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News Investment

News Investment

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

The vital signs in radio newsrooms have remained relatively stable recently, despite some dips and rises.

The amount of news being broadcast on local stations rose slightly in 2006, a recovery from a small dip in 2005. Stations in the largest markets were the reason for this increase, while smaller-market stations programmed about the same amount of news as they had in the previous year. 1

The trend toward centralized newsrooms continues. That is, more news directors (76%) are in charge of providing news content to several stations.

Radio newsroom salaries, as in years past, are far from lucrative. Radio news employees – whether news directors, producers, reporters or anchors – are consistently paid less than their television counterparts.

As radio news employees have taken on more responsibility over the years (due to centralization of newsrooms and Web duties), their salaries have not even risen with the rate of inflation. Though 2006 saw some increases in median salaries, these rises came after some substantial drops in 2005.

Radio newsrooms are disproportionately male and Caucasian. However, there was a slight increase in 2006 in the number of minorities who had risen to the top as news directors.

Radio looks to be getting savvier and more ambitious with its presence on the Web by taking strides into social networking, on-demand news features and with portable Internet radio equipment.

Amount of News

The amount of news broadcast on radio stations increased slightly in 2006, the most recent year for which there are data.

According to the 2007 Radio and Television News Directors Association annual survey of news directors, the average radio station broadcast 40.1 minutes a day of local news during the week, three minutes more than in 2005.2 More than half was broadcast during the morning commute.

Most of the increase in local news was attributed to major market stations, those with more than 1 million potential listeners, which aired just under an hour of news on a typical weekday, compared with 42 minutes in the previous year.

According to the survey of news directors, 73.9% said their stations had aired the same amount of news in 2006 as they had the previous year.3 More stations (15.3%) increased the amount of news than decreased it (10.2%). But in the same survey conducted a year earlier, 28% planned to air more news than they actually did in 2006.

When news directors were asked how much news they planned to program in 2007, 79.7% said there would be no change.4 Only 13% planned to increase their news broadcasts, while 7% were not sure. According to Adam Clayton Powell III, a former news radio executive now at the University of Southern California, “The real news here is that with radio ad revenues flat and a recession widely predicted, no one is forecasting a reduction of radio news.”

Newsroom Size

Newsrooms grew in 2006, due largely to staff increases at stations in larger markets.

But the trend toward centralizing radio newsrooms continued. More independent local news operations are being replaced by a single centralized source of news for the region.

More than three-quarters (76.2%) of radio news directors in 2006 said they were providing news content to more than one station. This is up 6 percent from the previous year, continuing a trend in the centralization of newsrooms. In contrast, the percentage of news directors who oversaw just one newsroom in 2006 remained low, 18.2%, an increase over the previous year (17%).5

Over all, radio newsroom staff size increased marginally from 2005 to 2006. The average staff in 2006 was 3.8 employees, with 2.5 full-time and 1.3 part-time workers. That was up from 3.2 employees in 2005 — 2 full time and 1.2 part time.

While newsrooms in smaller markets shrank slightly, those in larger markets pulled up the overall numbers.

Major markets – stations with more than 1 million potential listeners – employed on average 8.6 full-time staff members in 2006. This is a big jump compared with the previous year, when news directors at major market stations reported an average of 3.1 full-time staff. The statistics here may be misleading, since the steep rise can be explained by the fact that more major market news directors responded to the 2006 survey and at least one of these news directors reported a staff size of 60 full-time workers, compared with the largest newsroom in 2005 of only 19 employees.6

The next largest market, with 250,000 to 1 million listeners, also grew, up to 3.3 full-time staff members in 2006 from 2.2 in 2005.

The newsroom size of medium-market news stations (50,000 to 250,000 listeners) fell, from 2.4 full-time staffers in 2006 to 1.8 in 2005. Staff in small markets (less than 50,000 listeners) dropped slightly, to 1.3 full-time staff members from 1.5 in 2005.

The average number of stations that a single news director served in 2006 was 3.4 within the local market and 0.4 outside the local market, according to the RTNDA news director survey.7 That changed little from the previous year’s data, which reported the average newsroom supplied news to 3.3 stations within the local market and 0.6 stations elsewhere.

Looking ahead, the majority of news directors (67%) expect to keep their staff sizes about the same for the upcoming year; 26.6% plan to do more hiring.8

Radio Salaries

Are staff salaries keeping pace with added responsibilities and workload?

Despite ups and downs in salaries over the last several years, it does not appear so.

