Local TV’s Hiring Crisis Has A Solution

Local TV can still attract a truly talented younger generation of workers. But it will need to excite them with the prospect of inventing a whole new future of local news and information.

Hank Price

With next week’s NAB Show looking at artificial intelligence’s future impact on television, now might be a good time to also talk about the new generation of employees who will be needed to take full advantage of that future.

The current shortage of new college graduates wanting to work in television, combined with the continued exodus of younger workers, is cause for great concern because they are the ones who will be needed to advance not only AI, but the many other new opportunities on the horizon.

For more than 60 years television news attracted the best and the brightest, until it suddenly did not. Like an unexpected drought, a lack of entry-level candidates is already impacting the industry. Instead of the best and brightest, we now seem willing to accept any applicants who are capable and consenting.

Conventional wisdom says low pay and difficult working conditions are at the heart of the problem, and those are certainly issues, but I think there are also other forces in play. Industries don’t suddenly go from attractive to unattractive in a handful of years.

Those of us from past generations were just as unhappy with pay levels and working conditions as today’s generation, yet we eagerly paid our dues as we slowly climbed the ladder. That’s because we were excited about local television, enthusiastic about the future and unable to imagine doing anything else. We were in the truest sense volunteers.


Where, then, have all the volunteers gone? Could it be that today’s generation of potential employees see conventional television as not relevant to their lives? To many, it offers no excitement, no fun and certainly no vision of the future.

Why would anyone want to work in a business that seems irrelevant to them? Relevant to their parents and grandparents, sure, but that’s their father’s Oldsmobile, and we all know what happened to Oldsmobile.

The issue, of course, goes far beyond potential employees. Television news audiences continue to age. Young people use television’s products, especially local weather and emergency services, but they are generally disinclined to make an appointment with a linear newscast.

Anyone in management can tell you that this younger viewer issue is not new. We’ve been seeing it coming for the past 30 years, yet we’ve been unable to find a solution. Those who have tried radical approaches have done so at their peril because it is far easier to lose current viewers than attract new ones.

And yet, when I see local television, I’m almost stunned with the opportunities that await. As networks continue to turn their interests elsewhere, local stations are starting to be forced out of their comfort zones. The current economic issues mean that one way or another we are eventually going to have fewer television stations doing news, which will be a good thing for the future of the industry.

With a thinner herd, those left standing will have the opportunity to become mega local content and service providers. Digital products, multiple streams and the eventual arrival of NextGen TV will create the kind of local opportunities not seen since the advent of single-newspaper markets 50 years ago.

Unlike those newspapers, local television will not be locked into any one format or technology. Direct communication with users will form bonds of trust that create even stronger relationships.

With economic strength will come the freedom to introduce new services. Linear will be one important platform among many others. Rather than creating competitors, new technology will advance the brand. No longer victim, local television will be able to take on the role of disruptor.

Just as “phone” now means “handheld wireless computer,” “TV” could eventually mean “local information of every kind.”

That vision of local television is important and should happen, but is there an even greater opportunity? A more radical idea that would appeal to all age groups?

Those of us who have spent our entire lives in the business are not capable of the kind of lateral thinking needed to create a revolutionary future. This is one of the few ways our experience works against us. We can accept a new world view of a business serving younger consumers but are also unlikely to make the paradigm shift needed to invent it.

One the things I learned from listening to Kellogg professors during my time at Northwestern’s Media Management Center was that reinvention of a business rarely comes from within. That is why established companies are so vulnerable to two guys in a garage. Those two guys have nothing to lose, so their thinking becomes freer.

The consensus answer among those experts was to create a separate unit made up of people who didn’t know what they couldn’t do.

What if the CEO of a television station company were to commit to inventing the future, then devote meaningful resources to do the job right. That one commitment, and the publicity it would generate, could be the first step in energizing younger workers and future applicants.

It would be interesting for those resources to include a group of talented young people from various disciplines, most of whom would not come from television, or even the world of media. Their task would not be to reinvent local television. It would be to invent the entire future of local news and information.

If television wants to again attract the best and brightest, as well as retain the best of our current work force, the industry must offer a future that young people can get excited about. That will only happen if one leader steps forward and decides to create that future.

Does such a CEO exist? Let’s hope the answer is yes.

Hank Price spent 30 years leading television stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett while concurrently building a career in executive education. He is the author of Leading Local Television and two other books.

Comments (3)

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Former Producer says:

April 8, 2024 at 12:26 pm

You have to offer more than just “a future that young people can get excited about.” You have to offer better salaries. Better salaries attracts the best and the brightest. There is no way to dance around this issue. TV no longer has the media gatekeeper monopoly that allowed it to pay subpar salaries as a price of admission. As well-known broadcast recruiter Ty Carver said in a 2021 interview with the Cronkite News Lab:

“I think that local television for years just had the mentality that, ‘Hey, we’re local television: build it, and they will come,’ kind of like the Field of Dreams movie. And we’ll offer a salary and somebody will take it. And for years, they put a job posting out and they would receive many, many, many resumes and have their pick of the litter. Today, that’s not the case.”

In fact, the best and the brightest are already inventing the future of local news and information, and they don’t need a TV station to do it. All it takes is a smartphone. For example, Keith Lee has millions of followers on TikTok, all because he records himself reviewing food while sitting in his car. You’ll find many such examples of “disruptors” outside TikTok as well.

What you won’t find is any effort from the broadcast industry’s current leadership to drastically innovate. Why should they? At this point, broadcast CEOs are happy to make do with the status quo until they cash out, retire, and hand the flaming mess of TV news to someone else.

Upwind says:

April 8, 2024 at 6:07 pm

No one talks about the elephant in the room: Commercials. You can provide as many paths and streams of content you want while packaging them in 4K/HDR/8K wrappers while simultaneously increasing the CODEC efficiencies all you want but if you keep increasing the commercial-to-content ratio, I won’t be watching!

rosaliesteame says:

April 15, 2024 at 8:45 am

You can get a recommendation from a person who knows the recommended person well, his professional and personal qualities, range of interests, scientific achievements, etc. The one who makes the recommendation must have fairly high authority and recognition in his field of activity, and a reputation as a moral person. You can find more useful information about this here . These are necessary conditions, since we are talking about the objectivity of the assessment. And any organization is interested in qualified and loyal employees.