Job Quandary: Is There Life After TV News?

With growing cutbacks in both personnel and budgets at news departments in stations across the country, many are thinking they need to have options and are choosing to leave TV news before they are forced out. “It’s very difficult out there now,” said Steven Dickstein, a Philadelphia lawyer who represents TV talent. “There are cold winds blowing in the job market and it’s difficult for everyone.”

“Jake,” a 41-year-old TV reporter in a Top-30 market, has been looking for a new job outside broadcasting for about 18 months.

Currently under a three-year contract, and a guy who finds the prospect of leaving his job “bittersweet because itwhat I love doing,” Jake says he worries about the future of TV news and that as a family man he has to consider other, more secure career options.

“I’m not miserable in my job,” Jake says. “I’m just worried that if I don’t get out while I can, I’ll get kicked to the curb.”

Jake is hardly alone. Many mid-career broadcast journalists are considering new careers either because they have been cut loose by stations or because they see the cutbacks, pay freezes and furloughs of the past few years as evidence of diminished opportunity. They no longer see TV news as a place to spend one’s entire working life.

But transitioning out is not easy. The rush of newsgathering is part and parcel of many reporters’ constitution and switching careers in today’s stagnant economy is particularly tough.

“It’s very difficult out there now,” says Steve Dickstein, a lawyer who represents TV journalists. “There are cold winds blowing in the job market and it’s difficult for everyone.”


That said, TV talent — who often wind up in PR or public information jobs or, sometimes, academia — do have some advantages over other candidates for jobs, particularly within their own markets, he says.

“In some instances, people who have a relatively high recognition factor are able to distinguish themselves from the hordes of applicants for these jobs,” he says. “They are not unknown quantities.”

News talents who cultivate relationships with sources who could wind up as future employers have a leg up as well, he adds.

A married couple working in a Top 15 market (one’s a producer, the other’s an anchor) say they don’t see things getting better where they are now and are planning their exits.

“The sheen of TV is off for me,” the woman says. “In the 20 years that I’ve been in this business it’s changed so, so much, and the rapid deterioration really in the last five years has been shocking.”

Cost cutting has eroded the quality of newscasts — taking away the integrity of the job with it, she says. “It’s pretty bad for morale.”

With two TV news salaries supporting the family, simply walking away is not an option until something else takes shape. So both are hanging onto their jobs until their next careers — writing for one, voice work for the other — kick into high gear.

“It’s just a matter of when,” the wife says. But, hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later since the bad vibes permeating their newsroom are infiltrating their home. “It’s long overdue.”

Mark Saxenmeyer, a reporter at WFLD Chicago, the Fox owned-and-operated station there, has had to start thinking about what comes next, despite collecting 28 Emmys during 17 years at the station. His contract, which expires at the end of this month, has not been renewed.

While Saxenmeyer says he would never give up working in news, with the business in so much flux he’s not sure what that means anymore.

Growing his own documentary production company is one option. Another is finding another outlet for the “magazine-style reporting” he honed at WFLD.

Saxenmeyer realizes that finding a new job or career path is going to take a lot more creativity then it did the last time he looked for a job almost two decades ago. “In a changing media environment we need to think beyond the parameters of TV news,” he says.

In Kansas City, Paul Herdtner serves as real, live proof that there is life after TV news.

Herdtner, who  got his start in news at 17, left the anchor desk at WDAF about a year ago to work as the PR director at the Mutual Fund Store, a financial services company.

For Herdtner, 40, the key to his new career was cultivating a relationship with one of his sources, the CEO of the company for which Herdtner now works. The relationship, and the eventual job offer, grew organically.

He says he benefited from keeping an open mind — and boatload of business cards — during his 20 years as a reporter.

To transition out, you have to have a strategy, he says. “I’ve had so many conversations with friends who say they want to get out of the business, but when I ask them what they want to do they have no idea. A TV anchor or reporter’s resume can look very flat,” he adds. “There has to be some critical thought.”

Of course, it’s seldom easy. Jake is scanning various job listings daily, particularly those that cater to obvious segues out of news — public affairs, communications and advertising jobs, for instance.

Although he has been a strong candidate for several jobs, making it through multiple rounds of interviews, he has yet to receive a job offer.

“TV has not helped me as much as I would have thought,” he says, explaining that employers are particularly picky; they are less likely to take a chance on someone whose experience does not exactly match their needs.

“I don’t get calls back from most of the things I apply for.”


Air Check by Diana Marszalek is a bi-weekly column about local TV news and the people that make it happen. Marszalek can be reached at [email protected]. For other Air Check stories, click here.