Over all, radio news staffs continue to be low paid. From 2001 to 2006, salaries have grown only 5%, according to the RTNDA/Ball State University annual news director survey. This figure does not account for inflation, which, at 13.8% in the same period, has grown at a much faster clip.9

News reporters fared best. Over the past five years (2001 to 2006), their salaries have kept pace with inflation at 13.6%. The median annual salary of a radio news reporter in 2006 was $25,000, the same as 2005.10

News producers, news anchors and news directors all had increases in their median salaries in 2006. After two years of significant pay losses, news producers received the biggest boost, from $20,500 a year in 2005 to $27,800 in 2006.11 The jump still does not bring producers up to their 2004 reported salary of $38,000.

But these sharp fluctuations are a bit deceiving. There are relatively few news producers at commercial radio stations anymore, with the exception of larger stations, making any change look more dramatic than it really is. The sample size for radio reporters and news directors is larger, making those more stable indicators of salary patterns.

Median Radio News Salary Comparisons Over Time
1994 – 2006
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Where the Jobs Are,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2007.
Note: Based on survey responses of news directors

Radio news salaries still lagged behind those in television. Radio news directors make less than half of their television counterparts — $32,000 vs. $74,000.12 This is consistent with years past, as is the discrepancy in salaries for radio news anchors, $29,000 compared with $60,000 for television. The difference in salaries between news reporters in the two mediums, however, is not as great — $25,000 for radio and $29,500 for television. News producers in the two mediums also had similar salaries in 2006. Television news producers out-earned their radio counterparts, $30,000 to $27,800.

Median Salaries: Radio vs. Television
1994-2006
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Seize the Pay,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2007.
Note: Based on survey responses of news directors

As newsrooms move to a business model that serves not one but several stations, are they able to offer their staffs better salaries? Survey responses in the RTNDA study are inconclusive. While there are certainly fewer newsrooms serving only one station, it does not appear that salaries have increased much despite the added responsibility. The lack of a pattern here suggests that radio stations and groups are using varied combinations of full-time employees, part-time labor, interns and volunteers. That may mask the actual salaries in a radio group.

Radio Salaries, by Number of Stations Served
Survey of News Directors, 2006
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Seize the Pay,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2007.
Note: Based on survey responses of news directors.

As far as the size of the newsroom goes, again there is no clear salary pattern based on the number of full-time staff.  News directors do seem to be paid more as staff size increases, going from a median salary of $30,000 for a sole full-time staffer to $45,000 when there are at least five other full-timers.13 News reporters’ salaries also rise, to $28,000, when there are five or more people employed by the station.

Radio Newsroom Diversity

In 2006, radio newsrooms became even more disproportionately male and Caucasian, although more minorities occupied leadership positions than in years past.

The annual survey of news directors found the percentage of minorities fell only marginally in 2006, to 6.2%, but that marks its lowest level since the survey began.14 A year earlier, the number was 6.4%, down from 8% in 2004 and 11.8% in 2003.

Looked at another way, in 2006 only 11.7% of all radio newsrooms even had minorities on staff – a slight decrease over 2005 (12.4%) and much smaller than 2004 (17.1%).15 This is a vastly disproportionate relationship to the 34.5% total minority population in the United States.

More diversity could be found among radio news directors in 2006 – more African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans occupied these top positions. The percentage of Caucasian news directors fell 7 percentage points, to 88%, compared with 2005, when 95.6% were white.16 General management of stations, however, remained mostly Caucasians in 2006 – 94.5%. General managers of minority ethnicity are twice as likely to be found at non-commercial stations as commercial stations.

The situation for women is slightly better, but a far cry from equilibrium. Women made up just shy of 25% of the workforce in radio newsrooms in 2006, which is fairly consistent with years past.17 However, nearly two out of three (63.8%) radio newsrooms across the country have no women on staff, a rise over the previous year (52.7%). As for leadership positions, only about one in five women work as either news directors (23.5%) or general managers (20.3%).

Public Radio

Public radio has expanded its citizen media experiment, as well as ways to appeal to younger audiences.

Public Insight Journalism, a Web-based network of citizens who offer knowledge to reporters researching stories, was the brainchild of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), which began integrating it into its newsrooms in 2003. In 2007, Public Insight Journalism launched similar pilot programs in Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon and North Carolina.

The Public Insight network gives MPR reporters access to thousands of citizens with expert knowledge in a variety of issues to improve news coverage. “It’s bringing whatever content we can to bear on news stories and intermingling it with our news coverage,” Andrew Haeg, senior producer for the Center for Innovation in Journalism (with MPR’s sibling, American Public Radio), told Current magazine.18

With the pilot programs, MPR hopes to learn how to effectively integrate the Public Insight system into more newsrooms to equip other public radio stations with a system for tapping into the public’s knowledge.

