Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Job Hunting For Dummies – Breaking Into TV

It was nine years ago this week that a 20-something was packing up, leaving sunny, Southern California for his first, on air job in Peoria, Illinois. My big break. In checking my sitemeter and by the feedback I’m getting, I’m starting to realize that this blog is also being read by people who live in this market, but haven’t worked in TV… so I think occasionally I’ll pull back the curtain so to speak.

This blog is titled MARKET 117 based on the Nielsen ranking of the 210 television markets across the country. For reference, New York is 1, Chicago is 3, Champaign/Decatur/Springfield is 82. Peoria/Bloomington (117) is considered a small market, a place where many people get their first or second job in television (there are certain flaws to the way the markets are setup, but I’ll save that for a later date). Theoretically, the larger the market, the more you are paid although that isn’t always exactly true. Cost of living, quality of station, experience can all factor in. Also, anchors will make significantly more than the majority of reporters.

It all starts with an internship. Unlike other fields interns in television don’t generally get paid. But you do get college credit. Some people at bigger market stations… others cut their teeth at smaller ones. There are advantages to both, but for practical experience nothing beats markets like this one. Interns in big markets might get opportunities to go out on stories, but in many cases they are relegated to answering phones for assignment editors. Interns in Peoria often get a chance to report, which goes a long way to building a good resume tape and that is the goal.

A reporter’s resume tape consists of stories and standups (or with more experience, live shots). Anchors include “scoped down” shows of them reading and interacting with others on set. This is your calling card. For other jobs, people will look at your resume and transcripts and do an interview. In TV, if you don’t have a solid tape, you won’t get an interview.

And getting that first job is the tough part. There are thousands of students graduating every year competing for very few, generally low paying jobs. Depending on the opening, even in a market this size, offering 20K or less to start can get 50-100 tapes. The first place I ever interviewed paid reporters, no joke, less than 14K.

First and foremost, you need to have a tape coming out of school. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you need to have one. I was lucky that I worked as a photographer in a big market and was able to shoot my own tape while shooting real stories versus many “first” tapes that come in with stories on their college’s student council election or a “B list” band comes to the student center. But even that tape would be better than no tape.

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