Comments (15)

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Elaine Kurtenbach says:

December 13, 2010 at 9:21 am

“I don’t get calls back from most of the things I apply for.” Well, if you are waiting for callbacks, you are likely not serious about your job search. This article could have benefited from talking to one of the people who has made the switch out of TV News. I did in 2007 when I saw the TV bubble ready to burst and no lessons learned from what occurred at newspapers earlier. Took my talents to AccuWeather and never looked back. We are growing audience, not just trying to hold onto what we had. The job search was not easy, it’s hard work, but when you find the right fit you will never look back.

Todd Keel says:

December 13, 2010 at 9:37 am

“…the key to his new career was cultivating a relationship with one of his sources…” I would be concerned that a reporter might “pull his punches” on a story in order to placate a source he might consider a future boss.

    Elaine Kurtenbach says:

    December 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I worked with AccuWeather while I was in TV News and was always impressed with value of the brand. When it came to thinking about getting a job with the company, I talked to the people I knew there and then went through the traditional HR resources. No ethics breach and I would hope that a credible reporter would act in the same manner.

Christina Perez says:

December 13, 2010 at 9:57 am

Is there life after TV news? Read recent articles by this former major market TV and newspaper reporter — exposing official crimes that the mainstream media cannot or will not report — and then you decide: or “Facebook — Vic Livingston.”

jim levecque says:

December 13, 2010 at 10:26 am

I did what Herdtner did at the exact same time in my life, transitioning using existing relationships, but instead of getting a job that way, I started my own PR consultancy and began doing freelance writing. 13 years later, I’m making 4X what I made in my best year in TV news, and I do it working at home. So yes, there’s life after TV news.

To Terry’s point, all reporters have to make that choice every time a story involves an existing relationship, whether it’s a potential future employer or just a source they want to maintain. For that matter, every story that a local politician, police chief or major sponsor might object to involves choices for a reporter. If your journalistic principles are solid, you don’t pull back. If you do, you probably weren’t a very good journalist in the first place.

DJ Schreyer says:

December 13, 2010 at 11:36 am

After being in TV news for years and years and literally walking out, I can tell you, THERE REALLY IS LIFE AFTER TV NEWS!
Here’s some things I have learned from being in personnel outside the business and having other family members and friends working personnel in other businesses, totally unrelated to TV news. Please bear in mind, I too am disturbed by some companies methods…so my writing about them is NOT my endorsement of them. There is lots of hope out there!…but not using any method you are used to.
First, yes, its a tough job market, regardless of the type of business or industry, but the biggest demand in the overwhelming majority of positions, is for cheap, young talent with no families. That is why the EEOC has been deluged with complaints about age and sex discrimination, especially. There not enough in the, young cheap workers profile to go around, so many companies just wait. Most are not about to hire some candidate who was at or near the top of their wage scales, then saying they are willing to take a pay cut for the job they are applying for, which is why , if any interviewer asks you for your wage history….chances are you are doomed. They will deny this…but it is true. IN most cases, the only people interested in that information, are those who want cheap labor. All this other stuff they say to cover their intentions is just garbage. They are also not interested in hiring older workers with a wife and five kids on their group health policy. Companies who want to hire you for your skills just figure, you will take what they are offering, or you don’t and they could care less what money you made in a previous life! Fortunately, those companies are still out there. Those are usually the better companies to work for.
Second, most employers are exceptionally hesitant about bringing some recognized person into their workplace, unless they see a payoff. Yes, some are hired because of that, but I have seen a lot of news people rejected due to that. Most personnel managers and interviewers are clueless about TV and assume you made big bucks so are suspicious about why you want the job they are offering. Even if you give them a good answer as to why you want the job….they just assume that since you are in the communication business, it would figure you had a good answer for it….in other words, with these people, you have more to lose than you have to gain, on this point. And there are many personnel managers out there who hate the media and translate the prejudice to you. They are total company zealots who see reporters as those who were paid to question authority, which is not needed for this job….in other words, they see you as a “non believer”, coming into their corporate culture with questions….and those who question are not true believers.
Third, unless you have contacts who can help you get a bye on all the stuff in my first point, your chances of getting a job, in the environment described in point one, are next to nill….unless there are some open minded people running the personnel departments. ALSO, SOME OF THE WORST ADVICE ON RESUMES HAS BEEN COMING FROM EMPLOYMENT CONSULTANTS. I have seen many cases where there are no dates on the resumes….most personnel managers are not stupid and assume the worst with a resume having no dates….that you are too old and don’t want to admit it….and that you are trying to hide it…which makes them question everything else on your resume. Never, regardless how old you are, never hand in a resume with no dates. It only makes it easier for violating employers to claim they didn’t know how old you were, since there were no dates on the resume. If a job counselor has an employer that doesn’t care about dates and wants that type of resume. That’s different. However, don’t do it otherwise.
As one EEOC attorney once told me, putting no dates on your resume only makes it easier for them to sort you out of the pile and put it in the wastebasket. And depending on how many companies sets up their computer sort of resumes, ones without dates get spit out before ever being seen by anybody.
Third, most employers know people need a paycheck and health insurance so, they assume, you are not likely to just take off and start something on their own. That is why employers want an employer based health insurance system in this country. They know that if health insurance went to a single payer government plan, workers would only have pay and treatment as the reasons to stay or leave somewhere. Some have you sign non compete agreements, allegedly so you can’t take your talents elsewhere. Most of these have been struck down in court, depending on the circumstances, as simply being intimidation, with no actual compensation for agreeing to it, with you having no proprietary information, or significant position in management.
Fourth, for many trying to get out or are already out of TV news, more than ever, your best bet is starting something yourself. I have found many of these owners of buildings empty storefronts and plazas will let you get into the building and get the first year of rent free….just to get started. Some will offer to keep it free as long as you stay there for a set amount of time. It makes it look like there is some rebound in these places. Work for other family members, as humiliating as that can be, because they are in businesses that may get you somewhere else. At least it gets you out and around meeting other people.
Another big challenge, which is not recognized and needs to be, is not of TV newspeople’s making. I have found most employers assume that when the TV news business improves, you will go back to it….again, they will deny it, but I have seen so much of that, I can tell you it’s a big factor. They don’t know or care that the business has permanently changed. For those job applicants who have been through a succession of employers, say over the last five years, due to closures and bankruptcies, other corporate problems and buyouts, they see you as trauma victims who are likely to bolt if they see or hear the first inkling of problems….in other words…you know too much. They see that there are enough workers out there, to whom life has not done much to, so why take a chance on you?
Again….I don’t support any of the unjust attitudes….it’s what I still see and have seen over the years. So my hope is that out of work TV news people will be able to make more informed choices about their next moves and not waste so much changing and changing resumes, expecting to find employers willing to take them. I find it interesting in social gatherings, there are those corporate personnel types willing to challenge me for my views, but they know it’s true, cause I know they do it!
There is hope! Don’t leave your future only to others! Carpe Diem!

