RTNDA’s annual local newsroom salary survey groups public and commercial stations together. The most recent report says noncommercial salaries are almost 50% higher, so the median and average numbers aren’t too helpful for public media employers.
There’s no doubt it’s time for a new system-wide comprehensive salary study, but in the meantime, I decided to do a little research of my own.
I created an informal survey and shared it through my mailing list and Twitter feed, as well as on several public media Facebook pages. Between February 19 and March 7 of this year, 121 people from over 70 public media stations and collaboratives took the survey. While not scientific, its results provide a snapshot of the situation on the ground.
I just got back from a two-hour hurricane supply run, as we Floridians watch Hurricane Irma’s slow march towards our state.
In this brief lull between Harvey and Irma, I’m reminded of the many clients and trainees over the years whom I’ve encouraged to make a plan for covering disasters and other breaking news. I can think of only one or maybe two that have actually done it.
Of all the barriers to crisis coverage planning, the one I hear most often is, “Where do I find the time?”
New overtime rules that go into effect next month are forcing newsrooms to do some much-needed soul-searching.
(I can speak with authority only about my own field, but I know these conversations are going on in many organizations, particularly nonprofits, which also pay relatively low salaries to passionate people who usually aren’t in it for the money.)
There’s been a lot of consternation about this change, from news managers and employees alike. There’s no doubt implementation will be painful at first, but if the next administration doesn’t reverse the new rules, I think they could begin to correct our society’s longstanding and extremely detrimental work-life IMbalance.
I’ve written plenty about the importance and craft of editing – about how it’s a collaborative process that starts with helping the reporter shape the pitch and plan the story, continues through the reporting process, and doesn’t end until the facts and audio have been checked and the text and photos in the digital piece are in place.
I’ve also written about how editing tends to be undervalued. After all, it happens behind the scenes, and managers rarely understand how time-consuming and labor intensive it can be.
I now have data that sheds light on the time question.
A little over a year ago, I voiced serious concerns about the ever-increasing demands on journalists to be multi-platform – to create more content for more types of media and to promote that content on all types of social platforms.
I argued that this push for content volume, driven by a panicked rush by news organizations to grasp at every bright shiny digital object, had caused a collective loss of focus on basic reporting and real journalism.
Somewhere along the way, we got so worried about the “content” a reporter can “create” that we forgot about the need to tell meaningful stories. We got so excited about re-Tweets and Facebook likes and web hits that we lost focus on our mission to inform and enlighten.
I also argued that news organizations were demanding too much of their journalists, to the detriment of the content itself.
When you have to file for three major platforms and “engage” on whatever social media are en vogue at the moment, it’s easy to forget about finding the crux of the story.
Last week, my concerns were echoed in an excellent post by Erica Berger, formerly of the Economist and Storyful.
“Many newsroom writers and editors feel that they are bumping up against their maximum output,” she writes in the online news site Quartz, “even as their bosses demand ever-more productivity.”
I heard a public radio station’s podcast describe itself that way the other day, and it made me cringe.
That word tapped into something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – whether the popularity of the podcast style of audio storytelling is blurring the lines between news and entertainment … and whether public radio’s panicked rush towards podcasting will prompt stations to put their scarce resources into entertainment (perhaps dressed up as “infotainment”) rather than news.
Want to know the number one question my clients ask me?
Even in this age of viral podcasts, multi-media series, social media engagement, and impact journalism, the universal newsroom dilemma is the same one that’s been bedeviling news leaders for decades:
What’s the proper balance between depth and daily news, and how do I achieve it?
Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a public radio news director who lamented, “I know everybody wants to spend all their time on beautiful, in-depth features, but we still have a responsibility to provide robust daily news too. We can’t ignore that.”
Panic! Daily News!
In my experience, there’s a lot of unnecessary panic that goes along with daily news, especially in public media. I always get this mental picture of journalists running around screaming, with their eyes shut, throwing newscast spots into a huge chasm.
