Career Crossroads: Why A TV Producer Went from Behind the Scenes to On the Scene
Journalism jobs are hard to come by.
The highly competitive market, which showed signs of recovery since 2009, stalled the past two years, according to the University of Georgia’s annual Survey of Journalists and Mass Communications Graduates.
Landing a news job in front of the camera is even tougher now that there are fewer positions available. Typically, if one wants to work on camera, he or she must start out in a small market in the middle of nowhere. From there, they spend years bouncing from city to city, working their way up to a coveted spot in one of the country’s Top 10 largest markets.
“It sounded like a very lonely, transient lifestyle,” recalls Nia Hamm (@niaahamm) after the New Jersey native graduated from Rutgers University in 2008 with a dual degree in Journalism and African Studies. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to sacrifice all of my young adult life living like that.”
Although she wanted to report on-air, she put that dream on the back burner and accepted a behind-the-scenes freelance writing job right out of college with Fox News Channel in New York.
“I was just happy to have a job in journalism and not to have to move away to do it!” she says.
Hamm stuck with FNC for nearly five years, moving from freelance writer to producer. She then jumped to financial news channel CNBC as a video producer, even though she admits she always had a phobia of numbers.
Meanwhile, Hamm went back to school to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
“When I got to Columbia, I had decided I wanted to be a serious journalist and wanted to really explore hard core topics that people weren’t paying attention to or didn’t know much about,” she said.
Two of her Columbia professors — one a New York Times columnist, the other a Wall Street Journal columnist — helped her realize business journalism was much more than numbers. She found herself falling in love with it.
She used her time at CNBC to hone her passion for long-form writing. She successfully pitched stories to CNBC.com in addition to her video-producing duties. Hamm also took on other freelance gigs.
She desperately wanted to leave her desk and experience news as it happened. Hamm grew frustrated when that didn’t occur.
Hamm was at a crossroads in her career, trying to figure the best route. Her desire to be out in the field on-air nagged at her. It was the “what if” factor she couldn’t shake.
“I found myself stuck in a job where I was no longer feeling challenged in and that I didn’t think was offering me the kind of experience I needed and wanted,” she said.
Since she couldn’t get on-air work at CNBC or another big network in New York, Hamm took on weekend reporting at a small local cable news network, Fios1 (operated by Verizon).
It was some of the most challenging and exhausting yet exciting months of her life. After just three months there, Hamm recently landed a full-time reporting spot at News 12 The Bronx, a 24-hour cable news station that reaches more than 300,000 households.
Not only is she now in front of the camera, Hamm is “one-man banding” it where she does it all – shoots the video, conducts the interviews, and edits the entire story.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The way journalism is converging online, you need to have a multi-faceted set of skills, otherwise you will get left behind,” Hamm adds. “When you’re in the field recording, talking to people, trying to get them to talk to you, doing research, you have to do that in a very tactful and safe way.”
Leaving a comfy job with guaranteed income and security no doubt was risky. Hamm says she initially felt an exorbitant amount of anxiety and vulnerability.
But for Hamm, the experience and sense of fulfillment far outweighs the risks.
“I am able to grow as a journalist and build a career as a multimedia journalist rather than only an online writer or print writer or television reporter,” she said. “I can now call myself a multimedia journalist.”
Have an interesting story to share about your journalism career? Beyond Bylines’ Career Crossroads series features stories and job advice for journalists from other journalists. Tell us your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting @BeyondBylines. Catch up on previous Career Crossroads posts at http://bit.ly/careercrossroads.
Brett Savage-Simon is PR Newswire’s former director of audience relations and was a television reporter in her former life.