A Job Explosion In TV News
The recent affiliate war has created new employment prospects.
By Lou Prato
Lou Prato is a former radio and television news director and a broadcast journalism professor at Penn State University.
After nearly a decade of massive layoffs, television newsrooms are hiring again, big time.
"This is the most exciting time in the industry since the '60s, when news originally exploded," says Sherlee Barish, who operated one of the first TV news personnel and employment agencies for 35 years before becoming a talent agent. "By the end of the year I might run out of clients," she adds facetiously. "Everyone will have a job."
Steve Ridge, group vice president of Frank Magid Associates, a major television consulting firm, is similarly upbeat. "We now have stations looking for 20 to 30 people at one time," he says. "This is an overnight increase we haven't seen in years."
Don Fitzpatrick, who runs what may be the industry's leading job referral service, says, "The window of opportunity for jobs is better now than it has been in 20 years. These opportunities will continue through the first quarter of 1995. But, like any window, it is open for a certain period of time and then it will close. And the jobs are filling up rapidly."
Fitzpatrick and others trace the job expansion to the creation and continued growth of local 24-hour cable news operations, cable networks like Court TV, Fox's decision to push all of its affiliates to offer news, and the development of infotainment and tabloid shows. But they generally agree that the multitude of jobs suddenly available this summer was triggered by the number of local stations switching their network affiliations.
"Many stations are beefing up after the affiliation changes," says Fitzpatrick.
It all started in late May when New World Communications shocked the industry with the announcement that its 12 stations would join Rupert Murdoch's Fox network. Most of the stations had been longtime CBS affiliates in such major markets as Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit and Tampa.
Affiliations in nearly all local markets were up for grabs almost overnight. CBS, ABC and NBC scrambled to maintain their affiliates, and where they lost them they frantically tried to entice other stations to come on board.
ýince the genesis of television in the late 1940s, local stations have seldom switched networks. Affiliation was built on the premise that networks supply stations with programming and give the stations money and commercial time in exchange for carrying those programs. In recent years, the networks have reduced their payments to stations, straining traditional relationships and loyalties (see "The Business of Broadcasting," October 1992).
Fox set up a network of previously independent stations a few years ago, providing entertainment programs primarily in the prime time evening hours. Then in January, Fox outbid CBS for the rights to broadcast NFL games. It was a stunning move that precipitated the deal with New World and the ensuing domino effect.
By the time the battle over affiliations had died down in late summer, there was a radical change in the entire network structure. Not only had many stations switched, but the networks tied up dozens of stations and several group ownerships with lucrative long-term agreements that for some include joint ventures in news, programming and sales.
Because news is so vital to the image and profitability of most local stations, the upheaval triggered a reevaluation of news departments. In several instances, particularly at CBS, ABC and NBC stations switching to Fox, that meant new or expanded newscasts, largely because Fox has no national news show and ends its programming at 10 p.m. on the East Coast.
"All the New World stations are expanding news," says Steven Antoniotti, president and general manager of Fox's new Detroit station, WJBK. "Here, we're increasing our news by three more hours daily and adding 22 more people in the news department. We'll now have more news on the air than any other Detroit station."
Ïn Tampa, where three of the four stations changed affiliation, Scripps Howard's WFTS is building a news department from scratch after jumping from Fox to ABC. The station plans to hire 70 to 80 new people.
"A lot of stations are adding out of self-defense," says Paul Sands, vice president of news for Pulitzer Broadcasting, which owns nine stations, none affiliated with Fox. "We've hired more people. That's what you have to do to be competitive."
With all the excitement over the job boom, however, Don Fitzpatrick offers some cautionary advice.
"It's always possible that any given market will become saturated with news," he says. "We still wonder whether there is room for three or four stations delivering news. Two or three years down the road there could be many layoffs again."
But, for now at least, the jobs are there. l###