After TV - What Else
Would You Do?

by Rebecca Coates Nee

Almost everyone who works in TV news thinks about leaving the business at some point. For photographers, the choice often is made to save their deteriorating back, neck and shoulders.

But no matter how many aches and pains you have, the final decision to break away from news is never easy. I left television news twice over a 12 year period. The first time, I tried what everyone thinks is the only option – public relations. In just two years, I was bored and frustrated. So I went back on air.

I left for the final time 18 months ago, at the age of 40, to finally pursue a family and “normal" life. I also decided to do what was really needed: help other broadcasters make a smooth and satisfying transition from TV to the “real world."

I began by interviewing more than 40 ex-anchors, producers and photographers for my book, “Leaving TV: A Guide to Life After News." I found some who made mistakes and others who were very happy. Most missed the people in the newsroom and the adrenaline rush the most. Many were relieved to be free from daily deadlines, odd shifts and working holidays.

The career transitions are as varied as the people. Some photographers start their own production companies, others teach while still others get completely away from the camera.

Here are a few examples of what some former broadcasters are doing now — and saying about it — from “Leaving TV:"


Former news photographer Al Shilling figures he's saved many parents thousands of dollars through his rigorous broadcast news training program at a public high school. Many kids who thought it was all glamour quickly change their minds after taking his class.

Shilling assigns students roles you would find at any TV station - from general manager to news director and even chief engineer. They put together an eight-minute daily newscast in just 40 minutes.

Because of the teacher shortage, Shilling was allowed to teach without a credential, as long as he completed 12-15 hours of education classes within two years. Everyone knows the downside of teaching is the pay. Starting teacher salaries are typically $25,000 a year - but remember, that's for nine months of work.

“Imagine a job where you have all the holidays off, you don't have to work nights, you always have three months vacation, good benefits and you have the power to be your own assignment editor, your own producer, all in one," says Shilling.

Shilling owns a video production company on the side and says he's starting to make more money from that than teaching. So will he give up the classroom?

“I make a difference in about 50 kids' lives every day," he notes. “… To me, education is the last hope. Change is gonna have to come from the outside and kids bring about the last hope to get journalism where it needs to be."

Video Production Companies

Except in some large markets, gone are the days of large production houses with multiple employees. Many video production companies now consist of one owner and a few freelancers who shoot and edit.

But the cost of starting your own company is much lower than what it was 10 or 20 years ago. Tom Kramig, owner of Pro Cam Video Productions in Cincinnati, and Ken Sneeden, of Sneeden and Associates in Fort Myers, each took out loans for $50,000 when they left TV to start their businesses.

Now they say all it would take is a $10,000 investment in today's high-quality digital equipment. One key to running a successful production company is to find a niche no one else is filling, then diversify, diversify, diversify. Sneeden first took the niche route, offering animated graphics to an existing video company (also owned by an ex-employee of his former station).

As technology advanced, so did his business. He now produces image and sales videos, as well as computer and power point presentations. “You have to be able to follow whatever the changing trends are, adapt to the changing trends and technology," he says.

Kramig also provides a range of services at his company. He noticed a recent slowdown in the video market because many companies are working on their Web sites, but the upside will be a greater demand for streaming video on those sites and videos on CD-ROMs.

Where does he get his clients? Many are ex-TV news employees who are now marketing directors for private companies in the area. Those are the first people to approach as potential clients — even former competitors want to do business with someone who knows the industry.

NASA/Government Contractors

As a producer/videographer/editor at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California, former chief photographer Steve Parcel has exclusive access to shooting shuttle landings at Edwards Air Force Base, as well as new aircraft and other NASA projects. The video is then fed by satellite to national and international media and often used live.

He found his job through and says he nearly doubled his salary. Some travel is involved for special assignments. Parcel spends several weeks shooting in locations ranging from South Africa to Hawaii. Benefits are good and so are the hours. But, as with most government jobs, they expect you to be there all day, every day.

His advice for photographers thinking about leaving the business: “Learn all the areas around you, from writing to producing, to high-tech editing and graphics. You can't count on somebody to teach you. You have to make it a point to learn it for yourself."

The key to success after TV news is to identify your unique talents and passions before you leave. Don't just get tired and miserable one day and take the least distasteful job offer that comes along. That's a formula for regret.

Think about which stories have intrigued you the most and why. What did you want to be when you were a kid? What would you do if you didn't have to worry about money? Clues can be found in the answers. In today's job market, you may have to design your next position. Use your creativity and intuition to craft it carefully.

The pros and cons of more than two dozen broadcast career transitions are featured in “Leaving TV: A Guide to Life After News." Find out more about the book at

Rebecca Coates Nee is a writer, speaker and personal life/career coach specializing in broadcast transitions.

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