Sunday, October 08, 2006

Might as well work at McDonalds

This weekend, I was speaking to an acquaintence who also works in television news. In the course of the conversation, this person brought up an experience they had when they started out. Of all the places where this person applied for an entry-level job, only one responded. It was a tiny station in a tiny market in West Virginia. Those of you who work in television news probably know where I'm going here -- low pay, crappy hours, crappy market, etc.

But here's where my jaw hit the floor. This person's starting salary was only $16,000. No hourly wage here...just a salary.

I know how crappy the pay can be in broadcast journalism. It goes with the territory. The newer you are, the lower your pay. And many stations are owned by companies that do nothing but slash costs and find ways to save money. But a $16,000 salary? It's no wonder so many bright journalism school graduates consider jumping ship to public relations, where they can make double the money.

And as much as I love my job, there are times when I think about the "greener" fields of PR.


Anonymous growler said...

Well, Howard, I've been in this business a long time. I didn't get into it for the money. I don't drive a BMW or vacation in Aruba. However, I've been shot at and tear gassed, and I've shaken hands with a president, and I've met dozens -- no, hundreds -- of interesting and memorable people. I've personally experienced events that my grandchildren will call "history."
I was lucky enough to spend most of my years here in norhteastern PA, and I've made a respectable living. I've also experienced small market TV, and I'll readily admit meeting someone who left small market TV for a fast food job because it paid better. But I've also seen some of my small market brethren make it to major markets.
I'm happy with my career choice. My work here in NEPA is challenging and fun -- yes, fun! If you're not happy with your job, seek another path. Life is too short to be unhappy.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a current broadcast journalism college student, and it's sad to hear in class that saleries can start at $14,000. I've interned in the market just north of Scranton/Wilkes, and one reporter told me that $16,000 was the average for starters. But I've already held an internship for several months and right now I'm an on air reporter for my school's weekly live newscast, there's no way I'm going to bail out now, I love it.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

If you're not happy with your job, seek another path. Life is too short to be unhappy.

Truer words never spoken. For every time I've felt depressed about my job, there have been ten times where I've done things I never imagined possible -- getting caught in riots, meeting and interviewing presidential candidates, being on top of a huge story.

There is something about this line of work that keeps me here. I don't know what it is, but it has saved me from sitting in an office cranking out bland press releases.

But I've already held an internship for several months and right now I'm an on air reporter for my school's weekly live newscast, there's no way I'm going to bail out now, I love it.

If you can make it past your first job, and keep that attitude, then I think you'll have a bright future in broadcast journalism. Hope your professional career takes you back here one of these days.

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You also have to know how to market yourself. I haven't made that low of a salary since i worked in retail. I love my job, and after just over 1 year in news i make well over 20,000. So I encourage anyone who loves it to stick it out, you can make good money, you just have to sell yourself and take a chance here and there. Good Luck to the college student! Don't let anyone get you down!

2:41 AM  
Anonymous Walter Brasch said...

I have been a journalist almost 40 years, with 20 of those teaching future journalists. I have NEVER seen a newspaper or TV station in financial idfficulty, except by its own cause from ineptness and incompetence. Newspapers today are taking in at least 20% profit--or else the publisher is forced out; TV stations have FCC licenses to mint money during every election. For a nspr, TV station to pay LESS than the average wage for a recenmt B.A. grad (which is now in upper 20s) is disgraceful -- and does affect news quality. We don't go into journalism for the money--but we also don't go into it expecting to be exploited or poor, either. One's on-air ego doesn't pay bills.
walter brasch, prof. of journalism, Bloomsburg University

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think all of us have at least a small need for recognition, which is a driving factor in choosing this field. Radio brings some recognition, TV can make you an overnight "celebrity" of sorts. But one needs to realize it is the power of the medium that makes the magic. Which is not to say that you can be unappealing and succeed, for I honestly believe you cannot.

The money is most assuredly NOT what attracted me to the biz. I am totally serious in saying that my first job in radio required taking a pay cut. I lost $50 per week going from the loading-dock to "playing the hits." And it took me three years to pull myself back up to that loading-dock salary. Making the jump to television was simply a blast, so we do indeed do it because it is a fun way to make a buck. It can also be a frustrating, stressful, and nauseating way to make a buck, depending on where you work.

Like posters before me, I've seen history in the making, been behind scenes where few are allowed, and yes, I've also been accorded special treatment in some situations because of who I am. I've been praised and adored, and likely villified and damned, too.