Christina Perez says:

December 13, 2010 at 12:16 pm

“bitten2” — U.S. tax dollars funding lame military contractor IC psy ops like this?

jim levecque says:

December 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Thanks for trying to start a serious discussion, Diana. Unfortunately the anonymous bats have flown into the belfry here.

Susan Hammerschmidt says:

December 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I’ve been in this business my entire adult life, in large part living a dream. I have started 3 cable networks, syndicated my own shows, been to more than 20 Super Bowls and incalculable other news and sporting events. I’ve won the Emmys and other awards, and most important worked with some outstanding people, many of whom remain great friends.

But at the same time, I have worked for and with some of the sneakiest and most duplicitous people one could possible meet. Jealousy is rampant in TV newsrooms, where everyone is looking to undercut someone. Rumors, snide remarks, telling flat out lies to HR and management, it’s all become a part of the game. Sure, it happens everywhere, but in TV it almost seems as if much of the management structure not only condones such actions, but fosters it.

At the same time, thanks to the now-complete erosion of any real storytelling, news gathering or investigative effort on the part of every local station, there is no more room for true news talent. Stations want their talent young, pretty, often bad actors (thank you Don Henley), able to do 2-3 jobs in order to save even more money, and most important, cheap. Producers are being hired that are neophytes when it comes to news and news judgment. What stations want is someone who can produce a newscast that has entertainment to it, plenty of sound effects and graphics, short clips “Breaking News”, and pretty people standing in front of pretty stories.

In the markets I work and live in, I cannot tell you how many mispronunciations and misspellings I see on a given night. Add to that a complete lack of background information, news material, and explanations of stories. That, and let’s not forget the stories handed to stations by PR flacks that only exist to show great video and provide a place for the talent standup.

This is what has in large part made the job of TV reporter/anchor one that no longer makes anyone feel as if they are actually doing something important, something meaningful. The best part of my job was live interviews, asking questions, getting the tough answer, filling a news and information void with something other than vapid filler. But that does not exist any more at the local level. And that is a tragedy.

Who’s to blame? News Directors take a chunk of the hit, but they are pressured into creating ratings for a public with eyes glossed over by little more than flash, trash, and drive by video. Stations got themselves into this mess by spending foolish and ill-advised money for years. And management made plenty of cash with a cadre of minions to do the dirty work. Let us not forget corporate ownership who could care less about quality and just cover that bottom line.

