[Welcome to another interesting Side Hustle story! This time around Jessica Moorhouse shares her experience working a teleprompter. Something you apparently don’t want to mess up on ;)]
Something I never thought I’d ever tell people is that I was a teleprompter operator for 3 ½ years. But it’s true, and honestly it was the best side hustle I’ve ever had!
How I Got Started
Teleprompting was definitely something I fell into. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in film production in 2009, and man was that a terrible time to graduate. The recession was in full swing, no one was hiring, and I was desperate to make some money to start paying off my student loans.
After working a 4-month contract job in the summer, I made sure to spread the word that I was looking for work to anyone and everyone. My dad, being the guy who always wants to help (especially when it comes to his family) said he would pass my resume onto the hiring department at the news station he worked at. Not thinking that it would lead to anything, a month later I was called in for an interview, was hired on the spot, and started training to be an on-call teleprompter operator later that week. Once I got a full-time job 6 months later, I decided to keep it as a second job to supplement my income.
What is a Teleprompter Operator?
For those of you who don’t know what I mean by teleprompter operator (which is probably most of you, it’s an odd job to be fair), it just means being the person who literally scrolls the script for the news anchors to read during a telecast. That’s pretty much it.
It sounds simple (and it is to a certain extent), but it’s also unbelievably stressful. Every show I worked on was live, and when you made a mistake it was very obvious.
What Were the Pitfalls?
Although it was a great job to have to make some extra cash, there were quite a few pitfalls. As I mentioned, making a mistake as a teleprompter was not like making a mistake at any other job. The scripts that got loaded into the teleprompter system were always full of typos and mistakes. Eventually I learned to spot these things, but as a trainee I was making mistakes left, right, and center.
For instance, although most of the anchors I worked with were seasoned pros, there were one or two who would read every single word on the teleprompter (just like Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy). I’m pretty sure a lot of the footage that ended up on the station’s blooper reel was my doing.
Another big pitfall was the hours. All the shifts were at night or early in the morning. At first this was great because I could take shifts and they would never conflict with my regular 9-5 job. But working 8pm to midnight shifts during the week and 7am – 3pm on weekends definitely took its toll after a while.
What Were the Perks?
Well, the biggest perk was definitely the money! Because it was a union job with a set pay scale, I actually got paid more per hour as a teleprompter than I did at my full-time entry-level job. How much exactly? $20 per hour. Since I worked on average 16 hours per month I made an extra $4,000 per year before taxes.
Over the 3 ½ years I worked there, I banked an additional $14,000 on top of my regular income. Not too shabby! Some other perks were that I got to actually meet some of the anchors I had grown up watching on TV in person. Plus I sure knew everything there was to know about local and world news during those years!
How to Get Started Teleprompting
Although I’d love to be able to share some advice on how you can become a teleprompter operator too, I just can’t. You see, teleprompter operators are going the way of the dinosaur and will soon be all but extinct. At the beginning of 2013, the news station I worked at started phasing out teleprompter operators in order to install newer equipment.
The sad truth is my job was replaced by a foot pedal that the anchors could control themselves. I was disappointed to leave, but in the end I knew had a good run. I was able to save up enough for a few vacations, my wedding, and most recently my big move from Vancouver to Toronto.
Now onto the next side hustle!
Jessica blogs about personal finance, traveling on a budget, and leading a frugal lifestyle over at JessicaMoorhouse.com/. She currently works full-time in marketing and advertising, but instead of teleprompting she now makes money on the side as a freelance writer.
Have an interesting side hustle of your own? Tell me about it!
You can see all previous 50 side hustles here –> Side Hustlin’ Is Sexy
[Photo of ABC News anchors up top by Scott S / Teleprompter pic by Luc Van Braekel]
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Threw a cup of water? Seems like TelePrompTer (why did the ghost of Steve Jobs change that to “CreepyCaps”???) folks are people you wouldn’t want to mess with as a news anchor…
Sounds like a fun side hustle!
Yeah, especially if you’re not good on the fly!
Very true, never mess with the teleprompter! lol
Ah the teleprompter the death of the cue card! Putting together a live TV show is fun. I’ve been involved in a few. Great side hustle.
I’ve done a bunch too back in the Love Drop days, but no cue cards or teleprompters really… unless you count my hand that had notes on it :)
It is so cool to learn the inside scoop on positions like this. I can now see why it would be so stressful…prior to reading this I would have thought “Huh, how hard can THAT be?”
