RTDNA survey shows sharp rise in TV, radio news salaries


The Radio Television Digital News Association, a.k.a. the Radio and Television News Directors Association, reports both TV news staffing and salaries went up noticeably this past year. The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries rose 7.3% during 2010. The numbers are a sharp contrast to the last two years, when salaries actually fell 4.4% two years ago before rising a modest 2.5% last year.

Radio news salaries this year were up 9.8% from a year ago, but that figure is inflated by more high-paying, all-news stations reporting this year usual. Even taking that into account, it was a good year for radio salaries, too. With inflation a low 1.6% in 2010, news people really did have a good year.

The median, or typical, salary is generally a better measure to look at. Of those medians, every salary went up this year except two (graphics specialist and art director). And most of the increases were significant. The report couldn’t directly compare web-related salaries because it switched from one category (internet specialist) to two categories (web/mobile writer and web/mobile producer/editor). If they left title the same, that would have gone up as well, said RTDNA.

A year ago, almost all positions had five and 10 year salary increases below the level of inflation. Not this time. Compared to five years ago, only assistant news director, graphics specialist, web/mobile specialist and art director are below the rate of inflation.

The graphics specialist and art director are actually down in salary from five years ago. In a 10 year comparison those positions (minus art director, which I didn’t ask about 10 years ago) plus news writer are the only ones below the rate of inflation. News reporter and news producer increased at exactly the same rate as inflation.

As usual, the larger the market, the larger the salary. The top 25 market salaries would be even higher, but the group also includes a number of smaller, independent newsrooms which generally pay lower salaries than their network-affiliated counterparts.

Only weathercasters went up from last year in every market size. Other big winners, based on market size, are news directors, news anchors, news assistants and photographers. At the lower end: sports anchor, assignment editor and tape editor. Overall patterns by market size are hard to discern, but money was clearly tightest in the smallest markets.

By staff size weathercasters were down or even in four of the five groupings. It’s the biggest stations that drove up the median. By staff size, the biggest raises went to news directors, executive producers, sports reporter, tape editor and web/mobile staffers. At the lower end: sports anchor, graphics specialist and art director. As with market size, there’s no overall pattern, but stations with staffs of 11 – 20 generally fared worse than others.

Note that despite all the talk about the shrinking importance of anchors, there’s no evidence to support that where it really counts: money. News anchors and weathercasters, in particular, have seen among the biggest jumps in salaries over the last five and 10 years. Ten years ago, news anchors had the fifth-highest median salary in the newsroom; five years ago, news anchors came in fourth. This year, they’re second only to news directors.

Overall, radio news salaries were up 9.8% in 2010. That increase was driven by having more high-paying all-news stations in the survey this year. News reporters were actually unchanged from a year ago.

As usual, the larger the market, generally, the higher the salary. Major markets are those with 1 million or more listeners. Large markets are those from 250,000 to 1 million; medium markets are from 50,000 to 250,000; and small markets have fewer than 50,000 listeners.

The big, high-paying stations in this year’s survey have really driven up the salaries for news anchor, news producer and sports reporter, and that inflates the overall numbers. Even so, almost all positions are running ahead of inflation over the last five years. Over a 10-year period, the overall increase for radio news is exactly the same as inflation.

The salaries by staff size are almost always highly variable, although there is a general tendency for the largest news operations to pay more.

In contrast to TV, the percentages of contracts in radio are up noticeably from a few years ago. But it’s possible that those large, all-news stations are inflating the numbers.

The TV positions above are listed in the order of number hired, and there’s been a big change in which positions were most often hired in the last year. A year ago, news assistants were at the top of the list; this year, they’re down to number five. Multimedia journalists (one-man-bands) were eighth last year; this year, up to fourth. Reporters were second a year ago; this year, they’re a dominant number one — almost double second place news producers. And producers are almost double number three photographers.

The average salary was exactly the same as a year ago, but the median dropped a thousand to $23,000. All told, 87% of the TV newspeople hired in the last year were replacements for those who left; 13% were new hires. There were fewer new hires in the West than any other region.

The radio positions above are listed in the order of number hired, and news reporter came in more than double the number two position. Overall, both average and mean starting salary in radio rose from last year, but last year was the lowest it had been in years.