What do Local TV Journalists Do? Behind the Scenes of a Newsroom

In the world of digital PR, our work closely aligns with the journalism industry. Our job is to reach out to members of the media, often daily, to get news coverage for our campaigns and clients. Solid pitch and subject lines can make a world of difference when link building, but there’s also something else to factor in when trying to connect with a journalist: their daily schedule. 

What do journalists do daily? We all know what time the newscasts go on air, but do you know what happens before, during, and after it cuts to commercials? Sure, we’ve all seen movies and TV shows attempting to depict a day in the life of a journalist. I’m looking at you Firefly Lane, The Morning Show, and The Newsroom… and the list goes on and on. 

A variety of movies and TV shows that are about broadcast journalists.

We all know that movies and shows rarely show what these jobs are actually like. But there’s good news: I spent seven years in the local broadcast news industry working everywhere from Indianapolis to Chicago as a TV news producer before making the leap into digital PR. I’m not the only one! Our entire digital PR team comes with previous journalism experience and it definitely benefits the work we do! 

Let my career path be your benefit: I’m going to pull back the curtain and give you a glimpse into what local journalists do and share some tips about how to contact a journalist… including the best times to pitch and connect with these hard media workers.

Who Makes Up a Local TV Newsroom?

Before getting into the nitty-gritty details, it’s essential to first understand what positions actually make up a local TV newsroom. News stations are filled with various positions, including many that have no relationship or connection to those who pick and choose what stories are covered. This is why it’s important to reach out to the right people when pitching

The head of a local television station is the general manager. This person runs the entire TV station, including the sales side, and while they have some involvement in the news and how it’s presented, their position is more high-level rather than taking part in the day-to-day story creation process. 

A pyramid showing the makeup of local television stations.

In the hierarchy of TV news, there are two major departments: the news department and the sales department (the general manager oversees both departments). While the departments do see some crossover in situations such as sponsored segments or events, the sales department is not usually involved with the news department.

To ensure ethical media coverage, sales departments normally have little-to-no contact with journalists. In most of my past stations, these employees worked on entirely separate floors. The news team barely met sales: every once in a while, we’d meet a sales employee on an elevator or in a break room and it was like meeting a stranger. Despite working in the same company, there was no working together.

Text of newsroom positions

The head of the news department is called the news director. This person is the boss of the entire newsroom. News directors each have different styles in how they run their newsrooms. I’ve worked with some who I talked with a grand total of about two times: when I was initially hired and the day I put in my notice to leave. On the opposite end, I’ve worked with news directors who would go through my newscast daily and ran nearly every editorial meeting the station held.

News directors are the person to reach out to if you’re looking for a job in the newsroom, but not necessarily the person to pitch for daily media coverage. Similar to the general manager, the news director position is generally more high level taking on responsibilities such as hiring and analyzing newscast rating performances over time, versus involvement in the daily grind. 

So, who within the news department is the best target for media outreach? While you mainly see anchors and reporters on the TV screen, there are also all sorts of people behind the scenes making sure everything goes smoothly including producers, video editors, engineers, and more. For digital PR purposes, it can be hard to connect with the right people when pitching your work and that could lead to no coverage– which no one wants! Below are the five primary positions worth pitching:

  1. Assignment Desk Editors
  2. Producers
  3. Web Producers
  4. Reporters
  5. Anchors

Local TV News Shifts

First caveat: even though people may work in the same position at a TV station, it’s vital you know what schedule they work.

For example, say there are two people who are assignment desk editors. Although they each perform the same role, one may work overnights Monday through Friday, while the other works the evening shift Wednesday through Sunday.

Why does this matter? As we in the Digital PR world continue to focus on more targeted and thoughtful pitches, in place of mass blasting hundreds of journalists, this information can help you reach out to the journalist at the optimal time for them to read your email.

While you’re building media lists, try and determine which shift your contacts work and pitch accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself pitching the journalist when they’re logging off at the very end of their shift or even when they’re asleep! 

The daily schedule of journalists falls primarily into three shifts: morning, daytime, and nighttime.

Graphic showing the hours of morning, dayside, and nightside TV news shifts.

