at first, and you just have to move to make ends meet longterm.  So let’s talk about how to quickly and easily transition into a new market. The goal is to gain credibility and be able to focus more on context and storytelling; with perspective before the common 1 year in market mark.

The very first thing to do is drive the market. And I mean really drive. Don’t just hit up the tourist spots. Don’t just look on a map at the places with weird names and learn how to pronounce them (Although that is very important to do as well.). Really get out there, and see what places are like. Neighborhoods. Schools. Various parks. And when you can, make a real outing of it. Sit down on a bench and observe. Take a walk in a residential area (preferably with a coworker), and soak in the atmosphere. All areas have little treasures that locals know about that you need to discover quickly.

Also call a local historic preservation group. Ask them for lessons in political and racial history of the area. Ask about the state of education long term. Also economic upswings and downturns. This will give you some ideas to delve into perspective more. 

Go to a farmers markets and playground. Grab a treat, sit and listen to what people are talking about. Same with mall food courts or gatherings of food trucks in various spots. Try and be culturally diverse in these selections. You want to get a broad perspective. This can be a great way to see ways to differentiate your coverage. 

And if you can, try and join an organization to meet people. It can be a great satisfaction to explore an interest outside of just doing the news and a chance to meet people in the community. Many of the groups are meeting virtually as well. You need to try and build a network to source stories, get perspective and start to feel like part of the community you serve. Why not enjoy the process with some social networking too?

Finally remember that the best thing you can do, is watch and listen. Keep watching and listening. The more you do,the more you can relate to the area quickly and the better off you will be.

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Know your why. How to start to develop an online brand as a journalist.

Its no secret the broadcast news industry is desperate to find a way to monetize its digital products. So far, mixed results.

There is an important factor that the TV news and frankly every industry is desperate to tap into. Influencers. They rule the internet. They make the big bucks and they are influencing public opinion in ways marketing and education experts are just starting to realize.

Because of this you need to start to create your own online brand as a journalist. You want to identify the type of influencer you would like to be before the bosses tell you how to act on social media.  Its really that simple. If you want to be true to the journalist you are, then get on it and get your brand defined.  But how?

Let’s start by defining these concepts for yourself.

Why are you a journalist to begin with?

What topics do you love delving into each day?

What kind of person do you want to actually be?

Heavy stuff right? Let’s not forget, your digital brand defines YOU. You are your most important commodity. So you need to soul search this. You need to be able to define who you are online, and why you are that way. Know your why. Otherwise you will be told what to be at some time or another.

So let’s dig into the first question. Why are you a journalist to begin with? This is the most important question you can ask yourself each day, and most important answer as you begin to define your brand. I am going to get harsh here. If you are a journalist because you want to wear pretty clothes on TV, this is not going to be an easy process for you. I know there are a ton of journalists out there showing off their fashion sense, and some are even getting endorsements but long term its not a good “look” for a journalist. Period. That answer makes you a want to be fashion influencer. So go do that. I am not saying posting an occasional image in a dress or showing off shoes or a tie is awful. But it should be an occasional reference rather than the main focus of your brand. Too many budding journalists are focusing on what they wear more than who they are and what topics they love. 

Now that we cleared that up, let’s talk about why you are a journalist. Not a personality. Not a host, a journalist. Are you super curious about the world? Can you not help but ask questions all day long about all kinds of things? Do you want to help hold people accountable for their actions? Do you love explaining things to people? All of these potential answers can help you start to define your brand.  Think about it. If you are super curious about the world, then start showing how you look into those curiosities. Boom, the start of a compelling brand with substantive posts. Same with the journalists that just love asking questions. Same with the accountability type journalists, although those might want some of their posts copy edited first for possible legal issues. If you love explaining things, think show and tell high tech style. Bet you can start to name off a bunch of topics right away already.

So let’s get more in-depth with topics. Some need to be highly relatable. Yep I am talking food, exploring the city you work in, surrounding areas and pets. These subjects should be incorporated into some of your tweets. Same with hobbies. Some behind the scenes at work posts are cool too. And a friendly reminder, makeup and fashion posts cannot be the main focus. Just an occasional mention. In fact all hobbies should be occasional mentions. Just enough to give a little personal insight, but not the crux of your journalist brand. 

