An Unofficial Masters Course in the Broadcast Media

broadcast media careers

Many universities provide the hands-on knowledge the broadcast media industry requires from their new hires as part of their curriculum. But many don’t. Be sure to choose the right program.

After graduating college the next phase of your life abruptly takes over. Affectionately referred to as the “get a job and make money or else beg your parents to let you back in the house” phase, it is known for its difficult moments.

Sometimes, keeping things simple within your job seeking strategy is the best course of action, like, by asking nicely.

“A couple of months prior to my graduation, the news director of the local Fox affiliate came to campus for a presentation,” recalls Thomas Hallaq, then a student at Brigham Young University. “After his speech, I used the opportunity to introduce myself and make it clear that I was available. Not thinking I would be hired as a director, I told him, ‘I understand you need a technical director.’”

“I must have made an impression because I was soon offered a position as the weekend Newscast Director.”

Since that time, Hallaq has taken his real world experience into the classroom as an Assistant Professor at Kansas State University’s A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications where he’s helping set students up for the reality of the television business.

“Though it is not part of the formal curriculum, I often have conversations with my students about the low starting wages and the need to take a first job wherever it may be,” advises Hallaq. “These are important conversations to have. Occasionally, new students feel initial disappointment, but by the time they graduate the majority of students have an understanding of what to expect entering the field as a professional.”

An Unofficial Masters Course in Broadcast Media #tvjobs Click To Tweet

For more on the realities of the TV industry, the emergence of digital media as a career path and the importance of selecting the right collegiate program, here’s more with Professor Hallaq.

I read a study the other day saying that people are reading more than they ever have before – it’s just not newspapers – everything is digital. Does the traditional TV broadcast media have a newspaper life cycle, where in another decade it may be deemed much less relevant – or does TV always have a place in the living room of our society?

Hallaq: As with other forms of media, I feel television will experience a major change.

To some degree this change has already begun through the introduction of desktop video. As with desktop publishing, video has become much more available to the “every man.” How over-the-air television adapts is yet to be determined, though some changes have already emerged.

Likely the most noticeable transformation has been the consolidation of television news operations. Examples include Jacksonville, FL’s First Coast News, Kansas First News in Topeka, KS and other similar operations.

Streaming services such as Roku, Apple TV or other online services have also had an impact on broadcast programming. Whether or not this trend will become the new normal is yet to be determined, but it seems an indicator that significant changes are in the wind.

Social media has changed news gathering and reporting – there are more content creators than ever, the race to be first is more intense than ever and mistakes are more prominent than ever – is journalism headed in the right direction? And if not, can it get back on track?

Hallaq: There are many good things happening in the journalism profession.

As you mention, there is more and more content being created by more and more journalists than ever before. However, I feel the race to be first has become of such great importance to some news agencies that they have ignored the responsibility of providing quality information.

This needs to change.

A journalist’s responsibility is to provide current, interesting, informative, and accurate information. If one is not doing this, she is simply providing gossip and that’s not the business of journalists. Corporations need to get out of the business of promoting themselves and their advertisers and back into checking facts.

Providing gossip is not the business of journalists Click To Tweet

Can it change? Yes.

The industry has seen similar trends before – the yellow journalism of the late 19th century was a similar trend. In order for this change to take place, I fear some dramatic tragedy must first take place that will force the industry to get back to doing what it is supposed to do.

This will mean journalists stop promoting particular political agendas and offering opinions on every imaginable news event. Instead we need to be objective observers and sources of facts, enabling deep conversation and dialogue among the public.

Journalists ought to promote the idea of debate and communication rather than jumping into the debate themselves.

Journalists should remain as objective observers and sources of facts Click To Tweet

One of your research interests is in broadcasting history – but let’s spin it the other way – what do you think is the future of broadcasting, and how can a young person prepare themselves to embrace this future?

Hallaq: I feel the future of broadcasting is a bit unknown at this time.

It is an industry highly dependent on technology and we are now in a time when changes in technology are coming very rapidly. These changes have put video in the hands of nearly anyone who wants it. The hardware and software needed to produce quality video is now very affordable and will continue to become more easily available.

Young people are shifting demand by turning to the web for content instead of TV Click To Tweet

As for over-the-air broadcasting, this part of the industry too is changing.

broadcast media roles

Being a journalist is about finding the truth and starting the debate, not being the focus of it

More and more young people are turning to the web for content including movies, TV shows, and news. This trend is not likely to reverse itself, something professional broadcaster companies have identified.

However, I feel broadcast companies are also not willing to pour large budgets into new technology infrastructure any time soon. It was not long ago broadcasters were required to migrate to digital technology. I doubt they will do something similar for 3-D or 4K systems.

As a result of all this tech-talk, the best thing students can do in preparing for their careers is to learn the core principles of visual communication.

