2008 was a horrible year for TV journalists as unprecedented staff cuts made the jobs of those still lucky enough to be employed that much more stressful.
The numbers clearly tell the story. In 2008, about 1200 jobs in TV news, including all job titles, were lost in the industry, says Bob Papper, a professor of journalism at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY, and the man responsible for the annual Radio-Television News Director Association survey of broadcast news staffing.
“Last year was the worst year I’ve seen in the 15 years I’ve been tracking this, and 2009 is not going to be a good year either,” he says.
These cuts are a direct response to the dreadful advertising market that has sent station revenue plunging. For the first half of 2009, advertising dropped by more than 15 percent in the United States across all media, a pullback of $10.3 billion compared to the same period last year, The Nielsen Company reported in September. While some TV categories fared better than print media, overall, television took a severe hit, with spot TV in the top 100 DMAs declining 32 percent for the first two quarters of ’09 compared to Q1 and Q2 ’08, and network TV advertising falling 7 percent for the period.
While there was a sharp decline in the revenue stations rely on to pay for newsgathering, there appears to be no significant decline in the public’s appetite for TV news. Results of a survey conducted by The Pew Research Center of the People and the Press released in mid-September revealed that TV continues to dominate other news sources among the public. More than 70 percent of those responding to the survey told Pew that they get more of their national and international news from TV. Locally, as well, TV news dominates. The survey found 44 percent say local TV stations do the most to uncover local news — compared to 25 percent who identified local newspapers as doing so.
Technology has answered the call, to a degree, in helping news management balance budgetary realities, resulting in fewer newsroom positions with continued strong demand for TV news. Several technologies, including file-based workflows, centralization, control room automation and a growing interest in one-person news crews, are helping newsrooms maintain their level of news coverage with fewer people.
Editor’s note: Subsequent installments of this article will lay out some of the strategies and technologies station newsrooms are employing to reduce costs while staying competitive.