What Working in TV News Taught Me

Five years ago, I left a career in television news to instead pursue a career in marketing. I learned some valuable things during that time that I carried with me.

I will share those with you in a moment, but first, let me tell you a little about my former career. I worked at three different stations — two in Oregon and one in California.

I was never on camera (unless I happened to be in the background during a newsroom shot, which happened periodically). Every once in a while, a friend or family member would mention that they spotted me on TV typing at my computer, walking around with papers in my hand, or having a conversation with a co-worker. They got quite the kick out of my cameos. Honestly, though, I never really liked being on camera.

So what did I actually do?

I was one of those who diligently worked away in the background. I wore many hats over the years — newsroom intern, broadcast news writer, weekend morning news producer, web producer, online field reporter (local news at first, then the travel/outdoors beat), and digital executive producer.

With every step in my personal ladder of success, I developed sharp aptitudes that have served me well post-news. I now consider my time in the industry as a hard-won badge of honor.

As anyone who works in television news will tell you, it is definitely not an easy job. There is a lot of intense work that goes on behind the scenes.

Here’s what working in TV news taught me:

#1 — Flexibility

Television news requires you to work long hours, odd shifts, and sometimes weeks at a time without a day off. Your schedule is not your own, and you have to be extremely flexible with your time.

In my early television news career, I worked the overnight shift and then attended college classes all day, did homework afterward, slept for a few hours, and then it was back to work. It was brutal, but I was young at that time and could handle it. I actually only fell asleep in class once.

There were also times, generally during big breaking news, when I would work an 18-hour shift, sleep for a couple of hours, and then work another 18-hour shift. And there were too many times to count when I would work for two or three weeks at a shot without a day off.

Working in television news also requires you to help out wherever needed. You have to be flexible enough to do not only your own job but the jobs of others. You may have to run the teleprompter that day, answer the newsroom phone line, keep an intern busy, call a spokesperson for information, or set up interviews.

The long hours and the rolling up of the sleeves to do whatever it takes to get the job done is normal in television news. It is the nature of the beast, and anyone who works in the industry knows what they are signing up for.

What it taught me was how to be flexible to meet the needs of my employer. And even though my days of working insane hours and doing much more work than I signed up for are over, I still have the mindset that whatever needs to get done, I will do it.

  • Need me to work late to wrap up a project or finish a task? You got it.
  • Need me to do something important, but it’s not in my job description? Not a problem — what’s the task?
  • Need me to help a co-worker finish up a huge project? I’m heading to their desk right now.

#2 — Strong Work Ethic

Running a television newsroom is a 24-hour, Herculean effort. Stations are always short-handed, and the clock is always ticking closer to newscast time.

Plus, there is always the threat of breaking news at any moment that will throw a wrench in it all. Everyone must pitch in and do their part.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

There is no such thing as slacking in a television newsroom. You have to have a good work ethic, or your co-workers will despise you, and the station will fire you. It’s that simple.

My work ethic, even before television news, was strong. I am a genuinely trustworthy, professional, hard-working person who never takes advantage of my employers. I strive to do the best job I can and to help others succeed as well.

It was actually quite a culture shock for me when I left television news and entered the ‘normal’ workforce. I noticed people who seemed to be intentionally working as little as possible or who spent their day complaining about their job. I watched a co-worker shopping for clothes online during work hours and overheard others making personal phone calls.

It was disconcerting, but my creed has always been to ‘rise above,’ and I just continued working as hard as I always had.

#3 — Communication Skills

When you are an introvert, like me, communication skills can be difficult to master. You are quiet. You are introspective. You prefer to listen first. And it can be easy to let Type A personalities, like those who tend to work in a television newsroom, overshadow you.

I received a crash course in communication when I decided to join the television news ranks. And because I was an introvert, it was anything but easy.

But during my television news years, I learned to speak up, ask questions, be forthcoming with information, and be willing to go after information.

I learned how to interview people and communicate confidently with police, firefighters, politicians, and famous people.

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

I learned how to speak with compassion when talking to someone who had lost a person special to them. I learned how to communicate with those displaying anger or hate in their eyes.

And I learned how to communicate with — and not be intimidated by — the anchors and reporters I worked with (although, I really have my mother to thank for that part). She gave me this advice when I called her on my first day in a newsroom to tell her how nervous I was to meet people I had seen on TV — “Remember… they all pee and poop just like you and me.”

That was 20 years ago, and it still makes me chuckle. If I were to meet the likes of Kim Kardashian tomorrow, I wouldn’t be starstruck at all. I would simply imagine her on the toilet and laugh my head off.

#4 — Determination

One of the most valuable things I learned from my time in television news is determination. If you put your mind to it, you most certainly can do what your mind automatically tells you is impossible or crazy.

I would never have thought I could write a breaking news story in less than a minute but guess what — I did it thousands of times.

I would never have thought I could write and produce an entire newscast and ensure it went off live without a hitch. But I produced two one-hour newscasts a week for an entire year.

I never imagined I would be confident enough to interview strangers face-to-face. But I was confident, and I held my head high.

And before television news, I never would have dreamed I would be a journalist. But I was one for 16 years.

“The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” — Vidal Sassoon

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