Note from Ty Carver: Before you dive into a great article written by a long-time News Director, Jennifer Hardy, I just wanted to thank everyone for the outpouring of support from a recent article I published outlining many of the challenges of recruiting within our local television industry today. I can humbly say I have received feedback that this article has been widely read, often shared, and both openly and quietly discussed. And continuing to be discussed at length. From senior executives at the corporate level to department heads at the station level and across many newsroom floors. I believe this discussion is great for our industry. And is exactly why I wrote the “Extinction Alert” article, in the hope of enacting positive change. What is occurring can no longer be the elephant in the room. If you have not yet read the follow-up article anonymously quoting dozens of responses to the “Extinction Alert” article, I urge you to do so by visiting carvertalent.com and clicking on “Carver Corner.” Some of the responses are eye-opening. And I truly believe positive change is coming. It has to. I urge you, those at all levels…but especially those of you on the floor of every newsroom across the country, to be a part of the discussion. And more importantly, part of the solution. Openly. Honestly. Proactively. And…Reactively. Journalism is that important. This article by Jennifer outlines many reasons why. And many thanks to Jennifer for allowing me to post her article. She truly has her finger on the pulse of our industry.
By Jennifer Hardy:
We’ve talked a lot recently about leaving local news. I’ve talked about the negative things I know are being whispered in edit bays and snapchatted on sleepless nights. I wrote about them because it bothered me to see SO many people unhappy, the repeated stories from hiring managers about people who don’t want to move up and just want to move out, the people I mentor telling me confidentially they just can’t do it anymore.
You are tired.
You are burned out.
You are not appreciated.
You don’t make enough money.
You can’t handle the hours.
You can’t unplug.
Your boss makes you feel like you can’t do anything right.
You aren’t the “favorite” and hate the perceived hierarchy of favorites.
The list goes on…
Never before in my career have I seen so many people so unhappy and so many green candidates putting their foot down and saying, “No thank you.”
Now, let’s talk about why you should stay. As a journalist, don’t we owe ourselves a balanced story with all sides? From this point forward in the article, we aren’t going to talk about any of the negative stuff. We’re going positive all the way.
You wouldn’t be so torn about leaving or still say “I’m THINKING of getting out of the business” if you didn’t still have a dog in this fight.
YOU ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED
Louder for the people in the back.
The very first thing our founding fathers did was give us the right to the job we do. The very first amendment gives us a constitutional obligation to do our jobs.
How many other professions can say that? How many other countries have fought wars trying to get that right? How many people have died protecting that freedom? Since 1791, nobody could tell us we couldn’t publish the truth. A Revolutionary War was fought to give us this right. I’m sure George Washington never complained of burnout. He knew it was a moment in time of tough work, and that the juice was worth the squeeze.
Regardless of the “fake news” and allegations of media bias, a recent Gallup Poll shows just how many people are watching the local news and how often. Take a look at it. 74% of people said they CAN trust local news, even if the actual “watching every day” numbers are at an all-time low since 1995.
The people need you. The people need to be informed. They need information that helps them make better decisions in their lives. They need us to see through the crap and present the real story.
As a News Director, I was always very involved in, well, everything I could possibly be. A new editing system? I want to learn it. A new automation system? I’ll sit in on that training. New digital metrics? Let’s learn. Why? Yes, I like to learn new things and I’m an overachiever, but there’s a dirty little secret behind it.
I don’t know if my job will exist in 10 years.
Will there be ONE person in an office overseeing ALL the ways we turn content without consistently producing something of value? Will the individual office give way to giant company guidelines and platforms that are self-sufficient enough that they don’t need a boss at EACH location implementing it?
I need to remain relevant, even as I am on the downward slope to 50, with the spirit of a 30-year-old.
If we lose good people in masses, who’s going to defend that right to free speech? Who’s going to call BS on the Mayor who was caught in a lie.
