For the penultimate segment on “Hardball with Chris Matthews” each weeknight, Matthews queries his panel of journalists and pundits—often with at least one reporter representing a major-market newspaper—challenging them, “Tell me something I don’t know.”
His branded phrase not only introduces the segment, it exemplifies one of the benefits of having journalists appear as guests on broadcast news programs. Reporters remain excellent sources themselves of researched, vetted and well-sourced information. Their appearances and expertise on the topics of discussion lend both content and credibility to broadcast news programs.
And there are obvious professional gains for the journalist—who has a brand and a byline to protect—and to the newspaper’s brand, which benefits from audience reach and an opportunity to evangelize its reporting.
Still, as some newspaper journalists have learned, appearing on broadcast news programs can occasionally come with some unwanted attention too.
The Side Hustle Perspective
“Side hustle” is a colloquial term often used to expeditiously explain someone’s secondary or tertiary job. In the case of print and digital journalists appearing on broadcast or radio programs, the term “side hustle” has begun to make the meme rounds on conservative-opinion media outlets. It’s increasingly used to rhetorically disparage “mainstream media” and members of the press.
In May, conservative website americanthinker.com published an article by prolific contributor Jack Hellner titled “Anyone notice that all that TV Trump-bashing is actually a media side-hustle?” In the article, the writer cited a BuzzFeed article about the amount of money print journalists may be getting paid by the networks. Citing “reporters, agents and network sources,” it alleged that print journalists can make tens of thousands of dollars to upwards of $250,000 by regularly appearing on television.” The attributed article does not include any distinction between journalists who appear gratis and those who have may have been retained as “contributors/analysts.”
Despite that, Hellner concluded his article with this crass comparison: “I would say journalists are just like prostitutes, but prostitutes are honest about what they peddle. The significant majority of journalists just say whatever it takes to get paid.”
E&P couldn’t find any journalists who’d struck it rich by any “side hustle” means, let alone by way of TV appearances, though we searched for them.
Under the conditions of anonymity, several print and digital journalists affirmed that they’d been recent targets of personal attacks and have had to fend off allegations and lies about wealth, ethics, friendships and family due to their broadcast appearances.
In fact, journalists are rarely compensated for their broadcast and radio contributions. Many see these appearances as mere extensions of their job in print and digital media. They see it as opportunity to share what they’ve learned, to discuss outstanding questions on a topic—things still unknown, which drives their professional curiosity.
In the cases of journalists being compensated for appearances, the reporters come “to the table” with a particular expertise, perhaps amassed through years of study and reporting on a beat. In those cases, there are contracts between the broadcaster and the reporter. Viewers can distinguish between the two by how they’re introduced. Newspaper reporters appearing as uncompensated guests will often be identified by title and the name of the paper. Reporters who have been hired as recurring guests will often be identified as the show or network “analyst” or “contributor.”
It is a valid question to ask: Is it a violation of ethics to take on a secondary role of this kind?
Indira Lakshmanan is a Boston Globe columnist and executive editor at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Formerly, she served as the Newmark chair, journalism ethics for the Poynter Institute. She said when print reporters appear on television “it’s a way to promote (their) story, obviously. It’s the same reason why anybody goes on TV or radio ever. This is not new. What may be new is that there may be more people who have contracts than before, but I don’t know that to be fact.”
Lakshmanan said this may be a phenomenon inspired by relentless onslaught of news coming out of Washington and from a “hunger” to consume that kind of news.
As for the ethics of these relationships, that is left to the publisher, she suggested.
“Large publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post and others have made a decision to allow their employees to have side contracts with networks, including CNN, FOX News and MSNBC,” Lakshmanan said. “I was not privy to those discussions, so I don’t know what went into the contemplation of that, but they have determined that people can have what is essentially a side job.”
Lakshmanan considered that perhaps one of the caveats that publishers place on journalists appearing on air may include a mandate about breaking news: “I imagine some of them have concluded, ‘Yes, you may have a side contract, but any news you’re going to break, has to break for us, and then you can go on TV to talk about it to your heart’s content.”
