At the broadcaster’s KSTP and KSTC in Minneapolis, News Director Lindsay Radford is looking for reporters with ability, not just affordability. “We still value paying talented reporters,” she says, and she’s willing to wait for individuals who not only bring news know-how, but also the perspective that comes with time.
Hubbard Puts Premium On News Experience
So often we hear that when it comes to hiring news staff, TV stations are opting for young (cheap) reporters who can shoot, post, print and tweet all in one fell swoop.
But a pair of stations in Minneapolis-St. Paul (DMA 15) is bucking the trend, banking its reputation on something so old that it’s new again: experienced reporters who can tell a story.
“It’s our job everyday to track and uncover and break stories in this community,” says Lindsay Radford, news director for Hubbard Broadcasting’s ABC affiliate KSTP and independent KSTC. “If you can’t do that, doing the shooting doesn’t really make up for it,” she says.
Case in point: Mark Saxenmeyer, a reporter with 17 years in Chicago started at KTSP-KSTC this week, filling a job that had been vacant since March.
Radford’s staff of 15 reporters also includes Jay Knolls, a nearly 30-year TV veteran, who Radford recently re-hired after a five year detour into radio; political reporter Tom Hauser, who next year will mark his 20th anniversary at the station; and Bob McNaney, who has been on board since 1995.
Radford says when it comes to hiring, she puts candidates’ ability over affordability — a luxury she knows many news directors don’t have. She credits her stations’ owner, Hubbard Broadcasting, for allowing her to do that. “The financial value of a reporter isn’t what it used to be in some station groups,” she says. “I think we still value paying talented reporters.”
Steve Dickstein, a Philadelphia attorney who represents TV talent, says that is not something he hears regularly — if at all.
“In my experience, stations are trying to cap costs,” he says. “That quality, at this point, is diminishing is a foregone conclusion. To the extent that a Hubbard station, or any station, is looking to leverage experience, maturity, analysis, insight, historical context and political awareness, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Radford says the problem with TV journalism is reflected in the job applications she sees. “When we look at reporter tapes, so many young reporters are just focusing on turning and burning and not focusing on storytelling,” she says. “The seasoned journalist who can do the digging and pull together a great investigative story that still has storytelling, that’s a pretty rare find these days.”
The Hubbard stations produce 6.5 hours of news a day, slightly less than rival KMSP, a Fox O&O, which produces seven hours daily.
The results are mixed. Among adults 25-54 starting Sept. 19, KSTP was rated No. 1 at 5 a.m. The station tied for second with its 6 a.m. newscast and ranked No. 2 at 11 a.m. Its 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news ranked No. 3.
Saxenmeyer, 45, whose 17-year career at WFLD, the Fox O&O in Chicago, ended nine months ago when his contract was not renewed, says that after applying to every station in Chicago — twice — he considers himself lucky to have landed at KSTP, the station he watched growing up in Minneapolis, even if it requires a move to a smaller market.
“What’s most heartening is they’re interested in hiring someone who has some grey hair and who — in their words — has ‘life experience’ as well as TV and reporting experience,” he says.
“In an age when it seems being a ‘veteran,’ a.k.a. over the age of 40, in the TV news business puts a bull’s-eye on your back, and people with little or no experience are landing the jobs — even in the third largest TV market — let’s just say I’m thrilled to be given this opportunity,” he says.
Which doesn’t mean that Radford doesn’t know — or value — a good, young reporter when she sees it. “But we are only willing to go so far as to how many young reporters we have at a time,” she says. “We have a scale and we don’t want to upset that.”
The staff now includes just one young MMJ — Mitch Pittman, whose job at KSTP is just the second of his career, but who has, Radford says, “that true journalism passion.”
He is “teaching our older reporters new tricks and how to be more efficient in the field,” Radford says.
Also, Radford recently began offering reporters three-year contracts instead of two-year contracts after losing a talented young MMJ, Robert Moses, to WNYW, the Fox O&O in New York.
“We made a mistake,” Radford says. “If we are going to take on someone, it’s going to be for longer. If we’re going to put in the training, we’re going to reap the benefits.”
None of which means there’s a flood of experienced reporters banging down Radford’s door asking for jobs.
In addition to being “pretty picky,” Radford says it’s not an easy sell convincing reporters used to larger markets to come to Minneapolis, and those who do often want anchor slots.
And it’s not necessarily much easier attracting experienced reporters from smaller markets either, she says. The kind of she wants are usually invested in their communities, with families and houses, she says.
Nonetheless, Radford says she’s willing to wait for individuals who not only bring news know-how, but also the perspective that comes with time.
That’s why a job like Saxenmeyer’s took seven months to fill, she says. “That’s a long time.”
Diana Marszalek writes about local TV news every other week in her Air Check column. You can reach her for comment on this column or with ideas for upcoming ones at [email protected]. For other Air Check stories, click here.