The “morning” shift is more like the graveyard shift. It can range anywhere from 10 p.m. – 6 a.m. CST (for positions such as producers and assignment desk editors) to 2 a.m. – 10 a.m. CST (for positions such as anchors and reporters). However, these times are estimates and vary depending on the newscast (more for producers than any other position). When I worked overnights, there were some days I’d come in at 8 p.m. while producing the 4 a.m. newscast. But on days I put together the 9 a.m. show I wouldn’t come into the newsroom until 1 a.m. 

The daytime shift, also known as “dayside,” is more of the normal 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. shift. This is compared to the nighttime shift, also known as “nightside,” which is usually a schedule that runs 3 p.m. – 11 p.m. CST. All these schedules can vary, depending on the station’s location, the station itself, and staffing. 

Depending on the TV station and broadcast market size (DMA), some stations are fully staffed 24/7, while others may have some hours where no one is on the clock. But with recent cost-cutting measures, and skeletal staffing situations in local news, many news stations now have limited staff (or are understaffed) during the overnight and weekend hours. 

The Unpredictable Schedule of TV Journalists

You may have heard the phrase that the news never sleeps. Never has it been more true than in a television newsroom. There is no mundane, typical day in a journalist’s life because you can never predict what the news of the day may bring. Some work days are chaotic from the moment you walk through the door, until the moment you leave. On other days, especially holidays such as President’s Day or Labor Day, it’s so quiet it’s hard to find newsworthy content to fill an entire newscast. 

Although work schedules can be unpredictable, most stations do have a daily meeting at the start of each shift. This editorial meeting is when staff, mainly reporters, pitch stories that they would like to try and cover for the day. If you are hoping to newsjack something in the news cycle, you should schedule your pitches before the daily pitch meeting. Once these meetings are complete and stories are assigned, people hit the ground running and many don’t focus on anything aside from that story. So, here’s who and what to keep in mind while pitching to TV journalists.

Assignment Desk Editor Job Description

Assignment desk editors can be your first hurdle to getting news coverage. Think of these workers as the organizers of TV news stations.

Assignment Desk Editor job description

Assignment desk editors comb through daily press releases, answer station phone calls and emails, act as the central hub of communication among newsroom members and often decide what stories are worth pursuing for the day.

In addition, some assignment editors assist in coordinating interviews, directing reporters, and choosing live shot locations. When you send a pitch to a station’s generic email, it will most likely end up in the inbox of assignment editors (though it’s important to note that in smaller stations it may go to all news department staff). It’s up to these journalists to go through the press releases and see if there is anything worth covering. If there is, they’ll pass it along to reporters, producers, and anchors, but if they don’t think it’s worthy of coverage that might be the end of the press release’s journey. 

If your press release is forwarded to other newsroom staff, that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes it into the newscast and gets coverage. Instead, it has to be read once in the next inbox it most likely goes to: a TV producer.

What Does a TV Producer Do?

TV producers are like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. Producers do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work to make a newscast come together. They have the power to pick most of the stories that are run in the newscast (and in which order stories run), do the majority of the script writing, and then monitor the show’s time and cue talent.

Job description for a TV news reporter.

While producers could be ideal for getting news coverage, they’re also balancing a lot of work every day. TV producers are inundated with emails, texts, and phone calls while trying to put together an hour’s worth of news coverage with limited to no help. Even in bigger markets, some producers don’t have any writers to assist with this process, so there’s little time to glance at emails or calls unless it’s from one of their reporters or photographers.  

As a former producer, I’ll admit, the days are often very long with very little downtime. While I would sometimes run pieces on air that I was emailed, I wouldn’t necessarily link back to them at the end of the day: I was simply too busy. Producers end their day after their newscast ends once they’ve sent a final show report. At that time in the day, the last thing I’d think about doing is posting a web article. By the time I came in the next day, I was already onto the next show. Stories covered 24 hours ago are often considered “old news” and no longer of interest to viewers.

Therefore, when pitching a story to a TV producer, keep in mind you may be more likely to get an unlinked mention on air than a link. Obviously, digital PR is all about the links, but good brand visibility is still a plus!

