Study: TV News Salaries Fell in 2008 While News Coverage Increased

By Andrew Gauthier 

For the first time in 15 years, the average salaries dropped for both TV and radio news. Yesterday the RTNDA and Hofstra University released the results of their joint annual study on employment and salaries in news and the numbers are evidence of a grim year for news outlets.

Overall, TV news salaries fell 4.4 percent in 2008, and radio news salaries slid by 1.8 percent. Tack on inflation at 3.8 percent, and real wages fell by 8.2 percent in TV news and 5.6 percent in radio news. Though TV news salaries dropped across the board, on-air positions were hardest hit while assignment editors and art directors stayed more or less even.

As the economic recession has led to a decline in advertising spending, the TV news industry has definitely taken a hit but there are signs that the industry will be able to successfully rebound from the current recession. According to Bob Papper, who conducted the study and who serves as Chair of the Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations Department at Hofstra University, “We’re still seeing layoffs, although my impression is that the layoffs have slowed considerably. There’s also still downward pressure on salaries, with plenty of higher priced people retiring, being laid off or taking salary cuts. Again, the key is the economy, but I do expect to see improvement starting in the fourth quarter of this year and into 2010.”

Papper also points out that layoffs and salary cuts in TV news should not be bundled with the problems that newspapers have faced in the past year to create a general conclusion about journalism. In fact, what surprised him the most about the results was the amount of news coverage that stations actually added in 2008.

“Newspaper reporters keep wanting to see what’s happening to TV through the lens of what’s happened to newspapers,” he stated in an email message. “They’re not parallel. What I keep telling reporters is that if they want to get an idea of where local TV news is heading, watch the amount of news — not the amount of staff. Staffing responds to the recession. The amount of news that a station runs has to balance the present with the future. What TV stations are saying–at least so far–is that news is a critical part of their future.”