The “more with less” mantra has become so ingrained in TV newsrooms that the latest data may come as a surprise. Yes, once again, local stations set a new record for the amount of news they aired but they also staffed up to do it.
On average, stations aired 5 hours and 30 minutes of local news on weekdays in 2011, 12 minutes more than the year before, according to the annual RTDNA survey. In just four years, stations have added almost a full hour of news each day. And that increase isn’t all due to big market stations pushing up the average, says Hofstra’s Bob Papper, who conducts the survey. The typical station (median) is running five hours of news a day. Almost a third of news directors surveyed said they expect to add more news this year. Not a single one expects to cut news time.
Where is all that news finding a home on the schedule? Mostly in the mornings. The fastest growing time period for local news was 5-9 a.m., with 28% of stations that added news putting it in that time slot. Another 20% added news at 4:30 a.m. And no wonder. Almost three-quarters of news directors surveyed said their morning audience is going up, while just under half saw audience growth in the early evening.
As news time has expanded, so have news staffs. Local TV stations increased their news staff by 4% in 2011, RTDNA reports. The average full-time TV news staff hit an all-time record (38). And more than a third of news directors surveyed said they planned to add staff this year. Is that realistic, given the current state of the economy?
“News directors can be a surprisingly optimistic lot,” Papper concedes, “but last year’s survey projections on hiring turned out to be dead on what took place in the following year.”
Producers and reporters are the top two job categories for both new hires and replacement hires, which stands to reason. What’s interesting, though, is that web staff and anchors ranked ahead of photographers on the new hires list. That could be because reporters being hired are expected to shoot, but it’s worth noting that “multimedia journalists” as a category ranked behind photographers.