RTDNA Research: Salary survey

July 17, 2017 01:30

Find current reports, including an updated salary survey at RTDNA.org/research.

By Bob Papper, Professor Emeritus - Hofstra University
This is the ninth of nine installments for this year in a series of reports developed from RTDNA's annual survey of newsrooms across the United States. Topics in the series were released every two weeks, including 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; broadcast newsroom staffing, women and minorities in newsrooms, and newsroom salaries. Reports are added here as they are released.

The salary survey highlights:
  • A decent year for TV salaries
  • Radio salaries edge beyond inflation
  • TV and radio benefits

The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries rose by 4% in 2016. That's a bit less than last year’s 4.8%, but still almost double the level of inflation in 2016: 2.1%. That means TV news salaries gained 1.9% purchasing power this past year… on top of the previous year’s 3.5% net increase. A big improvement over the last few earlier years.
Radio salaries rose 2.3% from last year. That’s less than last year’s 3.1% increase… but far better than the two previous years. Factor in low inflation of 2.1%, and radio salaries barely budged in the last year.

It was a so-so year in salaries, with eight positions going up, five going down and seven the same. But unlike most years, it was management that took it on the chin. Four of the five positions that went down in salary were in management. The only one that didn’t drop, managing editor, stayed the same. 
I added MMJ to the list two years ago. And, once again, it’s clear that reporters get paid a lot more money, overall, than MMJs. Two years ago, the spread between the two positions was $6,800. Last year, it was $9,000. This year, it’s $12,000. Even accounting for market size, pay for MMJs is noticeably lower.
Note that I use median salaries for most comparisons because medians tend to be more reflective of what people actually make.

*News reporter comparison is problematic because I now separate reporter from MMJ
**Comparison is with internet specialist in 2012 and 2007
TV salaries over time look like a so-so picture, but it’s an improvement over last year. A year ago, TV news salaries lagged behind inflation for both 5 year and 10 year comparisons. This time around, the 5 year comparison has edged ahead, and the 10 year comparison is a touch closer – even as it continues to trail inflation. That’s what two straight years of above inflation increases will accomplish.
Eight positions are running ahead of inflation over the last 5 years; eight are behind; and one is essentially tied. Compared to 10 years ago, seven positions are running ahead of inflation while ten lag behind. 
Keep in mind that wages in this country, generally, have not kept pace with inflation. 

The table of salaries by market size allows me to take a closer look at both salaries by market size as well as salaries by position.
By market size, the two smallest did the best… with the highest number of positions going up in salaries, coupled with the lowest number going down. Top 25 markets came right behind that… about the same number of positions going up as the smaller markets, but more going down. Next came markets 26 to 50, which at least had more positions on the plus side than on the minus side. Markets 51 to 100 did the worst, with more than twice as many positions dropping in salary than going up. Note that markets 51 to 100 did the best a year ago, so it may just all even out over time.
Salaries by position were closer. Graphics was the only area where all salaries went up, regardless of market size. After that, executive producer, assignment editor and MMJs did the best… up in four market sizes and down in one. At the bottom: managing editor and news assistant with just one market going up and four going down. All the rest were in the middle.

*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, and non-commercial salaries tend to be lower (as they usually are). Differences by network or region were inconsistent and inconsequential.    

Radio salaries
Very much of a mixed year in radio salaries. Note that median is the best indicator of typical salaries.

News director salaries went up on average but down in median. That happens because large major market salaries bring up the average, but the large number of lower, smaller and medium market salaries bring down the typical pay. That’s why the median news director salary can be lower than median salaries for news reporter or news producer. Those two latter positions are more often found in larger, higher-paying markets, while news director, frequently the only news employee, is found across the board. All other positions went up except sports. Both sports anchor and sports reporter dropped from a year ago. As a side note, $12,000 is below the federal minimum wage for a full time position  At $7.25/hour, that comes out to $15,080 for a 40-hour work week.

Five and 10 year salary comparisons show two entirely different pictures. Again. The last five years have been tough, overall, in radio news. Half the positions saw salary increases above the rate of inflation, but half were below. The 10 year picture shows mostly strong growth based on some very low salaries reported in 2007. We’ll see how these numbers hold up over time.

