RTDNA Research: Newsroom salary survey

June 27, 2016 01:30

By Bob Papper, Professor Emeritus - Hofstra University
This is the seventh in a series of reports developed from RTDNA's annual survey of newsrooms across the United States. Topics in the series include what's new online, social media and mobile strategies, television and radio 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. Past and future reports are added here as they are released.

The salary survey highlights:
  • TV salaries: Biggest gain in years
  • Radio salaries: Finally a good year
  • Beyond pay: Changes in benefits over the years
The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries rose by 4.8% in 2015. That's more than double last year’s 1.9% increase. And with inflation an extremely low 1.3%, that means that TV news salaries gained three and a half percent in purchasing power last year. A year ago, the spread between inflation and TV salaries was just 0.3.
Radio salaries rose 3.1% from last year – after dropping 4.1% a year ago and barely moving the year before that. Factor in low inflation, and radio salaries gained almost 2 points in the last year. Still, a comparatively good year.
TV salaries

A great year for TV news salaries after two so-so years of very small increases. Of the 20 salaries that I track and can compare to the previous year, 12 went up, 4 went down and 4 stayed the same.  Three of the four management positions went up; managing editor stayed the same. Two of the three anchor positions went up. Weathercaster stayed the same from a median standpoint, but average pay went up there as well. Sports reporter, graphics specialist, social media producer/editor and web/mobile writer/producer all fell. But some of that was because more digital positions were hired in smaller markets, and that brought the medians down. Assignment editor and news writer were the two other positions that stayed the same. 
I added MMJ to the list a year ago. Once again, it’s clear that reporters get paid a lot more money, overall, than MMJs. Last year, the spread between the two positions was $6,800. This year, it’s $9,000. The biggest jump from last year to this year was in digital content manager – which rose 25%.

       *News reporter comparison is problematic because I now separate reporter from MMJ.
        If they were combined – as in the past – the median salary today would be lower.
     **Comparison is with internet specialist in 2006

Five year and 10-year comparisons with inflation offer a sobering salary picture for TV.  Overall, TV news lags the last 5 years of inflation by more than 3 points; it lags behind the 10 year numbers by more than 2.  That’s significant slippage from just a year ago, when both comparisons were running ahead. 
Only five positions exceeded inflation over the last 5 years: news director, assistant news director, news reporter, tape editor and graphics specialist.  Six positions exceeded inflation over the last decade: news director, sports anchor, news reporter, news writer, news assistant and tape editor.  Several other positions came close. 
Keep in mind that wages in this country, generally, have not kept pace with inflation. 

       *Insufficient data

As usual, there were winners and losers, but there were no market sizes or positions that were best or worst across the board. The best market sizes for increases were 51 to 100… followed by 101 to 150, then 151+, then 1 to 25. Market 26 to 50 – which was the biggest gainer last year – came in on the bottom this time around.
No newsroom position went up in all market sizes. The best of 2015: digital content manager, news reporter and news assistant/AP. Next in line: photographer, assistant news director, weathercaster, sports anchor, MMJ, tape editor and graphics. At the bottom: sports reporter, managing editor, and web producer/editor.

       *Insufficient data

The smallest newsrooms include a number of newsrooms in the biggest markets, so salary numbers for that group tend to be erratic. Other commercial station salaries tended to be higher than most (which is unusual), and non-commercial salaries tend to be lower (as they usually are). Regional differences were small and inconsistent. 

Radio salaries
This was the best year for radio salaries in a number of years.


News directors, producers and sports anchors went up in salary. News reporters, anchors and sports reporters all stayed the same. Web producers/editors fell a little. 

Five and 10 year salary comparisons show two entirely different pictures. The last five years have been tough, overall, in radio news. Although some positions like news director, news reporter and news producer rose above inflation, the overall picture was quite different… with overall radio news salaries rising less than half as much as inflation. The 10 year picture shows strong growth based on some very low salaries reported in 2006. We’ll see how these numbers hold up over time.
       *Insufficient data

Not much in the way of patterns in median salary changes from last year to this year. But there also weren’t big salary changes from last year to this. For instance, news directors were identical in three of the four market sizes; only medium markets were different – up slightly. Reporters were down some in the two larger market sizes but up some in the two smaller ones. As usual, salaries were generally larger as newsroom size gets larger, but no other variables (number of stations in a market, station configuration or geography) made much difference.
What makes a big difference in pay is commercial vs. non-commercial. Salaries for non-commercial stations were 25.7% higher, overall, than at commercial stations. Every position was higher except sports anchor and sports reporter. I didn’t do a regression analysis to see if market size might play a factor in the discrepancy, but it’s clear that it’s certainly not the major issue. Comparing by market size, median non-commercial salaries are actually closest to the largest, metro markets than to any other grouping.
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 for TV and radio
Another strong year for starting pay.  Of course, a cynic might say that up was the only direction possible.

After last year’s stagnation, starting pay in TV took another big jump (about the same as two years ago).  Average starting pay went up $1,100 a year and the median starting rose by $2,000.  If this keeps up, the field could just be considered as having a low starting salary rather than the historic indentured servitude.
The order of the jobs in the list above is the order in which hiring took place.  Interestingly, the order is identical to last year.

In radio, average starting pay rose $700 – making up much of the $1,000 drop from a year ago. Median pay rose by $1,000 – after falling $3,000 last year. Overall, starting radio news salaries are at the second highest level ever. In fact, radio starting pay rose enough this year that the minimums reported are really starting to approach (but not quite get up to) the minimum wage.
In terms of numbers of people hired, there’s been a steady, downward line in the percentage of new, starting positions that are reporters. Two years ago, it was two-thirds; last year, it just under 60%. This year, 53.5% of the new, starting positions in radio are for reporters. The rest are spread out among a wide range of positions, although news anchor does come in a distant second. 