The Difference Between a TV Producer and a Web Producer

TV Newscast ProducerTV Web Producer
Writes content for television station newscastWrites content for television station website
Coordinates live newscast from the control roomRuns livestreams on station website, including station newscasts, press conferences, and other events
Times the show and cues live anchors and reportersSends mobile push alerts to viewers, updates social media

While TV producers put together the newscasts, TV web producers are the newsroom employees who keep the website up to date. Managing to attract the attention of a TV web producer is like uncovering a Golden Ticket in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. These producers are ideal as contacts since posting an article with a link is part of their job. The web producers post stories throughout the day while updating the station’s social media, sending out push notifications, and helping to stream live press conferences and newscasts. 

Another caveat: Not every station has full-time web producers. In many small market TV stations, some producers or assignment desk editors may work dual roles. As many TV stations consolidate positions and do more with less, web producers are often lumped into other jobs. More often than not, reporters are the ones posting their own stories on the website daily, not web producers.

TV News Reporter Job Description

So, what do TV reporters do? In movies and TV shows, you’ve probably seen them running around town with a photographer trying to get interviews and doing live reports. Is that realistic? Kind of.

Job description for a tv news reporter.

In larger DMA markets, many reporters have photographers to film interviews, shoot video, and lead their live shots. However, in many (if not most) markets, it is now common to have multimedia journalists (MMJs). The title is a fancy way of saying that the reporter is doing two, possibly three jobs at once.

These reporters write, shoot, edit, and post their stories essentially doing the roles of a reporter, a photographer, and a web producer. This is important to recognize and keep in mind for us in the digital PR world because MMJs work at a different pace than we do. They are constantly on the move, and barely have time for a bathroom break or snack, let alone to comb through email pitches. 

GIF of rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

Even if TV news reporters have a photographer, they’re under constant pressure to meet daily deadlines. These reporters may have multiple stories assigned to them throughout the day. Generally, if they don’t have any audio or video, the piece doesn’t work as a story for television. They don’t often have the luxury to wait an hour or two for someone to respond about interview availability. When most TV journalists reach out about a story, they need answers immediately.

That’s why I’d recommend pitching reporters at the start or end of their shifts unless you’re trying to newsjack a piece. After daily stories are assigned, reporters and MMJs don’t have the time to check their emails unless a story has fallen through. They’re racing against the clock and your email could just end up lost in the shuffle.

TV News Anchors: Should You Pitch Them or Not?

When you think of TV news the first position you probably think of is an anchor. Anchors are the faces of the news stations, the “talking heads”  you see sitting behind a desk reading through the day’s headlines.

Job description for a TV news anchor.

Anchors are the most well-known newsroom personalities, even more so than reporters. So, shouldn’t they be your key contact when emailing your pitches? In my opinion, not really. While each anchor has a different style and involvement in their newscasts, they are not as fundamentally involved in the content process as you may think. 

During my days in TV news, I had some anchors who would pass along story ideas my way, but it wasn’t a daily occurrence. Anchors act as one of the final checks of the newscast before going live. Think of them as the teacher checking your final paper after you’ve gone through drafts and drafts.

After scripts are written and read by the producer, executive producer (a managing producer), and maybe even a news director, then anchors step into the picture. Anchors often tweak scripts to match their speaking style or make minor edits rather than writing or pitching brand-new stories.

While it can’t hurt to pitch anchors, I definitely wouldn’t rely on them to get coverage.

Ready. Set. Pitch.

So, when is the best time to pitch a TV newsroom, and who should you target? Not to pull a fast one on you, but there’s no secret one-size-fits-all approach for this! Instead, my best recommendation is to pitch carefully and thoughtfully. Keep in mind each person’s role in a newsroom and pitch accordingly. TV journalists have a different day-to-day work schedule than those in other media roles.

GIF from KARE-TV of photojournalist.

Because of the nature of TV news, the daily schedule for journalists is intense. Each day journalists have just hours to meet their deadlines. With that being said, it’s vital to be responsive if a TV journalist is interested in covering something of yours. Do not take a long time to respond. We recommend having quotes and interview subjects ready to go because journalists may have to move on if they don’t get a response quickly. Often journalists may be reaching out to more than one expert just to see who is available, so you’re not only racing against the clock, but you may be racing against your competitors too. 

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