RTDNA Research 2015: RTDNA salary survey

July 13, 2015 01:30

By Bob Papper, Professor Emeritus - Hofstra University
This is the eighth in a series of reports developed from RTDNA's annual survey of newsrooms across the United States. Topics in the series include story coverage, what's new online, social media and mobile strategies, television and radio technology, budgets and profits, stations doing news, news director profiles, and our most popular areas of research; newsroom salaries, women and minorities in newsrooms, and broadcast newsroom staffing. A new report will be issued each week through the end of July. 

Newsroom salary highlights:
  • TV salaries gain ground, not radio
  • Winners and losers and starting pay
  • Who is under contract
The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries rose by 1.9% in 2014. That's up by 0.3 from a year ago, and with inflation an extremely low 1.6%, that means that TV news salaries gained slightly in purchasing power last year. The spread of 0.3 this year at least beats the 0.1 difference a year ago.
Radio salaries dropped 4.1% from last year... after barely rising the year before. Factor in inflation, and radio salaries really lost ground in the last year.

Certainly not a great year for TV news salaries, but it's better than last year -- which was better than the year before. Of the 18 positions (above) that I track and can compare to the previous year, 8 went up, 9 went down and 1 stayed the same. The top two management positions, news director and assistant news director, went up, but the next two positions, managing editor and executive producer, went down. On the anchor desk, news anchors and weathercasters went up, but sports anchor dropped. News and sports reporters went up, but I added MMJ as a separate category this year, and it's clear that, overall, MMJs get paid less than reporters. Assignment editors rose, but producers slid slightly. News writers and news assistants went down -- as did photographers and tape editors. Graphics stayed the same, and internet and social media positions were mixed.
I added MMJ as distinct from reporter this year and reorganized the web positions to better account for the way positions (and pay) has changed for web-related jobs. I noted last year that these changes were coming.

Five year and 10-year comparisons with inflation show the big picture and offer the most positive salary outlook that I've seen in years. Overall, both 5-year and 10-year comparisons show TV salaries running noticeably ahead of inflation. The last time both comparisons exceeded inflation was 2011. 
Of course, not everyone shared in that rosy picture, but most did: Top newsroom management (news director and assistant news director), two-thirds of the anchor desk (except sports anchor), news and sports reporters, assignment editor and photographer. Who didn't: Managing editor was mixed; executive producer didn't, but there are more executive producers these days, and new hires may well be paid less money than the fewer EPs of the past. Surprisingly, news producers haven't kept up. News writers and news assistants haven't, but there are fewer of both these days. Tape editors, graphics and web are all mixed. In the case of web, an evaluation is muddy because changing job definitions prevent a clean comparison. It's also possible that the separation of MMJs from reporters this year has artificially raised the average and median salaries for reporters by removing the generally lower paid MMJs from the reporter salary pool.
The figures above are especially impressive since wages in this country, generally, have not kept pace with inflation. 

As usual, there were winners and losers. One of last year's biggest gainers, markets 26 - 50, had the same number of positions go down as go up. The biggest gains in salaries came in markets 1 - 25 and 101 - 150. Both had about four times as many positions go up as go down. Markets 51 - 100 and 151+ were both barely on the positive side. 
Most positions went up, generally, across all market sizes, but not all. Reporters -- both news and sports -- made a clean sweep, rising across all markets, but, as I noted, the addition of MMJs may be distorting that picture. Tape editors and graphics came out on the bottom, with editors not going up in any market size, and graphics only going up in the biggest markets. Other markets were either down or the same. The web positions were erratic because the comparison isn't clean because positions changed. 

Historically, the biggest newsrooms tend to do the best in the salary sweepstakes. But that wasn't true last year -- or this year, either. Newsrooms in the middle, with 21 - 50 staffers did way better than the others, with far more positions going up than going down or staying the same. All the other staff sizes came in around the same, with more positions dropping than going up.
Fox salaries tended to run a little higher than the others, and non-commercial station salaries ran a lot lower. Regional differences were small and inconsistent. 

Radio salaries
Radio news salaries show an overall decline of 4.1% from a year ago -- which is likely more a reflection of which stations fill out the salary data from one year to the next than an actual drop in salaries. Next year, we'll find out whether the aberration was this year or last year. 

News directors, news producers and news anchors went down. News reporters and web producer/editors went up. Enough sports anchors and reporters showed up in the survey this year to report the results; that wasn't the case a year ago.

Usually, there's some pattern to the salaries but not this year. There are ups and downs for every position in every market size. The only fairly consistent pattern in that the larger the newsroom, generally, the larger the salary. That was not the case for the number of stations in a market, station configuration or geography.
Major markets are those with 1 million or more listeners. Large markets are those from 250,000 to 1 million; medium markets are from 50,000 to 250,000; and small markets have fewer than 50,000 listeners.
Starting Pay
The average starting salary in TV news rose by $800 from last year, although the median remained the same at $25,000.

Given a fairly large jump a year ago (+$1,200 in average and +$1,000 in median), just holding onto those gains is a plus. That puts the average at an all time high and the median tied for the highest. Overall, the industry is starting to approach indentured servitude plus.
The TV positions above are listed in order of the number of those positions hired, and there are a few changes in the last year. MMJs rose from #4 a year ago to #1 now, barely edging out producer (which had top honors last year). Reporter came in a close #3.  All the rest are in essentially the same order this year as last. 

Last year, more than two-thirds of all new, starting positions in radio news were reporters. This year, it was just under 60%.  Last year, I noted that average starting pay rose a "startling" $3,100 and the median rose "an even more surprising" $4,000.  I ended noting, "I suspect we'll see this number drop next year." And it did -- although not as much as I would have expected. Average starting pay dropped $1,000 from last year, and the median starting dropped $3,000. That's still $2,100, on average, more than two years ago with the median up $1,000 from two years ago. 
TV contracts held fairly steady compared to a year ago, but radio generally went down.

Some years, there are marked changes in the contract numbers. This isn’t one of those years. Virtually all the TV numbers are extremely close to last year. Note that the new entry of digital content manager comes in at a relatively high percentage. Note also that MMJ comes in – as it so typically does – below news reporter or sports reporter.

Almost all these numbers are down from last year... some of them substantially. Note that non-compete agreements are illegal in a number of states.

Bob Papper is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Hofstra University and has worked extensively in radio and TV news.  This research was supported by the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
About the Survey
The RTDNA/Hofstra University Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2014 among all 1,688 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,704 radio stations.  Valid responses came from 1,281 television stations (75.9%) and 316 radio news directors and general managers representing 868 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.