Talking TV: How Journalism Students See TV News

Two J-school seniors on the cusp of graduation and entry into the local TV news job market share their thoughts on the industry, its future and their place in it in a conversation with TVNewsCheck’s Michael Depp and the Broadcast Education Association’s Executive Director Heather Birks. A full transcript of the conversation is included.

If Jacob Hall and Yamile Mendez are any indication, TV news still has hopes of attracting ambitious and optimistic newcomers to the business.

Hall is a senior at Kansas State University’s A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Mendez is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington. Both plan to graduate in December with wide-eyed hopes for their futures in an industry they see as still being relevant and adaptable.

In this week’s Talking TV conversation, TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp talks with Hall and Mendez, along with Broadcast Education Association Executive Director Heather Birks, about how today’s j-school students see TV news and their place in it.

Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.

Michael Depp: We hear a lot about how difficult it’s been to recruit new journalism school graduates into the TV news industry, how the bloom is off the rose for those students and how TV doesn’t have the allure it once did. How do journalism students see the industry? What leverage do they see for themselves in pursuing their first jobs? Giving TV’s growing labor needs. What do they see as TV news’ future?

I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck, and this is Talking TV, the podcast that brings you smart conversations about the business of broadcasting. Today, that conversation is with two journalism school students and Heather Birks, executive director of the Broadcast Education Association. We’ll be talking about TV news and its future through their eyes, a conversation that those currently struggling with recruitment might do well to hear. We’ll be right back.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

I’m pleased to introduce my guests today. Heather Birks is executive director of the Broadcast Education Association. Jacob Hall is a senior at Kansas State University’s A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication. And Yamile Mendez is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington. Welcome to all of you.

Heather Birks: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Yamile Mendez: Thank you.

Heather, for those who don’t know BEA., what’s its mission? What does it do?

Birks: So, BEA is an academic media association. We were founded by the National Association of Broadcasters almost 65 years ago as that bridge between the academic and the professional worlds. So, over the past, you know, almost 65 years, we started off where we were underneath NAB, but then as BEA as an organization grew, we branched off and we became our own organization.

We are comprised of 19 different interests. This has completely changed even in the 16 years that I’ve been there. As the media industry is so fluid and has grown so much. So, we really have kind of pivoted, you know, within the initial days of BEA, it was news, it was TV, it was radio and now it’s history. And, you know, we changed our radio division to radio and audio media. We’ve got a sports division. We’ve got a service-learning division. We have an interactive, multimedia, emerging technologies division.

So, we’ve really kind of changed over time. I love BEA, but I think the thing one of the things that makes us so interesting as a media association is that our members straddle the traditional research world and the creative scholarship world. So, while we have, you know, professors and students who are or writing traditional research papers on broadcast, on new media platforms, on history, we also have a lot of the creative component, like the students, like Yamile and Jacob here, you know, that are studying to be broadcasters.

We do a creative competition every year as well called the Festival of Media Arts. And, you know, if you if you look at the submissions that we get in sports, in news, interactive, multimedia film and video and documentary, you’ll see that the industry in the students’ eyes and the professors’ eyes, is alive and well and people are really excited to move forward.

It’s a lot of balls in the air for BEA, and if I’m not mistaken, aren’t you just the third or fourth executive director of this organization in its 60-some-odd years?

Birks: Yeah, I’m the third executive director, which is kind of insane. The first executive director was an NAB staff person. It’s kind of cool history too, because that first staff person ran the convention as well and did BEA and then he broke out. I was at NAB for 10 years and then started at BEA 16 years ago.

So Heather, we’re having this conversation amid what is seen as a growing almost crisis of recruitment and retention in the in the television industry. How are you seeing recruitment challenges playing out from your vantage point? And what are the insights that you’re getting from the students with whom you work?

Birks: It’s a competition. There’s a lot of competition out there for the students. I see Jacob nodding his head. Lots of competition. I mean, you know, talking about the fluid industry. I mean, there is the entertainment world and the media world, and the broadcast world is huge. I mentioned we get tons of entries for this creative competition that we do. There’s serious interest there. You know, at our annual convention, we had more students this year than we’ve had in the past, like pre-COVID years even.

They want to meet with people, and they want to get those jobs. But what I hear is, you know, salary is obviously an issue. And it’s quite an elephant in the room, maybe, too. But, you know, if you you’ve got some of these other media organizations that that can pay more money, too. But that being said, I worked with Jacob. He was one of our interns at our convention this year. You know, they’re these new students who like their serious passion for news. You know, if the right chops are out there and if we can figure out how to connect these broadcasters with these students, I feel like that we can make something happen.

