Thousands of college journalists are graduating right now, but local TV hiring managers say they’re still not getting enough candidates for what they need. That means job-hunting journalists have an opportunity to fill critical gaps.
Mark Little, news director of WLBT in Jackson and Mike Smith, director of talent recruitment and retention for Gray TV, weighed in on what they look for when hiring.
“The job title we don’t get enough of is producers,” Smith said. “Our industry has changed a lot. We need people who understand all platforms and aspects of what we do, people who can tell a story in different ways. Digital has become more and more important and that’s not going to change, if anything, it will become even more important as time goes on and having people who understand how to tell a story in that way and on that platform are people who are very valuable to us. If you can find someone who is really good at that and can produce a newscast, you’ve hit the lottery.”
In addition to showcasing killer digital skills, Smith says a job candidate who demonstrates a strong writing skillset is becoming increasingly difficult to find.
“They don’t work on crafting a good sentence,” Smith said. “They don’t work on communicating with words but try to communicate with technology. At the end of the day, you have to be a good storyteller and the best storytellers know how to use the language, know how to use their voice to tell a story, and know how to use a pregnant pause. They talk to us, not at us.”
Smith travels across the country for Gray, often recruiting on college campuses such as the University of Mississippi. He says face-to-face meetings can help him determine what a candidate might be missing.
“Natural curiosity sometimes isn’t there,” Little said. “They just want to get in and do TV, but they can go all day and not think of a news story. People who are really passionate about it can’t ever turn it off and I find that’s pretty rare.”
Little says you have to do more than “prepare for the interview” — instead, job candidates should show employers that they already have stories they want to tell and passion they want to use. Reporting the facts might sound basic, Little says, but especially in today’s climate, he says it’s imperative that reporters keep the bias out of their reporting and provide professionalism free of agenda.
“You need to be a good listener to be a good communicator,” Little said. “A lot of times a mistake made is that they’re thinking of a next question in an interview. If you’re not a good listener, it’s hard to tell that person’s story so when you get back to write it, you have chunks and there’s no flow to that thought. That goes hand in hand with good writing.”
When going into an interview, both suggest you think about how you will stand out from other candidates.
“Tell me something about you I can’t read on your resume,” Smith said. He uses examples of being bilingual, providing a quick, easily accessible link to a sample reel, or be prepared to talk about skills you might not immediately think are pertinent to the specific job to which you are applying.
“I get often the mindset that they’re only going to do one job, Little said. “I ask, ‘What job is that?’ Usually it’s that they want to be anchors, more often than not in a large market. I ask why and they don’t have a real answer.”
The road to appearing on television is one that requires planning and thought, he says. It goes further than getting a foot in the door.
“Realize that in our business, no matter the market size, you’re going to have to have multiple skillsets,” Little said. “This idea that you walk in and get driven to one job is fine, but that one job has multiple skillsets required.”
Little and Smith agree that writing, making graphics, an understanding of how to use the Adobe Creative Cloud and a firm grasp on media law are all crucial in being successful as a journalist at any stage.
Jacqueline Schlick is an Orlando native who found her voice in the deep south. She graduated from the University of Mississippi with a creative writing degree and completed her master’s in journalism in 2019. She plans to attend law school and work within the intersection of journalism and the law.