2020 Research: Newsroom staffing and hiring

September 23, 2020 01:30

Heading into 2020, local TV news managers reported staffing challenges as the second biggest threat their newsrooms faced. Nearly one third of news directors cited low wages, increasing competition, turnover and a shrinking field as staffing threats. Newsrooms felt the effects of those threats in 2019, which have only grown in 2020.

TV News Staffing

Local TV news lost 300 jobs – 1.1% – in 2019. This left local TV newsrooms starting off 2020 with employment at 27,500, 400 jobs below the all-time peak in 2009. Median or typical full-time employment remained steady, but average staff fell slightly, particularly for non-commercial stations. Full-time employment dropped in top 50 markets and part-timers also dropped in the top 25 markets with gains and losses mixed across other market sizes.
Slightly fewer newsrooms say they either gained or lost staff. Replacement and new hires were each down slightly in 2019 for the average station.

While just under 4% of TV newsroom managers predicted losing staff in 2020, since the survey was conducted, broadcasters have seen significant hits to ad revenue resulting in hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs across the industry. News executives report some recovery is beginning, but the financial impacts are likely to last years – a preview of what’s to come in next year’s survey results. Find an initial look at some immediate impacts on local newsrooms here.

The makeup of local TV newsrooms changed slightly in 2019.

The average number of photographers per station dropped, as did the number of news reporters, with solo multimedia journalists (MMJs) increasing slightly.

MMJ numbers had leveled off in the last couple of years, but this year more TV newsrooms say they mostly use MMJs.

Markets 50 and larger tend to have more reporters than MMJs, with smaller markets relying more on MMJs. In mid-markets 51 to 100, newsroom makeup is 65% MMJs to 35% news reporters, a 9-point growth for MMJs. MMJs gained even more ground among the top 25 markets, where more than a third of stations say they mostly use MMJs versus just under 20% last year.

MMJs represented the top role newsrooms filled vacancies in during 2019, replacing producers, but slipped to third most new positions, behind producers and digital roles.

While TV newsrooms overall are filling fewer open positions and creating fewer new roles, digital positions now make up nearly half of all new hires, the most of any job title, and more than double last year’s percentage of replacement hires. Average digital staffing overall rose slightly after a small dip last year.

The focus on digital staff demonstrates how news managers are turning a challenge into an opportunity to execute digital first and digital only strategies. News directors report reallocating staff, either building independent, digital-only content teams, or shifting the whole newsroom to a multi-platform mindset. Among TV news directors who reported how they’re innovating or improving their newsroom’s journalism, responses focused on digital staffing included:
  • Reorganizing the assignment desk into a “content desk” with new workflows
  • Creating a digital desk independent of the broadcast team
  • Reorganizing staff “to address changing consumption habits”
  • Shifting culture to a “one content team” mindset where “everyone contributes to all screens and platforms throughout the day.”
  • Dedicating at least 20% of staff to digital-specific content
  • Hiring a breaking news digital reporter
  • Hiring a full-time animator
  • Hiring experienced former newspaper reporters

Radio News Staffing

Staffing challenges – including low salaries and difficulty recruiting and retaining staff – were the third most reported threat to the newsroom by local radio news managers.

The median or typical number of full-time staffers on a radio news team has been just one since the inception of this survey more than two decades ago. The average – which is skewed in part by especially large teams at a few major market newsrooms – remained at three after a big increase last year. Non-commercial stations in particular have more staffers on average and make up more of the largest newsrooms.

Major markets are those with 1 million or more potential listeners.  Large markets are from 250,000 to 1 million.  Medium markets are 50,000 to 250,000.  Small markets are fewer than 50,000.
More local radio newsrooms decreased their staff and fewer increased the size of their teams in 2019. Median or typical hiring for both replacements and new roles remained at zero for the fifth year in a row. Of the few radio stations that did hire, both existing openings and new roles were predominantly for reporters, particularly specific beat reporters. Of newly created roles, nearly a quarter were digital positions.

With resources tight, local radio newsrooms report taking creative approaches to staffing solutions to innovate and improve news products, including:
  • Increasing training, reviews and feedback
  • Focusing on experienced and more diverse hires, including former newspaper reporters
  • Dividing the news team into newscast and special projects units
More from the annual newsroom survey including trends and threats and newsroom diversity at RTDNA.org/research.

About the Survey
The RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey, funded in part by the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2019 among all 1,702 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,427 radio stations. Valid responses came from 1,313 television stations (77.1%) and 673 radio news directors and general managers representing 1,996 radio stations. Some data sets (e.g. the number of TV stations originating local news, getting it from others and women TV news directors) are based on a complete census and are not projected from a smaller sample.
About Bob Papper
Bob Papper is Adjunct Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and has worked extensively in radio and TV news.