Local TV news has long been a trusted source of information for many Americans, but the industry is facing significant challenges in the digital age. From declining viewership to talent recruitment and retention issues, local TV news stations must keep working to keep up with the changing media landscape.
“There are a plethora of platforms and channels where people who are strong storytellers and excited about providing information and entertainment posts can ply their trade,” said Gene Kirkconnell, news director for WKRG in Mobile, Alabama. Competing against all of those platforms and channels is becoming increasingly difficult.
Another challenge facing local TV news stations is staffing and resource constraints. Local TV news stations often have limited resources, which can make it difficult to cover all the news that is happening in their communities. Finding good journalists with the skillsets most news stations require is especially difficult for small market TV stations.
Brad Kessie is the news director at WLOX TV in Biloxi, Mississippi (Market 157). “When you can’t find good people, and you struggle to fill positions,” said Kessie. “You struggle to maintain the excellence that you demand.”
These two issues — the explosion in media platforms and employee recruiting problems — are making a news director’s job more difficult than ever.
“[We have to] figure out where people are going to want to watch their news,” said Charley Jones, the news director for WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi. “And two, it’s recruiting and retaining good people who have the skills to deliver that news wherever the public wants to find it.”
Local television news has a long history of adapting to technological developments but there is little evidence that the industry has faced this level of difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees. The good news for anyone interested in working in TV news is that the jobs are plentiful and the pay keeps increasing. According to the latest RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey, the average starting pay rose 15% to $37,600 in 2022, and we’re quite likely to see another increase in salaries when the survey comes out again next year. Local station groups are also experimenting with 4-day work weeks, remote jobs and other ways of promoting work-life balance for their employees — developments that many consider long overdue.
Finally, Kessie says that at least one additional challenge remains a tough one to overcome.
“The community keeps hearing how bad the national media is,” Kessie said. “And sometimes they equate that with us, and that’s not the case.”