Jenn Bates has been the morning anchor at KWCH since November 2014 and was a sports anchor/reporter for 8.5 years in Wichita and Tri-Cities, WA before that. Jenn studied telecommunications-news at the University of Florida from 2002-2006.
One harsh reality of television when you start out is how little you will make. In my first job as a weekend sports anchor/sports reporter in a small market I made $20k a year and that was considered a good place to start! I was hourly in a 2-man department so during state playoff time I would put in 14-16 hour days which made the paychecks a little nicer but not much (the hours are also another future blog post!). My ‘raise’ in my 2nd year was a standard cost of living raise which bumped me up to a whopping $22k. I was big time!
I think the salary is a well-known part of the job. I remember Dr. Sid Pactor at the University of Florida asking us every single day why in the world we were in this major because we were never going to make any money. He was pretty much right. What he didn’t tell us about, and what we rarely ever talked about, was getting an agent. I did not have one out of college and I eventually got one while I was looking for my second job. I wish I hadn’t and here’s why.
I was making barely enough to cover rent, bills and food so how in the world did I expect to pay an agent 8% of my next salary which wasn’t going to be much more than what I was already making? (for reference, my salary in my 2nd job was $32k in my first year so yeah, still not a lot) If you are just looking around for another local market job there is really not a need to get an agent. Sometimes even network jobs can fall in your lap without representation. Most of the time news directors and Gm’s don’t really want to talk to agents anyway, it annoys them. Not to mention you can do your own interviews and send our your own tapes!
I’ve been a part of the hiring process of my station. I was involved in watching the tapes and reading the resumes. Let me tell you this first-hand: tapes from agents did not get any special treatment! It was especially annoying getting a full reel from an agent (that means it’s not just your stuff on the tape) and seeing people who weren’t even sports anchors. We dumped those tapes immediately.
One thing you should already be doing in college is networking. We were lucky at UF to have the advisory council come every semester to meet us and chat about tapes and answer questions like I’m doing here in this blog post. I kept the names and numbers of the anchors, producers, Ep’s and Nd’s that came to that council and kept in contact with them. I also made sure to stay friends with people from J-school that were workers like me. That’s partly how I got my first job. My friend Josh was working for Baylor in Waco, doing their school sports TV network. The sports director hiring me in Washington state? Used to work for a local station in Waco. Happy coincidence? Both of them were Jewish in a very heavily populated Christian town so Josh and my eventual sports director knew each other well. Josh vouched for me and helped me get that job. Everyone you are around right now can help you or hurt you, remember that.
Another reason I regret signing on with an agent is what happened with getting my job I have at KWCH now. I hadn’t told a soul about applying to KWCH. I was still a few months out of my contract being up so I wanted to keep things under wraps until there was something more solid. One day the chief photog at my station in Washington walked up to me and said, ‘Wichita huh?’ I was floored. I asked how he knew. Turns out, his ex-wife was the ND at KWCH at the time. Thankfully, they still had a good relationship. It also happens that my GM in Washington knew the GM at KWCH back in the day when they were both consultants in San Antonio together and their friendship was still strong. I later found out my Washington GM told the Wichita GM she would be a fool not to hire me. Who needs an agent when your work can speak for itself?
My GM here in Wichita has also told me many times that I should not get an agent. Partly because it seems silly to give up part of an already meager salary but also to my last point, why not try and use the connections you’ve made with your ND, EP, GM and fellow reporters/anchors/photographers to sell yourself without having to pay a dime?