Talking TV: What Will TV News Hiring Look Like In ’23?
For TV newsroom employment dynamics, as went 2022, so 2023 looks to be going so far.
Many producer positions remain unfilled. Freshly minted journalism school graduates are trickling, rather than pouring, into the market. And those coming into it are insisting on a greater work/life balance than previous generations would ever have thought to ask for. Many are digging in their heels, feeling good enough about their prospects in adjacent industries to insist.
In this Talking TV conversation, Gary Brown, owner and CEO of recruitment and talent coach firm Talent Dynamics, looks at the industry’s major employment issues at the new year’s outset and how they’re likely to play out, especially if recession’s claws dig deeper.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: It’s a new year, but has the broadcast industry yet been able to turn the page on the Great Resignation? How is hiring still impacted, especially among producers, on-air journalists, anchors and even news directors?
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, a conversation with Gary Brown, former SVP of Content for Meredith and now CEO and owner of Talent Dynamics, which does placement for TV stations and networks as well as talent coaching. We’ll be talking about the job market dynamics for key newsroom positions in 2023, who has leverage and how they’re using it. We’ll be right back with that conversation.
Welcome, Gary Brown, to Talking TV.
Gary Brown: Thank you. Nice to be with you.
Gary, is the local TV industry still struggling with recruitment and getting recent graduates into the business as we kick off 2023?
I think there’s no absolute answer there, but I would say it’s still not the way it was. I would say, yes, it depends, though. It depends on the location of the station. Lots of different things. Here’s what we know: The amount of journalists coming out of J-schools has decreased over the years. So, you have students graduating from school and getting jobs in top 30 markets as producers, with good experience, but not they don’t have a couple sets of call letters after graduation. So, it is it is still very challenging. Broadcasters, when they’re hiring, they have to move very quickly. The days of giving a week are gone.
Right. One of the biggest shortages that stations and groups seem to have is with producers. How bad is that?
It’s bad. It’s a challenge, I’d say the last year or so. And it continues to be, I mean, depending on who you talk to, you get lots of different answers. Some groups have just decided, well, maybe we don’t need as many producers as we had in the past, or that stations have to get used to not having as many. Others are still being very aggressive, offering signing bonuses, increasing pay to attract them. But it is definitely not fixed. I don’t think it will be fixed for quite some time, to be honest, because it starts at the college level getting people interested in producing.
Well, and obviously they’re finding some problems with their perception of that position. What are they seeing as problematic going into [the job] or are they being warned off?
I wouldn’t say they’re being warned off. And I don’t want to speak in general sense, because I’m sure there are some great journalism schools that are guiding them towards producing TV. But there’s also a lot of push to digital, which I understand, because that is the future. And so, they want to make sure their students are future-proofed, right? So, I think you have a lot of them wanting to do these integrated digital marketing or producer roles, things like that. And linear TV and producing newscasts, be it streaming, be it on TV, be it wherever, we still need those people.
Maybe I should walk back the “warned off” as a phrase, but maybe just getting a more realistic picture of what the job entails. And that job is really hard, isn’t it? It is a very stressful job, a lot of demands and maybe not a lot of gratitude all the time.
Well, you know, it’s interesting, because I started as a producer in Steubenville, Ohio, right out of college, but that was before computers. I’m aging myself, the old-fashioned way. It’s interesting because now with automation, it has made shows much more consistent and easier on the tech side to do. But a lot of the coding and the controls and the cues you have to put in have fallen on the producers to do. And producers are making their own graphics now in a lot of cases, in a lot of places. And not just writing a show. And they’re doing that a lot of times where, you know, 10 years ago you might have had a writer or associate producer assigned to each newscast. There might be none of that now.
So, that producer is taking care of a whole show and then creating their own graphics, making sure all the commands are in there for the automation. And, you know, it’s a lot. It’s a lot. And I’m not taking anything away from anyone else involved. But in many cases, too, those producers are having to make decisions on content, especially after hours, weekends and nights where they’re making the column. Do they cover the story or not?