In an effort to draw in a younger audience, National Public Radio launched the Bryant Park Project in October 2007 after months of experimenting with it as an online-only pilot program.

Luke Burbank, one of the two hosts of the live conversational news show (along with Alison Stewart), told the New York Times that the Bryant Park Project is “a show for people who take the news seriously but not themselves,” providing context by noting that many of his friends read both the New Yorker and Us Weekly.19

At its broadcast debut, six terrestrial radio stations carried the program, which is broadcast Monday through Friday mornings. But several HD stations, as well as Sirius Satellite Radio, are broadcasting the program, and the content can be accessed at npr.org and downloaded as a podcast.

The program, which highlights topics that appeal to younger audiences, is intended to offer an alternative to NPR’s popular “Morning Edition.” The median age of people listening to NPR’s newsmagazine programs is 53. Jay Kernis, until recently NPR’s senior vice president for programming and now managing editor of CNN, said, “When you talk with younger audiences or potential younger audiences, there is an enormous interest in health care, but they don’t really want to know about prostate cancer. They’re much more interested in child rearing and those issues. One size can’t fit all.”20

Satellite Radio News

Satellite radio isn’t just about commercial-free music.

Both XM and Sirius offer a deep and well-rounded selection of news and talk channels on their listening menus. Of XM’s 160-plus channels, it programs 18 news and political talk channels.21 Sirius, which has just over 130 channels, also programs 18 news and political talk channels.22

From there, however, the two services follow divergent programming paths.

Sirius programs NPR on three channels, while XM has a single public radio station that broadcasts a mix of hosts and shows. Through its contract with C-SPAN, XM hosts XM Emergency Alert, a 24-hour information channel focusing on natural disasters. Sirius offers popular partisan hosts with its conservative Sirius Patriot channel and liberal Sirius Left, while XM syndicates the liberal talk network “Air America” and, on the other end of the spectrum, “America Right.”

News and Political Talk on Satellite Radio

Sirius XM
Fox News Channel
Fox News
CNN
CNN
CNN Headline News
CNN Headline News
Fox News Talk Channel
ABC News & Talk
NPR Now
CNN En Espanol
NPR Talk
CNBC
NPR
Bloomberg Radio
CNBC
POTUS 08 (Presidential campaign news)
Bloomberg Radio
America Right (Conservative talk)
SIRIUS Patriot (Conservative)
Air America Radio (Progressive talk)
SIRIUS Left (Liberal)
Fox News Talk
CBC Radio One (Canadian news)
BBC World Service
Premiere Plus (Canadian current affairs)
WLW – News Talk
World Radio Network
C-SPAN Radio
BBC World Service News
XM Public Radio
CNN EN Espanol
Canada 360 (news and information)
The Korean Channel
Quoi de Neuf (French news and information
RCI Plus (International talk)
XM Emergency Alert 24/7

Source: XM and Sirius channel line-up (see http://xmradio.com/onxm/full-channel-listing.xmc, and http://www.sirius.com/channelguide)

Stepping up its political coverage, XM Radio launched a channel devoted entirely to the presidential campaign, a first for a national radio channel. On September 24, 2007, XM launched POTUS ’08 (a government acronym for the President of the United States), a 24/7, commercial-free channel devoted to news and opinion from both sides of the partisan spectrum. Content comes from both mainstream and alternative sources: C-SPAN, the National Journal, Slate, the Washington Monthly, Fox News, CNN, ABC, bloggers, podcasters, think tanks, polling groups, universities and the candidates themselves. Presidential candidates have access to free air time each day to address listeners.

As XM Radio’s CEO Hugh Panero put it, “This channel is a unique public service opportunity to provide our listeners with a commercial-free and politically neutral destination that is focused solely on this important presidential election.” 23

POTUS ’08 can even be accessed free by non-subscribers, although a listener still needs an XM receiver. The channel is expected to air through November 2008.

Radio Gets Web-Savvy

Radio took some ambitious strides into the digital arena in 2007.

Social networking was the buzzword for 2007 and radio tried to capitalize on its ability to offer local connections.

