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News Investment

News Investment

The story inside radio newsrooms is not good.

According to survey data, people are not well paid and their numbers are dwindling rapidly. More news directors are being asked to manage multiple stations. Budgets are shrinking.

The main source of information for this are the annual surveys conducted by Bob Papper and Michael Gerhard for the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA).

Staffing

The RTNDA data through 2001 revealed a steady and sizable drop in radio news staffing over the past decade. In 2001, the average radio newsroom had roughly two people – full-time and part-time combined – on staff (1.95 on average), down from closer to three people a year earlier (2.60 on average). Compare this to 1994, when the average radio news operation had 2.4 full-time people and 2.1 part-time, for a total of 4.5 people. So, in seven years, radio newsroom staffing dropped 57 percent. Full-time employees were down 44 percent. Part-time employees were down 71 percent.1

In 2003, consolidation issues required the RTNDA to change its survey methodology. The new figures measure the number of individuals staffing a news department, though not necessarily the news department of a single station. In other words, while the numbers show stations in major markets have an average of six full-time staffers, those six people might be responsible for producing news content for a number of stations. According to data provided by Papper, “The average news department runs news on 3.16 stations… and… more than four in 10 radio news departments (41.9 percent) say they do news for one or more stations outside their own market.”2 Thus, the increase in staffing figures may actually indicate that overall there are fewer staffers per station.

Changes in Radio News Staff and Budget

2001 compared to 2000 Increase Same Decrease Not Sure
Total Staff 25% 66 6 3
Amount of News 29% 67 4 0
Change in News Budget 22% 47 3 28
Plan to Change Amount of News Next Year 18% 71 1 10

Source: “RTNDA/Ball State University Annual Survey”

Management

The trends we see in radio news staffing are made further evident as we look at the climb in the number of stations being overseen by a single news director. In 1999, just 3 percent of news directors were managing five or more stations. In 2000, that total jumped to 12 percent and, according to the RTNDA’s data, that number has leaped to more than 18 percent in 2003. Just one-quarter of all news directors surveyed were managing news at a single station.

How Many Stations News Directors Oversee, 2003
Design Your Own Chart
Source: “RTNDA/Ball State University Annual Survey,” 2003

These news directors also increasingly do more than news. More than 75 percent of news directors said they had responsibilities beyond the news, including programming, announcing and operations (the technical side of radio), an increase of 9 percentage points in just a year ago. This is true even in the major markets, where more than half say they have multiple responsibilities. The number of news directors who said they also handled sales appears to be continuing a slow climb from 6 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2003.3

Other Radio News Director Responsibilities, 2003
Survey of news directors
Design Your Own Chart
Source: “RTNDA/Ball State University Annual Survey,” 2003

Budget

When it comes to budgeting, there are signs of growing uncertainty. Nearly half of all stations (46 percent) had the same news budget in 2001 as the year before, a figure that has remained stable for 2002 and 2003. Ten percent either had or anticipated budget cuts according to 2003 figures, compared to just 3 percent in 2001. Roughly than 18 percent anticipated an increase in the news budget, which is down from 22 percent in 2001. Certainly some of this, however, was likely influenced by the recession of 2001.4

Salaries

With the consolidation in radio that has occurred since 1998, pay has improved substantially according to the Papper survey. Between 1998 and 2003, news directors’ salaries have risen 24 percent, anchors’ salaries 23 percent and reporters’ salaries 15 percent.

But these percentage increases do not tell the whole story. Consider, for instance, that the salary for a radio sports reporter has increased almost 60 percent since 1998 but still sits at less than $18,000 a year. Radio journalists are not highly paid. The median, or midpoint, salary for a news director in 2003, according to the RTNDA data, was $31,000 a year, or roughly $15 an hour, assuming a 40-hour work-week.

The typical salary for radio anchors was $29,500, about $14 an hour. And the median salary for news reporters was $23,000 a year, less than $11 an hour.

What’s more, as the RTNDA data would seem to indicate, consolidation has meant fewer people doing the news, and those who are left frequently have multiple responsibilities. But the 2003 data shows that there is just barely an 8 percent difference in the salaries of news directors who handle one station ($31,000) and those who handle three or more stations ($33,500). For news anchors that jump is almost 15 percent. For news reporters, however, the salary drops as they cover more and more stations. It is possible that these lower salaries lead reporters to work with more than one outlet. Or it could be that, in this age of media consolidation, the importance of the news reporter declines as the number of stations served by a single news outlet grows. In other words, if one reporter can provide reporting for nine stations thanks to a central feed, what impetus do large radio corporations have for increasing, or even maintaining, reporter pay?5

Radio Newsroom Salaries
Survey of news directors, 1998 & 2003
Design Your Own Chart
Source: “RTNDA/Ball State University Annual Survey”
* Median salaries

Footnotes

1. Radio-Television News Director Association (RTNDA), “RTNDA/Ball State University Annual Survey.” Web site: www.rtnda.org

RTNDA is the world’s largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. RTNDA represents local and network news executives in broadcasting, cable and other electronic media in more than 30 countries. RTNDF promotes excellence in electronic journalism through research, education and training for news professionals and journalism students. The Foundation’s work is supported by contributions from foundations, corporations, members of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and other individuals. Its code of ethics can be found here: http://www.rtnda.org/ethics/coe.shtml.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.