Realities About Journalism That Can’t Be Learned From Universities

Jhemmylrut Teng

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I worked as a television correspondent for a decade. I managed to get into a television network before I formally received my bachelor’s degree in broadcast communication. I considered myself lucky then because I was living the dream. Until my sixth year, when I got to realize things that I need to understand to excel in the media industry. Essential elements that my professors in university never taught me.

Therefore, to those aspiring and new journalists out there. I am sharing these five realities I have learned the hard way while working as a reporter. These are facts you must ponder to advance your career on television news.

Media Is a Business

Most of the journalists, especially the younger ones, believe that this profession is a vocation that needs profound dedication because news doesn’t have holidays and it never sleeps. Some would even argue that journalism is a calling. It requires considerable passion because it takes extra courage to report the truth and be the voice of the oppressed.

However, such passion that drives journalists to make a difference is also the same passion that blinds them to the reality that media is a business. Yes, you are an employee of a company. Therefore, you are trapped in your television network’s business framework, an apparent fact that most journalists refuse to affirm, which media executives have been breathing every day.

If you are a fresh journalist in the industry, learn the business side of the media adequately. The sooner you get to understand it; the better opportunities come your way. Also, by knowing how the business works, you get to play the game and avoid being played. Passion is one thing, but money makes the network go on-air.

Executive Producers Have the Last Say

A newsroom consists of two significant departments, the news operation, and the news production. Journalists are part of the news operation as they go on the field to gather and report news daily.

Meanwhile, people in news production are the ones responsible for the overall look of the program. In layman’s terms, they are the people who work inside the air-conditioned newsroom and studio. The executive producers with their brigade of associate producers will always have the final say on who and what will go on air. Regardless of the immense hard work and time you put into your story, if the producers don’t approve it, your report won’t make the newscast’s line-up.

In most cases, producers will suggest butchering your story. As a passionate journalist yourself, you won’t back down without a fight. If you made your point reliable, you win. Your angle might even be part of the headline or the program’s teasers.

My advice to the newbies, be friends with the news production people, particularly the producers. You can negotiate with them, but aggressively contesting their ideas to promote yours is too risky, especially, if you are still starting. Do it when you are already gained more experience as a journalist. Remember, the executive producers could ban you from their program if they want to. Like I have said in #1, these people breathe the business every day.

Look Rich Albeit Poor

Seventeen years ago I told my father, I wanted to be a journalist someday. He immediately said, “You want to die poor?”

I was offended. My father undermined my dream. Then, after six years in the industry, I hate to admit that my dad was right. The public looked at TV reporters as intelligent, presentable, and attractive well-off people, like celebrities. That is how media, primarily television inflicts. Visuals are essential. Some television networks provide makeup and clothing allowances to their reporters, while sponsorship for their news presenters.

However, some networks cannot afford to provide these perks to their employees who face the camera. Yet, they still require their reporters and news presenters to compete with their counterparts in other television networks.

It is not a secret that looking good is expensive because it is an investment. But salary-wise, wherever in the world, journalists don’t earn much at all. It is not a high-paying job. In the United States, according to the PayScale.com reporters’ salary ranges from $26,000-$72,000 annually. Therefore, if you are aiming for a more significant fortune, this is not the profession.

Maximize your connections

So, what if you earn less? It is not an endgame. The most crucial perk of being a journalist apart from free travel, experience, and exposure is connection. Your connections are vital assets. In this job, you get to meet tons of people, companies, and startups, work with them as they could sponsor you in exchange for a feature story or coverage. How will you make that story go on-air? Be nice to executive producers, soon, you will get to lobby your stories as smooth as silk with these people. You do not need to beg for air time anymore, they will make air time for you.

It is a win-win strategy. You get to promote your connections businesses, and you get a sponsorship.

News is Entertainment

Television was invented for household entertainment. Like it or not, it is show business. I know some hardcore journalists who are reading this are now raising their eyebrows and arguing that it is not. Believe me, I know how it feels, I was like that before. But the reality on television speaks otherwise. So, yes, the news is entertainment. The more you discerned that, the better. Television news aims to inform, educate, and entertain.

If you know how to entertain, then you get to educate and inform the public better. Don’t take it pessimistically, instead utilize it to your advantage. Presenting straight news on television would not entice the audience to tune in. Less number of viewers are low ratings, and low ratings mean fewer advertisements. Therefore, no profits, and that is bad business management.

In television, news reporting is like telling a folklore narrative wherein conflict, drama, happiness, inspiration, and competition are evident. Personalities involved in an issue inevitably characterize as heroes, villains, winners, and losers. By doing such, the audience quickly grasps the information because the situation becomes more relevant and relatable to them.

It is not just about facts, it is how you tell the story

Complex topics such as supreme court trials, politics, and business deals must be reported in a simple and entertaining manner as well. In doing so, public attention is captured, and the goal is to get them hooked. If you are a journalist who is merely good at writing stories and reporting the news in a very unappealing robotic way, chances are the viewers already changed the channel in the middle of your report. You lost them, and you were forgotten. But if you are a journalist who also has talent in storytelling and performing, the public would not merely remember your story. They will remember you. Once they do, the producers and executives will invest in you by giving you initial segments to host. Soon, a program of your own. A great example of this is a journalist in the Philippines that made an international name because of his live report in 2015, when super typhoon Haiyan, one of the deadliest typhoons recorded in history, wreaked havoc in the country.

Atom Araullo, a good-looking young journalist, did a morning news live report amid the howling winds and raging floods caused by the storm surge. Instead of finding sanctuary, Araullo continued reporting while being swept off by the typhoon. On the other hand, his counterparts from other networks chose to be in a more secure area. Araullo’s manner of reporting hands down made the viewers tune in more to ABS-CBN, the network he worked for then. The public did not merely commend his report. They started recognizing him as a courageous reporter. To some extent, a hero. He gained more followers locally and internationally. Accordingly, ABS-CBN jumped on the bandwagon giving him a chance to host his own public affairs program, Red Alert, focusing on disaster preparedness. The network built Araullo’s brand as a dauntless natural disaster reporter.

To reinforce my point, being a good journalist on television is not enough. Inflicting entertainment to your report makes you a standout.

You Don’t Need Journalism or Communication Degrees to be in the Media

Sad but true. Some famous news personalities on television who make loads of money in the business did not have a journalism or communication degree.

The former face of Fox News, Megyn Kelly, is a lawyer. CNN’s prominent host Anderson Cooper graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science (and he is a Vanderbilt). Former ABC’s award-winning veteran journalist Katie Couric finished American Studies in 1979, and the list goes on.

The media industry is more flexible as there are no professional license qualifications for anyone who wants to be on television. Having a journalism or communication background provides a student with the fundamental knowledge of how television production works and news writing. Subjects that are not too complicated to learn once you get on board to the real world. Some news personalities simply know how to project well and read scripts on the prompters, and because they are entertaining and appealing to watch, they became household names.

Therefore, don’t fret to take a different college degree. At least you have something extra to offer when you enter the media world.

Being a journalist is a noble profession. In television, reporters are being looked at highly by the public with the utmost respect. The media’s influence is powerful as it can get people to move into action and take those authorities accountable.

However, the reality is not as lofty as it sounds. Journalism is a fraction of a large business, which still aims to sell and make a profit. In the media industry, it is not what you know; it is who you know. Your connection in the business matters a lot. If you get to meet the right people, then you are in for a better career path.

Therefore, understanding these five realities does not tarnish a journalist’s credibility. Instead, it boosts it even more. Utilize these practical guidelines to your advantage to make it big in the media, particularly on television.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.

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