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News Investment

News Investment

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism


The picture in radio newsrooms remains a difficult one marked by low pay, centralized operations and heavy workloads.

The centralization of radio news that had fewer newsrooms serving more stations reversed course slightly in 2007, the last year for which full-year data were available. The percentage of news directors being responsible for providing content to several stations went down.

Much of the data about what is occurring in radio newsrooms comes from a survey conducted by Bob Papper of RTNDA/Hofstra University. Papper notes that the sample of radio newsrooms in the survey is relatively small, particularly compared with the companion survey he conducts of television. Given this, some one-year differences may be anomalous, but the trend lines over time are important.

Newsroom Size

According to Papper, radio newsrooms will be particularly affected by the economic crisis and by the downturn in specific key sectors. “I think it’s clear that radio, generally, and radio news, specifically, will have a challenging year in 2009,” Papper predicted in an interview with PEJ.

The economic turmoil that began in 2008 is expected by some to hit radio hard. “Radio is supported primarily by local dollars,” Papper said, “and those dollars are heavily auto-related and retail.  Both sectors are in trouble right now….  And we’re adding these economic challenges on top of what has been a slow, steady erosion of radio news and radio news people over the last 20-plus years.”1

That erosion was evident in 2007, before the economic slowdown really gained steam. The average staff size of radio newsrooms fell in 2007, to 2.1 from 2.5 the previous year.2

A major radio market is one with 1 million or more listeners, a large market is one with 250,000 to 1 million listeners, a medium market has 50,000 to 250,000, and small markets have 50,000 or fewer listeners.  Major-market stations averaged 4 full-time employees, according to the 2007 data, while medium- and small-market stations averaged 1.9 and 1.6 full-time employees respectively, numbers that generally are in line with the scale of previous years. In large markets the average staff fell from 3.3 in 2006 to 2.9 full-time staff members in 2007.3

Heading into 2008, only 13% of news directors expected an increase in staff. Most, 76%, predicted they would hold steady. But less than 1% expected a decline.4

These expectations were similar to what the news directors had already experienced in 2007. Then, three-quarters of radio newsrooms had stable staffing levels (74%), while 13% increased staff and 12% saw cuts.5

But all that was before the economy significantly worsened in the second quarter, and before the economic crisis came to full flower in September.

If the already small staffing levels in radio newsrooms begin to shrink in 2009, it would probably only add to another pressure on radio journalists. That is the trend of centralization of radio newsrooms — the pattern in which one station supplies the news out of a single newsroom for more than one station. That phenomenon appeared to slow somewhat in 2007.  A year earlier, in 2006, 76% of news directors said they were providing local news to more than one station. In 2007 that number dropped slightly to 72%.  The average newsroom provides 2.9 stations in the local market with local news and 1.4 stations outside the local market.6

Add to all that — small newsrooms, low salaries and producing shows for multiple stations — one other feature of the modern radio newsroom: the fact that news directors usually have multiple duties. According to the 2007 study, nearly a quarter of news directors (23%) said they were also talk show hosts and 11% said they were also program directors.  And 7% said that they were also working in operations, sales or public affairs. Wearing multiple hats has been a feature of radio newsrooms for a long time, the data suggest.

Amount of News and Time of Day

How much news do stations produce? Looking across several years’ worth of data, the average has tended to hover around 40 minutes a day.7 What that number makes clear is that most news heard on the radio comes in the form of short headline segments, usually on the hour. As an illustration, 40 minutes over a 24-hour day would mean each newscast is less than two minutes long.

And when do stations tend to air news most?

The biggest time for news on radio is during morning drive time, from 6 to 10 a.m. when, according to Papper’s data, 36.7%% of all the news airs during the week. Evening drive time, from 3 to 7 p.m., accounts for 22% of the news aired and nighttime slightly more at 22.8%.  The midday slot (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) continues to air the least amount of news with 12.2 minutes, or 18%, of the news.

According to Arbitron data, listening to the radio generally peaks around 7 a.m. and continues at a fairly high rate through the morning and into the afternoon, until about 3 p.m. It then begins to slowly drop off until the next morning.

The pattern for listening to news is the same, highest in the morning and slowly declining as the day goes on.8 What this means is that the news cycle differs slightly from the listening cycle. Stations tend to air more news at the beginning and the end of the day, even though listenership does not have that same midday dip and tends to drop off in the evening when the second-most amount of news is aired.

Radio Salaries

When it comes to salaries, the most notable thing about radio news is how low they are. The median annual salary for local radio news directors is $30,500. Compare that, for instance, to local television news directors at $80,000.

The difference between television and radio is almost as wide for anchors. In television, the median salary is $65,000. In radio, it is $30,000, although in both cases salaries vary widely by market size.

Median Salaries: Radio vs. Television, 2007
Design Your Own Chart

Bob Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey “Run for the Money,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2008

Based on survey responses of news directors

Radio reporters in 2007 made $23,400 on average per year, while radio producers made $25,400 on average per year.