During COVID I was boothing news conferences daily, and I paid attention. In one conference, a high-ranking official had just become a new dad. He spoke of the delivery and how he couldn’t be in the room because of COVID. Fast forward two months, and in a news conference he said something about how when his child was born, and he was in the delivery room.. blah blah blah. I screamed, “HE SAID HE COULD NOT GO IN THE DELIVERY ROOM BECAUSE OF COVID AND HE WAS NOT GOING TO GET SPECIAL TREATMENT.”
That’s what we do. That’s how God built us. To keep random information in our heads to call out people who tell lies. And then we wonder what other lies were told. And then we did into data to see those lies. Then we right the wrong in our reporting. Why are you torn about if you should leave or not? Because you are in love with the business, even with its flaws.
You got into this business because you had that bug. Because you thrive under pressure. Because you love a good story. Because you know how important it is to get information to people who otherwise would be misinformed or ignorant.
On the worst days, I would remember who I was doing this for, and it wasn’t a company or a General Manager. I was doing it for the viewers, the fans, the angry viewers who took the time to reach out because they CARE.
Never before in the history of information dissemination have we had SO many ways to get information out. We have data and details at our fingertips that used to take hours of scouring scanned documents at the courthouse. We aren’t even first to the scene anymore. Tell me the last time you got to a crazy crime scene or school bus accident or a fire. You’ve got people handing the video that used to be an Assignment Editor asking you to “Go shoot video of the house that caught fire overnight Saturday.” Exteriors. Empty streets with close-ups of cross street signs giving the producer terrible video.
If people leave to go into communications, PIO positions, or PR, and local news reporting continues to take the hits it’s taking now, who will they have to communicate to? You wonder why your pitches aren’t getting through or you can’t take a call? Because the room is hardly staffed and the few people there are trying to keep up with the breaking news, not the great story you are pitching. We NEED you in these newsrooms manning the ship while the bosses and corporations tend to the giant hole caused by the iceberg. Our business is currently the Titanic with the iceberg in ahead and people in charge are about to make the call we port around it or hit it head-on.
Let’s hit it head-on and change history, ok?
YOU ARE ON THE EDGE OF YOUR OWN REVOLUTIONARY WAR
“I have not yet begun to fight.”
John Paul Jones said those words when he was ordered to surrender during the Revolutionary War. He was told to give up. It was demanded he quit and do something else.
But he said “Eff that” in 1779 slang.
Be in this for the long game, not just the here and now.
My generation of news didn’t care so much about the pay, we knew there was after the small market grind. We knew the best rose up and the weak stayed put. We did all we could to adjust to awful morning hours and weekend shifts for years at a time, seeing the forest through the trees of what’s to come.
We didn’t break a contract unless it was absolutely necessary. I once, in parting with a job that wasn’t a good fit for either of us, was told “I know you’d stay here and be miserable for the rest of your contract, and I don’t want that. Let’s figure out a way to split without ugliness.”
Even Wikipedia defines us as “independent, resilient, and adaptable.”
Then the new generations came in with their own set of priorities and demands. At first, it was Gen X driving the car, and you could either adapt or die.
Now, my friends, YOU are driving the car. You souped it up and made it different. Now WE adapt to YOU.
Millennials are defined as “hard-working, resourceful, and imaginative”.
You KNOW how to make the workplace better and what the problems are. My question is, are you doing anything about it but running away from them?
Gen Z? You are “Diverse, progressive, and poised to be the best-educated generation we’ve seen.”
You are also “The Loneliest Generation”, without a firm answer as to why, but social media use and hours spent in a room on the internet seeing unrealistic portrayals of other people’s lives feeds the beast.
We’re going to dive into that more in a minute.
Look at the characteristics that your generation has. Look what you bring to the revolution. Look how you can change the world if you just stop complaining about all the things that suck.
