OPINION: The Local TV
News Business Is Bulls**t
The Local TV News Business Is Bulls**t
When I was a little girl, I thought local TV news anchors were a symbol of perfection.
They always had the perfect hair, never seemed to wear an outfit twice, and they got to be on TV! I thought the local TV news industry was glamorous.
In my mind, the men and women I watched on the news every night were living a dream life. I envisioned them as people who were always happy, made tons of money and worked in an environment that was fun, welcoming and encouraging.
I figured TV stations were incredible places to work, I pictured it to be like a Disney World mentality, where everything was perfect and everyone was treated like royalty.
Even through college, I held the news industry on a pedestal. I was lucky, I interned in major markets, so the stations I learned in were pretty cool. It was a time when news anchors made TONS of money, there were no MMJs, and to get to a top 10 market you actually had to have experience.
I was still young and eager so, even when reporters would complain in the car on the way to a story, it didn’t ruin my spectacular idea of what TV news was. I still thought it was going to be exceptional.
Then, I joined the business as a professional.
After more than a decade in local TV news, I’m going to be brutally honest with you:
This business is bullshit.
Now, before you jump down my throat, and tell me that I’m being too harsh, or that you work at an amazing station where people are respected, just hear me out.
I started my career in a small market, making less than $20,000 a year. Most weeks, I had to decide if I was going to eat or pay my bills.
I’m still in the business more than a decade later as an anchor in a mid-market, and, while I no longer have to decide between eating or paying rent, I’m still making less than what’s considered the livable wage in my city.
It’s not all about the money you bring in though. How about the fact that if you want to leave your TV news job, you might end up in a legal battle.
I’ve personally never heard of a station that doesn’t make its anchors and reporters sign some sort of contract. Most contracts are two or three years. I have a friend who signed a FIVE year contract. Pro tip: Don’t do that!
Most of these contracts have non-compete clauses. That means, the station is telling you that once you fulfill your obligated time, they still control some of you for a year. They tell you that you cannot work at another TV station, radio station or newspaper in the same marker for a year after your contract ends.
Doesn’t it seem absurd that a station can control what you do after you stop working there?
If you want to leave before your contract is finished—buckle up.
Most TV stations want you to pay them to “break your contract”, even if you’re leaving the business. Say you want to quit being a reporter to become a plumber—they’ll still want you to pay. Some places want you to shell out upwards of $16,000 just to quit.
Other contracts, don’t say anything about money, but when you try to quit, the bosses say you can’t. If you’ve ever been through this, you know it’s a nightmare.
Lawyers can help you navigate the process, and, in a lot of cases, a good lawyer can get you out of having to pay if you’re leaving the industry for a new career.
I have friends who have been threatened with lawsuits while they were trying to leave, I have friends who have been told they’re legally not allowed to quit a TV news job, and I have friends who have paid thousands of dollars to leave a job they hated.
Most of this stuff doesn’t hold up in court, but management knows how to scare and threaten young (and even old) reporters to make them think they have no other option.
In most TV news contracts, the station can fire the employee at any time, for no reason. Yet, in those same contracts, the employee isn’t allowed to quit.
Still don’t think the business is bullshit?
Ok, let’s talk about mental health:
Reporters and photographers see a lot of bad stuff. They stand at homicide scenes, fatal crashes and other tragic events.
I’ve seen more dead bodies than I want to talk about. I can still hear the screams from parents who just realized their child was a homicide victim, and I can still see the tears in the eyes of the parents I’ve interviewed.
I’ve had panic attacks in the newsroom. I’ve had anxiety attacks at crime scenes, and I’ve been so impacted by some of the stories I’ve covered, that I haven’t been able to sleep.
In my entire career, no manager has ever asked if I was mentally OK. No manager has ever asked if I needed a break from the bad news. Even when I made it known that I couldn’t mentally handle a story, it didn’t matter. I still had to cover it.
I’m not alone. I’ve seen it happen to colleagues and friends. I’ve seen it happen to strangers.
For those of you who are going to say it’s my own fault, and that I should have taken a break or asked for help: I HAVE. But in a lot of cases, management doesn’t care. They need to feed the beast, and you’re the one who provides the food.
I know others who have not asked for help because they were too scared. They didn’t want to be seen as weak, or they didn’t want to miss their chance at a big story. I’ve read posts from reporters who have been so beaten down by this industry that they are contemplating suicide.
TV news has become a business that is so focused on being first to get out the story, that it doesn’t care about its people.
On top of the mental anguish caused by the workload, have you thought about the negative impact the quest for physical perfection plays in all of this?
When I was a size 2, my boss told me I was too fat. I’ve had viewers say my makeup is horrendous. A manager told me my hair was awful. The constant pressure put on TV news anchors and reporters, especially females, is terrible.
Yes, TV news is a visual medium, and you need to look nice, but what other bosses could get away with telling employees they were “too ugly” or “too fat” for the job?
TV news isn’t glamourous. In most cases, it’s not going to make you rich. The news anchors you see every night, probably aren’t as happy and as put together as they look.
TV news will never love you. It will replace you as soon as a newer, younger, cheaper version of you shows up.
For those of you who are still chasing the dream of TV news perfection, good luck. I hope you find it, I really do.
Makes me feel lucky to work for a good company. I’ve heard these horror stories, and I haven’t experienced them. I got hired by the company out of college and been able to advance my career.
I got out 15 years ago and I could have written the same thing then. I can only imagine how much worse it has to be. One man bands, live shots by yourself in dangerous neighborhoods and less experience than ever in the newsrooms. My dream turned into nightmare.
A comment on pay: during my first year of j-school I was taught by a fantastic instructor who did the morning show on a local radio station, worked at the college during the day and worked as the weatherman for local TV news at night. I have no idea when he found time for himself or his family, but it never occurred to me that he was doing all that just to make ends meet. And that was during the relative salad days of the mid-‘90s. He died young.
This article could had been better off without profanity.
I’m so glad I got out of the business when I did. It’s a sinking ship. Companies are getting cheaper and cutting positions left and right and making the remaining people do even more work for very little pay. Look at top 10 markets… almost everyone is MMJing now.
I’m also glad I left the industry because in my experience, most news directors, stations, and companies are all cheating, lying, manipulative scumbags who will do everything they can to screw you over.
I think TV news has always been this way to a certain extent, and I started my career in the 1980s. But I do agree it has gotten worse, as has the product and by quite a bit. It’s been a race to the bottom. It blows my mind to see that listed salaries have not risen all that much from 1980s levels. Tells you something right there. In the 1990s, I moved to print with a global newswire, and I’ve been there since. The work’s a lot more interesting, the pay is folds more, workforce has been fairly stable. Very glad I made the jump. I’m almost the last man standing in the news business among the colleagues I started with. Enter the business with eyes open and try to envision an eventual off-ramp. Broadcast news can be so ego-centric and addicting it often blinds people to more fulfilling possibilities.