SAN DIEGO — The second most often asked question about television journalists--right behind, "who does their hair?"--is "How much money do they make?"
The deal inked by Los Angeles anchorman Paul Moyer last week, which reportedly calls for KNBC-TV to pay him $8 million over the next six years, only served to fuel speculation about his San Diego counterparts and what they earn in a year for their ability to read the news.
It's natural for people to be curious, and even more understandable that they might be more than a little jealous of the television news teams. They are well known, generally good looking, wear great clothes and it is simply assumed they make lavish sums of money. Envy, especially among print reporters, is couched behind much of the bitterness toward the television personalities, who make such obscene sums of money for doing so much cheesy reportage.
Anchors and reporters counter that it's nobody's business how much they make. "Who cares?" they say.
They have a point. But the long-standing salary structure within the television-news industry, which is so far out of whack that it makes the top-heavy economic ladder of Major League Baseball look like a Communist front, is one of the strongest influences directing how the news is presented on television. People should know how much the television people earn because it vividly illustrates the industry's priorities.
News directors constantly complain that they don't have enough reporters, even though they are paying anchors huge sums. Instead of drawing closer in tough economic times, the disparity between the salaries earned by anchors, sports reporters and weathermen and the salaries of those actually collecting and producing the news continues to grow, which in effect says that television managers sincerely believe that audiences are more interested in photogenic talking heads than getting a complete and thorough news package.
In San Diego, most anchors--all of whom currently have been in town for a few years--reportedly make at, near or above $200,000 a year, according to interviews with agents, reporters, management personnel and other assorted television industry sources. In other words, television news is still a lucrative career if you happen to be good looking and able to read out loud with some coherence.
When Michael Tuck was the main anchorman at Channel 10, published reports placed his salary at about $350,000, and in her last days at Channel 8, sources say Allison Ross was near the $300,000 plateau, but none of the current anchors have established that level of name recognition.
Channel 8 sports guy Ted Leitner, undoubtedly the highest-paid personality in town, is making about $600,000 a year, according to published reports, but that sum also covers his work with KFMB radio and the San Diego Padres. In general though, the lead Sports Guys in a market the size of San Diego can expect to earn between $90,000 and $150,000, according to the industry sources, and weather reporters usually fall into a similar range.
In most cases, anchors, sports and weather folk are paid more than their bosses, the news directors. They also can negotiate for a wide range of perks. Items such as Padres season tickets, country club memberships, clothing allowances and health clubs are commonly added into contracts, according to one agent. Others parlay a willingness to take a little less money for long-term deals.
The down side is that anchoring is an extremely insecure profession. Anchors are usually the first to be jettisoned if a newscast doesn't attract ratings.
Reporters are also placed on the same precarious ledge, although not to the degree of anchors, but their salaries don't come close to those of the anchors.
Most television reporters make salaries comparable to those of the best veteran reporters on the San Diego Union-Tribune or The Times. They usually start at about $40,000 to $45,000 a year at San Diego stations, and the best they can hope to make is maybe $70,000 to $80,000, adding only slightly more if they do some weekend anchoring.
For television reporters, the gravy train is over.
"In the late '70s and early '80s, television news was expanding so fast, you knew you were going to make some money," said one reporter. "That has changed."
According to the FCC, the broadcast industry, including radio and cable, lost 20,000 jobs since 1989, dropping from 175,599 to 155,311. So many reporters are out of work, including laid-off experienced reporters, that these days stations don't need to pay outrageous sums for general assignment reporters, even in the major markets.
In recent years, KNSD-TV (Channel 39) has effectively fired almost all its veteran reporters and forced others to take cuts. In many cases, the reporters had priced themselves out of a job. Reporters whose salaries had grown to $75,000 or $80,000 often were replaced by reporters making far less who would, in some cases, work harder.