The early years…
Parents: “Tell me about your job.”
Me: “Well I write stories and put them together in the newscasts you watch on TV.”
Parents: “So when are you going to be on TV?”
Me: “I’m not…”
Every journalist who is not a reporter or correspondent has had that conversation with their parents, family members or friends who don’t work in the business. The jobs in front of the camera are more tangible. More accessible. People understand what they can see. Many people interested in the field gravitate to jobs with which they are familiar. Oftentimes, hiring managers will get dozens, if not hundreds of resumes for on-air roles, and a small fraction of those for off-camera positions. In a competitive industry it is often difficult to get your first on-camera gig because the jobs, even in smaller markets, are competitive. Not impossible, but difficult. Considering jobs behind the camera may be as rewarding, if not more, depending on your career goals.
This is not to say that you should not follow your passion if it takes you in front of the screen. More important than anything else, if you are not passionate about the field you are pursuing, then it is not worth pursuing. Point blank. But if you are sure about journalism, but unsure about which path to take, transitioning your focus from in front of the camera to behind the scenes may be a sound career move.
“Behind the scenes” has a connotation of lesser than, but in actuality, many behind the scenes roles hold the power of decision making in a newsroom. Show producing, which I am admittedly bias towards, allows a journalist to hold the cards in deciding the news your audience receives in each newscast. From how stories are written, to which stories make air, the producer holds the power for the total package.
Producing also puts you on a more direct track to management. I am often asked about transitioning to management, and one key tip I give journalists is that as a producer, you have to figure out a way to convince your team to do what the newscasts needs, even if you don’t have the title per se to make them do it. You learn the value of team building, trust building and decision making on the fly. Depending on how your newsroom is structured, at certain times of the day, the producer may be the most senior decision-maker in the building. Honing that skill before you have the title and position that requires people to follow your lead is an important baseline for becoming a news manager. If people want to work with you, want to be lead by you and trust your decision making when they don’t have to, you become a more effective leader when they do have to.
Depending on your role in your newsroom, your on-camera work may come with a lot of management or leadership responsibilities. As the anchor, you are constantly working with your management on the direction and voice of your newscasts. You become the de facto leader in a lot of newsrooms–your desk is the first place the troops will go when there is an issue they feel like management should know about. Good managers depend on the anchors to be the voice of the newsroom and to keep them honest on the pulse of the team. Rookie journalists tend to lean on you for guidance, advice or feedback. In many cases, you are already serving in a leadership role, even if you don’t have the title. If you are looking for change, a path to longevity or a way to change your profile, consider transitioning those skills into a management role. Career experience almost always makes managers stronger and more effective.
I’ve personally spoken to several on-camera stars who are either thinking about or went forward with making the transition. It can be done. You can do it. But only if it is something you are passionate about.