So, Jacob, you’re graduating from Kansas State in December. You’ve already had experience working at your college TV station. You interned at a station in Louisiana. You’ve done some coverage of the recent NAB show as well. And now I believe you’re at a station interning in Nashville. What appeals to you about TV news?

Hall: I just love being able to tell stories about people. So going into college and wanting to do journalism, I was big on sports and I’m like, I want to do just sports. But being able to do news and being able to tell stories about people and just kind of digging into that aspect has been really awesome in college for me and going back to the NAB Show, just being able to talk to so many different people from so many different areas around the country.

Like I spoke with people from different countries that helped us with camera work, and we collaborated for a few minutes and just different connections and being able to travel and meet new people is what I would say has drawn me the most to the TV news industry.

Well, on the flip side, what apprehensions, if any, do you have about going into this industry? Any reservations, or are there elements of the industry that you’re sort of steeling yourself against as you as you enter it?

Hall: I wouldn’t say I have any apprehensions or reservations whatsoever. Like this has been my dream since I was a kid, and I’m just excited. That would be my main word as I graduate in December, like you mentioned. So, I’m just excited. I have 12 more hours left to finish my core curriculum at K-State, so I’m counting down the hours and I’m just ready to start that job search and kind of go into the career field professionally.

Do you have any concerns about the money, the entry level salaries or the fact that you know you’re going to live in whatever market the best job avails itself in?

Hall: You know, not really. And I know that’s probably a big concern with a lot of journalists coming out of school, but I know that I’m playing a long game. So, I’m working towards my dreams, goals and aspirations. And I know that whatever I make right now as a 22-year-old right out of college is not what I’m going to make whenever I’m at my dream job or just kind of continuing to build up in markets and things like that.

So, I’m not too worried about money right now. Yes. I mean, that’s going to be a really big thing coming out of school. And then, of course, you have some loans here and there. But to be honest with you, I know that eventually and I’m confident that I’ll be able to move up in markets and be able to see some salary increases. So right now, I’m not too concerned with that whatsoever.

Yamile, you’re wrapping up your studies next semester and you’ve studied with professionals previously at Telemundo University. Given that there are any number of different media forms that you can work in, what’s the draw of TV news for you?

Mendez: For me, I would want to start as an assignment desk. Because I would want to like search for stories for people to get to know what’s going on out there or people that are not informed about what’s going on.

You’ll learn a lot from the assignment desk for sure. You’re right at the central nervous system of the newsroom.

Mendez: Exactly. And then after that, after assignment desk, I would want to be a reporter, because I also love to inform the community. And also, I like to know people’s perspective of what they know or think or feel. I just like to know about their opinions.

I’m loving all this fresh-faced, wide-eyed kind of openness to the profession here. It’s nice to see. But Yamile, do you have any reservations before you even start this career? Any apprehensions that you’ve got about going into it like the money?

Mendez: No, I don’t. Because I knew what I was going for. I knew from the beginning. And right now, I don’t have any responsibilities to take care of. It’s just me. And I’m really glad. So, in the future, like Jacob said, I know that eventually all that hard work, it’s going to pay off.

How do you both feel about the options in front of you as you look for your first jobs? Do you feel like potentially you’re going to have some more choices in terms of the first markets that you work in than you might have had just five or 10 years ago?

Mendez: I’m sure I will, especially because thankfully I’m bilingual and I’m able to do more or have more opportunities out there. And how about you, Jacob?

Hall: Yeah. So, I kind of think the same way as you. I’m not bilingual, but I still think from five to 10 years ago, I think that there are plenty of opportunities for college grads. I know early in my college career we had a guest speaker and he said when he went to UW Madison in Wisconsin and when he got his job right out of school, he traveled around and had his resume tape and would call these news directors and say, Hey, I’m driving through the area. Is it OK if I stop by and give you my reel? And he wasn’t driving through the area at all. He just drove and I guess wasted a ton of gas money just to get that first job.

So, I’d be like 10, 15, maybe even 20 years ago, it was a lot more difficult than it is today because there are so many avenues, I feel like with social media and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is kind of with social media, but you know what I’m saying? Here with LinkedIn, you can post your reel or your resumé and different news directors and recruiting managers and hiring managers can reach out to you that way. And I think that is really beneficial to us as college students.

And Yamile, I know that with your bilingualism certainly the NBC group and Telemundo would love to have you in there. They’re bilingual newsrooms. You know, they’re always looking for people who can report in both languages. So that’s absolutely an asset. Do either of you feel like you’ve got some leverage when you’re talking now with prospective employers because they’re in a crunch? I mean, they desperately need people who can make content. And not everybody, not just anybody, is sufficiently equipped to be able to do that. What do you think, Jacob?

