Career Overview: Broadcasting

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Posted by The Editors on December 3, 2012
Overview

We all know the faces and voices of the most famous people working in broadcasting: the Katie Courics, Anderson Coopers, and Howard Sterns of the world. But for each one of these media darlings, there are hundreds of relatively anonymous broadcasters working more niche or regionally focused broadcast outlets. There are also hundreds of other folks who work behind the scenes, doing things like producing broadcast segments, writing broadcast scripts, operating cameras and other equipment, and applying makeup to broadcasters before they go on the air.

What Broadcasting Is
From world news to local high school sports reporting to the countdown of the top music videos on cable TV, broadcasting generally encompasses any audio or visual programming that is disseminated to a large number of radio or television receivers. Although that definition could be expanded to include Web-based media outlets, this career profile focuses on opportunities in radio and television news production and station management.

What You'll Do
Broadcasting is a lot like other entertainment sectors. At the end of the day, the success of a broadcast outlet like a TV or radio station depends on its ability to entertain its audience, satisfy its audience's hunger for information, or both.

Announcers, producers, directors, and everyone else must work together to tailor a station's programming to attract the largest possible audience, which in turn attracts advertising revenue or, in the case of nonprofit stations, public funding and support. In smaller markets, stations may also be responsible for producing ads.

Who Does Well
If you want to work in broadcasting, it helps to have a background in journalism, communications, or production, depending on the position you're after. But talent and skill alone may not be enough to succeed in broadcasting-it takes a certain amount of business smarts and determination to become the next Peter Jennings or Ted Turner, not to mention serendipity and star quality.

In truth, the glamour jobs in broadcasting are few and far between, and the competition for entry-level jobs is fierce. Many jobs in fact are unpaid internships, and even permanent positions don't often pay very well, and require grueling hours. If it's money you're after, you might have more luck teaching in a public school.

Those with more realistic goals, however, can find creative and engaging careers in broadcasting. Not everyone in the business gets the chance to interview the president, but many more are satisfied by the opportunities to speak with local political figures, produce new programs and commercials, and get intimately involved in their communities.

Requirements

In the end, talent drives the broadcasting industry. The bottom line is being able to attract an audience and do whatever it takes to keep it tuned in.

Consequently, employers often couldn't care less where you studied or how well you did on your English papers in college. Rather, they want to know how well you can perform under pressure and whether you bring fresh ideas and an ability to think creatively to the table. As in other talent-driven professions, a portfolio of solid work and hard-earned experience usually outweighs formal schooling.

That's not to say that formal education doesn't matter. Getting a degree in communications or journalism from a university, or a broadcasting associate's degree from a technical school, can provide that crucial level of base skills needed just to land an interview. This is especially true for people interested in pursuing news-related careers within broadcasting, where a strong journalism background is the norm.

However, unlike the career path set out for doctors, certified public accountants, or public schoolteachers, there's nothing that says you even have to go to school to work in broadcasting.

Regardless of your background, it's imperative to build a portfolio as quickly as possible, whether it's a demo tape of a mock broadcast put together during class or samples of the show you hosted for your college radio station.

Due to the talent-driven nature of the broadcasting industry, landing a job at a larger station in a major metropolitan area without any experience is next to impossible. Rather, most inexperienced job seekers start at smaller stations in rural areas or small towns to get the experience they need to work their way up the ladder. Unpaid internships are an extremely common means of entry.

Even the superstars of broadcasting almost always come from humble beginnings. Tom Brokaw, for instance, started his career at the age of 15 at a small local radio station in South Dakota.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in broadcasting is projected to grow more slowly than job growth overall between 2004 and 2014. That, plus ongoing heavy demand for jobs in this field, means it will continue to be difficult to build a career in broadcasting. Industry consolidation, the increased use of syndicated content, and the substitution of technology for skilled labor will put downward pressure on job growth in broadcasting careers.

However, there are some areas with better career possibilities in broadcasting. Camera operation is a bright spot in terms of job growth, with growth expected to outpace average job growth across all industries. And the digital revolution makes it extremely difficult to predict the shape of broadcasting moving forward. Already we're seeing the movie and book businesses undergoing changes, as moviemakers and authors who would have been unable to get their work to the screen or between the covers in the past use cheaper digital technology to make their voices heard. With so many cable TV channels out there, and so much programming time to fill, there may be room for would-be broadcasters to get their work on the air without having to go through traditional production channel.

