Broadcast News Is at Center of Fight Over Noncompete Clauses

Beth Johnson, a television talent agent, says she had to move from exclusively representing clients to more training and consulting, since newsroom employees were no longer able to move around enough to negotiate significant pay raises. The rapid consolidation in local news, with major companies like Nexstar and Sinclair buying out smaller ownership groups, has further diminished the employees’ options.

“It’s really hard for these journalists to make a good living, and it’s getting harder to leverage to make sure they can,” Ms. Johnson said. “So we wanted to pivot to say to journalists, ‘It doesn’t make sense for you to pay me for three years, because you’re not going to make enough to keep me for three years, but you’re really going to need help with that promotion for a year.’”

Although reporters and anchors are paid slightly better than producers, they are routinely forced to move if they need to earn more. If they can’t leave town, they often leave the business. The docket for the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed noncompete ban is peppered with examples of reporters and producers whose careers had been constrained or cut short by the inability to leave their employer for similar work nearby.

Take Amy DuPont, one of Ms. Rivard’s former colleagues at WKBT. After working as an anchor in San Diego and Milwaukee, she moved with her husband to La Crosse, her hometown, after he retired from the military. When Ms. DuPont felt she had reached a breaking point at the station, she quit for a job in public relations. Other stations in town asked if she was interested in switching over, but she didn’t even try.

“Even if I wanted to, I’m not legally able to go there,” said Ms. DuPont, who now represents Kwik Trip, the Midwestern gas station chain. “For someone like me, who’s married and 43 years old with two children, and I own my home, it prevents me from doing my career, something I’ve spent 22 years doing.”

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