Updated: 05/22/2013

Film, Radio and TV - 39


Part I





In this section we'll look at what it takes to launch a successful career in a competitive field like television.

If I can speak personally for a moment, I have been involved in television for several decades -- as an announcer and so-called TV personality, as a producer-director of thousands of hours of TV programming (most of it live), and as a university professor.

In the latter capacity I watched some of my students work up through the ranks to become producers of TV series and feature-length films. Others found the going too rough, abandoned their dream, and found employment elsewhere.

What made the difference? Probably eight things. 

1. Motivation In any competitive field you must really want to make it. This type of motivation does not waver from week-to-week or month-to-month, but is consistent and single-minded. In short, you must stay focused on your goal.

2. Personality Although admittedly a vague term, it encompasses several things. First, since television is a collaborative effort, it requires an ability to work with others to accomplish professional goals.

Included in this category is attitude. In this context we're definitely not talking about someone who "has an attitude."  Quite the opposite, in fact.  We're talking about the general demeanor of individuals, how they accept assignments, whether they are pleasant to work with, and how they take suggestions or criticism.

There is often considerable pressure in TV production and thin-skinned individuals who can't detach themselves from their work and take constructive criticism are in for a bumpy ride.

3. Knowledge and skills Producers and directors look for individuals who knowledge and skills know how to solve problems on their own, how to use the technology to its best advantage, and who can be relied upon to "make it work."

Excuses for not getting the job done right and on time are generally viewed as an admission of failure. Keep in mind that TV is a competitive business and employers know they can rather easily replace people who don't meet their expectations.

4. Creativity Although we've been trying to define this for centuries, it involves looking at things in new ways and getting your audience to see and experience things from fresh perspectives.

The more thoroughly you understand the television medium the better chance you will have of using it in interesting, creative ways.

5. Willingness to sacrifice for your goals In highly competitive fields the supply of job applicants exceeds the number of job openings. For starting positions this means that employers may offer low starting salaries.

Those who stick it out and "pay their dues" can end up working in a field that is exciting and satisfying. documentary work For many people, doing something they enjoy throughout their lives is more important than making more money in a job that they dread to face each morning.

For those whose honed skills are in demand, the financial rewards can eventually be very great.

But, if your main goal is to have a predictable, 9-to-5 job with optimum stability, the field of broadcasting will probably not be a good choice. There is much uncertainty in the field, and the hours you may have to put in can take a toll on a social life and marriage.

In doing documentary work you may be away from home for days or weeks at a time. In news, you may be called out on a story at any hour of the day or night. Some areas of news, such as being a foreign correspondent, can even be dangerous.

6. An aptitude for working with words and pictures Successful television writers, directors, and artists have an aptitude for images and an ability to visualize their ideas.

Although television is largely visual, it's still word-based. We have to be able to clearly communicate ideas to sponsors, cast, and crew in the form of proposals, scripts, and instructions. An ability to write and communicate well is directly related to success.

7. Reliability and an ability to meet deadlines If you can't be relied upon to get the job done within the assigned time, your chances of getting future assignments will rapidly diminish-and eventually become nonexistent.

To avoid costly overtime expenses in one union production facility engineers were instructed to shut down equipment precisely at the end of the lifelong learning scheduled time. Late starts, the need to redo segments, etc., had to somehow be made up by the director before the end of allotted production time.

8. Lifelong learning  If you assume that when you get out of school you will know all you need to for lifelong success here's a news flash: That's not the way it works.

Although formal education is useful and it may enable you  to "get in the door," most students say that it's only when they come face-to-face with on-the-job experiences that they really start learning about their profession.

And, it doesn't even end there.

The electronic media fields change very rapidly. It's the people who keep up with developments as video trade magazinesreported by newspapers and "the trades" (professional magazines and journals) that are in the best position to take advantage of the latest developments.

Even knowing how to make best use the latest computer technology can give you an important competitive advantage.

Successful news people, for example,  tend to be "news addicts" -- -constantly reading about current events. If reading newspapers and newsmagazine and "being in the know" doesn't interest you, you should  examine your interest in trying to make a career in broadcast news.


On-Camera vs. Behind-the-Camera

It seems as if the majority of students who become interested in television as a career want to be seen on camera. But the majority of jobs are behind-the-camera.

This means that on-camera jobs are extremely competitive and far more difficult to land than production (behind-the-camera) jobs.

Most on-camera jobs are in news. It's not unusual for a news director or personnel manager in a major market (geographic area) to get 50 resumes a day for an advertised on-camera news position. Even when there is no opening, applications may come in on a daily basis. Most of these people have a college degree and are experienced in news.

Even small market stations that pay low salaries receive many applications from people who want to gain experience in hopes of later moving to a larger market.

Depending on the station and the union restrictions, it's sometimes possible to start out behind the camera and then move on to an on-camera position. Small stations occasionally provide this opportunity. More than one behind-the-camera person, including a female news anchor  at a major network station in Los Angeles, stared out this way.

