TV salaries barely outpace inflation, radio behind

June 30, 2014 01:30

By Bob Papper, Professor Emeritus - Hofstra University
An introductory note, if you will.  2014 marks my 20th year conducting the RTDNA (before that, RTNDA) Annual Survey. First at Ball State University and now at Hofstra University. It has been my privilege to do this, and I want to thank RTDNA, Ball State and Hofstra for the support and opportunity to keep this going. Most of all, I want to thank all of you who spend what I know is way too much time poring over the way too many questions that I ask on this survey. Thank you.
- Bob Papper 

  • TV salaries gain a little ground, not radio
  • Winners and losers in starting pay
  • Contracts and non-competes

The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries rose by 1.6% in 2013.  With inflation an extremely low 1.5%, that meant that TV news salaries gained ever so slightly in purchasing power last year.
Radio salaries crept up 0.5% in the last year.  That's not enough to compensate for 1.5% inflation, leaving radio news salaries down 1% in terms of real wages.

A mediocre year for TV news salaries -- although better than last year.  Overall, salaries rose by a slim 1.6%.  Of the 18 positions (above) that I track, 10 went up in salary; 6 stayed the same; 2 went down.  But, really, nothing moved much from the year before.  News director and assistant news director stayed the same; managing editor and executive producer rose slightly.  News anchor fell slightly; weather rose slightly; and sports stayed the same.  News reporter and assignment editor went up a little while sports reporter and news producer stayed the same.  News writer fell.  News assistant went up, but there are fewer and fewer of them these days, so that's a bit deceptive.  Photographer and tape editor rose slightly.  So did graphics and web jobs.
I dropped art director this year because I was getting too few responses to make the numbers reliable.  Next year, I plan to separate MMJ from reporter and photographer, and I'm considering adding social media. 

Five year and 10-year comparisons with inflation present a mixed picture.  On the plus side, the overall increase in TV salaries in the last five years does exceed inflation, although by just 0.4.  On the negative side, 2009's reporter salaries were unusually low, so growth appears larger than it really is; and misleadingly high rates of salary increases among news assistants and news writers are also boosting the numbers.  I say misleading not because the figures are wrong.  They're not.  But, increasingly, those positions are being found only in larger and larger (translate that to higher and higher paying) newsrooms.  Overall, eight positions have seen 5-year increases ahead of inflation; 10 positions are below the level of inflation.
The 10-year picture is worse, with overall TV news salaries lagging behind inflation by more than 10 points.  Only news assistants and tape editors were able to keep up with inflation, overall.
One note of caution.  I compare wages to inflation because it goes to the heart of the buying power of salaries over time.  But it's also true that wages in this country, generally, have not kept pace with inflation.  Figures on wages that are uncolored by political viewpoint are hard to come by, but it's clear that wage growth across most industries has generally lagged behind inflation.

As usual, not everyone fared the same.  The biggest gains in salaries came in markets 26 - 150.  Both ends of the spectrum, markets 1 - 25 and 150+, had far more falling salaries than rising ones.  In the case of the biggest markets, at least some (if not all) of the blame goes to a larger-than-usual number of small stations in the biggest markets participating in the survey this year.  That's always a tricky part of the top markets, where you're most likely to find both the biggest and some of the smallest newsrooms.  In the case of markets 150+, it was just a bad year.

Usually, the rich (the biggest stations) get richer while others don't.  This year, there were no winners in the salary sweepstakes.
When I looked at salaries by region, it was a two way race, with the West edging out the Northeast.  Most striking, perhaps, was that the Midwest didn't come out on top for any position's salary.
Radio salaries

Overall, radio news salaries stayed pretty much the same in the last year, edging up slightly by 0.5%.  That's a little worse than last year's 0.8% increase.  News directors and reporters went up; news anchors stayed the same; web producers and editors went down.  For the first time in years, there were simply too few sports anchors and sports reporters to come up with reliable numbers for those positions.  I hope that's just an aberration in this year's survey and not a harbinger of a trend in radio positions.

Major market salaries went up in 2013, but all the other groupings varied by position. 

As with previous years, there is no consistent pattern to salaries based on the number of stations a news director supervises. 

In the past, I've reported on salaries based on ownership/management patterns for stations -- and sometimes based on number of stations in a local market.  This year, there just isn't a real systematic variation based on management structure or even number of stations.  Salaries tend to go up as overall news staff size increases, but that's more a function of most of the large newsrooms being in the largest markets.

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

In a truly startling development, starting salaries in TV news actually rose from a year ago -- up $1,200 in average salary and $1,000 in median salary.  Average starting pay of $26,200 and median starting of $25,000 are both the highest levels ever (not adjusted for inflation).  In an industry that has always bordered on indentured servitude, this is at least progress.
The TV positions above are listed in order of the number of those positions hired, and the sequence is virtually identical to last year (and pretty similar to the last few years).  One exception: web moved up two places -- ahead of assignment editor and anchor.

More than two-thirds of all new, starting positions in radio news were reporters.  Average starting pay rose a startling $3,100 over a year ago ... with the median going up an even more surprising $4,000.  Must have been a good year for the very few stations that reported hiring new people.  I suspect we'll see this number drop next year.


After languishing during the recession, TV contract numbers have gone steadily up for the last three years. This year showed only a modest increase, but all groups rose except news director, managing editor and web/mobile writer.  Weather, sports anchor, writer, photographer and web producer stayed essentially the same.

Most of these positions went up compared with last year, although that wasn't the case for news producers or web editors/producers.

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 2013 among all 1,659 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,263 radio stations. Valid responses came from 1,300 television stations (78.4%) and 249 radio news directors and general managers representing 649 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.