I met up this weekend with some former reporters from TV6–bright, young, enthusiastic people we had nurtured here in the U.P. who had then ventured out into the world in pursuit of more money, greater challenges, and increased professional satisfaction.
Big surprise (not really): Most are not finding what they were searching for.
Why the disenchantment? First the money’s still not great, and the schedule can be horrendous. Second, some newsrooms are just plain dysfunctional. Some managers simply shouldn’t be managing. And finally, the news business has been undergoing revolutionary changes over the last decade. What I considered a good journalistic performance back in 2000 would now be considered inadequate. What I considered vitally important back then is no longer so important.
Let’s consider what it means to start out in broadcast journalism these days (after Mom and Dad have forked out anywhere between 50 and 200 thousand dollars to educate you):
1) You’ll probably make less than 20 thousand dollars a year to start.
2) You’ll likely work Christmas or Thanksgiving, or both, your first couple of years in the business.
3) You may consider donating blood for a second source of income.
4) You’ll be expected to look attractive on the air, even after lugging around a camera and tripod through the snow or the heat or the mud all day long.
5) Your news director may be a jerk or an incompetent or a washed-up old fool.
6) While you’re performing your on-air duties, you’ll be expected to post updates on your station’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter.
7) You’ll be expected to produce top-flight, on-air stories every day even though you’re spending most of your work day on something other than reporting, writing, and thinking.
8) And when you finally…finally…get to that much coveted second job where you might finally be making as much as a schoolteacher in her first job, then you’ll discover the cycle has started all over again–jackasses for bosses, unforgiving work schedules, a screaming insistence on posting stories on the wesbsite, Facebook and Twitter before you have all the facts, and a relentless emphasis on quantity and speed over quality.
It’s a new world for broadcast journalism, one that left me behind about a decade ago. Construct an evocative, well-thought-out, well-crafted story, well-researched story? Hah! That’s boring, that’s slow, that’s so-o-o yesterday.
There is room for young journalists in this new world, but they’ve got to love technology, they have to be married to the Internet, they must worship speed, and they have to care less (than the old farts) about the quality and comprehensiveness of a news story.
As for the young journalists we sent out into this brave, new journalistic world, I can only wish them well as they navigate the perils that await them. It’s not like it was.
And if you can’t handle it, then go into teaching. No, wait, teaching jobs have dried up. So….try your hand at selling shoes or managing a fast food restaurant. It’s bound to be more lucrative than broadcast news.