Show Business

There’s an old joke about a guy who goes to the circus and he sees a man shoveling manure, all the time cussing and complaining about the work. So, the guy says to him, ‘hey, if it’s so bad, why don’t you just quit.’ To which, the circus worker says, ‘what, and give up show business?’ Well, apparently that is a parable for broadcasters. Three separate reports put news broadcasters at the low end of the employment totem pole. All right, I know. I can hear the cynics out there saying, “Color me surprised.” But there’s more.

The first report is the Radio Television Digital News Association survey by the esteemed Bob Papper. (Some day, I want to be esteemed.) The second report is the Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates by Dr. Lee Becker at the Cox Center for International Mass Communication. (Full disclosure – the Cox Center is part of the Grady College of Journalism where I work.) What I found interesting (okay, I admit, I find everything interesting) is that both reports had complementary findings.

In brief, they both found that hiring had improved slightly. The RTDNA report says a fifth (22%) of those hired were new hires, not just replacements. The Cox report says graduates were more likely than graduates a year ago to have at least one job offer upon graduation. The RTDNA had a mixed report on salaries, saying they were up 2%. The Cox report had it closer to 3.3%, but that includes other communications areas. (More on that later.) And both found that when you factor in inflation and compare hire rates and salaries to five years ago… well, it’s not quite as pretty a story.

But what makes it even more interesting is that both reports appear to confirm the move to hiring cheaper. All right, all right… whew, I can almost hear you all saying it again – “color me surprised.” Those new hires Papper’s survey found? Well, they actually brought down the median salaries year to year because, he semi-speculates, stations are adding people who are mostly entry level. Both studies seem to confirm that, and both studies confirm those beginning journalists are being paid more. If it’s any consolation for you ‘non-recent graduates’ working in broadcast news, Papper says the improving economy has brought “out the love between station and employee.” There was a significant increase in employees and jobs under contract or with non-competes.

Okay, here comes another “color me surprised” moment. Take a guess which bachelor’s degree recipients with full-time jobs are paid the least. No brainer, right? Television, of course. The Cox report puts the median yearly salary at $25,500. The RTDNA report puts it at $24,500. But, hey, they’re in show business, right? The Cox survey says advertising graduates are paid the highest — $32,500, closely followed by public relations graduates at $32,000. And those dying newspapers we read about all the time? Graduates working at dailies start out at a median $28,000. Yeah, do the math — $2,500 more than the television beginner.

So, beginning television reporters may lose to newspaper reporters on the pay scale, but they beat them on the we-don’t-stink-as-bad-as-you scale. The third report I mentioned in the lead is from a job recruitment firm, Careercast.com, which found “for the first time ever” that two different media jobs made its Top Ten Worst Jobs list: Newspaper Reporter and Broadcaster.

(In case you’re wondering the worst job of all is lumberjack, and the best job of all is software engineer. Interestingly (yeah, to me at least) online advertising manager made the top ten best jobs list coming in at #8.)

Out of 200 jobs, Newspaper Reporter came in at #196 and Broadcaster came in at #191. The list is determined based on five criteria: environment in the workplace (physical and emotional), income, outlook for the future, physical demands of the workplace and stress. The report authors say, “both jobs once seemed glamorous, but on-the-job stress, declining job opportunities and income levels” landed them on the worst. Also on that list for the first time are enlisted military soldier, waiter/waitress, dishwasher and butcher. But, hey, none of them are in show business, right?

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Michael Castengera

Michael Castengera

Michael Castengera is a newspaper reporter, turned television reporter, turned news manager, turned news consultant, turned university teacher.

He started out as a newspaper reporter, first while living in Australia, and then for newspapers in Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida.  He made the cross over into television reporting in Jacksonville, going to work for Post-Newsweek’s WJXT.

Since then he has worked in virtually every position in the newsroom, including reporter, assignment editor, producer, managing editor, assistant news director, news director and, finally, station manager.  His career has covered markets large (Miami and St. Louis), medium (Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Oklahoma City and Lexington, Kentucky) and small (Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas).

He cites as career highlights, investigative reports into police abuse, tornado coverage in Oklahoma and riots in Miami, being at the birth of the first 24-hour news station (KMOV) and heading up what was, at the time, the highest rated news affiliate in the country (WINK).

It was while he was station manager and news director in Fort Myers that he made the cross over into consulting, working with Audience, Research and Development of Dallas as a senior strategist with a variety of stations around the country.

He now is a senior lecturer in Digital and Broadcast Journalism at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia.  In addition to that, he runs his own consulting company, Media Strategies and Tactics.  Clients include media groups in America as well as in India.