One print journalist, who has been paid for TV appearances by a network but wished to remain anonymous, said there’s absolutely no shame nor violation of ethics here. It’s no different than a journalist being compensated for a speaking engagement, for a book deal, or for any number of other ways that reporters are paid for work beyond their bylines.
NPR journalists are said to be in “high demand,” according to its published employment guidelines on speaking appearances. The document begins with the mandate: “Outside NPR, you still represent us. Be accurate.”
Their guidelines also give a clear process for obtaining consent on appearances. Journalists require the approval of their direct supervisor. Both the “media relations” and “talent relations” teams (a group within the marketing and communications department) work in tandem on logistics, and a standards and practices editor is engaged when there are particular concerns or sensitivities related to the appearance. For example, when a journalist has authored a book and appears on radio or television to discuss the book, there may be rights and copyright issues to iron out.
Al Tompkins is senior faculty, broadcast and online, at the Poynter Institute, and an award-winning journalist. For his media expertise, he is often tapped as a guest for TV and radio.
“When they call me, it’s usually for a sound bite, and it’s completely uncompensated. In fact, often when reporters appear on TV, it costs them money because they’ve got to travel to some place and sit in front of a camera. Most of the time, it’s done completely gratis. So why would you do that?” Tompkins said. “One reason is because you believe passionately about what you’re talking about, and it’s good exposure for your work; it drives traffic to your story, and there is some opportunity to build your resume.”
The value for the newspaper, Tompkins pointed out, is reach and frequency. Beyond their own audiences, newspapers can “deliver using other people’s pipes.”
“The other thing to remember is that newspapers—particularly in print form—can be a morning commodity,” he said. “Cable gives them relevance throughout the day, which they might not have without it. It’s a way of saying, ‘We’re on this topic all the time; we’re constantly reporting.’ It’s a way of staying in front of the viewer 24/7, rather than just in the morning.”
As journalists’ roles and responsibilities continue to evolve, it’s fair to ask whether these types of appearances will become somewhat mandatory of them, akin to asking them to be prolific on social media today.
Tompkins doesn’t think that’s a trend in the making.
“If you’re a high-profile columnist or a person who works on high-profile projects, like Ronan Farrow, then that’s part of what comes with that high-profile job,” he said. “And others may be asked to appear when they’re covering some high-profile breaking news story, but mostly, these are not the expectations that we lay on every single journalist.”
Regarding the anti-press rhetoric and the “side hustle” allegations circulating in conservative media circles, Tompkins was nonplussed: “When I go on NPR or do a national interview of any sort, I know I’m going to get a certain amount of hate mail, a certain amount of criticism. It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about because when you’re talking to an audience of a million people, a certain percentage is going to disagree with you. That’s one of the real downsides—if there is one—to getting involved with a national audience…There is always a certain amount of blowback, but they wouldn’t have me on if there wasn’t controversy.”
Tomkins’ experience with “hate mail” is all too common for journalists today, so it’s difficult to measure whether the digital vitriol increases after a TV appearance in some way paints a bigger target on the back of the journalist.
To journalists who are anticipating an appearance as a guest or panelist on radio or TV, Tompkins advised: “Don’t forget who you are. Don’t change just because you’ve changed media platforms.”
One of the first questions that came up in trying to better understand the relationship between print/digital news and broadcast news is how appearances come about. There are two ways. Broadcast news producers go in search of reporters and opinion writers who have special knowledge on a news topic, or the newspaper publisher may foster those relationships and initiate those opportunities.
The Philadelphia Media Network’s (PMN) flagship publications—the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com—are geographically positioned “at the epicenter of the news hub,” said Stan Wischnowski, PMN senior vice president and executive editor.
For the Philadelphia publisher—smack dab in between New York City and Washington, D.C.—geography may play a part in how accessible PMN journalists have been to local, regional and national broadcast and radio programs, but credit is also due to a “concerted effort” to get its reporters “on air.”
The publisher’s public and community relations department is tasked with enabling appearances of this kind, and that initiative began under Amy Buckman’s (the former point person) direction. Buckman came to the newspaper with considerable experience in broadcast media, and she was instrumental in fostering relationships between the newsroom and producers or booking agents. She also helped prepare journalists for their appearances with tips for being interviewed on camera.