It’s interesting that you frame automation, which is generally kind of touted as a positive for news production, as somewhat onerous or at least a mixed bag for producers, that it’s not all gravy. Once you can automate something, in fact, there may be an additional burden that falls on producers to have to accommodate what automation demands.
When I produced, we couldn’t make our own graphics. It wasn’t possible. Now it is and it’s like careful what you wish for. And I understand why they do it. And in some ways, there are probably some producers that like it because they own it. It’s theirs. They don’t have to rely on someone else doing it and possibly making a mistake.
But the producing job has changed and evolved quite a bit. It’s more than, you know, writing X amount of scripts and putting a lineup and making sure the tapes get cut. They’re editing video in a lot of cases. There are teasers and things like that, too. It’s a lot, in many cases, producing hour-long shows as well. And so, I’m not trying to take it easy or give them an out. But I think we’ve all come to the realization we’ve asked them to do a lot. We’re asking them to do a lot.
Let’s talk about anchors. It seems that their negotiating positions are not quite the same as they used to be. How has that changed?
Well, I would say this: Generally speaking, our talent, we’d call them, we would always say recruiters. Are they recruiters? Are they going to bring people when they see them on TV? Are they going to make people change the channel to you? Right. Ultimately, you love to have that. In many places there are still anchors that have that ability, but it’s not like it was. And I think in every market there could be one person who does have that ability.
So, I wouldn’t say they don’t have it. It just it varies. But generally speaking, and it’s still very important. I don’t want to diminish that because the average viewer, how do they relate to TV? They truly like who they see. And then hopefully those people have, you know, a team behind them that covers the right news, does it the right way.
But if you don’t have good anchors, are people going to watch? Because it is a first that you see. So, it’s important. But I think the reality is the jobs don’t pay like they used to. And so, you know, I always would tell people when they would ask me about what’s my future, it’s like, look, you’ve got to get into this because you love it. It’s not to get rich. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a really good career and a really good life and a really good lifestyle if you stay in it long enough. But if you’re looking to be the star and million-dollar contracts and stuff like that, well, I personally don’t see that going far.
Here’s the part of the conversation where a thousand anchors have picked up their ears and are listening carefully. So, let’s talk about salaries. What is the outlook for their salaries going into 2023? Are they going down demonstrably? Are they flat?
I would say flat. Some groups, because of the Great Resignation, are trying to make sure that they can they give people proper increases. And they have budgeted for that, from what I hear. But I think everyone’s cognizant of everything being more expensive right now. So, you don’t want to leave people hanging that way. I wouldn’t say you’re going to see 10% raises or anything like that. I mean, the average has been kind of, what, 2%, I would say.
Does it mean there’s someone who can get a 5% raise? Some companies do it based off of merit, not, you know, what you bring to the table, what you do every day. I would say probably flattening. I don’t think it’s going backwards. I haven’t heard of that. There might be a one-off case here or there, but I think it’s more flat to slightly up or, you know, depending on the group in the station, some places that might be like, hey, you’re getting a 4% raise. I haven’t seen those in quite a while.
Since the pandemic, particularly on air, journalists seem to be more insistent on a work/life balance. How are you seeing that play out as positions are opening up?
It’s a very important thing, I mean, people are turning down jobs. When I started in the business, I’m going to have to work places I never thought I would live because I needed to do that, build that path for myself. But man, when we talk to people both on air, off air, it’s well, I don’t know if I want to go there, even though it’s a great job and a great market. And that’ll be a huge move for them. It’s well, I kind of have my mind set on this or I don’t want to work mornings, I don’t want to work weekends.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by it, but I’m just like, this is a really good job and a really good opportunity to eventually get you to a point where you don’t have to work those shifts. And these are not people that have 10 years of experience saying this either. So, it’s very important. And I think that’s, you know, something, the hiring managers and the news directors and general managers have to deal with on a daily basis, especially with recruiting.
