TV newsrooms lose 360 positions

Hofstra University journalism professor and researcher Bob Papper does not foresee greater TV newsroom job losses this year
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TV newsrooms across the country have experienced a net loss of 360 positions this year, according to Bob Papper, professor of journalism at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY, and author of the TV news staffing survey published in September in the RTNDA Communicator.

Speaking with “ENG Update,” Papper pointed out that there is a general misperception in the TV industry that the newsroom losses are larger than they actually are. “I have been intrigued by how many news directors have said, ‘We’ve really been lucky. We are the exception to what’s happening in the industry,’” Papper said.

TV news reductions, which include both layoffs and vacated positions that have gone unfilled, are often reported by newspapers, which tend to see the losses through the prism of their own newsroom staff downsizing, Papper said.

“The difference between newspaper and television is there are fundamental problems with newspapers in both circulation and business model. In TV, what we are seeing is a reflection of economic times,” he said.

In late July and early August, Papper surveyed TV newsrooms nationwide for the RTNDA Communicator. More than 300 news directors responded. At the time Papper compiled his results, he was forecasting an upturn in TV newsroom hiring for the second half of the year, which would have made the net loss for the year about 200 positions. However, with the meltdown in the nation’s financial market and its rippling effect throughout the economy, Papper expects the total TV newsroom reduction for the year to stay at about 360 positions.

For 2009, Papper is not optimistic that stations will increase the size of their editorial staffs. However, it’s difficult for him to envision deeper cutbacks without a commensurate reduction in the number of hours of news local stations air.

“2009 will be a tough year,” he said. “However, many stations have little room to do anymore cutting unless they cut newscasts. That’s hard to envision given more than 40 percent of local station revenue is derived from local news. At some point, cut backs become suicide.”

To read the RTNDA Communicator report, visit http://www.rtnda.org/media/pdfs/research/Bob%20Papper%20-%20Profitability%20Survey%202.pdf.