Sports Jobs Q&A: The Best Way to Start an On-Camera Career

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It's no surprise that many in our audience of sports job seekers desire to cover sports on-camera
The most visible figures in the sports industry, outside of the athletes themselves, are the anchors and reporters that fill up our screen. We invite them into our home, laugh at their jokes and respect their sports opinion – it’s no wonder so many strive to be them.

Some of the most common questions we get on our blog are about starting a career on-camera, and while there is a method that is widely accepted as the only way, I’m here to tell you there are options.

Let’s jump into this week’s Sports Jobs Q&A question from Mylene, who is struggling to make ends meet as she launches her sports broadcasting career.

The Q:

I am a 27 year old female starting out as a sports broadcaster with a desire to work in front of the camera. I have been at a TV station for over 2 years in their production department but as a freelancer. I find that to start out, you have to do a lot on your own, unpaid or barely, which I completely get, however I am struggling to balance that part and paying the bills. Any advice?


The A:

Mylene, the problem you are facing is a real one, starting out is not easy, and takes a great deal of perseverance. I’d like to present an alternative to you and all the other aspiring anchors and reporters out there which challenges the norm.

There is a tried and true method of getting started on camera in the TV industry - start out at a station in a tiny market, let’s say somewhere like Bozeman, Montana or Dothan, Alabama, and build your way up by “climbing the market ladder.”

It works.

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Sports Reporter Adam Mikulich started at a small market and worked his way up before settling into a anchor/reporter role in Salt Lake City
The majority of people go about their on-air careers in this manner, beginning in Pocatello, Idaho, then jumping up to Champaign, Illinois, and finally landing a job in Salt Lake City, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you that that technique is played out.

But I will present an alternative which I believe in even more.

First off let me present the issues I see with the tried and true climbing the ladder from the bottom rung method:

  • How much do you actually learn and improve at a terribly small market station?

Let’s say you start out in a really small market, you aren’t the only one who is going to be inexperienced, you’re going to be working with junior producers, co-anchors that are just out of school like you and quite possibly a news director or station manager that is over their head. Is this the best way to learn and improve?

  • Are you exposed to the best technology?

Don’t even get me started on technology – the TV industry is always advancing, but not at many of these small market stations that work with extremely confined production budgets. Small market stations are going to be working on non-linear editors from the early 90’s or worse yet still going tape-to-tape. Cameras will be old, graphics outdated, integration of technologies into the broadcast unheard of.

Why Start Small?

There is no guarantee of success no matter where you start, but the goal should be to put yourself in the best position to grow and develop a fall back plan. Is that a super small market?

People tend to convince themselves that if they start out in Small Market A, they will put in their time, work hard and advance to Mid-Market B and eventually to Top Market C.

But what if you stall in Small Market A? Then what? Do you have top notch TV production skills based on emerging technologies to fall back on? Do you have a stellar employer on your resume that makes other networks take notice?

Keep in mind, just because you start small doesn’t mean you automatically pass GO and collect a Mid-Market paycheck.

The main advantage of being in a small market is more live reps, and that is valuable, but that isn’t the only important part of your career growth curve.

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An Alternative Method for Starting an On-Camera Career

Alright, so I’ll finally get to the alternative method I speak of.

What if, instead of starting in Pueblo, Colorado, you began your career off-camera working at a larger network as a Production Assistant?

Now stay with me here, I’m not suggesting you give up your dreams of being on-camera, quite the opposite, I’m suggesting you learn from the best the business has to offer before you go out on your own. Consider it your Masters in TV Production and Journalism, but you get paid!

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Bryan Salmond of Boston Fox affiliate WFXT interviewing Floyd Mayweather
Here’s where the benefits shift:

  • Instead of working on grunge era equipment you are working on the cutting edge.

  • The anchors and reporters on staff are the best in the business and you can learn from them

  • During off hours you can develop your demo reel on a top quality set, shadow reporters in the field, make friends with top producers, camera ops, Directors – you name it.

  • You’ll have a top market, or cable network, on your resume

  • If working on camera doesn’t pan out, you’ll have your experience working at a top market to help you land your next production job

I started my career, right out of college, at CNN and I’d say about 25% of the Production Assistants wanted to eventually work on camera. The success rate was high, I’d estimate about 75% of those are now working on camera in big markets and the majority of the others have top production jobs, or executive/management roles.

You may love the idea of starting small and working in a tight-knit community, if that fits you, go for it, but remember you have more options than you think.

If you have other thoughts for Mylene, would like to share your experience, or have a question for an upcoming Sports Jobs Q&A column - please add it to the comment section below!
By Brian Clapp | November 21, 2016
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