Why Your Best Young TV Journalist Just Left

Some of local TV’s brightest and most ambitious talents are leaving beloved jobs — and the industry — behind facing salary prospects that fall far too much below an acceptable mark.

Hank Price

I won’t say her name because there are so many just like her.

While she was still in high school, her father — a friend — asked me to talk with her about her ambition to someday be a great journalist, perhaps on the Today show.

As I always do in such cases, I told the truth. It’s a hard business. You start in a small market for terrible pay. Each step up the ladder puts you in competition with an ever-stronger pool of people who want the same thing you do. You will probably never make a fortune. At some point you might even get fired, possibly through no fault of your own.

Of course, my speech did no good. It never does. Everyone believes they are the exception.

Because she was smart and talented, she got into a good university with a strong journalism program, coming out well prepared to go to work.


Being determined, and willing to sacrifice both geography and money for a start, she got that first job and began to learn her trade.

I occasionally went to her station’s website to see how she was progressing. She was a quick learner and making great progress. I wasn’t surprised when she called a few years later to say she had been offered a promotion to a bigger station within the same company.

She had one reservation. The new job paid more, but not as much as one might expect for the market size. She tried to negotiate, with no success, but ended up taking the job anyway because it was the right next step.

Over the following years she became a seasoned reporter, a go-getter who brought value to her station. She was even given the chance to do investigations, always a good sign.

Then one day I got another call. Her contract was up, and she had been offered a renewal, but not at the salary level she expected.

She shared the details and asked if I thought her expectations were out of line. I said no. Because of the market size and her track record, I could see her making that kind of money, but I also cautioned that because her ask was so far above the station’s offer, she was unlikely to get there. Did she want to look for something in a bigger market?

The answer was no. She had met someone she was serious about, and he could not easily move. She also felt that her salary was a matter of principal. She could make more working in public relations.

Over the next few weeks both her news director and general manager told her how valuable she was and how much they wanted her to stay. They did raise the offer, but explained they simply could not pay the kind of salary she wanted.

In the end, though she loved her job, respected both her news director and general manager and wanted to stay, she left and went into public relations. I looked at her Facebook page the other day and she seems to be doing well. Of course, that doesn’t mean she is doing what she loves.

Every general manager and news director can tell you similar stories to this one I just shared. Solid people, the kind you want to keep, lost over a few thousand dollars. The pattern repeats and repeats. Another young talent comes in, and then leaves, only to be replaced again and again.

Now let’s rewind this story to our first reporter, before she left.

In the fictional rewind, the GM and the news director figured out a way to pay a more reasonable salary. Perhaps they shuffled money around, or the GM made a well-reasoned pitch to the company’s CEO for more salary room. Regardless of how they managed it, they paid the talented reporter and she stayed.

She developed into a fearless investigative reporter. Her passion for the market in which she chose to remain only enhanced her reputation. She started a family and became heavily involved in a number of charities, and her profile grew.

The station also made the right promotional moves. They made similar decisions to put good talent around her, and they ran a great operation.

Eventually, her ability, commitment and reputation led the station to choose her as the right person to anchor their highest profile newscasts. Viewers responded by tuning in to her newscasts, consuming her online content and following her social feeds.

Her reputation and appeal spread to others at the station. Her co-anchors and the meteorologists benefited from the halo effect of being next to a beloved long-term personality. Advertisers, who also loved her, favored the station in their ad buys.

The station’s brand now meant more to the community. When the station launched content on new platforms, the community followed. Ratings stayed high. Revenue followed.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, this little rewind scenario is a bit Pollyannaish. Perhaps it could happen, at least to some degree. But be certain of this: There is only one scenario where this tale would never happen, and that is the one that actually took place.

Over a few thousand dollars, a valued reporter left the station. And undoubtedly the decisions that led to her departure will be repeated. The treadmill of turnover will never stop, a reflection of both station and company values.

Our business can sometimes be paralyzed by corporate pressures, by an attitude that always puts immediate profit over long-term investment and by fear of the future. But making every decision a short-term one does not build a lasting company.

Keeping that sharp young talent at your station, despite the short-term cost, could be the best decision for the long term. Could the rewound fictional scenario above have happened? Yes, it could. But it would have taken a news director, GM and possibly a CEO willing to see past the pressure of today and invest in people who have the potential to turn fiction into reality.

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 (4)

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johnbobel says:

January 24, 2024 at 8:48 am

As a news director, my biggest regret was paying staff what they’d accept, not what they deserve. And today, that’s even worse with younger MMAs working at hourly rates that are less than fast food wages in many markets. With the continuing trend to do more with less, and the basic skillset in a television newsroom increasing daily – especially the ability to manage technology – the need to pay a living wage and a little more is paramount.

Former Producer says:

January 24, 2024 at 10:13 am

The TV news business is falling even further behind when it comes to paying competitive salaries.

I can cite the RTDNA salary research until I’m blue in the face. I can show you many examples of where some of the biggest broadcast companies are paying minimum wage for on-air jobs that require a college degree. I can point to the non-TV news jobs that pay far more money and don’t even require a college degree.

Here’s the problem. The CEOs are not listening! They do not care! They see revenue. As long as the advertising and retransmission fees come in, they don’t care about the growing exodus from TV news! There will, sadly, always be some young journalist who’s gunning for an opportunity.

By the time the bottom falls out of this business (and it will happen), the Perry Sooks and Chris Ripleys of the industry will have long retired — with their golden parachutes — and left the mess to be someone else’s problem.

I see no solution to this problem unless the CEOs are willing to solve it.

OldSchool says:

January 24, 2024 at 11:13 am

As a former GM this situation happened so many times I cannot remember how many. Unfortunately I do not see it changing and the thread mill to oblivion will continue until the bottom falls out. If you speak to most MMAs at Nexstar or other large groups they would all say not paid enough, not enough producers, on and on…Watch most local news and you will see rapid fire stories without much depth and 12 to 13 minutes of commercials in the 30 minute newscast…. All about the bottom line and stock price and a good promotional campaign promoting the accuracy of your weather team.

GenLock says:

February 11, 2024 at 3:06 pm

As someone who retired four years ago after spending thirty-six years at one TV newsroom in management in a top 12 market, my track record is a rarity by today’s standards. Others with more years of service retired before me. There is now an ongoing brain drain in local TV newsrooms. What I’m currently seeing in my market are experienced news professionals leaving for news media jobs in government, law enforcement, hospitals and medical centers, airports, and universities. The salaries are at least comparable but usually better, as are the benefits, which includes more time-off, including holidays, and a state pension. These agencies all have expanded their news media departments over the last five to ten years so that they now control the message on social media and YouTube channels. It used to be unheard of to jump to the other side. It’s now commonplace.