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Michelle Turnberg, Published September 04 2011

Turnberg: The pleasure and pain of TV news

Nothing gets people riled up like messing with their television lineup. When “Wheel of Fortune” is pulled from the air for the state high school tournaments, when there are too many weather cut-ins, or when your favorite anchor is no longer in the anchor chair, the phones at the station start ringing off the hook.

Working in local television can be crazy, exciting and frustrating at the same time. I spent 16 years in television, and loved most of it. I still remember my first day of my first communications class at Concordia College. There were about 100 students in the class, all of us wannabe broadcasters. The professor’s first words went something like this: “The pay is terrible, the hours are terrible, you’ll work early morning, nights, holidays and weekends. It’s hard to have much of a family life, and many of you will get burnt out and end up doing something else.” That was enough for me; I knew I needed to pay off my Concordia education. I switched my major to biology.

I graduated with a bio degree but knew deep down I still wanted to be in television. I returned to school and pursued a degree in mass communication. My first job as an anchor/reporter paid a salary of $16,500 a year.

My old professor knew what he was talking about. The hours were difficult, and it was a challenge balancing family life and news anchor hours, and without exceptional support, finding balance can be nearly impossible.

The morning shift was the toughest. I got very little sleep, and since I had to leave before 4 a.m., my daughter would sleep holding on to my pajamas, not wanting me to be gone when she woke up. The 6 and 10 was better, but working that shift means you leave for work just as your kids are getting out of school.

Those challenges are a big reason why many people leave the news business. Some of the greatest journalists I’ve had the pleasure of working with are now in a different line of work, trading in some of that TV excitement for family time and more “normal” work hours.

But I’m a news viewer as well, and we get used to certain people coming into our living rooms telling us what’s happening with the world. I have news people I like, and ones I can’t stand to watch. That’s the great thing about being the news consumer: If you don’t like what you see, you have the power in your hand. Just turn the channel.

A station may save money on a less-experienced anchor, but in the end, it’s all about ratings. If the ratings aren’t there, neither is the revenue, and another change is right around the corner.

Turnberg writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email michelleturnberg@gmail.com