Got this question yesterday and it bears answering, as many people don't understand the deal with out clauses. I would venture to guess those of you in college have never even heard the term.
An out clause is something in your contract that permits you to leave before the end of the contract, provided you meet the parameters of the clause. For instance, let us say you signed a two year contract in market 80. You have an out clause that lets you leave after 18 months to go to any station market 40 and higher. That is known as a "Top 40 out." So if a station in market 34 offers you a job in the last six months of your contract, you can leave. If a station in market 41 makes an offer, you can't.
There are no rules for out clauses, as they can be written in any manner. A good friend of mine had a "specific market out clause" for his hometown, since that was the only place he wanted to go. When he got an offer there, he was legally entitled to leave. Most times out clauses are based on market size, and kick in toward the last part of the contract. Some people negotiate out clauses with a bunch of markets, or a specific state.
Now, back to the original question. Usually when a ND wants to hire you, he will offer the worst contract and salary, in hopes you'll say yes. He might say, "three year contract, and we don't give outs." Well, guess what. EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE. Remember that phrase. Because if someone wants to hire you bad enough, they'll bend. Some people won't, but it never hurts to try.
So let's say you don't want a three year contract, but the ND won't budge on that. You can say, "How about a two year contract with a top 40 out during the third year?" Therefore, you've effectively cut your contract down one year, provided you can find a job in a top 40 market. If you can't, you're stuck the full three years. (By the way, three year contracts are way too long for a first or second job.)
Let's say you're from Texas, and you want to go back home. You might ask for a Texas out, or an out clause that states you can leave to go to Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio. And you might want to include cable operations in your out clause. For instance, if a Dallas cable outlet offered you a job, you might not be able to leave unless your out clause included cable. That's a gray area, so make sure everything is spelled out.
Now, if you're doing a market size out clause, you'll want a realistic number. For instance, if you're in your first job in market 150 and your ND offers you a top 10 out, that's ridiculous, because odds are you won't make that kind of jump. Make sure your market is attainable.
As always, it is imperative that you have a lawyer review any contract, and especially any out clause you have in the contract. Stations can play hardball when it comes to contracts, and unless you follow the parameters to the letter, you might be stuck.
Back to original question again. News Directors know that just about everyone will leave at some point, especially if you're from another part of the country. It is ridiculous to assume someone from New York has a lifelong ambition to work in Peoria. As long as you ask for an out clause politely, and don't make it seem as if you'll bolt in a few months. Out clauses generally kick in toward the end of a contract, so as long as it appears you'll work out the majority of a contract, most NDs won't have a problem with that.
One more tip: Many NDs will say, "This company doesn't give out clauses." Well, it's up to you to put on your reporter's hat and find out if that is true. Check with some other stations in the group and find out if other people have outs. If they do, you know for sure that getting