I recently posed a poll question on Linkedin. More than 5500 people read the poll and I got some interesting answers and information from the results and the comments.

Here was the question for broadcast and digital journalists: If you can’t have more money, what other “incentive” could the company give you to show you are valued. 14% of those who responded said concert or sports tickets, another 14% said they would like a personal phone call or direct compliment on their work, 29% said a food or gift card would make them feel valued and 44% said travel or lodging vouchers would show them management cares about them.

The raw results are interesting, but it is the comments by scores of working journalists and managers that might help us understand and fix what some are calling “The Great Resignation” in broadcast journalism. Clearly there is a problem when starting journalists in smaller cities are making less than minimum wage salaries to begin their careers. Clearly there is a problem when producers and even some middle managers must work second jobs, just to pay for their apartments.

Some broadcast groups are now controlled by venture capital organizations that are only interested in cutting budgets and flipping the companies. It’s the bottom-line that matters, not the long-term growth and innovation of the product or the people.
So, the question is, what can managers do to make their team members feel valued? They claim they can’t hand out raises, sometimes even when renewing contracts.

Here are some of the comments I received when I posed that question.

One small market producer said, “I love me some gift cards! I can always shop. Especially if I’m using those little plastic cards that don’t send me a bill every month.” Having a sense of humor is very important when you are struggling to pay rent, student loans and utilities.

An experienced news director responded, “I asked this question in one of my surveys and interestingly, less of a workload was just as important, if not more important, than the money.” The issue of stress and workload is a huge factor in this problem. It’s true, money will NOT solve “The Great Resignation” but many who responded also said it’s a good place to start.

Lifestyle issues, however, were a major theme from many of those who responded. One middle manager wrote, “…a lot of things people enjoyed as a fruit of such a labor-intensive industry were the perks that have now gone away in the post 2008 TV business. If the station did your pickup/drop off dry cleaning or provided actual healthy meals regularly instead of election night pizza, the time would be more valuable than money. But he also said, “and that’s ignoring the unbalanced amount spent on “your look”. It’s true, some jobs provide uniforms and other grooming perks but those journalists who are expected to be on TV or appear on social media must look good and the cost of that falls on their shoulders. The era of clothing allowances for broadcast journalists is mostly gone.

The survey shows that tangible rewards are always needed and appreciated, but sometimes it is the rewards for the heart that mean the most. A TV station creative services director said, “,..my employees ask me for either free tickets or an Amazon card. That’s not too hard. The biggest thing they want is to feel like they make a difference.”

A former TV newser answered the survey and added a comment I am sure many were thinking. Forget about the gift cards and the compliments, he said, and start paying people what they are worth. “Those broadcast companies are not telling the truth. They can afford to pay people what they are worth. They choose not to, then rationalize it when their ratings/clicks plunge. The suits are not nearly as smart as they think they are and until they are the ones suffering…they won’t figure out what’s killing journalism”
And this comment sums it up for those who say forget about the perks and show me the money. One person said, “I want to be paid what I’m worth for the years of experience and sacrifices I have made in the industry. Too many years of working 6-7 days/week, 12+hour days and missing holidays with family due to the demands of the media. Sorry, your perks don’t interest me. A respectable wage is not too much to ask when the big bosses are receiving crazy bonuses and pay.

Some of those who responded wanted the option to work from home or to work with no contract if they are not getting more money. They wanted flexibility in their schedules and few “life” interruptions. More personal time off was a big demand. Journalism is not like that. News cannot be scheduled around parties or PTA meetings. It’s that reality that adds to the pressure many broadcast journalists are feeling. Also, the universities are not preparing graduating students for the real world they are about to join.
One respondent said, “If they truly can’t pay more…this was concerning to me thinking about my future in an industry that was so strapped that it claims it actually cannot pay its employees more. So, figure out a new business model, or cut back on the output so that you CAN pay a smaller number of people to do less.”

I suggested a controversial idea in the comments section and didn’t get much input. Maybe no one likes it. How about, for instance, 10 paid PTO days a year with the option of buying more with a slight pay reduction or reduced vacation time? This plan would give the worker the option of planning their life and time off while partnering with the company for flexibility.

Here is the bottom line from the survey. The problem is real. Talented professional journalists are abandoning the newsrooms because they feel under-paid and unappreciated. There is no one way to fix it. Listening is the key. Managers need to listen to the “room” and react. If it’s more training and coaching to help the employees do their job and excel, invest in it. If it’s historically low pay that is infecting your newsroom, fight to change it with a real plan.

One former news director and agent responded to the survey with four words. This might be a way to get everyone reinvested in making broadcast journalism strong and viable again. He said, give me “stock in the company.” If you were a part owner, maybe you could help find a solution.

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