It’s very interesting. It seems like it’s a generational shift. I mean, millennials sort of look at this saying, who the hell do you think you are? Whereas Gen Z is like, I’ll tell you who I am. So, I mean, is it that people coming into the industry just see themselves as having sufficient options both within and outside it? And actually, I should say not even just coming into the industry, but people who are they’re only there for a few years? They see that they have more options than they did in the past. They can either stay in TV and find other jobs or their adjacent jobs and enough of them dig their heels in. They can afford to have that position?
Maybe, but I also think it’s just this is how I believe, and I’ll wait. And they are in a position they think they can wait. They’ll wait. It’s I can’t say one way or the other really what’s driving and it’s just a thing right now.
Has this given them leverage? They dig their heels in and TV stations are capitulating?
I would say probably some have it because if they really like the person, maybe they will. But then if you capitulate there, then what? I always look at it this way: If they’re this way when you’re trying to hire them, then how are they going to be as an employee?
What I would tell people is this is not just a career or a job. It’s really a lifestyle when you think about it because when first responders go into things, we’re right there with them covering them. And when bad things happen, we don’t stay off the roads. When there’s a blizzard, we go to work to show people what’s happening during the blizzard.
And so, I think that, again, just my opinion, some people it’s just a job and you can be fine. Just a job that people that excel in really realize. I want to be there when the big story is happening. So, it’s a lifestyle and sometimes those big stories happen on holidays, weekends, nights, overnights and I don’t care. I’ll be there. I want to be there when that’s happening. I want to be the face of the station. I’m going to be there to serve the viewers.
With regards to this negotiating position that they do or don’t have, or they perceive themselves having, is the recession that is all but here going to throw cold water on this dynamic this year?
Possibly. I mean, when I was a talent agent, I tried to keep my clients from having contracts come up in odd years because there is no political, no Olympics revenue. So, I knew the raise you get is going to be lower than potentially in an even year. And I would really try to steer them away from that.
And so, if someone’s job searching this coming year, could they be leaving money on the table, doing it now versus waiting till ’24? Possibly. There’s still so many jobs. There’s still so many pent-up openings that stations have and MMJs, things like that. I think that there’s still going to be demand. There’s still going to be a marketplace maybe come summer depending on is this recession, how bad is it, how deep is it kind of thing, what’s it what’s it doing to the industry as far as revenue?
That may affect some things, but right now, I think especially producers. I haven’t heard of anyone saying we’re in a hiring freeze and we won’t hire a producer yet. So, I think they’re still going to there’s still going to be demand.
Do you want to hazard any other predictions for hiring dynamics that might change this coming year?
No, because I don’t think anything we’ve seen this year is going to go away next year. I mean, MMJs in the largest of markets, that’s here to stay. There’s a realization, too, that talent, especially anchors, have to be working journalists. Now more than ever, you’re seeing it in a lot of places where there’s an expectation you might anchor the 6 and 11, but we still want you reporting more than four times a year. I think that’s very big. And I do think something we’ve started to see in some places is the community. The community involvement expectation and that piece of it.
What do you mean by that?
I think people expect their on-air people to be involved in the community. I think just anchoring and being a very good anchor is great, but they want to see you. They always have this fascination of what’s behind the curtain, so to speak. They want to see you in their community. They want to be able to interact with you. Maybe it’s pent up from COVID and restrictions. But that plays an important role that you have to be involved in the community. You have to be.
Is that going to meetings, going into neighborhoods and talking to people that you see on the street and coffee shops, etc.? Or is that involved in structured activities?
I think it’s all of the above. I think for a TV station to be successful, you have to be. That community involvement piece is more important than ever. Because you see all these fractures around us. Local TV is comfort food to some degree. And there’s an expectation that we represent our community. It’s essentially the old school community affairs director really helping make sure that they are in those doing those touchpoints.
Well, interesting. We’ll see how that plays out this year. Gary Brown, CEO and owner of Talent Dynamics, thanks so much for being here today.
Thank you for having me.
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