TV News Director Career Profile and Job Description
A TV news director faces high pressure and a lot of risk in his career as the person in charge of a news department at a television station. This job title is easily confused with that of a newscast director, who sits in a control room and punches buttons to successfully present a newscast on the air. They are two very different careers.
A TV news director must be skilled at all aspects of news -- from how to get a story to how to avoid being sued. That requires a basic knowledge of media law in addition to being an expert at journalism.
If that's not enough, a TV news director also needs to be an expert at branding. Simply presenting stories isn't enough in today's competitive media environment. It takes market research and knowing how to reach the target demographics of your audience.
Salary Range For a TV News Director
In a small DMA, the news director is likely the highest-paid person in the news department. Even so, the salary could be around $40,000 to start. It would partially depend on experience and how much money other department heads at the station earn.
As market size grows, the TV news director's salary is often eclipsed by those of TV news anchors, especially if some of those anchors are considered "stars". A TV news director has to accept that some of her employees may earn more than she does, even though her job is likely more stressful.
Education and Training Required to Become a TV News Director
A TV news director would start with the same college degree as others in the news department -- journalism, communications, radio/tv/film are common -- although there's nothing to stop a graduate with a business or political science degree from becoming a TV news director with the correct experience and training.
No one starts a career as a TV news director without having a background in other jobs in the newsroom. While the most common career path is to work your way up from being a TV news producer, others may have been a TV news reporter or a videographer before getting the seat in the glass office.
A TV news director needs common managerial skills in handling a staff, budget, and inventory of expensive television equipment. Additional training may be given in order to know how to organize and operate a department.
Special Skills Needed to Be a TV News Director
A TV news director will likely have to juggle her time training new hires, making split-second decisions on content, ensuring ethical standards are always met and having to appease her own boss, the station's general manager. That requires an unbelievable amount of time-management skills as well as being able to shift gears at any given moment.
A TV news director may be sitting in a department head meeting talking about budgets when she has to respond to breaking news by dispatching crews and getting someone on the air with an immediate bulletin. She must remain calm in the face of chaos because she has dozens of people to lead.
A Typical Day for a TV News Director
A successful TV news director isn't locked in an office but is actively involved in the day-to-day decisions of the newsroom. That means attending the regular editorial meetings, when stories are selected to be broadcast, solving problems when those stories aren't coming together or when equipment breaks and making sure stories are fair and accurate before they go on the air.
But she still has to find the time to attend meetings, review resumes for job openings and fill out all the typical office paperwork that piles up on her desk. That's not to mention her telephone that's always ringing.
TV news directors face so much stress that it's common for many of them to only stay at a station for a couple of years. As they move up to larger stations, they have the luxury of having executive producers, managing editors or assistant news directors to share the workload. But in larger markets, the pressure to perform in the Nielsen TV ratings increases, so the stress never goes away.
Common Misconceptions About a TV News Director
People in the newsroom often think the TV news director is the ultimate decision maker on everything from how the anchor desk is designed to who gets to go overseas to report a high-profile assignment. But there are many others who have a role in running the department.
First, a TV consultant may be calling the shots or having a big influence on how the department is run. A consultant may have conducted market research or focus groups on how to build the audience, which may determine who gets the trip overseas.
Next is the station's general manager, who is over the news department and all other departments at the station. He may be the one who decides that the station can't afford to build a new anchor desk, based on the performance of the sales department, which is in charge of selling TV advertisements.
Finally, there's the audience to consider. The news director may secretly wish to get rid of a problem anchor, knowing the anchor's drinking problem is one of the top reasons for getting fired in media. But the news director knows there would be a viewer backlash because the anchor is beloved in the community and has kept his drinking a secret.
Getting Started as a TV News Director
A TV news director needs to be a jack-of-all-trades in the newsroom. Develop a wide-ranging set of skills without focusing all of your efforts entirely in one area. A top news anchor won't become a successful TV news director without knowing more than how to read on-air.
Newscast producing experience is a vital skill to have to become a TV news director. That's because a producer is the manager of a newscast, making sure a long list of details receives attention and leading a group of anchors, reporters, and production department workers into creating a quality newscast.
The reward for being a TV news director is knowing the department is yours, especially when ratings are up and your staff members are winning media awards. There's also the satisfaction in seeing someone you hired straight out of college grow into a top-notch TV journalist, even if that means saying goodbye as that person moves up to a larger city. That can make up for all the day-to-day headaches.