Fast-growing geographic markets should also see better-than-average broadcasting job opportunities. Metropolitan areas like the Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other locations should see especially strong growth in broadcasting career opportunities as they expand.

Career Tracks

At smaller stations, broadcast professionals usually wear more than one hat. For instance, a single announcer might pull reports off the news wire, write his or her own scripts, and help develop the advertisements, and then deliver it all on the air. At larger stations, however, there's a higher degree of specialization (which staff members at smaller stations might call pampering).

On-Air Announcers
Announcers are the public personae of broadcasting. They tell the audience what will be presented, read the news and weather reports, open and close programs, introduce and read commercials, and sometimes moderate panel discussions or interview guests.

At music-formatted radio stations, announcers are usually called disc jockeys and provide commentary between songs. At television stations, announcers are often hired as hosts for variety and talk shows.

In the context of broadcast news, announcers read and coordinate the delivery of news reports. Both national and local television stations hire news anchors to deliver the morning and evening news. News reporters are involved not only with researching and writing stories, but also with their on-air delivery.

Generally, professions in broadcast news are similar to those in print journalism. Consequently, a strong background in journalism (either a degree or commensurate experience) is usually a prerequisite.

Unlike their counterparts in print journalism, broadcast news professionals are concerned with the on-air delivery of reports. Stations compete fiercely to find news anchors and reporters with enough charisma to attract viewers. Often looks, charm, and grace can outshine intellect in an interview. And for those seeking television jobs, it might be a good idea to add a regimen of Slim-Fast and health clubs to your journalism-textbook reading.

Program Directors
Today the broadcasting industry is increasingly moving away from programming for breadth (trying to reach as many viewers as possible, hence broadcasting) toward more focused programming (often called narrowcasting) that allows stations to tap into lucrative niche markets targeted by advertisers.

Program directors are responsible for determining the content that will best capture a market that a station is trying to reach, be it soccer moms, angry teenagers, or thirty-something IT professionals. Ultimately, program directors are responsible for a station's "feel," and work closely with managers, marketers, and salespeople to tailor a station's overall presentation.

At music-format radio stations, program directors are often called music directors. They have every college freshman's dream job of picking the music that a multitude of people will hear. At television stations, not only are program directors involved in picking the shows that will run, but also when they run, to attract the greatest number of viewers.

Producer
The passive listener or viewer may take for granted how smoothly a station switches between various programs, news updates, commercials, and station-identification segments. Producers, on the other hand, know firsthand that a seamless presentation doesn't happen by itself.

Producers are responsible for integrating a station's varied content. Producers coordinate the schedules of various departments such as news, programming, and advertising, as well as assigning and managing the workloads of announcers, writers, and even other producers. If a station creates original content, producers oversee the production of shows and commercials. At larger stations, a producer might be called a director.

Like their Hollywood counterparts, broadcasting producers need to focus on the big picture in order to sew everything together and be able to troubleshoot problems quickly as they arise.

Writers: News, Copy, and Script
While it's common for on-air announcers to ad-lib (often in embarrassingly banal fashion, which keeps the "talking heads" stereotype alive and well), the vast majority of broadcast content is prepared well before show time. At smaller stations, it may be an announcer's job to write his or her own material. At larger stations, however, staff members usually help create original content.

News writers are in charge of writing news reports that will be read on-air by announcers and reporters. While many broadcast reporters write and report their own stories, at larger stations many are aided by news writers who perform background research, interview sources, and adapt wire reports. Since news writing for broadcast is quite similar to print journalism, a strong background in journalism is often a prerequisite. Naturally, writers who switch between print and broadcast media are not uncommon.

Copywriters think up the material used for commercials that are produced by a station. While in larger cities, advertising firms create much on-air advertising, in smaller communities, a large part of a station's workload may involve creating commercials for local sponsors.

Scriptwriters are responsible for creating the material used during original entertainment programs, such as variety shows, skits, or dramas. Such positions are hard to come by and are usually available only at larger stations.

Other Roles
In addition to the people who are responsible for creating on-air content, there's an entire corps of professionals that manages the technical aspects of broadcasting and makes sure a station gets paid for its efforts. Such people include camera operators, engineers, and technical directors, who set up and maintain equipment needed to broadcast; marketing professionals who work to build an audience, and sales professionals who sell ads that bring in the revenue necessary to keep a station running.

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