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Local TV Saw Increased Employment, Boosted Salaries in 2020, RTDNA Finds

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(Image credit: iStock)

WASHINGTON—Local TV found an increased role during the Covid-19 pandemic, and surprisingly, despite financial troubles across many industries from 2020, local TV news ended 2020 with both a record high in employment and increased salaries. However, 2021 has already seen some of those gains be erased.

Local TV news added 500 jobs during 2020, more than making up for the 300 jobs lost in 2019. With the 500 news jobs (a 1.8% increase), total full-time jobs in local TV news rose to 28,000, beating out the previous high set in 2009.

The specifics as to how the local TV industry got their aren’t simple though. More stations loss staff than added in 2020, with a record 30.2% making staff cuts; 22.9% grew. The growths were enough though to have the job total increase overall.

Staffing averages were up across most market sizes, regions and network affiliations. The big four networks were most likely to have gained staff. Stations in bigger markets, non-network affiliates and stations in the Northeast were most likely to have made cuts.

Digital staffing was up on average, with many news managers saying they have more staff dedicated to digital. Other newsroom roles saw gains as well, including photographer, producer, editor and social media producer/editor.

Solo journalists are being used more at least some of time, per RTDNA, but fewer newsrooms “mostly or only rely on solo crews.” Small markets overwhelmingly use solo journalists, with mid-markets doing so increasingly.

Solo journalist and producer roles were the most in demand positions in 2020, with nearly a quarter of created jobs for solo journalists. Solo journalists, digital roles and producers made up about three-quarters of new hires.

As the number of jobs went up, so did the salaries. After falling for the first time in seven years in 2019, local TV news salaries were once again on the upswing, increasing on average by 3.5% (2.1% after accounting for inflation). This represented the largest increase since 2016, RTDNA says.

Salary increases were made for 70% of local news position; 20% saw decreases and 10% stayed the same. Increases were mixed across markets, but those in markets 101-150 faired the best, with the top 25 seeing salaries for most positions falling.

Average and median starting salaries both rose to the highest they’ve been in the history of RTDNA’s survey. Average starting salaries increased $2,100 to $32,600, and media starting salaries were up $1,200 to $31,200. However, the starting salary for a college graduate ($50,944) was well below average, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employees.

Despite all the growth in 2020, the start of 2021 has been rough. RTDNA says that more than 400 jobs were lost through March of 2021.

For more information, visit RTDNA’s website.