When asking what topics you love delving into think of this more like a traditional beat. If you love education stories, retweet, research and engage in that topic. If you love politics do the same but take caution to never show an obvious bias. You are a journalist you must be impartial. And you likely have a work social media policy that demands impartiality. Love tech? Talk about it.  Love geeking out over space stuff? There’s a niche for that. Engage. If you have to interact with viewers several times a day for your job, at least half of it should be about things you love to check out anyway. 

Now let’s get into what kind of person you want to be. Influencers tend to provide “food for thought.” Not all of them slam their opinion down their followers throats. Some do. But more don’t. They use subtlety, a little self deprecating humor, and most serve up good doses of humility. Remember I am talking digital influencers, not TV pundits like Hannity. That’s a whole other ballgame. People are turning to digital to find “real” people instead of caricatures. If they want to laugh at a caricature, then they watch a few memes to get it out of their systems. That is an important thing to realize. Also do not put yourself on a perch above your followers. The online community is about collaboration, more than adulation. Even with movie stars, etc it is a chance to try and connect instead of just look up to them. Acting really authoritative will not last. You will tumble down. Exuding some confidence is fine. But make sure you watch and have a variety of types of posts. Not just ones that could be misconstrued as bragging. Stay, humble, real, and fair in your posts. Think of your online conversations like ones with a new friend you are getting to know. You want to showcase your interests to find a common bond. If you approach who you are on social media this way, you will do fine. 

Finally understand that developing a brand takes time. That’s why it is important to get on it, figure out who you are online and then stick to it. Give others time to find you, like you and then hopefully be impressed enough to continually engage with you. You want time to find and carve your niche in the topics you enjoy. And you want to get started and have a good foundation in place before your bosses come and tell you who to be online. So dive in, discover yourself more and enjoy engaging in things you love anyway. Its your best chance at success, and quite possibly influence online and in the industry.

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I keep writing fact errors. Help!

This isn’t easy to admit. I get that. But if you keep writing fact errors, you need to own up to it and do these things to stop.  In newsrooms nowadays, prevention techniques are not being taught much, and many times scripts aren’t being reviewed for accuracy. So you have to take ownership if you are writing errors, and fix the problem. Here’s how.

Look at multiple sources

If a fact doesn’t match ask for help

Copy paste the key facts 

Understand context

Make sure video fits

First and foremost, DO NOT JUST PASTE THE EARLIER NEWSCASTS SCRIPT AND REWRITE IT. Sorry to shout at you but this is a cardinal sin in TV news. Do not do it. I don’t care if everyone else does it. Do not do it. Here’s why. If that script has an error, you will repeat it. Even more important, if that script doesn’t have a fact error, your rewrite can easily create one. Its just the simple truth. Do not do it. I know it saves time. I know it means if you don’t get your writing done you still have a script there that can be read during the newscast. Do not do it anyway. I will explain why when we get into context.

When you start writing stories, read several sources first. If its a wire story, also check online publications to see if the facts match. If you see several versions of fatality numbers, different spellings of names etc, red flag, someone is wrong. Now you need to figure out the truth.

If its a local story, pick up the phone and call an expert. Call the PIO. Call the hospital. Do what needs to be done to check the fact. If its a national story, call your affiliate feed line or a station in that DMA. If you are in the weeds, ask the desk for help or an anchor. Tell your EP there’s an issue. Raise the red flag high in the air and get backup.

As you see matching facts, copy paste those, and only those into your script. That way you don’t accidentally type the name in wrong, or any other fact. Before you start writing you should have a little bullet point list like this:

House Fire

No injuries

Roads closed

(road names)

Police say accidental

Now write. Starting with something as simple as this outline should help you stick to the point and not embellish. Writing from another script tempts you to put your creative stamp on the story. Often that’s when context gets messed up. Seemingly subtle changes can really screw up the point and facts of a story. Remember as you write, keep it simple. One sentence per idea. One fact at a time. Short sentences. What’s the video showing? Reference.

Video counts as a type of fact. Often fact errors can occur because the wrong video is shown, or assumptions are made about the video that are incorrect. You need to know what you show. 

This system will take a little longer initially, but the payoff is worth it. And once you get the system down you will write as quickly as if you duped a script and did a rewrite. Best of all you will be factually correct. You will be credible. And you will have more job security.

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