By the summer of 2007, Clear Channel introduced a dozen station-branded social networks, including “The Wild Space” in San Francisco, the “Z-Zone” in New York and “The Mob” in Chicago. Borrowing from the MySpace and Facebook model, the new sites allow users to create their own home pages, set up blogs and share music, pictures and video with old and new friends. With more than 100 million people on MySpace and 50 million people using Facebook, what would attract “friends” to these micro sites?24 According to Evan Harrison, executive vice president/online of Clear Channel, “the indicators are that people want to connect locally.” 25

Each of the 12 stations trying out this online networking tool manages its own Web site, but the framework of the sites comes from OneSite.com, a provider of social networking technology to businesses and organizations. While none of these stations carry news, Clear Channel’s venture into social networking exhibits just one way that radio stations can take advantage of the Web to increase their audience.

More radio news staff is being devoted to Web operations. Staffing for radio news Web sites increased by half a person each in 2006, compared with 2005. This brings the total full-time and part-time Web staff to two persons per newsroom.26 But in terms of what these newsrooms are displaying on their Web sites, only the major-market radio stations are making technological strides. Smaller stations are still dominated by text, only slowly adding new technologies to their Web sites.

Elements of Radio News Web Sites

Audio Streaming Audio News Video Live Newscasts Recorded Newscasts Blogs Podcasts
Major Market
80%
80%
30%
30%
50%
50%
70%
Large Market
28.6
28.6
4.8
9.5
9.5
14.3
33.3
Medium Market
25
15
2.5
10
17.5
17.5
12.5
Small Market
28.1
18.8
3.1
6.3
18.8
0
6.3
All Radio
32
25.5
5.8
10.7
19.4
14.6
20.4

Source: Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Net Worth,” RTNDA Communicator, May 2007.

Another signal that the radio industry is waking up to its online potential is Fox News Radio’s decision to offer an on-demand news service. In September 2007, Fox News Radio broke new ground by offering an online, on-demand news service to the 400 affiliates that receive its five-minute radio headlines. “Fox News Radio On-Demand” is updated 24 hours a day to provide affiliates with newscasts for their Web sites, enabling online users to access up-to-date news when they choose.

On the equipment front, a few companies have released Internet radios that behave like traditional radio receivers. Companies like Roku, Com One, Revo, Terratec and Tivoli have made standard-looking tabletop radios that free the online listener from their computers. Instead of an antenna, these radios are equipped with internal WiFi receivers. As with standard radios, some come equipped with batteries so they can be taken anywhere a wireless signal can be picked up. Most also play podcasts. Like HD radios, though, they’re not cheap – most models ran upwards of $300 as of 2007.

Footnotes

1. All bulleted data from Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey, “News, Staffing and Profitability,” The Communicator, October 2007.

2. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey, “News, Staffing and Profitability,” The Communicator, October 2007. Survey responses came from 225 radio news directors and general managers representing 740 radio stations.

3. Ibid

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. The presence of such an outlier in the data has a large impact on the results, especially given that the survey’s sample only represents 225 news directors (and 749 news stations).

7. Ibid.

8. According to the Papper survey, 1.1% of news directors said they expected to decrease staff and 5.3% said they were not sure.

9. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Seize the Pay,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2007.

10. Ibid

11. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Where the Jobs Are,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2006.

12. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Seize the Pay,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2007.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Karen Everhart, “Newsrooms Try ‘Public Insight’ Tool,” Current Magazine, August 13, 2007.

19. Elizabeth Jensen, “An NPR Program Aims to Awaken a Younger Crowd,” New York Times, September 27, 2007.

20. Ibid.

21. As of the end of November 2007, XM listed 166 stations on its Web site’s “Channel Line-up,” http://xmradio.com/onxm/full-channel-listing.xmc, including six Christmas music channels. XM also programs 20 other “Talk and Variety” channels that are not of an explicitly political talk/news format (including “Oprah and Friends”), as well as 25 sports channels and 20 traffic and weather stations. This brings the total news/talk/information channels to 83.

22. As of the end of November 2007, Sirius listed 131 stations on its Web site’s “Channel Guide,” http://www.sirius.com/channelguide. Sirius also programs 11 other talk/entertainment channels (including two Howard Stern channels), 12 sports channels and 10 traffic and weather channels. This brings the total news/talk/information channels to 51.

23. Drudge Report, “XM/C-SPAN to Launch First National Radio Channel Dedicated to the Presidential Election,” May 21, 2007.

24. comScore, http://www.comscore.com/ press/release.asp?press=1555.

25. Brian Garrity, “Clear Channel Launches Social Networking Sites,” Billboard.Biz, April 30, 2007.

26. Bob Papper, RTNDA/Ball State University Annual News Director Survey “Net Worth,” RTNDA Communicator, May 2007.