Hall: So, I wouldn’t call it leverage, because at the end of the day, I’m still a college student and I’m still interviewing for a position. So, I don’t want to, like, reverse the tables by any means or any stretch of imagination. I still think it’s important for me to go in there as a prospective employee. Right. And not think, well, hey, I already got this in the bag just because they need people. Because, I mean, even though they need people, they still want quality people. Right? So, I think it’s important to be diverse in that aspect, really.

And what do you think?

Mendez: I also think the same. It doesn’t matter who you are or as long as you want to do what you want to do, then you’ll be fine.

Now, in terms of your training, are either or both of you fully trained as multimedia journalists? Was that part of your education?

Mendez: Right, correct.

So, do you think that going now into the business, starting out as a reporter, if you’re going to be on air, is it sort of absolutely essential to have all those MMJ skills? Or do you know of any of your other students who don’t have those skills and are trying to break into broadcast news?

Mendez: I personally don’t know anyone who doesn’t have those on or know about those skills. But I do know that is very important to know about those skills, because we’re not always going to have people around us. We have to know how to do our own stuff. You know.

Everything. Editing, shooting, writing, doing digital versions of your stories. And both of you feel comfortable in delivering all of that on all of those platforms and executing all of those skills?

Hall: Yes.

Mendez: I do. I do. Personally, in my school, they gave us homework to be MMJs. They give us a story to do.

I’m curious what both of you hear from your peers, recent graduates, even from some of your professors, about the state of the industry right now. What is it you’re hearing, and do you feel like you’re going into this business with a realistic idea of the state it’s in and the expectations that that it will have of you?

Hall: Yeah, I can go first on that one. So, I feel like I’ve been prepared exceptionally well at K-State and I’m sure she has as well at UT Arlington just because I feel like professors nowadays know that it’s MMJ and you’re going to have to do everything when it comes to digital and editing and shooting your own video.

So, I think as college students, learning how to do that now is really important. And when it comes to those expectations in the industry, that’s where I think internships really come into play. I’ve been able to see a different perspective this summer in Nashville than last summer in Louisiana, for instance.

Last summer in Louisiana, it was everybody, every reporter I went out with, shot their own video, wrote their own script, wrote their own TV script, and then kind of went about it that way. Whereas in Nashville right now, there are photographers that go out with live shots and they’re doing the editing and not the writing. That’s the reporter’s job. But they do editing and shooting all the video work with all the lighting.

So, it’s just different, especially coming out of school. It’s really vital to have those skills as an MMJ to be able to do it all just so you can have that background as you move up in your career.

And Yamile, what do you think? Have you gotten a realistic sense of what’s in front of you?

Mendez: I have gotten a realistic sense, like I mentioned, they give us homework to be MMJs. When I started school, when I wanted to be a reporter, I thought that it was just for you to be on camera and start saying stuff. And my professors taught me differently that it wasn’t like that. Like you had to do your own stuff, you had to have your own camera, you know, your own writing, your interviews. And I think my professors taught me very well how everything should be done.

Now, I don’t want to do anything to ruin the glow around both of you. But I am curious also to what extent you’re familiar with the level of attacks — personal attacks, online attacks — that journalists have been subject to. Reporters have been on air, and they’ve been accosted by people while they’re doing live shots. Are either of you concerned about what you’re seeing in terms of journalists being targeted and the abuse that they tend to be suffering? Has that entered into your awareness?

Mendez: Not yet, but I have fear for safety because I’ve seen some videos out there of MMJs doing their stories and all of a sudden, a car would go into them.

Well, a reporter was hit by a car in West Virginia. Well, the car was moving slowly, and she wasn’t hurt. But still, she was hit by a car in a live shot.

Mendez: Right. I feel like it’s mainly safety and others around.

Jacob, are you worried about your safety if you’re out there on your own doing a live shot, trying to do a stand up somewhere with nobody to watch your back? Is that a concern to you?

Hall: I wouldn’t say a concern, but just something I’m aware of. I always want to go to places where I feel safe. So, if it’s at night, if I’m MMjing by myself, I’m never going to go to a location.

And I feel like our bosses and news directors and producers would want the same thing. Like, nobody wants you to get hurt. Nobody wants you to be harassed. If it comes to it, I mean, they want you to protect yourself more than just get the shot or get the live shot or anything like that. So, for me, mostly, I would say going back to that question and be about choosing spots and locations that I feel are safe and that I’m comfortable in.

