A rapidly shifting TV news landscape has made the need for managers all the more pressing. With stations across the country adding newscasts in nontraditional time slots and pushing harder on digital, the demand for qualified news pros is outrunning the supply. And making things more difficult is the fact that many candidates have become far more selective about picking up and moving for new jobs. This is Part II of a three-part series on the challenges facing broadcasters in finding the right people for the rights jobs. Tomorrow, in Part III: The military may become an even bigger source of talent for station IT and engineering departments. Part I focused on the impact digital is having on station sales hiring and tactics. Read all the stories here.
Stations Find News Execs Harder To Move
Tom Dolan, who has spent nearly two decades playing matchmaker for TV stations and news and marketing managers, had found a promising candidate for a job at a midsize station and the general manager was prepared to make an offer.
So, Dolan called up the candidate to deliver the good news. Sorry, the candidate said. “I’ve been investigating a lot of the lifestyle aspects of living there and I just concluded it’s not a dog-friendly city.”
Stunned, Dolan asked if that was “really a deal breaker?” Yes, the candidate said, it was.
While this objection was a first, it illustrates a trend that Dolan and other recruiters have experienced: people are not as willing to move as they once were. Newsroom hiring is not immune.
“I started noticing it after 9/11,” says Sandra Connell, president of Talent Dynamics, a media recruiting firm based in Dallas. “People say I don’t ever want to be a distance away from my family or home that I can’t drive there. So if you have family in Dallas, maybe you don’t want to live any farther away than Tulsa or Little Rock.”
In Dolan’s view, the reluctance among news directors, assistant news directors and executive producers to seize new opportunities has become even more pervasive in recent years.
“In the distant past, 60% or 70% of the people we contacted about a position would be at least mildly interested in talking about a particular opportunity. In the last five years, that’s dwindled to no more than 50%, in some job categories 30%.”
Connell and Dolan say that candidates have become far more selective about moving to cities where affordability or lack of amenities might require a lifestyle change. Spousal veto, the thorn of the recruitment world, has also become much more common lately, according to Dolan.
Their observations are supported by a broader social and economic reality. Census data show that Americans are moving to new homes less than ever, while those who do move are traveling shorter distances.
And it’s not just a consequence of the recession. Mobility has dropped consistently since the 1990s, a fact that continues to puzzle most economists.
Meanwhile, a rapidly shifting TV news landscape has made the need for managers all the more pressing. With stations across the country adding newscasts in nontraditional time slots and pushing harder on digital, the demand for qualified news pros is outrunning the supply.
“When I got in the business there were three news directors in Denver,” recalls Patti Dennis, VP of news and director of recruiting for Tegna.
“Now, there are seven news directors in town. There are digital content managers at all those stations. There are digital businesses that are now in play that weren’t there five years ago. For people who like the information business, there’s more opportunity for leadership roles than ever.”
Somewhat paradoxically, while candidates for news jobs have become increasingly selective, so too have those doing the hiring, says Sean McLaughlin, VP of news at Scripps.
“The relocation problem has combined with changes in the industry and the fact that a lot of companies — certainly ours — are looking for a different kind of leadership, not necessarily at the traditional path to these roles that has worked in the past.
“We’re moving away from a platform coverage to a more holistic approach to coverage,” he says. “If we’re just talking about what things look like on the TV platform as part of our editorial process, we fail. I think it’s clear that it’s a different kind of person and a different set of skills that help drive that part of the editorial process for us.”
Sure, concerns over lifestyle, family and affordability can play a role in keeping newsroom leaders from relocating, but so is anxiety over demands to be a digital innovator.
“There are people who are successful in their current location and because the formula of how we used to do local news has changed so radically, they’re going to ask questions about whether [relocating] is a smart move,” says Dennis. “How do I know that what I did in this city will be equally successful in the next one?
“It’s a new day. There’s an excitement about it but there’s also a hesitancy, even more so when you’re joining a new company.”
Some station groups are addressing relo-resistance and other hiring problems by dedicating executives to it.
Dennis, the longtime news boss of KUSA Denver, was appointed director of recruiting for all of Tegna in January 2015. Dennis had played an unofficial role in hiring for years and is keenly aware of the shifting expectations on both sides of the hiring desk.
“The business doesn’t have a formula or a history of what great newsroom leadership looks like because the audience has changed,” she explains. “You have to manage differently, hire differently.”
Scripps tapped Chip Mahaney for the newly created position of national director of news recruitment last December. McLaughlin, who says the industry’s “pervasive sameness” to be his biggest pet peeve, describes Mahaney as having a “digital-first mentality.”
“Here’s what I’ve asked of Chip,” says McLaughlin. “When he presents me or a general manager with candidates for a job, he should present at least one that’s just out there.”
He speaks of increased risk tolerance in the face of a higher reward, and so far it is working out. “Every company sort of has a unique take on the business and where things are going and how they’re evolving,” McLaughlin says. “So keeping your unique values and the things you’re looking for in your leadership positions and having someone customized and focused just on that becomes really important.
“I’ll be shocked if it’s not standard operating procedure for every major broadcast company within the next few years.”
This is Part II of a three-part series on the challenges facing broadcasters in finding the right people for the rights jobs. Tomorrow, in Part III: The military may become an even bigger source of talent for station IT and engineering departments. Part I focused on the impact digital is having on station sales hiring and tactics. Read all the stories here.