Wischnowski said that the editorial expectations for journalists who appear on air are no different than what is expected of them in their day-to-day roles. He said it was a “good parallel” to also suggest that conduct and professionalism is the same in the social mediasphere, as well.
The most important thing, he suggested, is that the reporter or columnist “stays in their lane.” Reporters shouldn’t be coerced into offering opinion on air, for example. “By and large, reporters respect those boundaries,” Wischnowski said
In the case of columnists, they are often courted by broadcast media because they’re opinionated.
“Will Bunch is one of our columnists, and he’s known to be very opinionated,” Wischnowski said. “He wrote a book on Bernie Sanders long before Sanders was a well-known national candidate. So there’s an example of a columnist with particular expertise. But when he shares his opinions on CNN, he’s not providing news overviews.”
Wischnowski added that it’s essential that there’s a clear delineation between opinion contributors and reporters. It’s important to distinguish that for the newspaper’s audience, and it’s equally important to distinguish those roles on broadcast media.
Branding is everything in media today, and both the journalist’s brand and the newspaper’s brand stand to gain from the added exposure to new audiences. Television and radio delivers those audiences.
“Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker are two of our Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. They just completed a two-year report that we called ‘Toxic City,’ about some of the dangerous toxins in communities around Philadelphia, particularly in the schools,” Wischnowski said. “Barb and Wendy told those stories to the large print and Philly.com audience, but we didn’t stop there. They made a lot of national broadcast appearances. For that project, we would publish a big installment, and then two days later, they’d appear on programs on WHYY, for example, which is the large NPR public radio affiliate here in Philadelphia. And they would tell their stories to a much expanded audience, beyond what we have in print and at Philly.com.”
Wischnowski marvels that “despite disruption” at PMN and across the newspaper industry, Philly.com and its two flagship print publications, are fortunate to have retained so many great reporters with a track record of exceptional journalism—an estimated 125 to 130, he noted—and columnists with particular expertise.
“In a crowded media market like Philadelphia, we still have a lot of reporters covering the community,” he said. “It does, perhaps, support other media outlets too, in terms of us sharing our content in ways that we haven’t in the past…I like to emphasize that these are audiences that we would otherwise not reach and serve.”
As far as future collaborations go, Wischnowski said at PMN, there are ongoing efforts to explore synergies and opportunities with a growing list of media collaborators, including minority-owned outlets and those with largely minority audiences. PMN’s reporters and columnists now regularly appear on NBC Telemundo programs, in AL DIA’s publications and on air with WURD Radio hosts.
“Our aim is to serve what is often an underserved audience in our community,” he said. “Those kinds of connections with minority-owned media not only benefit us, but I think we bring value to those stations, as well, both in TV and radio.”
From the Producer
Andrea DeVito has decades of experience booking guests on broadcast and radio shows, such as “The McLauglin Group, “John McLaughlin’s One on One,” “Dennis Wholey’s America,” and for both Jim Bohannon’s and Larry King’s radio shows. Currently, DeVito is the coordinating producer at FOX News Sunday (FNS), a weekly news program anchored by journalist Chris Wallace, on which DeVito has worked for more than 20 years.
“We use journalists routinely on the FOX News Sunday panel each week,” DeVito said. “We like to have a mixture of various viewpoints, and we often mix journalists with political pundits. We typically select print journalists who have a political or White House beat, or may be covering an issue that is a focus of the week’s current news.
“We recently broadcast FNS live from Singapore and Helsinki. For those shows, we looked for print journalists from newspapers, wire services or news agencies, and online journalists. We like to have a mixture from these platforms.”
DeVito noted that reporters are not compensated for their appearances, unless there is a contractual arrangement in place for which the journalist serves as a paid FOX News “contributor.”
“Overall, broadcast news and print journalists are working more together than they have in years past,” she said. “There are many more outlets for print journalists to appear, including cable news and online shows. There will always be a need for print journalists to discuss their reporting on news programs.
“We’re always looking for journalists to share their reporting on our panels,” DeVito continued. “Print journalists and their representatives should continue to work with broadcast (and) online producers to pitch their stories to reach an even wider audience.”
Gretchen A. Peck is an independent journalist who has reported on publishing and printing for more than two decades. She has contributed to Editor & Publisher since 2010 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.