(ONE WOMAN BANDIT) – This story was originally posted in Cosmopolitan magazine by Leigh Scheps.
1. Being a news reporter is not as glamorous as it looks on television. When reporting in the brutal cold, the best part of the day is picking out my scarf accessories — or maybe it’s thawing out my fingers when the day is over. If you wind up in Florida like I did at one point, you’ll need a towel to dry off the sweat and bug spray to fend off mosquitoes. There are days where I am on a story in an area with no bathroom, walking in the woods in a dress or doing a live report while getting bit by fire ants.
2. You’ll need to learn to live on a very small budget. Don’t expect to get paid the big bucks like many network anchors and reporters. Salaries for entry-level reporters often start in the $20,000 range. My parents paid my car insurance and cell phone bill in order for me to get by. My boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband, bailed me out on rent a few times. When you move to small cities for these starter reporting jobs, you can get by on the salary given to you, but you have to live cheaply. When it’s time to move up to a larger market, the pay doesn’t necessarily jump as high as you’d expect. I didn’t live on ramen noodles, but I couldn’t really afford extras like vacations.
3. You probably won’t ride in a news van with a full crew. “It’s just you?” That’s probably the no. 1 question I get asked in the field. Many reporters are “one-man bands.” I shoot, write, and edit my own stories. In the movies and on TV shows, you’ll see reporters and photographers working as at least a pair. In my job, I fly solo.
4. Say good-bye to eating lunch like a human. While your friends complain about having to heat up last night’s healthy leftovers in the office microwave, most of the time, you won’t even be anywhere near a kitchen, let alone a desk to eat at. That means you either have to pack yourself a cold lunch or hope there’s a good place near your story for takeout. There will be some days when you don’t have time to sit down to eat anywhere but your car.
5. You’re on your own for hair and makeup. Some stations will have image consultants come in to advise you about hair and makeup, but you have to do it yourself. When I first started reporting, several of my bosses wanted me to have shorter hair because it looks more professional. So I was always getting it trimmed and the costs really added up. When I worked in Florida, I carried my hair straightener everywhere, even though it didn’t always help keep the frizz away. Because I go through blush, eyeliner, lipstick, and mascara so quickly, I spend about $80 every three to four months for new makeup.
6. You can’t always throw on that LBD when you have nothing to wear. Being a reporter means your wardrobe has to pop on air. Translation: bright colors and solids only. At the start of my career, I was told many times to get rid of the untailored suit jackets, stripes, and ruffles from my on-camera wardrobe. While some fabrics like linen are trendy during the summer season, they wrinkle easily, making you look unpolished. I have so many linen blazers and skirts that just sit in my closet until the weekend.
7. Stop worrying if your shoes match your outfit. You can’t see it on camera, but often reporters trade their high heels for flats and sneakers with their dresses. You never know how long you will be standing or how much running around you have to do in one day. You’ll learn to do things like use clothing pins to tighten the fit of shirts and blouses from the back to give the top a more flattering look on camera. No one at home will know any of it.
8. Say good-bye to after-work drinks with the girls. All jobs have days where you just can’t seem to leave the office because work is piling up. In news, those days will be most of them, as 6 p.m. live shots are pretty common. By the time you drive back from reporting and make it out, happy hour is long over. Get used to making last-minute plans on the nights you realize you can have them.
9. Your schedule will constantly change. You have to be flexible and available to work every shift of the day. Working in the morning means getting up in the middle of the night, but it also means getting out around lunchtime. If you work nights, you have the whole morning to go catch up on sleep or hit the gym. Also, don’t expect to be home for Thanksgiving or any major holiday, for that matter. The news doesn’t stop even on New Year’s. If you’re new to the station, you’re most likely getting the short end of the stick when it comes to time off on the holidays. Lucky for me, my family cooks up a second Thanksgiving dinner for when I’m able to come home and celebrate.
10. Be prepared to carry around two phones at all times. I feel like I am always staring at my phone and that’s probably because I am. Part of the job requires you to be connected to the news 24/7. Most stations will give you a phone to make calls in the field and so you can check your email on the road. A work phone is awesome, but it’s hard to put it down sometimes when emails and news tips come in at all hours of the day. No one tells you that you have to be available all night, but if there is major breaking news, you do have to get out of bed and go when your boss calls.
11. The day doesn’t end when the newscast is over. As a reporter, you have to keep up with what’s happening even when you’re not at work. You can’t come in Monday morning after a getaway at the beach and have no idea what your colleagues covered over the weekend.
12. You need thick skin because you never know what story you’ll cover. There will be days when you have to cover tragedy and other difficult stories. You have to learn how to separate your emotions in order to focus on the news at hand. I’ve covered so many sad stories where people have lost loved ones due to car crashes, murders, or illnesses. My job is to cover what happened and push my personal emotions aside.
13. You need to be an expert on all subjects. I am a general assignment reporter, which means I cover stories on all topics. Over the years, I’ve had to brush up on real estate, law, sports, politics, hydrofracking, and economics, among many other topics.
14. Social media cannot be your diary. Your friends may post status updates freely, but as a reporter, you need to be conscious of what you say on social media. Keep your opinions to yourself, because reporters have to be unbiased. You can be fired in a split second for making unprofessional comments in posts online or on air. There are some reporters who will post smiling selfies at tragic stories not realizing how inappropriate it is. Don’t be them. The last thing any reporter wants is to be ridiculed on one of the media blogs.
15. You never know what you’ll be working on next. People always ask me, “What story are you doing tomorrow? Or, “Do you know where you’re going tomorrow?” And I respond with, “I have no idea.” Every day, I start from scratch. I never know where I am going or who I am going to meet when I wake up in the morning (or middle of the night). The job is always exhilarating and I cannot imagine doing anything else.