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Television stations add news and staff

Over the last several years, the media industry has had to make a significant number of cuts – to news, staff and frequency of publication. But while the television industry specifically has had to lay off plenty of employees, and even restructured the nature of the way news is captured in some cases (think backpack journalism), cutting news is one thing it hasn’t had to do much. At least not according to Hofstra University’s 2012 TV and Radio News Staffing and Profitability Survey, which reported that television stations are actually airing more news.

But this isn’t really anything new. The survey notes this is the fourth year in a row that the number of hours has increased, from 4.6 to 5 to 5.3 last year, while this year it is up to 5.5. Stations affiliated with Fox are running an average of 6.5 hours of news a day; CBS affiliates are at 6.8; ABC at 5.0; and NBC at 5.6. Bob Papper, the survey’s author as well as the professor and chair at Hofstra University’s journalism, media studies and public relations department, notes in the report that this isn’t just a matter of a couple of stations bringing the average up either. Most stations are airing approximately 5 hours of news a day. Saturday and Sunday also gained 6 minutes of news on average. More than 45 percent of stations reported adding more news. Meanwhile, only a small percentage reported running the same amount of news. Additionally, 3.9 percent of all TV news actually reported cutting newscasts. For 2012, 31.2 percent of stations reported plans to add newscasts, while 60.2 percent reported they would probably stay the same. No stations reported planned cutbacks in news programming.

“I think what the data says is that local TV sees local news as critical to its long-term survival,” Papper told inVocus. “While the ratings for a number of specific news programs have gone down, the aggregate news audience is still high, so stations are responding to that demand with more and more news, especially in the morning but also in other time slots.  Once a station has a news department in place, the incremental costs of adding news remains relatively low, especially in comparison with ever-increasing costs for syndicated programs.”

Surprisingly, television stations also added staff in 2011 with 1,131 jobs, a 4.3 percent gain from the previous year. According to the report, the average TV station hired 5.4 replacements and 1.5 new additional positions. Meanwhile, the majority of news directors don’t expect any staff changes this year, while many expected to replace any staff that is cut.

“When newspapers started shedding staffers, they also cut the news hole – in some cases, pretty dramatically. TV, in contrast, added news even when it was cutting staff. That was okay for a while in a recession, but it was never a viable long-term strategy,” said Papper. “For two years in a row, TV has added staff – including a surprisingly high number for an odd-numbered year (2011) – and I suspect 2012 will see another jump. The biggest political advertising spending spree we’ve ever seen is certainly helping to fund that growth. What happens to the economy after the election is likely to determine what 2013 looks like.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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