Technology is fun, but it will continue to come and go. If students only learn the technology, they will be out of a job before they ever start their career.

Learning to communicate with images, knowing what makes and good story, and other core visual communication tools will make a student a valuable employee and a life-long communicator.

Learning to communicate with images is a skill that never goes out of style Click To Tweet

When I was breaking into TV the emerging technology was non-linear editing – to get jobs you needed to have that skill – what is that skill now that employers demand from college graduates?

Hallaq: For any employee, there is a great need for solid communication skills: interpersonal, written, and oral. These are especially important for broadcasters since they are the skills used daily as professional communicators.

Added to these should be teamwork and leadership skills.

jobs in broadcast media

Having editing skills is a core expectation, but employers today are demanding much more

There are a variety of ways to develop all of these skills. Most easily, students can get involved in on-campus clubs – any club, but especially those relating to the industry they are studying. If there is no club on your campus fitting what you are looking for, start one.

Building something successful from ground zero can be very fulfilling and it looks great on the résumé too.

In the television industry, hands on experience is mandatory – how do students at KState get the experience employers seek? 

Hallaq: The broadcast program at K-state is very hands-on.

There are several ways students can get the experience they need to prepare for the workplace. As early as their freshman year, students can get involved with a student-government sponsored club, Wildcat Watch. This club is completely student run with a faculty adviser from the Journalism School.

The club produces a variety of live productions including on-campus events (i.e. Project Runway fashion show, concerts, and other events), a weekly news show, short films, and documentaries.

K-stateHD.tv is the on-campus production company that provides programming of Big-12 athletic events to Fox Sports. While professionals run this operation, students fill many of the positions. Managers prefer hiring students who are early in their college experience so that they can stay around as long as possible once they have been trained. Here, students are able to work in positions as cable pullers, production assistants, camera operators, and even technical directors or on-air talent.

The broadcast program at Kansas State offers a hands-on education Click To Tweet

By their sophomore year, students are taking courses where they get hands-on experience alone with the School’s video gear.

Classes producing the newscast are generally taken during the junior year. Here students work to produce a weekly live newscast, filling positions as producers, directors, anchors, reporters, and all other talent and crew for the show. They can then take this experience on to summer internships and senior-level classes where they interact with students from other emphases including Public Relations, Advertising, and Print media.

In addition to organized on-campus opportunities, many students also find networking contacts that allow for freelance work with off-campus clients or other local media outlets including radio stations and the local newspaper. Faculty members strongly encourage students’ participation in any and all of these programs to help them build a strong résumé once they leave school.

If you were an 18-year old kid getting ready for college, but knowing what you know now, is there anything you would personally do different in your college career?

Hallaq: First and foremost I suggest all students look for scholarships.

broadcast media scholarships

There are so many scholarships available to help offset the expenses of college – put in the effort to get some free money!

When I was in college, if I had known so many scholarships were available I would have actually tried to get some. There are scholarships available for students in nearly every situation. Are you a first generation college student? Maybe your father is a farmer? Maybe you come from a single-parent household, or are the ancestor of some historical figure?

Then there are the weird ones – do you have a great duck call? Maybe you are awesome at promoting soybeans or wear a superb milk mustache? These are all real scholarships available for college students.

Scholarships are essentially free money. For the price of writing an essay or two, or some other type of application, a savvy student could potentially have most of the college experience paid in full. Not a bad deal. In addition to seeking out scholarships, I also suggest students get as much hands-on experience as possible.

Would you say the program at Kansas State has a specific strength or focus?

Hallaq: The program at K-state is very focused on hands-on experiences. Students start very early in their academic experience using equipment for both audio and video production. There are also many opportunities for students to improve their writing skills including the campus newspaper and yearbook, both of which fall under the supervision and leadership of the Journalism School.

However, the more valuable avenues are found through student clubs and other non-academic entities. The university offers a student-run radio station, a student-run video production club, and the professional sports video production team – K-stateHD.tv.

Each of these organizations relies heavily on student workers for success and offer tremendous resume building opportunities. Largely because of these outlets, the K-state Journalism School has found many of our students are interested in video production aspects of broadcasting. Although we have many alums that have been successful as broadcast journalists and on-camera talent, the majority of our students are interested in pursuing careers in producing, directing, and editing including corporate, documentary and film production.

You traded a life in the control room for a life in the classroom – do you miss the TV life?

Hallaq: My passion is broadcast television!

I never planned on being an educator but since entering this aspect of my career I have found great satisfaction in helping students prepare for their own careers in television. While there are aspects of the “TV life” I miss, I don’t feel I have completely left it behind, just entered a different phase.

At times I miss the control room environment, at others I feel I never want to work full time in professional TV again. However, I do also look for ways to keep my fingers in the TV pie so to speak. I often produce videos of my own, most often for clients with low budgets. I feel it is important for educators to be proficient themselves in the skills they teach.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

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