Why the big TV news exodus in Cincinnati in 2022?
Twenty-four on-air TV news staffers have left the Cincinnati airwaves this year — and nine have quit the TV business completely.
As a mid-size market, Cincinnati (No. 36) always has experienced TV newsroom turnover, but the churn in 2022 was worse than usual.
And what makes 2022 unprecedented is that nine of the 24 TV news departures were young reporters who quit the television business.
"I think a lot of young reporters feel the same way I do: You work crazy hours, late nights and weekends, while being overworked and underpaid," says Brandon Saho, the WLWT-TV sports reporter and weekend sports anchor who left in August to launch The Mental Game, a mental health podcast, after taking a mental health break from Channel 5 in April. "Every station is adding more and more shows without adding more resources or paying you more."
All four TV newsrooms witnessed talented young staffers abandon their television careers: Alexa Helwig, Kathryn Robinson, Clancy Burke (WKRC-TV); Jake Ryle, Keenan Singleton (WCPO-TV); Lauren Artino, Trevor Peters (WXIX-TV); and Mollie Lair, Alenna Martella and Saho (WLWT-TV).
Part of the exodus can be traced to the coronavirus pandemic when many people — not just reporters — working at home in isolation re-evaluated their work hours, career path and lifestyle. And, journalists today have a vast array of job opportunities in social media or corporate storytelling, which didn't exist when they started grade school.
Some TV reporters moved into day-shift communications jobs, as broadcast and print journalists have done for decades: Lair is City of Cincinnati communications director; Helwig will be Congressman Greg Landsman's communication director; Artino joined Game Day Communications; and Peters returned to his alma mater to do communications for Purdue University.
Burke left Channel 12 in June to make a living from her YouTube channel, which has 449,000 subscribers. In a recent video, she and her fiance were apartment hunting in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Ryle, who took a mental health break from Channel 9 a year ago, announced last week that he's leaving Dec. 30.
"I'm hoping to find a place that is looking for a storyteller — communications or media relations related. That's all still up in the air. To be honest, I'm still looking," says Ryle, a 2008 Conner High School and 2012 Western Kentucky University graduate who was diagnosed with "having anxiety and persistent depressive disorder last year." The former WCPO-TV sports intern has been a Channel 9 general assignment reporter since hired from Dayton's WDTN-TV five years ago.
WCPO-TV's newsroom has lost nine on-air staffers, more than its competitors. Four reporters moved up to bigger markets: Courtney Francisco to Atlanta (No. 7); Mariel Carbone to Washington, D.C. (No. 9); Larry Seward to Miami (No. 18); and Sina Gebre-Ab to Baltimore (No. 28); while Whitney Miller went to New Orleans (No. 50) to anchor.
Anchor Julie O'Neill's contract was not renewed by WCPO-TV in September after 27 years, while veteran anchor Kristyn Hartman returned home to Chicago in May. Plus, two more veterans — Clyde Gray and Mona Morrow — retired from WCPO-TV's daytime Cincy Lifestyles in April.
At WLWT-TV, reporter Dan Griffin left for Seattle (No. 12) in January; morning co-anchor Colin Mayfield left in October for Charlotte (No. 22), and weekend anchor Megan Mitchell heads to Dallas (No. 5) in January. WXIX-TV's Andrea Medina now works for Chicago's WGN-TV in her hometown (No. 3), and Kody Fisher went to WISH-TV in Indianapolis (No. 26).
"Reporter turnover is worse now in this business than it’s ever been," says Steve Hyvonen, WXIX news director.
Cincinnati viewers also said goodbye to retiring Good Morning Cincinnati icon John Lomax in April after 39 years at WKRC-TV. Next up: WLWT-TV sports director George Vogel announced last week he's retiring in March after nearly 42 years on the job.
Filling vacancies has been more difficult than ever, too. The 3% national unemployment rate essentially means the country is at full employment — and that includes the news business.
"It has been harder to fill positions this year but again, that is also the trend nationally with unemployment levels low," says Jeff Brogan, the WCPO-TV vice president and general manager who has been looking to hire a weekend morning meteorologist since late summer.
"I don't see this as an issue that is exclusive to broadcasters or Cincinnati media. It is widespread throughout our country impacting most industries," Brogan says.
The TV job market is more competitive than ever, says Chip Mahaney, the former Channel 9 news director who recruits and mentors young journalists for Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps, which owns WCPO-TV and 60 other TV stations.
"The search for talent is so tough right now," says Mahaney, Scripps' emerging talent leader. "Journalists' skills are more in demand than ever before," he says, because the ability to write clearly and accurately, boil down complicated information, and doing it with creativity is transferrable to social media platforms, public relations firms, communications positions, corporate storytelling jobs, newsletters or other ventures.
"There are a lot of exit points available to journalists that we didn't have 10 years ago, and they're taking advantage of them," Mahaney says.
Another factor is the 10% drop in college enrollment nationwide. That means fewer new journalists are in the pipeline resulting in a talent shortage for small markets where many TV and print reporters traditionally got their start, he says.
There's also been a generational shift in priorities, with more consideration for lifestyle concerns.
Baby Boomers who started their journalism careers in the late 1960s and '70s knew they would be working lots of nights, weekends and holidays as the price for doing what they loved, says Mahaney, 58. Today's young journalists are weighing their passion for news, and working nights in a TV newsroom, with "taking control of their lives and living the life they want."
The job also has changed — with more newscasts, and the 24/7 pressure to post information on social media and the internet, making the job more complicated, Mahaney says.
Instead of researching and preparing one taped "package" for the 5-6 p.m. or late news, many reporters today are doing more live shots for more newscasts, and posting or updating stories on the station's website and other platforms throughout the day. Instead of just one or two deadlines a day, reporters are on deadline every minute. The pressure is constant.
"It is a hard job," Mahaney says.
Work schedules for TV newscasts (which mostly air early in the morning, at the dinner hour, or late at night) and "the grind" have been a constant since TV newscasts started in the 1950s. Reporters habitually have seen a lot of bad news — but what's changed recently has been attention to how reporting on horrific trauma has impacted reporters' mental health.
Ryle decided to leave Channel 9 as of Dec. 30 for mental health reasons.
"After careful consideration, my wife and I decided it would be best for me to make my exit from TV news. The daily stress and anxiety, on top of the amount of trauma we insert ourselves into, just took a toll on me. My wife would worry about my safety often. I'd come home, and have absolutely no energy," he said.
When Saho left Channel 5 in August, he said he was "looking forward to being a 'normal' person while enjoying nights and weekends off for the first time in my career," said the LaSalle High School (2011) and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Electronic Media program (2015) graduate.
Soon, he announced The Mental Game podcast and interviews with comedian Dane Cook; actor Kate Flannery from The Office; former NFL running back Ricky Williams and Browns lineman Joe Thomas; the Grammy-nominated Eli Young Band; Thursday Night Football sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung; rapper Cal Scruby; singer-songwriter Marc E. Bassy; ESPN anchor Jay Harris; Reds outfielder Jake Fraley; and Xavier University basketball coach Sean Miller.
"I loved my time working in local TV," Saho says, "but I couldn't keep working a job that was so stressful on my personal happiness."