I have no doubt my days in the anchor chair are over, despite my years in the business. I am no longer 30 years of age, will not roll over and do a fluff piece every night simply because it pays the bills, and will speak up when I think something is being done that can be presented better. Like many of us in the business, this makes us “difficult”, when in reality we are the ones who could create those greater ratings with solid news judgment.

I’ve moved on with my own business that seeks to put together news professionals from across the country in an effort to put our skills to use. We put together the talents of broadcast and production professionals everywhere, allowing each other to pick on the talents of others to create new business. This is about the only way we can stay in the broadcast profession at any length. For the most part, let us admit we are the refuse of a formerly notable and proud profession.

Pity this generation of news readers and pretty people, for many of them will be discarded much faster than the generation before them. And will they really feel as if they have accomplished something worthwhile telling easy stories and those handed to them without any real investigation or real work? Time will tell.

As for those who never receive callbacks, and the person here who chastised one for not wanting it enough, that comment in itself is both insulting and ill-informed. I have made dozens of follow-up calls to ND’s, GM’s, HR directors and others in a position of authority and decision-making who simply hit the “ignore”button.

And therein lies what for those of us with so many years of experience and knowledge is the worst to suffer. the complete lack of civility and professional courtesy. I made a point to get right in the face of a GM and asked why he had not returned my calls. His answer? “Well, we were mulling our options and went in another direction”. Of course, we all know that “going in another direction” is the largest steaming pile of excrement a manager can hand an employee. What I said to this person was civil and calm. “Why do you not have the common professional courtesy to call me back, tell me you’re not interested, and then tell me why?” He was flustered and unable to answer. It’s because the answer would be “you’re too old, too male, too female, too much of a certain color or ethic group, and you won’t work for $40K a year with no guarantees”.

We are cannon fodder. We used to be professionals who wanted to tell stories and honestly do something meaningful. But meaningful is not what TV news is about anymore. And we need to face the facts. It never will be again. TV News at the local level is already nothing more than T&A, reader e-mails making up for actual news-digging, live shots from across the country that are easy and readily available on the satellite, and management that cares only if you really do intend to pay more than $10 per meal when on the road.

Carpe Diem, indeed. But don’t expect any help along the way.
I love this business and hope to remain active in it until the day I’m called away. I just wish there were people in positions of power and authority who felt the same way and allowed us to use our skills.

Michael Katz says:

December 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm

There is life after TV News. For the last couple of years I was in TV News, I would ask myself the same question (“Is this the day?”) every morning when I would put the key in the ignition for the drive to the station. After 28 years in the biz, I was shown the door.

It was a real blow at first … walked around feeling sorry for myself and waiting for the call backs that never came … but in retrospect, it was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to me.

I went to work as a salesman for a software company for about three years, then with one of my co-workers, founded my own company 12 years ago. We have had a couple of tough years, but the business has been a success and, unless I see an article liek this, I never look back. I have more control over my life now that I ever did in TV, I make a better living, and I no longer feel like I have to worship the clock.

john Tumino says:

December 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Boundless blathering by the disgruntled or disillusioned solves nothing.
As in your current or previous jobs, stick to the facts, don’t editorialize. A concise and easily understood story is the key to success in Journalism.
It’s also the key to a good resume.

As Sgt. Joe Friday often said; “Just give me the facts”.
Most employers are of a like mind….

    Elaine Kurtenbach says:

    December 14, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I’m not disgruntled. I enjoyed my time in TV. The point is, if you want to change direction, you can do it. The article’s premise is incorrect. You can move from TV to other fields. You just have to commit to a job search, look in untraditional, perhaps unfamiliar places, do your research and know how your talents can transfer.

Emily Teaford says:

December 14, 2010 at 1:21 am

I was in TV news for 32+ years when I was shown the door when I was 50+ and luckily I was able to parlay my consumer news beat into an infomercial business featuring shopping tips and deals. But I was lucky. Frankly, I doubt that many GA reporters or even anchors have the skills for many businesses unless they study or work at something on the side. Sure there are PR gigs but they rarely match TV’s pay. Self employment such as real estate and insurance sales are a long shot. Advertising and marketing like PR are tough to crack. Unfortunately the solution is not being able to find another job– the solution is growing and changing with the medium if possible and adapting to the change. However, if you are “too old” for the strategy or the “wrong sex” for the strategy your willingness to learn the new technology, to shoot and edit as well as report will not offer you any security at all. Unfortunately, experience means little at many stations nationwide with age, looks and sex-appeal the new major criteria for job security. Alan Mendelson

Brian Bussey says:

December 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm

These are te reasons I went to Sales. It is hard to stab a Sr. AE in the back knowig when their clients are looking out for them. Productive AE’s are employed for life. The key term is productive.

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