Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: April 20, 2009

A survey just out by the Radio TV News Directors Association and Hofstra University has found that local TV news is doing more with less. Local TV news jobs decreased by 4.3% — 1,200 jobs were lost last year. But at the same time stations that were doing news “set a record for number of hours of news they were producing.”

Meanwhile, the print newspaper side lost over 5,900 jobs in 2008 and the reductions are continuing in 2009.

The survey shows that TV Reporters were the hardest hit by salary cuts with salaries decreasing by 13.3%. News anchors were next at 11.5%, followed by weathercasters at 9.1% and sports anchors 8.9%.

I spent almost a decade working in commercial TV News at four different ABC affiliated stations. The problem with this survey is that although it may seem stations are doing more news, much of it is nothing but pap — entertainment news, sports, weather hype. How can a serious news operation actually use a portion of their precious local newscast time to discuss the results of American Idol? It’s also indicative of a problem when TV News Reporters (some of the most underpaid, overworked help you can find) are getting cuts in salaries that are greater than anchors.

If we continue to lose serious journalists from the newspaper side and have to rely more on local TV news, I don’t think most local stations are up to the challenge. I did a personal analysis a while back that showed a 30 minute local newscast, after self promotion, sports, weather and commercials, netted an average of about 8 minutes of real news content. I’ll bet it’s worse today.

There is the real possibility that because newspapers are having serious issues with developing a profitable business plan, quality journalism will become as rare as an upswing in the market. And some public media organizations are considering how they can fill that gap with quality work to serve their communities.