Broadcasters, J-Schools Must Work More Closely To Solve TV News Recruitment Problem

Kevin Curran: Today’s journalism students are tethered to their phones for information. Their professors and the broadcasters who would hire them need to work together to bridge a widening chasm.

Kevin Curran

There is never a simple solution to a complex problem. In his recent column, “Local TV News’ Recruitment Problem Has A Solution,” Sean McLaughlin echoed a lot of what I heard from major group recruiters at the just-concluded Broadcast Education Association conference in April (held concurrently with the NAB Show).

My own desire to improve the knowledge of early-career journalists sent me back to school for a Ph.D. and into journalism classrooms. I have spent the last four years on the journalism faculty at Loyola Marymount, the Jesuit university in Los Angeles. Spending so much time around the 18-25 demographic has taught me a lot about their media habits. And those habits directly affect their career prospects.

College students today do not remember a time when there were no smartphones. Whether Android or iPhone, that little screen is where their media consumption happens. Why would they watch a 30-minute newscast when they can grab individual stories from links? YouTube used to be quite popular, but TikTok has taken over. The reason: TikTok videos are shorter. One LMU student recently explained TikTok as news source better than I could.

I can wax poetic about beating the competition during 19 years as an assignment editor. I can extoll the virtues of shared media moments like 9/11. I can show packages I produced that made a difference in people’s lives. But these hit a target with too few students. There is one group of students that pays attention: those who want to hear about my role as a play-by-play producer.

For too many students, linear TV is just not a factor in their lives (and it’s even worse for radio). Their media consumption is fragmented among social media, especially TikTok, usually without regard to the credibility of their sources. The first challenges for colleges to overcome are media and news literacy. They must have exposure to legitimate news sources, and that may need to be involuntary.


The problem is these students will need jobs upon graduation and linear TV has them. Bridging this gap is going to require the cooperation of broadcasters and colleges.

Fortunately, many TV stations now stream their newscasts, because students are not likely to have a TV set. In appropriate courses, professors could require students to watch those shows. Over time, they can learn to critique TV news presentation and compare coverage among stations in the market. That would build an appreciation for the medium and prepare the students to speak knowledgably when applying for internships or jobs. Faculty will undoubtedly get pushback in the early going, but the value of the assignment will reveal itself.

Recruiters know the schools that consistently produce good future broadcast journalists and rely on them: the University of Oklahoma (where I got my Ph.D.), University of Southern California, Arizona State University, University of Florida and Fordham University (where I got my B.A.) are the ones that first come to mind.

I also help judge a category in the BEA Festival of Media Arts and can assure you that there are good video journalists to be found. It might be useful to look at this winner’s list and reach out to those who you think did a good job or are in your area.

My category is long-form reporting, and this year’s first prize went to the University of Denver’s Cassis Tingley and Bella Zafer on a woman’s journey from addict to caregiver. Last year’s first-place winner was also awarded a Best of Festival honor. Ophelie Jacobson, at the University of Florida, rode along with a precision golf cart team in a Florida retirement community. She had a position at KCCI in Des Moines lined up before graduation. If you have wondered, “Who cares about the national debt?,” you can find out from LMU’s Nathan Kuczmarski and Sarah Hutter as part of the E2024 election series.

Exposure makes a big difference. Are you close to a campus with an SPJ, BEA, NABJ, NAHJ or similar organization’s chapter? Consider arranging a tour of your facility and a meet-and-greet with your staff.

During my time at LMU, my SPJ chapter hosted a trio from Spectrum’s News 1 operation, only one of whom was in an on-camera position. A broadcast journalism class recently visited their newsroom. The Radio Television News Association of Southern California came to campus to present an all-day seminar on life in various news roles and how to seek employment. For students attracted to cutting-edge production techniques, KYW-TV in Philadelphia just added a virtual reality studio. The opportunity to work in that environment could be enticing.

I am well aware that leading a horse to water does not make it drink, but I have seen a spark of interest in some students when presented with broadcast as a career option.

McLaughlin is correct that finding good talent has become more difficult. Journalism faculty do have a role to play. But part of the solution may require some extra effort on the part of broadcasters to increase awareness of their positions and attract students to a broadcast career.

Kevin Curran is clinical assistant professor of journalism in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

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Former Producer says:

April 30, 2024 at 10:32 am

From the article: “The problem is these students will need jobs upon graduation and linear TV has them. Bridging this gap is going to require the cooperation of broadcasters and colleges.”

Yes, the TV news business has jobs. The issue is few people want those jobs. Do you know why? Because those jobs have terrible salaries! Bridging the gap requires broadcasters to pay better salaries.

Let’s talk numbers. The median starting salary in the TV news business, according to RTDNA/Syracuse University, is $37,000/year. Many entry-level jobs in TV news pay as little as $15/hour. Meanwhile, tuition and fees alone at Loyola Marymount are currently $58,489/year. Do you really want to steer your students into such a low-paying career after they graduate with so much debt?