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Finding a job in local television news is difficult, particularly if you want to be on air. News directors tell me they often get two hundred or more résumé tapes for every one job opening. The lure of the high-paced reporting job or the glamorous anchor job sends college graduates with broadcasting degrees fighting hard for their first break. The starting salary of around $22,000 doesn’t deter them. Nor are they deterred by the prospect of beginning their career in a small town like Parkersburg, West Virginia; Casper, Wyoming; or Glendive, Montana.
Many first-timers think they have the skills to start in a large city and pull in a larger salary. Some job seekers are unwilling to move far from their hometown. Unfortunately, small markets, small salaries, and large distances are usually a must.
Finding my first reporting job was the most difficult job search of my career. I had little experience to offer a station. It took me three months and about 150 résumé tapes before I got an interview.
Tedd O’Connell was the news director who changed my life. After two phone interviews and a letter of agreement that included a starting salary of $20,000, Tedd hired me sight unseen and I moved to Sioux City, Iowa, to work at KMEG-TV.
Securing that phone call from Tedd took a lot of work and preparation. So have the phone calls I’ve gotten for other interviews since then.
While I have friends in the news business who have found a reporting job without a college degree, it’s pretty much required. For your first job, news directors have little to go on. They want to see a degree on your résumé.
A broadcasting degree is not a must, although it helps to give you an edge for that first job.
Experience gained through an internship is crucial. It is the only experience you can offer a news director, at least initially. Internships also provide you with great networking and job opportunities.
I got an internship in my hometown the summers after my freshman and sophomore years of college. That internship led to a paying job as a production assistant my junior year, and later to an associate producer and web producer jobs. It also helped me to build relationships that led to the reporting job I now have at that same station.
You must be willing to work for free. Internships in television news rarely pay. The experience will pay off later.
If possible, intern where you want to work after college. News directors are more likely to hire people they know and trust.
Use your internship to learn every part of the newsroom. If you want to be a producer, consider shadowing reporters and photographers in addition to producers. If you want to be a reporter, spend time with the assignment editor and producers. This will make you better at your job because you will have a better understanding of how the newsroom works as a whole.
Be a pleasure to work with. Interns are often asked to do jobs others may not enjoy. Don’t complain; instead, do that job the best you can, and you will be asked to do more important jobs. This past summer, interns at my station were asked to watch the Casey Anthony trial, take notes, and pull good sound bites from the coverage. The trial lasted two months. Many interns complained about the monotony of the job. Their attitudes annoyed many of us who remember doing jobs like that, and it’s unlikely we’ll see them with paying jobs at the station any time soon.
RéSUMé TAPE AND RéSUMé
Reporters, anchors, photographers, and producers all need résumé tapes with examples of their work. These are usually DVDs, but are still called tapes in the industry. Producers can often get their first job without a tape. A résumé tape should include a montage of your work and then two or three stories. The beginning of your tape is the most important part. News directors usually allow ten seconds before popping a résumé tape out and moving to the next one.
Use your internship to create a résumé tape. If you are a reporter candidate, try to shoot standups while out with photographers, and write and edit your own version of the stories on which you assist reporters and photographers (even though your versions may not make air). Producer candidates should save scripts they write for a portfolio. Photographer candidates should save video they shoot. Be sure the work is your own. News directors know when you’re stealing a more experienced broadcaster’s work.
You should also have a standard paper résumé to mail out with your résumé tape.
KNOW THE DMAS
DMA stands for designated market area. Learn about the television markets. There are 210 television markets in the United States. They are based on population size. Number one is New York City. Number 210 is Glendive, Montana. Your first job as a reporter or as a photographer will likely be in market 100 or higher. Producers can often start at market 50 or higher as an associate and work their way up. It is important to understand that you will probably not get a first job as a full-time anchor.
KNOW THE STATIONS
Research the stations in the DMAs where you are qualified and interested in working. I started my job search targeting stations in the Southeast. After a few months, I expanded my search to the Midwest and found a job. Being familiar with the television stations where you want to work will help you to write a strong cover letter and be prepared during your interview.
Research the stations by contacting friends who work or have worked there. This will give you a feel for what it’s like working at the station day to day. A less valuable source of information is the station’s website.
KNOW THE INDUSTRY
Your internship should have helped you develop an awareness of the industry. This includes knowing the best time to contact news directors and how long your résumé tape should last. Being familiar with industry basics is very important.
KNOW HOW TO FIND JOB OPENINGS
The best way to find newsroom job openings is usually through networking. Contacts in newsrooms are the first to know who is leaving a station. Your contacts may also know what kind of person the news director is looking to hire.
Another way to find job openings is on the industry websites where news directors post job openings. Most websites require a subscription to join, but they are worth it. These sites are the timeliest way to find new job openings. The more common websites to join are TVJobs.com and Medialine.com. TVSpy.com lists some current television jobs for free, and while its job listing is not as expansive as the pay sites, it remains a good tool to use alongside others.
The worst way to find job openings is through station websites. If you wait for a station website to post the job, it’s usually too late. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to check the station website along with the other tools to cover your bases.
TARGET YOUR MARKETS
Figure out which markets are within a day’s driving distance of where you live. For your first job, I would recommend targeting DMA 80 or higher.
Start developing relationships at stations in those markets before there are job openings. Once openings become available, news directors will be inundated with résumés. If someone at the station already knows you, you have a better shot at gaining their attention. Television stations have high turnover. Typically, a station will have a job opening within three months. The more relationships you develop in your region, the better!
WRITE AND CALL
Write a letter to news directors in your target markets. Don’t include a résumé or résumé tape with this letter.
Keep your letter to three paragraphs explaining your situation and your connection to the station and requesting a meeting with the news director.
You should follow up your letter with a phone call about a week later. Be mindful of your timing. I suggest you never call during a station’s newscast.
Be persistent during your call. Use lines like: “What kind of reporter would I be if I didn’t call?” Request a meeting with the news director. Most news directors will turn you down, but a few will take you up on your offer.
A face-to-face meeting with a news director is your biggest chance to make a good impression and get a job in the future.
Before your meeting, research the station and the market. Watch newscasts on the station website. Read the market’s local paper. Talk to as many people as you can about the area. Know where the station is located. You may even want to practice the drive.
For your meeting, dress as though you already have the job. Wear a suit that fits well and makes you feel confident.
Bring your résumé tape and paper résumé to this meeting.
Remember, your interview for a future job begins as soon as you enter the station. Make sure you are prepared to ask and answer questions. Have a conversation with everyone you meet, not just the news director. Quality journalists know how to have good conversations and ask questions in a manner that is conversational and comfortable.
If it seems appropriate, ask if the news director will review one of the stories on your résumé tape with you and give you feedback. Even if you don’t get a job at the station, you may gain some valuable advice.
Before you leave the station, ask to be considered for future job openings. Phrase this in a creative way so the news director will say yes!
After the meeting, mail a handwritten thank-you note to every person you encountered.
Finding your first job is tough. I’d almost given up when I got that phone call from Tedd.
Tedd passed away from cancer a few years ago. I was able to call him a few days before he died and thank him for my big break. I thanked him for seeing something in me that 149 other news directors didn’t see.
Stick with the search. Give it your all. And work hard for that phone call that will change your life.
Kristen Cosby Diaz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance television journalist in Jacksonville, Florida.
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