For both news director and news reporter, salaries went up in large and major markets… but went down in medium and small markets. The reason sports anchor and reporter salaries dropped from last year is that there were too few to tabulate in the large and major markets this year. Whether that’s because there are fewer of them or the luck of the draw in who returns the Survey I can’t say. We’ll see what the numbers look like a year from now. As usual, salaries generally go up as market size and staff size go up.
What makes a huge difference in pay is commercial vs. non-commercial. Salaries for non-commercial stations were 38.8% higher, overall, than at commercial stations. That’s a 50% higher differential than a year ago. Every position was higher except sports reporter, which there were too few of in non-commercial radio to tabulate.
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 - TV and radio
Starting pay in TV news moved up again this year. The overall average rose by $700, and the median went up by $1,000. The order of the jobs in the list below is the order in which hiring took place. Interestingly, it’s the third year in a row that the sequence of new hires per position has been exactly the same.

As a side note, $12,500 is below the federal minimum wage for a full time position. At $7.25/hour, that comes out to $15,080 for a 40-hour work week. A number of states have a higher minimum wage. And while we’re trying to keep everyone legal, note also that there are essentially no positions in TV or radio news that are exempt from overtime pay.

In radio, average starting pay rose $600 (it rose $700 a year ago). Median pay rose by $1,000. That’s the same as a year ago, but it had fallen $3,000 the year before that. 
The list above is in decreasing number of people hired. News reporter remains the top hire, but it has gone down as a percentage of the total: 66% to 59% to 53.5% last year. It has leveled off at 55% this year. We’ll see what happens next year. News anchor comes in a very distant number 2.

Contracts - TV and radio
TV contracts remained mostly the same from a year ago while radio generally fell slightly.

Following last year’s jump in TV contracts, this year’s numbers are almost all within one or two points of last year. Not a single position moved in a meaningful way – either up or down.

For the third year in a row, most of these radio contract numbers went down from the previous year. Two exceptions: news reporter edged up slightly and sports reporter rose from zero a year ago. 
Note that non-compete agreements are illegal in a number of states. 
Benefits beyond just dollars and cents
Last year, I asked news directors about comparisons in the workplace over the last 5 to 10 years in terms of family-friendly workplace… a comparison of health care benefits, availability of overtime, retirement benefits, unionization, and amount of vacation time.
This year, I asked about specific benefits a station offered beyond salary.

A number of TV news directors noted that their dental and drug plans were partly station paid rather than fully station paid. Note that benefits tend to fall with market size, but that’s not the case with staff size, which doesn’t seem to matter much. All the network affiliates except Fox were in the 99% range of paid or partially paid health insurance. Fox affiliates were at 92.6%… which was higher than other commercial stations at 86.9%. Non-commercial TV stations were 100%. Non-commercial stations were almost five times as likely to have pension plans as commercial stations. All the stations with no benefits at all were in the Northeast.
The average TV station offered employees 2.1 weeks of vacation after one year. The median was 2. The only group that was noticeably higher or lower was non-commercial stations which had an average and median of 3 weeks. Unlike radio, non-commercial TV station salaries are noticeably lower than commercial stations.
Note that “other” benefits generally increase as market size falls. About 10% of news directors noted some “other.” About one-third of those involved personal days, sick days or more vacation after more years of service. Almost as many noted some sort of vision plan. A few cited free or reduced health club/gym/YMCA membership or education reimbursement. Then came part or full cell phone use and company stock or profit-sharing. Then anchor hair styling, disability insurance and “upward mobility.” I wasn’t sure about that one, either.

A number of radio news directors and general managers noted that their dental and drug plans were partly station paid rather than fully station paid. Note that benefits tend to fall with market size, although the biggest difference is probably commercial vs. non-commercial. Large groups offer more benefits; as with TV, stations in the Northeast lagged behind the rest of the country.
Twenty-five radio news directors and general managers noted “other” benefits. Five noted paid sick days. Four (each) noted more time off with more time on the job… or paid or partly paid tuition. Three (each) noted life and/or disability insurance… and profit-sharing or company stock. Two each said gym memberships and paid holidays (yes, U.S. law does not require paid holidays). One (each) noted family health care and ratings bonuses.
The average radio station offered employees 2.2 weeks of vacation after one year. The median was 2. The only group that was noticeably higher or lower was non-commercial stations which had an average and median of 2.7 weeks, but the median was still 2.
Frankly, the most astonishing number to me was that more than 15% of radio stations offer no benefits whatsoever. More than 20% in small markets. About a quarter of all small market stations reported no paid vacation. A UCLA study reports that the U.S. is the only developed country in the world not to require paid vacation… and one of only 13 countries in the world, period, that doesn’t require paid vacation. That study was a few years ago, so we’re probably in an even more exclusive club today. In fairness, radio’s dismal number is still better than the overall U.S. workforce.

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 2016 among all 1,684 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,987 radio stations. Valid responses came from 1,409 television stations (83.7%) and 430 radio news directors and general managers representing 1,151 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.