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.”
Job Quandary: Is There Life After TV News?
“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.”