Contracts in TV and radio
TV contracts mostly went up from a year ago while radio generally held steady.

There are noticeable changes in this year’s TV contract numbers – after two years of little change.  On air positions went up across the board.  Anchors were up 2 to 3 points, and reporters and MMJs were up around 10.  Management varied.  News directors and executive producers were up 6 to 8 points, but assistant news directors and managing editors were both down around 5.  Producers, digital content managers and social media producers/editors were all up about 6 points.  Everyone else was down or the same.
In TV, 80.2% of news directors said that non-competes are legal in their states.

For the second year in a row, most of these radio contract numbers went down from a year ago.  Two exceptions: news anchors rose by about three and a half and news directors remained exactly the same.  Note that non-compete agreements are illegal in a number of states.  News directors and general managers in a quarter of the reporting stations said that non-competes are illegal in their state.

Benefits beyond just dollars and cents
I ask about salaries every year, but a new question this year asked about six areas and how the newsroom/station has changed over the last 5 to 10 years in some non-salary (but related) areas.
Is the newsroom/station more or less family friendly in terms of the working conditions?  In TV, a majority (51.4%) of news directors said the newsroom/station is just as family friendly as it was 5 to 10 years ago. But 42.8%, said it was more family friendly. Another 5.9% said it was less family friendly. The answers were a bit erratic by category, but news directors in the biggest newsrooms were the least likely to say that the newsroom was more family friendly (32.9%). Stations in the Midwest and South were more likely to be labeled more family friendly.
In radio, the answer was mostly the same (61.2%), but almost three times as many news directors and general managers said it was more family friendly (28.7%) than said it was less so (10.1%). Interestingly, commercial stations scored 3 points higher in more family friendly than non-commercial ones. The bigger the staff, the higher the score on more family friendly – up to 39.1% more for newsrooms of 10 or more people. Newsrooms/stations in the Northeast were, by far, less likely to say that working conditions were more family friendly. But stations in the Midwest and West had the highest percentages of stations that were less family friendly (13.3% and 14% respectively).
Most TV news directors, at 57.5%, said the station supplies the same health care benefits as it did 5 to 10 years ago. Another 25% said the health care benefits are now better, and 17.5% said the station provides less in the way of health care benefits. Perhaps counterintuitively, the smaller the market, the more likely that news directors said the health care benefits were better. From 19.6% in the biggest markets up to 31.1% in the smallest. Neither affiliation nor geography made much difference. It’s possible that station consolidation with some of the big media companies taking over from smaller companies have improved health care benefits in smaller markets.
In radio, on healthcare benefits, nearly two-thirds (64.9%) said those benefits were the same as they had been 5 to 10 years ago. But two-thirds of the rest (21.5% of the total) said health care benefits were lower than they had been. A total of 13.5% said more. Commercial stations were twice as likely to say lower as non-commercial. Stations with smaller staffs and those in bigger groups were more likely to say health care benefits were lower than they had been. 
Just over half the TV news directors, at 50.9%, said there was no change in the availability of overtime. But 27.8% said overtime was now less available compared to 21.3% who said it was more available. The biggest newsrooms and the biggest markets were the most likely to say that there was less overtime available. Conversely, the smaller the market and the smaller the newsroom, the more likely that the station offered more overtime. Some of that could also be the result of consolidation, with new corporate owners perhaps a bit more familiar with overtime rules. Network affiliation did make a difference, with ABC and NBC affiliates markedly less likely to have overtime available. Region didn’t matter.
Approaching three-quarters of radio stations (71.3%) reported no change in the availability of overtime.  But more than three times as many said overtime was less available than said it was more available (22.3% less vs. 6.5% more).  That was generally true across the board.
More than two-thirds, at 69.1%, of TV news directors said that retirement benefits at the station were unchanged from 5 to 10 years ago.  Sixteen percent reported that retirement benefits were lower while 14.9% said it was better.  Again, the smaller the market and, mostly, the smaller the staff, the more likely that the station’s retirement benefits were better.  The bigger the market and the bigger the staff, the more likely that retirement benefits had been cut compared to 5 to 10 years ago.  Fox affiliates and stations in the West did a little less well than the others.
Again, about three-quarters (74%) of radio news directors and general managers said that retirement benefits were the same as they had been 5 to 10 years ago. But almost three times as many reported those benefits were lower (19.2%) than they had been as opposed to higher (6.8%). That was especially true for commercial stations, stations with smaller staffs and in bigger groups.
More than four in five TV news directors, at 80.2%, said unionization was the same as it had been 5 to 10 years earlier. But 17.1% said there was less unionization, and just 2.7% reported more. There was no consistent pattern across any of the categories.
Not a single radio station reported more unionization. Not one. (Note: This was for the completed survey year of 2015; we are anecdotally aware of some changes in 2016.) But over 82.8% said it was unchanged while 17.2% said less unionization. Commercial stations were more likely to report “less.” Otherwise, there were no consistent differences.
Three-quarters of TV news directors, at 74.7%, said there had been no change in vacation time for news people. Another 19.8% said there was more vacation time while just 5.6% said there was less. The smaller the market, the more likely that vacation time had gone up. Fox affiliates were, by far, the most likely to report no change in vacation time. There was no difference by geography.
In radio, 81.1% of news directors and general managers said vacation time was about the same as it had been. Of the remainder, half said more (9.8%), and half said less (9.1%). Bigger radio groups were more likely to be less, and stations in the South were a little more likely to be more.

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 2015 among all 1,681 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 4,037 radio stations.  Valid responses came from 1,286 television stations (76.5%) and 484 radio news directors and general managers representing 1,316 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.