Papper’s survey data suggest that these salaries have not grown notably in recent years, and there is little reason to expect that to change in 2009, particularly against a bleak economic background.

Median Radio News Comparisons Over time
Design Your Own Chart

Bob Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey “Run for the Money,” RTNDA Communicator, June 2008

Based on survey responses of news directors

Radio Newsroom Diversity

If radio newsrooms are not well paid, they also continue to be not all that diverse. There is some sign of increase in the data, although year-to-year changes here may be influenced by a relatively small survey sample.

In 2007 the number of minorities working in radio rose to 12%, up from 6% a year earlier, according to the survey data from Hofstra University and the Radio Television News Directors Association. Those changes could be a function of vagaries in the sample, but in any event indicate a relatively low percentage.

In all, according to the data, 88% of the workforce in 2007 was Caucasian. African Americans made up the next largest group at 8% (up from 3.3% in 2006).9 Hispanics represented just under 4% of the radio workforce, up from 1% in 2006.  Asian Americans represent almost 1%, as do Native Americans.10

Women are another minority in radio newsrooms. All told, they appear to make up about a quarter of the workforce, according to the Papper survey data (23% in the 2007 survey, similar to 25% a year earlier). Newsrooms that serve major markets have a higher percentage of women in the newsroom than their smaller counterparts.  Major-market newsrooms are on average 36% female compared to 21.4% in large markets, 23.6% in medium and 14.8% in small. When it comes to leadership, the numbers of women are roughly similar to radio newsrooms over all. In the 2007 data, 20% of radio news directors were women.11

Satellite Radio News

The impact of the merger on news programming is hard to divine heading into 2009.  In terms of content, for now XM and Sirius subscribers will get the same news channels offered by each network before the merger. Sirius has not said how its news content will consist of once the two stations’ content is full merged. (For information on Sirius and XM’s news lineup pre-merger see last years report)


In December 2008 NPR announced its first organization-wide job cuts in 25 years.  NPR said it would eliminate about 7% percent of its workforce and cut two of its programs.

A seven percent cut in jobs amounts to 64 employees out of the 889 total staff.  About half of the 64 people who will be cut are journalists The two programs slated for elimination were “Day to Day” and “News & Notes.”

The job cuts were spurred by a sharp decline in revenue at NPR.  NPR relies on four funding sources: underwriting by corporations, membership fees from member stations, donations, and an endowment made up primarily of a $230 million donation from Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.

Corporate underwriting, which accounts for about 30% of NPR’s revenue, was hardest hit by the recession.  NPR cut its budget for underwriting revenue from $47 million to $33 million in 2008.  NPR also expected to make no revenue from the Kroc donation because the investment has declined.  This amounts to a loss of about $10 million that NPR was expecting from the endowment.12

After the job cuts, NPR had 356 employees in its news division.  In  fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, NPR’s news budget was $100 million,  up from $87.6 million in the same period a year earlier.

NPR had  20 offices in the United States, including its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and  17 foreign bureaus.  Since 1999 NPR has opened 9 foreign bureaus.

In July, the NPR board of directors approved a budget for fiscal year 2009 (Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2009) that projected $165 million in revenues, down from $169 million the year prior.13


1. Interview with Bob Papper of RTNDA/Hofstra University, conducted by PEJ

2. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News, Staffing and Profitability,” The Communicator, October 2008.

3. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News, Staffing and Profitability,” The Communicator, October 2008.

4. These figures to not add up to 100 because of respondents who said they did not know.

5. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News, Staffing and Profitability,” The Communicator, October 2008.

6. Robert Papper, RTNDA/Hofstra University Annual News Director Survey, “News, Staffing and Profitability,” The Communicator, October 2008.

7. The average minutes per day of news produced by stations jumped to 66.1 minutes in 2007, according to the Papper survey, but that sharp increase was most likely the result of the small sample size in the survey. The 2008 survey should help resolve whether that was an anomaly or something more.

8. According to Arbitron, during the weekday morning (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.) 12.4% of Arbitron’s audience listened to news/talk/information.  Then during the mid-day (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) the figure was 11.7%, when, according to radio news directors, the least amount of news is aired.  Finally, during the PM drive time and nighttime hours, when more news is aired than during midday, Arbitron’s data has a drop in listeners from 10.3% during PM drive time to 9.6% during the night.

9. Robert Papper RTNDA/Hofstra University, “The Face of the Workforce,” The Communicator, July/August 2008

10. Among news directors the diversity numbers are similar to the stations over all. According to the latest survey, 88% of news directors are Caucasian, 1% are African American, 3% are Hispanic, and less than 1 percent are Asian or Native Americans.

11. Robert Papper RTNDA/Hofstra University, “The Face of the Workforce,” The Communicator, July/August 2008

12. Paul Farhi, “NPR to Cut 64 Jobs and Two Shows,” The Washington Post, December 11, 2008.

13. Data provided to NPR by PEJ