TV Reporter Career Profile and Job Description
A TV reporter is assigned to cover stories outside the TV station or network each day. This is a career that involves travel, sometimes around the block, other times around the world, in order to bring back the story that will be presented on the newscast. Often, a TV reporter will have a videographer and possibly a field producer along with a story. But, thanks to smaller cameras, a TV reporter is increasingly being sent out to cover news alone.
Salary Range for a TV Reporter
As with most jobs in television, the salary for a TV reporter varies depending on a range of factors. An entry-level TV reporter working in a small DMA could earn as little as $20,000, maybe less. The salary rises dramatically for larger affiliate stations, which may pay $100,000 for a well-known, experienced reporter who is as popular as a station's news anchors.
The salary rises further for TV reporters at the network level. While a top correspondent for a prime-time newsmagazine might make $1 million, others who cover the White House or other key areas have the chance of earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. For these jobs, a talent agent is usually the one who negotiates the deal.
Education and Training Required to Become a TV Reporter
Many TV reporters get bachelor's degrees in communications, journalism or radio/TV/film. A few stick around to earn a master's degree, especially if they feel that will give them an edge when it's time to find an entry-level position.
But it's not uncommon for a TV reporter who knows she wants to cover politics to get a political science degree. Business or economics degrees can also be used to position a person to become a specialty reporter who concentrates on a specific beat. For those following this route, it's still critical to learn the basics of fairness, accuracy, media law and the other building blocks before launching a TV reporting career.
Special Skills Needed to Be a TV Reporter
To be a successful TV reporter, a person needs a special temperament. She needs to empathize with a mother whose child has just been murdered but also be aggressive enough to chase down a shady politician when there are tough questions to ask.
That requires self-confidence, determination, and an especially high work ethic. While it's easy for any TV reporter to plop down in a chair at a scheduled press conference, it's much different to be sent to the scene of a dangerous hurricane to produce stories. A TV reporter never knows from one day to the next what type of stories may be assigned or whether a workday may last the usual eight hours or be dramatically longer if there's breaking news to cover.
A Typical Day for a TV Reporter
A TV reporter would say there's no such thing as a typical day. Many are called to work early and forced to stay late, depending on the story they're assigned to cover.
A TV reporter is never far away from a cell phone or other device to stay in constant contact with the newsroom. That's not only true while on a story, but also while enjoying a day off. Just as with a police detective or firefighter, the call could come at any moment to get to the scene.
A TV reporter usually pitches story ideas to the station's assignment editor or news director, sometimes in editorial meetings that also involve the news anchors and producers. If an idea is approved, a reporter will begin making phone calls to get information and line up interviews before leaving the newsroom to shoot the story.
On other days, a reporter is assigned to cover an event, like a trial or a city council meeting. There's not as much preparation to do in lining up interviews because the reporter simply shows up at the scheduled time. But once there, a reporter has to compete with those from other TV stations, plus newspapers and radio to bring back information that no one else has.
Regardless of the assignment, a TV reporter knows that the cell phone may ring and she could be told to drop the story she's almost finished because of something else that's just happened. It could be a plane crash, a hostage situation or the birth of quintuplets at the local hospital. On September 11, 2001, every TV reporter in the country had to drop their daily assignments to cover the terrorist attacks.
Common Misconceptions About a TV Reporter
Many people may think a TV reporter spends a lot of time meeting sources in secret locations to get juicy details on scandalous stories, much as Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did to uncover the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon in the 1970s.
But most TV reporters eat drive-through dinners in the news car because there's always intense deadline pressure to get the story completed by airtime. A few investigative reporters get the time they need to sift through documents and meet with sources. The vast majority who report on fires, tornadoes and important trials are competing against the clock as much as the reporters from competing stations or networks.
Getting Started As a TV Reporter
A person who wants to be a TV reporter must know how to get information and turn it into an easy-to-understand story. Good writing skills are a must, as is a commitment to journalism ethical standards of accuracy, objectivity, and fairness. Getting started can take a couple of routes. A person can work behind the scenes at a TV station as a producer or writer, then convince the news director to take a chance at placing her on the air. Or a person who wants to be a TV reporter can work in radio or another type of media and then make the leap into television.
Expect the first assignments a TV reporter to get to be non-controversial, easy stories before having the chance to cover the lead story for the newscast.