How to Hire a (Awesome) Whole Newsroom at Once

Oct 28, 2014

Wyoming Public Radio's new hires: Aaron Schrank, Miles Bryan, Melodie Starr Edwards, Stephanie May Joyce, with their boss, Bob Beck.

What’s more fun than hiring three people to replace reporters who left your news room? Hiring four reporters, a local journalism collaboration reporter, and getting the opportunity to train all of them!

While in the process of hiring a grant funded education reporter and filling a general assignment opening, two of my veteran reporters approached me and said they’d be leaving in a couple of weeks. One took a better paying job; the other decided to quit to deal with some personal matters. Hiring two people was going to be a challenge already, but hiring four people was daunting. 

Wyoming is an exceptional place with outstanding outdoor opportunities, but it is a touch isolated, and it can be very cold. The next closest city to our home base of Laramie is 45 minutes away and for some who are used to city life, this can be a challenge. Our wages are great for new reporters, but average for those who have been in the business for a while, so over the years we have tended to hire great young reporters. My first effort was to try and boost some salaries to enhance our hiring. Thanks to my boss we were able to get the University to consider raising the bar if needed.   

1. Work Your Network

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of developing a relationship with those involved in the Columbia Grad School program and the NPR Intern program. For those of you not familiar with what Columbia’s program entails, it teaches broadcasters to be public radio journalists. While some of them can certainly be green, they are eager and well prepared and training them does not take all that long. The NPR intern program is perfect if you can locate someone who has worked very hands on for the network, especially those who have been allowed to do stories.  

I was able to use those contacts to get a good list of possible hires. I also engaged the usual listserves and job sites. My Facebook page and Twitter got me some part-timers and others who were looking at going to a bigger newsroom. Suddenly I had a decent list of candidates and I tried to at least hire two of them before my last reporter left.  

2. Throw Some Money At the Toughest Hire

The first pool of applicants for our grant-funded education reporter position was terrible and the second wasn’t going well until I recalled I had received an email from a highly recommended NPR intern earlier in the year. After learning that he was considering a couple of jobs, I acted quickly. 

Fortunately the grant carried some extra money with it, so I convinced him to apply for the job and soon he was hired. According to those who have worked with him I got a steal. I later learned they were right.

3. Make the Contributor a Staffer

We had been working with a freelancer in our newsroom who started as a volunteer. She was starting to turn the corner though and since she was in Laramie and co-owned a business, I figured that she might stay awhile. She leaped at the chance and two people were hired.

4. Tackle the Morning Edition Bear

The Morning Edition job scared me the most because younger folks frequently burn out in the job. But we only had a couple of experienced candidates express interest.

After a couple of hits and misses on the Morning Edition Host I decided to look at the Columbia crop and got strong recommendations. What’s nice is that these are people who are familiar with my shop and so they could recommend a great fit. Columbia doesn’t do much in the way of live hosting, but I did hire someone who convinced me that she wants to be a great host. She also convinced me that she wanted to be in Wyoming.  She continues to surprise me on many levels.  

5. Check In with Your Network Again

It turns out that one of the candidates for our general assignment reporter job was loved by two or three people in the system whose opinions I respect. He had interned for two of them and worked as a freelancer for another. He also knew one of the reporters I just hired. Nobody ever did a more extensive background check on me than he did, but after being satisfied that I’d be a great boss for him, he was in. (Thanks to WBUR’s Peter O’Dowd and NPR’s Molly Messick in particular for their help.)

6. Train 'Em

The training for all of them was rough, but we did have one existing reporter and the freelancer turned full time who helped people get up to speed. While it was stressful and there were occasional mishaps with pronunciations and facts initially, that all settled down very quickly. Since they all came in around the same time they have also bonded like no other group. I think this might all work out.