On Camera to Earn a Living: Tales of Local TV Reporters
Studies have often ranked the fear of public speaking ahead of death, making the job of a television news reporter unfathomable to most. Still, it's a career glamorized by thousands of journalism students.
The school year is spent learning the craft. The summers taking unpaid internships to fill an empty resume. Somewhere along the way students make a reel, showcasing their talents on camera.
Only a few lucky graduates actually make it into the newsroom.
Hatzel Vela was a candidate who stood out. He had more experience than most of his competition, working his way up behind the scenes as an associate producer at WSVN in Miami.
Three years ago he got his first offer, a $19,000 a year gig at a Waco, Texas station. He was ready to take it.
"I was desperate to get my foot in the door," he said, explaining that most new reporters make major personal sacrifices, moving to cities they've barely heard of just to get a job.
"I was very lucky that the news director got sick and then didn't call for two weeks," he said laughing. Vela got a significantly better offer at WCSC in Charleston, South Carolina. The weekend reporter gig would force him to work 12-hour days on Saturday and Sundays, but he was thrilled to be in such a great city.
He doesn't work the weekends anymore, working as hard as he could to get that coveted Monday-Friday schedule.
"It's not glamorous," he said. "People always think we have makeup artists and people that dress us. They're always surprised."
Vela's got his TV makeup routine down now. But learning the tricks to looking good on TV may have been one of his most embarrassing moments.
Like anyone trying makeup for the first time, he went to the mall makeup counter for advice.
"I was sitting on one of those chairs in the middle of the store. The woman was trying all these different colors on me. I wished I could do this in the privacy of my house. It's so weird," he said.
Lucky for the female reporters, they don't have to feel so on display at makeup counter. Still, the job has a major learning curve.
Caroline Moses got her first job after sending dozens of reels to news directors across the country. Patience paid off several months after graduation when the Nashville native and Northwestern University graduate got a job offer at WAFB in Baton Rouge.
Moses had done plenty of practice at school, but nothing prepared her for her first live shot the second day on the job. She was sent to a massive fire and planned to interview the fire chief live on camera. She found the perfect spot in an open field. Her stomach may have been filled with butterflies, but she knew what to do
"Seconds before I went on air I realized I was standing in a giant pile of fire ants," she said. The fire chief scrambled to help, using Moses's shoe to swat the bugs.
"She managed to make it through the interview without a major scene.
"I was so embarrassed," she said. "I barely knew the guy and here he was trying to save me."
Lauren Zakalik, Moses's college classmate, had even better luck finding her first gig.
Northwestern University's graduate program paired Zakalik with WILX in Lansing, Michigan as a political correspondent her last quarter in school. She sent news reports at least twice a week. Her solid reporting got the attention of the station's new director. After graduation, she was offered a job.
Zakalik said she could probably write a book with her crazy stories, but a visit to the home of an alleged murder might be the most unusual.
"His sisters came out and threatened to strip naked if we tried to take pictures," she said. Luckily the women didn't follow through.
All three reporters say every awkward situation is worth the opportunity to report the news.
"I can't imagine giving it up," Zakalik said.
Moses agreed, "There isn't one person in this business who hasn't thought about giving it up. But I've paid my dues. I'll stay"
What does a TV news reporter make? Here's some salary information from PayScale.com:
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