It’s not news that local television newsrooms are doing more with less. But the latest RTDNA/Hofstra survey shows that even as the economy struggled last year and TV newsrooms laid off more staff, stations produced more news on the air and on other platforms and outlets than ever before.
The average amount of on air TV news rose to its highest level ever: five hours a day, up from 4.7 hours in 2008. And the amount of material distributed in other ways also hit an all-time high.
The leading secondary outlet for television stations, somewhat surprisingly, was local radio: 52% of TV stations are providing news to radio stations in their markets. Then again, perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, since the average local radio station has a news staff of one.
Almost half of all stations, 45%, are producing news for mobile devices, more than double the number in 2008. About a third of the stations also are producing news for another local TV station–sometimes more than one.
Putting news on the air, morning, noon and evening, is still the number one business for local TV stations, but it’s not the only business, Papper said. “If you think of yourself as being in one business, you have a short future. You’re in multiple businesses and you will continue to be.”
Stations are doing all this with fewer people than they used to. About 400 local TV news people lost their jobs last year, a 1.5% reduction in the workforce. “That’s not good,” said survey researcher Bob Papper, “but it’s better than 2008” when the workforce shrank by 4.3%. And it’s way better than newspapers, which cut jobs by 11% for two years in a row. “At the present rate there will be more TV news people than newspaper people in a few years,” Papper said.
This year should see TV newsrooms hiring again, Papper says. “In my view, we’ve bottomed out. I would be very surprised if we don’t see staffing numbers go up.” The survey data certainly supports that prediction. The number of news managers who expect to increase their staffs jumped by 145%. The number expecting staff cuts dropped to near zero.
“Doing more with less can help you get through a recession, but it’s not a long-term strategy for success,” Papper said, warning news managers that continuing to expect more from fewer people will put them at risk of losing their best staffers as soon as other newsrooms start hiring again.