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News Investment

News Investment

Local TV in 2004 appeared to enjoy some increase in news investment. Staffing was growing and salaries were increasing (modestly). And though neither has returned to levels seen only four years earlier, news directors, for the first time in years, were optimistic about future growth. There are signs, though, that news managers are seeking greater output to accompany the investments.

In surveys conducted in 2003 for the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), Robert Papper of Ball State found that “for the first time in three years, a majority of stations said the news budget went up.”1

Roughly a third (34%) of “Big 4″ stations (affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) reported in 2003 that they had increased staff in the previous year, and an equally large portion predicted staff size would increase in the year to come (32%). What’s more, a majority (51%) of “Big 4″ stations reported in 2003 that their staff size had stayed the same as the year before, and a similar percentage (58%) expected staff size to stay the same again. Only 15% of newsrooms reported smaller staff compared with the previous year, and just a tiny percentage (4%) expected staff size to decrease in 2004. After years of staff cuts this represents a significant turnaround.

Staff Size Changes at “Big 4″-Affiliate Newsrooms
Survey of news directors, 2003

Increase Same Decrease
Staff Size Change Compared with Previous Year (2002) 34% 51% 15%
Expected Staff Size Change in Year to Come (2004) 32% 58% 4%

Source: RTNDA/Ball State University survey

The number of stations reporting staff increases explains the boost in the reported size of the average local newsroom. In 2003, the figure was 33.8 full-time staff members; staffing at stations affiliated with the “big four” networks averaged 35.6 full-timers. Those numbers were up from 2002, when the average newsroom had 32.5 employees and “Big 4″ newsrooms had 34.6 employees.

Newsrooms still aren’t as large as they were in 2000, however, when the average staff included 37 full-time employees. In addition, stations in smaller markets have not benefited to the same degree as those in bigger markets: smaller markets tended to be adding more part-timers, bigger markets more full-timers.2

Average Newsroom Staff Levels
Survey of news directors, 1998-2003, full-time employees
Design Your Own Chart
Source: RTNDA/Ball State University Newsroom Surveys

In keeping with the economic recovery, television news salaries in nominal dollars in the fall of 2003 were 10 percent higher than in 2002, according to the RTNDA/Ball State survey of news directors. That was the first annual survey to report a rise in salaries since 2000. However, Papper notes that when inflation is factored in, real wages are lower than they were in 2000. Over the past ten years, according to the RTNDA/Ball State data, TV news managers (news directors, assistant news directors, and managing editors) are the only broadcast newsroom personnel who have seen growth in real wages.3

While local TV journalists saw some help from new hires and more money, much of that was offset by increased demands on their output. In 2003, the average newsroom was producing 3.7 hours of news a day, compared to 3.25 hours in 2001, a 14 percent increase and the highest level recorded in RTNDA surveys.4 Stations affiliated with the “Big 4″ networks, which do more news than other commercial stations, reported an equally large jump in news programming, from 3.39 hours in 2001 to 3.9 in 2003.

As reported last year, stations were also spreading their content across a wide variety of outlets. The most popular option is providing content to station Web sites, followed by local radio outlets. A small portion of newsrooms are sending content to another broadcast station or to a local cable station.

Where TV Newsrooms Supply Content, by Affiliation, 2003
Design Your Own Chart
Source: RTNDA/Ball State University Newsroom Surveys

Those demands seem to have an effect on newsroom attitudes. When asked in a 2004 survey by the Pew Research Center and the Project about the biggest problem facing journalism today, 37% of local broadcast news personnel (both TV and radio journalists) expressed concern about the quality of coverage. A third, 33%, were concerned about economic pressure. Specifically, they were most concerned about reporting accurately, followed by sensationalism, budget cutbacks, and too much emphasis on the bottom line.5

Those concerns tracked closely with those of other local journalists. Three in ten print journalists (30%) expressed concern about the quality of coverage, compared to 37% of local broadcast journalists. Local print and broadcast journalists were almost equally likely to consider economic pressure the biggest problem facing journalism – 36% for print, 33% for broadcast.

There is a bigger contrast in concerns between local and national broadcast journalists. Those who work for national organizations were much more likely to be concerned about quality of coverage, with half (51%) naming it as the greatest problem facing journalism. Among local broadcast journalists, only 37% called it the greatest problem. But national and local broadcast journalists were almost equally likely to see economic pressure as the biggest problem they faced – national 28%, local 33%.

Over the past five years, concern about quality has lessened, but local broadcast reporters are still concerned about economic pressure. In a previous survey by the Pew Research Center and the Project, in 1999, local broadcast reporters were significantly more likely (54%) to say they were concerned about quality and standards. Those concerns have slackened, but reporters are no less concerned about economic pressure than they were in 1999: the figure then was 34%, only 1 percentage point higher than in 2004.

Nonetheless, in 2004 local broadcast journalists were split on whether journalism was going in the right direction: 48% believed it was, 49% believed it was not. It is noteworthy that local broadcast journalists were more optimistic than those with national organizations, of whom only 33% said journalism was going in the right direction while a significant majority, 61%, were more pessimistic.6

Footnotes

1. Bob Papper, “Additional Data: Newsroom Staffing and Amount of News,” RTNDA Communicator, September 2004.

2. Bob Papper, “Survey shows solid growth in TV news and staffing,” RTNDA Communicator, September 2004, p. 6.

3. Bob Papper, “Salaries soar,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2004, p. 31.

4. Bob Papper, “Survey shows solid growth in TV news and staffing,” RTNDA Communicator, September 2004, p. 6.

5. See Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Project for Excellence in Journalism, “Survey of Journalists, Final Topline,” question 1, page 1.

6. See Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Project for Excellence in Journalism, “Survey of Journalists, Final Topline,” question 3.