As to tiny markets - just keep in mind that there are those who never make it out of those markets, those who are either unable to make the move, or who find life there satisfying. Everyone thinks they're "major market" material, everyone is not. In fact, it's probably safe to say that most are not.

As a final thought, Howard mentions going into the world of PR/CR. Let me assure you that making the move from this world to that world is easier said than done. For myriad reasons, most think it's easy to do, that any and every organization would be thrilled to have your pretty/handsome face fronting their public efforts. There are many now working in newsrooms here who thought that they could score that type of job with ease, but all they got was "...we'll be in touch." Look around at just who is doing PR/CR in this area; you'll find very few ex-media types. Maybe a lot of corporate types don't see us as a plus, maybe they see us as a minus. You should also be mindful that most PR/CR jobs, even in this market, pay roughly from 55-80K, far more than any reporters(and many anchors)are making, so the competition for these jobs can be tough.

Still, if you want it, don't hesitate to make broadcasting your career choice, and go it at it with all you've got.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, the optimism of youth.

Fresh out of college, the sky's the limit. "There's no way I'm going to bail out now, I love it."

Then you marry, have children, a mortgage, car payments and that idealistic passion is replaced by a realistic realization that your moderate success pales in comparison to that of your classmates who are now taking those vacations and driving the cars and living in the houses you always wanted to have.

Along the way, you've worked crazy hours, developed a nice ulcer and your family thinks you're a boarder.

Then the latest conglomerate buys your little haven from the world and suddenly, you're the subject of a blog post listing your accomplishments and wishing you luck.

I used to think seeing my newspaper in the hands of hundreds of readers was the greatest feeling in the world and I couldn't wait to get out of college so I could expose corruption and help the innocent. I didn't expect millions but I did expect to make a decent living.

A couple of rounds of interviews later, I decided that management job paying half again what I was offered to write obits and fluff was the logical choice.

While I give credit to those who had the passion to hold on and make a go of journalism as a career, I have to wonder how many of the best of us opted out of the profession because they wanted more out of life?

Point is, how can we expect the best to be journalists when they can go elsewhere and be rewarded and respected for their work?

It's a tough choice for someone at the beginning of their career and the choice only gets tougher. It's not the way it should be but it's reality.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then there's the story of the big-time, big-market, big-name news director who stumbled across an ad in the trades for the job he started his career with 20 years before.

Same entry-level job, same market, same station, some of the same people on the staff, just twenty years later.

He decided to check into it, and found that the pay was EXACTLY THE SAME as he got straight out of college two decades earlier.

He tells me it was barely a living wage back then: it's close to poverty level now.

The demands of this business are tough enough. The fact that the rewards aren't there is one reason the "best and the brightest" are ignoring broadcasting as a career choice.

Mea culpa: I just used the word "career" when I meant "job." No one has a "career" anymore, no one is dedidicated to mastering the craft.

Need proof? Tell me how many former area newspaople are now selling pharmaceuticals for a living. I can think of at least two from WNEP alone. There must be more. THAT'S a career. Broadcast news? Just another job.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well spoken Howard.

What market is WVA, anyway ? I couldn't find anything on that rang a bell.

My first TV job here in NEPA paid less than $20K. I stuck it out and worked two other part time jobs in addition to. After a year or so it paid off and was promoted to full-time. That was 8 years ago and I'm glad I stuck it out.

Kids these days have no patience or work ethic. They expect the $60K a year right out of school.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as there are more graduates than jobs, why would any station pay a decent wage? The law of supply and demand never goes away.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Turkey Hill has some sort of pension plan they make available even to part-timers. And that, by God, is more than you'll get out of Nexstar...

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

peeps at my shop start at 18. across the street, they make less. it works as a way to weed out the people who can't cut it.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous former nexstar victim said...

You shouldn't be working in television news, if you continue to use Ebonics slang like "peeps."

3:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started in news, worked on-air in several stations in NY and Pa. and never started to be treated with respect and make a good buck until I entered sales. Like 9:56PM said, supply/demand is the game, and as long as schools churn out wannabes who'll take pennies for a chance to gaze at a camera, you "Might as well work at McDonalds." You CAN have it both ways however, but negotiate from strength, meaning you SELL first, directly contribute to profit, AND then can offer something irresistable on air.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honest to God do not think you can have both a sales and news mentality co-existing within the same head. You're one, or the you're the other. Not judging here, but you cannot split loyalty in this situation. Sales and news come from two very seperate and distinct places.

10:21 PM  

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