Choosing A Broadcast Journalism Job: Is An On-Air Career Right For You?

Faith Abubey interviewing a naval officer

While many people choose a broadcast journalism major because they aspire to be news anchors, there are many positions in the field, and all have their pros and cons.

But I Already Know I Want to Be An Anchor!

That’s great, and on-air jobs can be exciting. As a reporter (generally the starting position for inexperienced on-air journalists—no one starts at the anchor’s desk unless a relative owns the station), you have the opportunity to pursue a variety of interesting stories every day. You’ll get to interview people from all walks of life, and you may even bring the public’s attention to an important issue in the community. You get to learn new things every day, and share your knowledge with others.

Unfortunately, a lot of journalism students find on-air positions attractive, and there is tremendous competition for first-time reporter jobs. While having a good resume and audition video is helpful, other recent grads from all over the country will also have impressive experience and audition footage.

There are things you can do to improve your odds of getting the job you want, but some factors are beyond your control. When it comes to on-air roles, hiring managers will make decisions based not only on your experience, but also on your looks, voice, and personality. Sometimes they round-file your application because you look too much like another reporter they already have, because your voice has an inflection they don’t like, or because they think you’re too bubbly, or too flat, or too deadpan…the list goes on. The bottom line is that many graduates find they have to take an off-air job just to get a foot in the door at a TV or radio station. Although there is no guarantee you’ll be promoted to an on-air role, any experience in the industry is better than being unemployed or working in a fast food restaurant, and it can help you make contacts in the business.

If You Do Get That On-Air Job

Sometimes new grads think they want a job in front of the camera, only to get one and discover it’s not for them. Here are some things you should know before deciding this position is right for you:

  • Contracts can place all sorts of restrictions on what you can do—not just at work, but also in your personal life. They often specify that you can’t make major changes to your appearance (like a new hair color or a tattoo that would be visible on camera) without a supervisor’s permission. There are often clauses that say you can be terminated if you do something to embarrass the station—getting arrested, embarrassing pictures on social media, etc.
  • People will recognize you as “that TV reporter” everywhere you go, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. You will have to be nice and polite to those people at all times—even if you’re having a lousy day and they’re pestering you about a story you covered two months ago and don’t remember. You will have to nod and smile if someone wants to tell you about seeing a UFO, until you can find a polite way to excuse yourself from the conversation.
  • Most of us have had a bad day and snapped at someone when we didn’t mean to. But if you’re an on-air personality who has a regrettable moment and says something rude in public, there’s a good chance someone will post it on social media. You won’t just be that anonymous jerk in line at the grocery store who snapped at a cashier—you’ll be that rude, snooty, stuck-up TV reporter who told off a cashier.
  • Despite the personal sacrifices you’ll have to make to keep your job, you won’t be well-paid. The median salary for an entry-level TV reporter is $35,000, with some making as little as $22,000. (Generally stations in smaller markets pay less, but jobs in smaller markets are slightly easier to obtain.) Reporter salaries do get higher as you gain experience, and/or work your way up to a bigger market (although your cost of living may also go up if you move to a bigger city).

Preparing For An On-Air Career

The list above isn’t meant to discourage anyone from pursuing a role on-air. All jobs have downsides, and many people find careers in front of the camera very rewarding. If you think it’s right for you, here are some suggestions:

  • Spend as much time as possible in front of the camera at your campus TV station, beyond what you’re required to do for class. This will help you build a good audition reel while improving your skills.
  • Ask teachers and other student-journalists who have spent a lot of time in front of the camera for constructive criticism.
  • You will probably be required to produce packages for some of your classes. When you get them back, don’t just look at the grade—read your professor’s suggestions and try to implement them. Often these will help you with things hiring managers look for—reading at an appropriate pace, enunciating clearly, not fidgeting, appearing comfortable in front of a camera, and more.
  • If possible, try to get an internship or part-time job at a local television or radio station. While your campus station is a great place to learn, working at a local affiliate can give you real-world experience. Not only will this look good on your resume, but you’ll also have the opportunity to watch the reporters and anchors, and learn how they handle various situations on-air.

I’m Not Sure I Want To Be On-Air

If you’re not sure being in front of the camera is for you, there are many other broadcast journalism careers to consider. Producers help reporters with newsgathering, generate new story ideas, “stack the show” by deciding what packages go where in a broadcast, and sometimes even interview people—all without ever being on-air. TV stations also need a variety of technical people to run studio cameras, act as photographers in the field, edit packages, control the audio during live broadcasts, produce graphics, and direct the show.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.
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