I think this panic often stems from a lack of planning and intentionality. Daily news is the thing we all feel obligated to do, but we don’t feel like it’s part of our higher public media calling. So we do it, but we don’t put any planning or resources into it. Not surprisingly, that doesn’t end well.
Daily is part of the mission
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big advocate for quality and depth over quantity and frequency, and I agree that in-depth features, impactful investigations, and beautifully produced stories are at the core of public media’s mission. But I also agree with that news director I quoted above.
There are a couple of reasons news organizations, public or otherwise, can’t ignore daily news:
It’s part of your service to the community.
Despite the allure of those bright shiny objects I listed at the beginning of this post, and despite their mythical powers of audience multiplication, if you work for a news organization, your job is still to give people the news.Certainly you can and should find creative, engaging, and even entertaining ways to do that, but sometimes those types of stories take time, and the news, by definition, won’t wait.
You need a consistent presence.
Whether your aim is to produce the next Serial podcast, expose an environmental scandal with a major investigation, or create a beautiful multi-media presentation on a local art exhibit, that project is going to take weeks or months to complete.You can’t stop all production and reporting during that time. You need to maintain a consistent presence so your audience knows you’re still around and that you can be trusted to monitor and report on anything they need to know.
The fact is, most newsrooms acknowledge and even embrace these truths. They want to do depth and daily journalism. But most of them have limited resources and can’t go all-out on all fronts.
The key, as I said before, is to add intentionality and planning into your daily news effort. Believe it or not, by giving daily a little love, you’ll actually give your staff more time for depth projects.
To achieve that intentionality, try these 5 Tips to Tame the Daily Beast:
Do the math.
Radio newscasts are not black holes. They won’t swallow up everything you throw into them. Sometimes they even throw some things back because they just don’t have enough room.I can’t tell you the number of newsrooms I’ve worked with that over-produce for their radio newscasts because they’ve never sat down and figured out how much sound they actually need to make their newscasts engaging and not overly repetitive.My general rule is two pieces of sound per cast, with each piece of sound on a 90-minute rotation. When stations do the math, they usually find they need a lot less tape than they thought.
Websites, on the other hand, can be black holes — but they don’t have to be. Most of my clients don’t aim to have comprehensive breaking news sites. Of course, they do want their sites to be relevant, so they need to have several posts per day.
The exact numbers will be different for each newsroom, but the key is to set those numbers and stick to them. Unless there’s a big breaking story, don’t keep throwing stuff into the daily hole after you’ve met the need.
Get more out of each daily story.
I advise my clients to produce two audio versions of every daily story they cover – usually that’s a wrap and a cut with copy. Most daily stories can also lend themselves to a web post too.I find the magic number for most newsrooms is 3-4 daily stories per day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? The great thing is, that allows you to …
Now that you’re clear on how many daily stories you need – probably less than you thought – you can be more selective and intentional about the stories you choose. Don’t cover a story just because you got a press release about it and it’s easy. Decide on the most important stories of the day, and cover those.
Track your dailies.
Once you’ve decided how many daily stories you need, and you’ve committed to being selective about them, you can be more intentional about assigning, scheduling, and tracking them too.I give my clients and trainees a tracker tool for daily stories. You can make your own. The key is for it to be in a place where everyone in the newsroom can see it, whether physically or online. This will help alleviate the fear that there won’t be enough material, and it will help reduce the urge to overproduce.
Consider a rotating “Reporter of the Day.”
The RoD, as we called it in one of my old newsrooms, can be assigned to any story that needs to be covered and isn’t already assigned. S/he can also fill in any holes that might exist on the spot tracker.Here’s the key – while this system does chain one reporter to daily duty for a day (or a week, if you prefer a longer rotation), it frees everyone else to work on in-depth stories during that period of time.
Most newsrooms that employ these strategies report a lot less panic about daily news and a lot more time available for depth reporting.
Give them a try, and let me know how they work for you!