You’ve heard it said before, “turnover is the enemy of strategy.” Well, if that’s the case, local news may be fighting a war – or is coming to a strategic standstill. We know that our clients are focused on understanding what the consumer wants and how to deliver on that. But with more veteran journalists leaving newsrooms in greater numbers than we’ve seen before, and more inexperienced ones replacing them, it’s evident our industry has a growing problem.
Magid research shows that consumers have a trust problem with local and network news. While many stations are focused on marketing and adding process and transparency in their storytelling to tackle this drop in trust – they’re ignoring one major thing: it isn’t just balance and impartiality that drives trust, it’s journalistic competence. Consumers tell us they think our reporters and anchors aren’t asking the right questions or telling a well-rounded story. These concerns are justified considering what we’re seeing in newsrooms everywhere: inexperienced journalists who haven’t been properly onboarded and who aren’t getting daily, consistent feedback from a leader.
It’s time we do better. We have spent months talking to journalists and managers, group heads and recruiters, students and college professors and we’ve reached a few conclusions. If we don’t do a better job of retaining our teams, we will find ourselves in a crisis. Some argue we’re already there. The labor market in our business has fundamentally changed. We need to come up with some solutions that change the way we do business permanently, not just a temporary fix for this so-called “Great Resignation.”
Offer a competitive salary and benefits. We need to think about a competitive salary beyond the news business. At its most fundamental level, journalists are also content creators. And content creators are in high demand throughout the government (at all levels) and private sector. Major brands are now hiring content creators to create corporate content, social media posts, and YouTube videos to help reach consumers on multiple platforms. It’s time to start thinking about the compensation relative to those competitors outside the news business.
Instead of contract buyouts, consider longevity incentives/penalties. Each anniversary hit in the contract triggers a bonus, but if an employee leaves the contract early, they must pay a portion of the salary back. Ratings-related bonuses: Set a newsroom-wide goal to hit a certain rating across dayparts. If that goal is reached, every person gets a bonus. These metric-related goals have been common for anchors and sales teams – why not expand the benefits to everyone involved in making it happen?
Also consider other forms of ‘compensation’ that may help you keep your team invested. Your team wants to be heard, inspired, and part of an organization that has a clear mission. They want you to invest in them as an individual and as a professional. Provide opportunities for career advancement and a flexible work environment. Be flexible with scheduling. Consider the four-day work week. Be liberal with flex days. How could employees potentially work from home?
News directors are spending more and more time daily focused on recruitment. News managers and stations must have a strong presence on social media. Reward your employees with a cash bonus for referrals. Consider creating a new position (or recreating one of your management positions) called “News Personnel Manager.” This is a newsroom manager whose full-time job is focused on recruiting and all the related things that go with administrative management of the staff (scheduling, vacation requests, orientation, onboarding, career pathing, etc.).
Develop a formal onboarding plan that includes specific training and opportunities that is laid out at the point of hiring. Identify the critical skills that the employee will need to learn. Create a systematic approach to your onboarding process. Identify different newsroom champions who contribute to the teaching/training process. This helps with retention as well. Your existing employees will appreciate that you’re making sure every new employee understands the brand, mission, systems, processes, and expectations of the organization.
What are your employees passionate about? Encourage them to work on passion projects that will benefit the station and the individual. Some news organizations have developed “ground up” groups where employees can pitch innovative and strategic ideas. Many companies are also creating workplace culture groups, sometimes called employee resource groups, to make sure employee concerns are getting the proper consideration they need, and workplace morale is more deliberately attacked. Not only will this give employees a place to air concerns but raise issues they want to focus on. For managers, it ensures they hear more of what is being talked about in their newsroom.
The tough reality is our jobs aren’t as compelling as they used to be. The younger generations need to understand our profession and why it’s important. It’s time for local leaders to start building relationships with universities. A partnership can be powerful for both you and the academic world. You can contribute ideas about meaningful curriculum that ultimately will help better prepare journalists and content creators as they enter our stations. Young people today don’t understand what we do and why it’s an exciting job. They want to build their own personal brand, not yours. They see their peers making money as content creators on platforms like Instagram, Tik Tok and YouTube. We need to start these conversations before students even advance to higher education. Prioritize talking to high schoolers about the important skills they’ll learn while working for us: building a brand, telling compelling stories, going to exciting places, shooting video, editing video, digital content, on-camera delivery, and the importance of journalism in society. We must do a better job of illustrating the value of our industry to future generations. Our integrity and our future are on the line. We all have this responsibility.
We can help you chart the course. Let’s talk.