I think a lot of people think that :)
Love this post! I’ve been producing TV news for 10 years, including working with the fine people in the photo at the top of this post at WJLA in Washington, DC. As a producer, I’m the one communicating with the anchors throughout the show and I’ll tell you a good TelePrompTer operator is key to a show’s success. If you’re interested in broadcasting, it’s definitely a good way to get a foot in the door.
HAH! Really?? That’s awesome! I had no idea you were a producer. Or in the DC area?
That’s a pretty cool story! I would love to hear some secret story of a newsanchor snapping or anything funny that happened behind the scenes.
LOVE the Anchorman clip! Seriously though, this sounds like an awesome side gig, save for the ones throwing water. My wife has done a bit of radio production in the past and has said it was somewhat stressful, so I can only imagine how stressful it would be doing something like this on live TV.
Awesome side hustle! It’s sad that it’s dying out actually. But now the anchors will have to throw water at themselves when they scroll past their stuff with their foot…
Having worked in TV news at the local and national level, there have only been a few times when I’ve heard the teleprompter operator get chewed out by an anchor. Most anchors are very professional in my experience. There have been times when I’ve had to yell “PROMPTER” to make sure they’re keeping up with the anchor’s read rate. Most anchors have scripts on the set as a backup, but it could take a moment to find the correct script if the teleprompter goes out or the operator loses their places. I have done a 2-hour show without prompter or even video! Technology doesn’t always work the way we like it to.
Oh I so know what you mean. There have been several times where we are 1 minute to show time and the prompter freezes or stops working. Thank god the anchors have their scripts as a backup! Those were not fun times, especially since it’s late at night and no one from IT is left in the office. I’m not sorry to have those stressful days behind me.
looking forward to the “fluffer” side-hussle :-) :-)
If you know anyone in the biz, you send ’em my way! ;)
This is really interesting; thanks for sharing! I’m amongst those who always thought “oh, no big deal”. Now I get the inside perspective and it’s definitely one of those think-on-your-feet jobs. Fun, worth the wage, and the experience. Thanks for sharing!
This is awesome! What a cool experience – it’s one of those stories you’ll be able to tell your kids/grandkids about how you had a job “before all that technology” took over :)
Just like we had to use encyclopedias before the internet! Haha…
Oh I just hate pompous people like that who think the world revolves around them! (water throwing anchor). Don’t they realize there are honest mistakes and sometimes technical problems you have no control over?
Another funny anchorman – Ted Baxter from Mary Tyler Moore. He might have thrown water. :-)
Great side gig! Though the thought of news anchors using a foot pedal just cracks me up for some reason. Newscasters, start your engines!
I can’t believe that this position wasn’t automated a long time ago.
Oh I know! But technology (especially newer technology) ain’t cheap, and I guess it was just cheaper to get people to use the old system and pay them to install the new system.
Actually, I am a teleprompter op full-time and it is not a dying business at all. (Also, I make a lot more than $20 an hour.) Yes, in local TV there are less and less prompter ops, but for video shoots, corporate events and live broadcast events there is still a huge call for teleprompting. BUT you don’t just need to know how to scroll the text at the pace of the reader. (although that is very important) You also need to know how to build and set up the feeds to the prompter systems. You better be able to mount that prompter sled on the tripod and then balance the camera so the camera op doesn’t have a back heavy or front heavy camera. You better be able to troubleshoot why the signal isn’t making it to the third camera. Also, you better know how to set-up the executive prompter system (like the president uses on speeches) so that the images in each mirror match and the sight line is good. You should also be able to handle client relations really well – nothing like a CEO who wants to make multiple changes to his script 2 minutes before he walks on stage. Oh for those of you who think automating the prompter works – try being the person who’s delivering the speech and you give some ad lib and the automated script just keeps scrolling past where you are. Not fun. I get hired a lot after people/companies have had a bad experience because they tried to get by with some cut rate gear or inexperienced production assistant running the prompter.
Interesting!! Thanks for sharing your experience with us – I love hearing about people rocking different gigs like this :)
What a fun story to read about. I’m actually going to start the same job next month at “voice of America” which is a government owned news station. So I decided to start researching about it and I came across to your story. Thanks for sharing this with us!
Awesome Aryan, glad you found us. Good luck with the job next month!
I like how you mentioned that it is important to be aware of the mistakes that can be avoided. My uncle mentioned to me last night that his friend is looking for an autocue equipment operator for his upcoming project and asked if I have any idea what is the best option to do. Thanks to this informative article and I’ll be sure to tell him that he can consult a trusted teleprompter operator as they can answer all his inquiries.