I once had a boss say to me “You complain a lot. You’ve got to stop.” I was baffled. I thought, in our private conversations we were both just venting about frustrations (yes, bosses have them too). I thought I was in a safe space. I thought it was a judgment-free zone. It wasn’t. And that’s okay, in fact, it’s ideal because it gave me a good hard look at the words I use and the way I present them. My mentality of “I vent to someone I trust so I can better address the issues and not let my frustrations show”, was a good one for ME, but I was giving the totally wrong impression of who I was as a journalist and a leader. I tapped into my Gen X “Adaptability” and adjusted my approach. I’ll work on that every day.
What traits of your own can you “work on” to make the workplace better? If you allege you work in a toxic place, you might be part of the problem. It’s an ugly discussion to have internally with yourself, but are you part of the problem? Or can you at least admit you can do things to help yourself or others?
Look at the weapons we have in our war – smart, hard-working, resourceful, educated, resilient, adaptable, progressive. We’ve got a smart bomb of a weapon to drop if we can just keep our eye on the prize of making newsrooms better places to be. We have to do it together.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve seen on many social pages tearing into the boss or “management”. How that’s the root of all evil. They are the problem. I’ve had a few interactions myself where people told me I suck.
Let me promise you this, regardless of how feel about your managers. Not a single one of them wants you to fail. None of them want to make you cry every night on the drive home. The “favorites” (at least in my experience) are seen as the people who actually connect with the boss. They say “hello”, come to have conversations, bring up issues, address concerns. They come to the “boss battle” prepared for improvement, not insults.
Let me say this loud and proud for all the bosses out there.
WE DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG UNLESS YOU TELL US. AND BOSSES, WHEN SOMEONE COMES TO YOUR AND SAYS “I’M HURTING, I’M BURNED OUT, I NEED A BREAK” – FOR GOD’S SAKE LISTEN!
This is where that loneliness moniker comes in. Gen Z is lonely, and Millennials are right behind them.
Cigna did a great deep dive into this topic.
Another study by YouGov says that 30% of you Millennials always or often feel lonely. Even in the middle of a big bitch session at the bar after work, you feel lonely. You have colleagues, but maybe not friends. You don’t know whom to trust. You don’t trust because you’ve been burned. And everyone else looks like they are getting a bigger slice of the pie.
You are already pre-dispositioned to the mental health effects of loneliness, and that opens the door for more mental struggles to come in. Things like anxiety, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, paranoia, panic attacks, eating disorders, and more.
Add in any potential hereditary mental traits, and you are already in a mental battle with yourself long before you dislike something your boss said.
Another part of the loneliness is all the social chatter and texting has prevented the development of conflict resolution skills that aren’t rooted in anger or passive-aggressive tones. You are better at complaining to 10 people about why you hate your job than you are addressing the topic with the person who can solve it.
Another group of people who are lonely? Executives. Bosses. Your boss. The numbers are in the mid to upper 40 percentages and up to 57% feel there is nobody they can turn to.
I guess it literally is lonely at the top.
Look, we’re bosses. We know people talk about us. We know people do crappy things. I once had an employee who had taken a photo of me at a causal station event, and I was wearing shorts and a station t-shirt. He took a photo of me from behind and shared it with several colleagues and local community leaders saying, “Who wears short shorts?”. The same person would look me in the eye at the office and tell me how great I was. As much as technology can save us, it can destroy us.
But if we aren’t talking about our struggles and challenges, we aren’t going to win the war.
The Cigna study also dove into the new employees and feelings of loneliness. 60% of people in new jobs (6 months or less) said they always or sometimes feel alone. You’ve got to get to 10 years in a job to fix it, according to the study.
You should be taking care of your mental health whether you are griding it out in Market 210 as an MMJ, the main anchor in Top 10, or a lottery winner. Get the help you need to deal with the life you have. It’s not weak to ask for help. It’s not a badge of honor to suffer in silence.