Whatever your goal, it's best to have a "Plan B." In other words, adequately prepare yourself for a job in a second area. You may have to rely on this to pay the bills while you are waiting for the kind of job you want.

This "Plan B" may be a non-broadcast job. This secondary field should be considered when you decide on your college minor.


A College Education

There has been much debate lately about whether a college degree is worth the time and money involved.

Though those who question this have some good arguments, there is little doubt that a college degree is not only necessary to "get you in the door" for most desirable jobs, but that starting salaries are much higher. Plus, without a degree your chances for promotion, especially to a college education supervisory capacity, will be limited. 

Although some successful people brag that they made it without a college degree, keep in mind it was much easier a decade or two ago when they probably got their start.

With a host of new college graduates to choose from each year, employers can now easily specify a college degree as a job requirement. You may find some helpful information on college scholarships, awards, etc., at the - Broadcast Education Association Web Page.

What should you major in while in college?

It certainly helps to major in a field that will directly apply to your aspirations: Telecommunications, Broadcasting, TV Production, Broadcast News, etc. education and employment

Note the table in the right that unemployment is directly related to education, with high school dropouts constituting almost half of the unemployed and those with college degrees representing only 4% of the unemployed.


Education In

Dollars and Cents

And if that isn't enough, keep in mind that there is a strong relationship between education and lifetime income.  Statistics indicate that this relationship is growing stronger with each passing year.

It's significant to note that the yearly income for those with a limited education has actually dropped in the past few years, while the income for those with a college degree has increased.

Although this can't be debated, with the rapid increase in college tuition costs and changing financing issues, another side to the story has emerged. This is covered in yellow dot Is College Really Necessary -- New Thinking for New Times.

Still, as shown by the following chart, in most careers, "college pays" in the long run.

Educational Level

Average Yearly

No High School Diploma


High School Diploma


Some College


Associate Degree


Bachelor's Degree


Master's Degree


Advanced Graduate Degree


Note that in 2004, individuals with an advanced degree earned earned three to four times as much each year as those who failed to finish high school. By 2007, there was almost a three-million dollar lifetime income gap between people with a high-school education and those with a college or graduate degree.

By 2013, despite the fact that many college graduates were either unemployed or underemployed, this gap had expanded.


Top U.S. Colleges for Broadcasting

The 2004 book, The Business of Broadcasting, listed the top eight colleges for broadcasting as:

1. The University of Southern California (USC)
2. Emerson College
3. New York University
4. Ball State University
5. Temple University
6. Boston University
7. Michigan State University
8. University of North Texas

More and more people with an interest in broadcasting are going on for graduate degrees. A few years ago U.S. News and World Report listed the top universities for graduate work in broadcasting. In rank order they are:

1. Syracuse University in New York (Newhouse School of Communication)
2. University of Florida, Gainesville
3. University of Missouri, Columbia
4. University of Texas, Austin
5. Northwestern University, New York (Medill)
6. Indiana State University
7. Columbia University, New York
8. Ohio University (Scripps)
9. University of Wisconsin, Madison
10. University of Southern California
11. University of Georgia
12. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
13. Temple University, Pennsylvania (tied with)
13. University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

Even at the undergraduate level these universities represent some of the most respected schools for pursuing a bachelor's degree in telecommunications (radio-TV, broadcasting).

Telecommunications employers also hire people with advanced degrees in related areas. Two possibilities are a MBA (Masters in Business) or a law degree specializing in Communication Law.

- Here is some additional information on selecting a college.

In 2009, unemployment is the highest it's been for some time. This is - discussed here.


Careers in Broadcast Journalism

college majors for tv news A survey of new hires in TV news found that the vast majority (94%)   majored in either broadcast news or journalism/mass communication.  

Although the percentage would be lower in other areas of TV, majoring in the field at least shows a prospective employer that you have been preparing to go into this field, and that it wasn't just a last-minute decision.

For a college minor you might consider Political Science or Sociology if you are interested in TV News. If you eventually want to end up as a producer-director or manager, consider a minor in Business or Management. A minor in Psychology or Social Psychology would be helpful in any of these areas.

The RTNDF (Radio-Television News Directors & Foundation), the major broadcast journalism organization, recently did a survey of salaries for positions in various sized U.S. markets. Note the great discrepancy in salaries between on-air people in the large and small markets.




Market Size





News Director




Asst. News Director




Managing Editor




Executive Producer




Assignment Editor




News Producer




News Anchor








Sports Anchor




News Reporter




News Writer



not avail.

News Assistant




Sports Reporter








Video Editor




Graphics Specialist


not avail.

not avail.

Internet Specialist




In Part II of this topic we'll discuss some of the most important aspects of getting a job: internships, resumes, finding openings, handling job interviews and "five knockout factors" that can sink your chances of landing and holding on to a job.

No matter what you do for a living, if you love it and really enjoy the people you’re working with, it makes everything worthwhile.

Katie Couric, CBS


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