I’m interested to know what both of you think about the current form of the TV newscast itself. Is it something that you personally watch as a consumer? And when you do watch it and you look at it, what would you change? What seems antiquated to you or what seems like it just doesn’t fit with the moment and who we are as news consumers, if anything? Let’s start with you, Jacob.

Hall: So, when I watched the newscast, say NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt or just something like that, I feel like as a college student, I can learn. I use that as a learning experience. So, I will go back, and I’ll like to see how this editor, how this reporter worded this or how they talked to this, how they phrased that question I feel like learning from that. I’m not going to nitpick or anything because obviously those producers, those reporters have been in situations and have been in the business long enough to be on the network level. So, I mean, who am I to say that doesn’t belong in the newscast? Right.

But I definitely think when it comes to local news, I definitely like how they do a lot of live shots and be interactive with stories and really take the viewer to that scene where they otherwise wouldn’t have been.

So, you’re a fan of the live shot. Interesting. You’re not going to second guess Lester Holt, which is probably a good idea. What do you think, Yamile? Do you watch local or national TV news?

Mendez: I do watch news. I think it’s important for us to watch videos because that’s the way we’re going to learn, especially from people that are experienced. And also, my professors and other people that have come around have told me that watching news is very important because you’re going to learn from them.

So, both of you are attuned students of the current state of TV news and you approve. I’m wondering further down the line what you see as TV news’ future. Does it have a long road ahead of it? Do you think in your mind, or do you expect anticipate to see some fairly radical changes to the form of TV news during the course of your career in as much as you’re imagining down the road a bit? Let’s start with you, Yamile.

Mendez: I think news is still going to grow and be out there because there’s a lot of social media, there’s a lot of miscommunication or not correct communication. How would you say it? Correct information out there.

Misinformation and misinformation for sure.

Mendez: Right. And in news, they say true information out to people in the community.

Jacob, what do you think? What do you see as the future of the newscast? Do you think it’s going to be radically different in the course of the first decade or so of your career to see the product, the news product on television changing fairly radically and that you might have to adapt to that change?

Hall: I think it has to be adaptable. I think it’s going to continue to evolve. I think stories are going to change. I think people are going to use social media to tell stories because more people are using social media to find their news.

I still think the news is really, really important, like Yamile said, because people are always going to go to one place to consume something. So, say if you have a tornado watch in your area, you’re going to turn on the local news to see what that chief meteorologist or whoever’s on at that time is going to say. They can direct you to safety. And I think that is really important.

And that’s kind of a core asset of local news. And I don’t think that’s going anywhere. But I do think adaptability is key and just kind of adapting to the younger generation that uses smartphones and goes on the internet more so than watching that newscast, because you can still post a digital story on Twitter or on Facebook or on Instagram or anything like that for more people to view it and see it.

Where do you both get most of your own news now? You watch TV news, but where would you say the majority of news that you personally consume comes from? Yamile?

Mendez: Honestly from websites or social media, from local news or international news.

What social platform do you prefer to get news on?

Mendez: Twitter.

Jacob, what about you?

Hall: For me, I would say when it comes to the place where I get most of my news, it would be Twitter, like Yamile, Facebook. And then I also am a big fan of the push notifications. So, for different national outlets, I have their notifications so I can see different things that are happening just so I can stay up to date.

I actually started that a couple of years ago in one of my classes where we had current events quizzes, so I need to know what was going on so I could pass my quiz. But I really enjoy just seeing what’s going on because I can really keep up, even if I’m not seeing every single notification after the week or after the day or something like that. I can just see, hey, this is what’s going on in a fire in California wildfire. So, it just kind of depends.

And I really like having those notifications and being able to see the news on social media, something that’s kind of, like I mentioned earlier, adaptable and kind of evolving with the trending times.

Well, let’s leave this bathed in this glow of optimism. I think that for the GMs or the news directors watching this, you better snap up these two fast to get this sort of unqualified enthusiasm for TV news. That’s all the time we have. So, I would like to thank BEA’s Heather Birks, Jacob Hall and Yamile Mendez for being here today. Thanks to all of you, and to you and Jacob and Yamile, good luck in your job search.

Hall: Thank you so much.

Thanks to everyone for watching and listening. See you next time.


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RustbeltAlumnus2 says:

June 17, 2022 at 3:54 pm

Journalism. The stuff that dreams are made of, to borrow from Bogaart in The Maltese Falcon.

Too bad so many or most of these fresh faces will be crushed by an industry willing to exploit their dreams with low-pay jobs and unpaid internships. I wonder why these students are not advised of the Top 200 jobs list from Careercast that annually outlines the bleak prospects for such a career choice. Their dream is ranked at or near the bottom of the list.