Take the lead, Lieutenant. Schedule a meeting with your boss or manager. Bring in other people if it helps. Use good strong words to explain why you are having the issues you are having. Do it at a calm moment and prepare for the peace treaty you are presenting. Write a letter to HR explaining in a non-emotional way why you are at the point you are. When corporate comes to town, and they do those group meetings? ASK QUESTIONS. I promise you nobody is going to get fired for asking, “I saw we posted record profits as a company, but raises haven’t been given for three years. What’s the plan to compensate the people at ground level?” Now if you say “All you people are getting rich and I’m barely getting enough food. You are crapping all over us in the name of profit”, that’s not going to get you to win the battle.
Strategy is everything when it comes to war.
Here’s another thing I can also promise you. Your BOSS is stressed out, maybe thinking of leaving, watching their 401k die in a stock market crash, figuring out how to get the kids to school, anxious about everything in their own lives. A dirty little secret? They are anxious about each and every one of you as well.
We have nothing if we don’t have you, and if we don’t know what’s eating at you we can’t help fix it. Just because we are a boss, there is no guarantee we won’t say the wrong thing, lose our temper, make a mistake, or 12, have mental issues as well. Nobody trains us for leading a newsroom in a pandemic. Nobody tells us how to get 7 reporters working 7 days straight for a hurricane that ripped apart a city without physically and mentally draining you. We learn as we go and make notes for next time. Just because we are experienced doesn’t mean we can read minds. You’ve got to open the communication. We want to be better for us, for you, and for the business. We are fighting this battle WITH you, but please open your eyes and see that. Stop pointing your verbal guns at us when we’re trying to help you win. For goodness sake, if we make a mistake and apologize, accept it and move on. Don’t hold it like a grenade to use every time we interact.
TRUTH: There is probably an 80% chance your boss has fought for you, defended you, or protected you from some kind of something and you don’t even know it.
If you are older than 40 or dealing with someone older than 40, there’s a good chance they came from the “rub some dirt on it and move on” mentality when they got hurt.
Did we feel all the things that you feel? YES! It just was taboo to talk about it. Much like all the things the younger generations brought into the sunlight, like rallying for social change, LGBTQIA rights, hourly pay for people who were once salaried and are now hourly. Check out the FSLA law that went into effect in 2019. WORKERS like PRODUCERS were part of making that world more lucrative for you. It came after years of people getting paid one amount for working a variety of hours. No longer could we put on a schedule that Jennifer = 5pm Producer. It had to be Jennifer = 9am – 6pm/Produces 5pm. We had to show we were really JUST working people 8 hours and making sure they got OT when they worked longer.
It starts with someone. Why not you?
There are things happening RIGHT NOW in conference rooms and board rooms you’ll probably never see (heck, I’ll probably never see them), but there is an effort at all levels to win this war.
While they might not be talking directly about one person in particular, they are battling Retrans agreements (has your station ever been in the middle of a DISH dispute and you have to run that crawl all the time?), people who want digital news but don’t want pre-rolls, making the kind of money off digital they make off broadcast (sorry, but advertisers with the big bucks STILL want Broadcast), praying a new election year brings more money in to fix issues, figuring out how to make money off social media instead of letting Zuckerburg and Co. reap the rewards of our hard work, and recovering from the crippling and expensive effects of COVID.
Going through the 2008 economic Chernobyl there were so many layoffs, cutbacks, spending days wondering if you were next to go, watching pay freezes happen, friends losing their homes, having your 401k match disappear.
So much of what we went through is quoted in the book turned movie “Too Big To Fail”…https://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=8456377364029514895
“I don’t really understand why there needs to be so much tension about this. The country is facing the worst economy since the Great Depression. If the financial system collapses, it will take every one of you down.”
“There’s not a bank in the world that has enough money in its vault to pay its depositors. It’s all built on trust. And, Wendy, we are so very close. Morgan Stanley, Goldman is an inch away. If the other banks stop trusting them, if they pull back on interbank lending, it’s over in a matter of hours. And from there it goes too fast to stop, a run, and not just on one bank, I mean on the whole system. And average people wondering, Is my money safe? They start pulling their cash. And after that, lines outside the banks smashed ATMs. A couple of weeks, there’s no milk in the store.”
..and each of these can be applied to our local newsroom situation now. Let’s adjust.
“I don’t really understand why there needs to be so much tension about this. The industry is facing the worst staffing shortage since the Great Depression. If the financial system of broadcasting collapses, it will take every one of you down.”
“There’s not a broadcast business in the world that has enough money in its vault to pay its staff what they want to make…It’s all built on trust. And, Wendy, we are so very close. XX and XX companies are an inch away. . If the employees stop trusting them, if they pull back on moving forward in the business, it’s over in a matter of months. And from there it goes too fast to stop, a run, and not just on one company, I mean on the whole industry. And average people wondering, can I trust the news? They stop watching and clicking and shopping with advertisers. And after that, lines outside PR Companies and smashed resumes reels. A couple of years, there’s no news on the air.”
But remember – we got THROUGH 2008, with battle scars on retirement funds and housing prices that eventually went up.
What’s the difference between then and now? Nobody gave up. Or fewer people *gave up.
**This is not to say that giving up and “quitting” is the same thing. It’s not a sign of weakness, you need to do YOU, it’s just an argument again on the other side of the coin from all the discussions we’ve had lately.
You also have more mental health resources to use that didn’t exist before in a society that allows and encourages these conversations. We never could openly talk about anxiety or depression or PTSD after a terrible story in my early news years. “Rub some dirt in it and move on”.
Use them. Call the EAP for your company. Set up a meeting with a counselor to use real-time words in a face-to-face conversation, one you were never fully trained to have. You’ll not only be a better employee you’ll be a better journalist. You won’t rely on emails and social media messages to get the story, you’ll go knock on doors or approach parents at a park easier with less social anxiety.
I guarantee in the Revolutionary War when a soldier went to a General and said “I’ve been shot, and I’m bleeding” the General didn’t tell him he was being dramatic and to go back to work.
If you genuinely feel you don’t have a boss who will allow that conversation, he or she is coming around. We’ve all had a crash course over the past few years in this. That battle is being won in webinars, new company culture policies, secret complaint lines for investigations, and the like.
As we are in the midst of this revolution, remember that you aren’t fighting against the News Director or Company or Larger Entity. You are fighting against a system that is stagnant, too much-added work on the backs of workers who were already weighted down, and the people at all levels need bells of the church to ring like at the Boston Massacre to wake up and come fight. You, my dear friends who are burned out and broke, are the bells. Sound off.
YOU ARE MORE THAN THIS MOMENT IN TIME
I see too often from comments of people 3, 6, 9 months into the business wanting to bolt. Yes, you can in at a terrible time. But journalism is more than this moment in time. We’ve survived through Depressions, Economic Collapses, more wars than we care to count, racial disparity, gender gaps, and all kinds of trauma that could have ended us – but didn’t.
There’s a saying for pain patients “This moment too shall pass”. It will.
But it’s up to US, here and now, right now, to decide as a collective group of people who love bringing news to local communities and want to hold powerful people accountable and shine lights in dark corners, to decide what it will be on the other side.
As my job-seeking journey has lead me to great interviews in the business, a look at the life of freelancers, interviews outside of the business, and the thought of just moving to a shack and the beach and braiding hair with my dogs in tow, I get that there is a great precipice in front of us.
Think about how that precipice got there. It’s a simple matter of water meeting rock. Water wins, every time. Slow, controlled, and consistent, it winds its way into the core of the rock and makes a change. It doesn’t give up or say, “this is too hard, I’m going back to the beach”, it just keeps wearing away at the challenge in front of it, leaving a tall, beautiful canyon where we can stand on the edge. The canyon wouldn’t be so grand without the water being relentless.
Jumping saves yourself, not jumping might just save us all.