Journalism salaries and careers

I’m still bullish on journalism, but young people considering a career in journalism need to get the facts straight:

Journalism salaries, from payscale.com

Most longtime journalists will tell you: they don’t do it for the money. If you love going to work every day, that’s worth a lot more than having a bunch of knickknacks in your house. (On the other hand, you’ve got to pay the bills, so do your own math.)

The newspaper business is in deep financial trouble right now — jobs are being eliminated continually. But there are still jobs out there for journalists with certain skills. You need to be savvy about what the jobs are, what the work entails. Here are two lists of currently open jobs (one and two), via Journalistopia.

Salaries of journalists often depend more on the experience of the individual than on the degrees obtained — only about 10 percent of journalists working in the United States hold a graduate degree. Someone starting out could look to make anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, though the median salary for journalists in 2001 was approximately $44,000. (Source: The Princeton Review)

So forget about that graduate degree — just go out and start working.

I’m sorry to say that the 2008 average annual salary in journalism is $41,000, according to SimplyHired.com. (You know the difference between average and median, don’t you?)

I’d also like to say a word about writing. Top-notch writing skills are essential in every journalism job (even TV news jobs). There’s much more to journalism, however, than writing. If you envision a leisurely life lounging at a computer keyboard, writing whatever strikes your fancy, DO NOT consider a career in journalism. That is not what journalism is.

A colleague of mine expressed dismay when he read a recent posting for a journalism internship — the list of “mandatory skills” does not include writing, interviewing, fact-checking, or reporting. My reply to him: The job description says they want a journalist. A journalist is someone who can write, report, conduct interviews, check facts, and do it all to a high degree of accuracy, on deadline. There is no reason to list those attributes — the word “journalist” says it all.

JournalismJobs.com is a great place to look for jobs. Even if you’re not in the market right now, it’s very smart to read the job listings now and then to see what kinds of skills are in demand.

11 Comments on “Journalism salaries and careers

  1. Pingback: Innovation in College Media » Blog Archive » Journalism jobs and salaries

  2. This post came just in time. Even after using salary calculators online, I’ve been baffled at what to add to my resume/cover letter when potential employers ask for the dreaded “salary requirements,” which is a very term for recent college grads who’ve never had a salary!

  3. When you look at those salaries, it’s hard to imagine journalism, especially newspapers, being able to attract the best and brightest technologists in the coming years.

    Or technologists in general.

    I was offered a reporting position when I was first looking for a job with a salary under $25,000. One of the reasons they liked me was because of my Web skills, and they wanted me to help improve their Web site. My Web skills are precisely why I didn’t take that job. That paper is continuing its slow ride into oblivion. How are papers like that supposed to turn things around?

    With the salaries they offer, they can’t. Less than a year ago my girlfriend was making a little more than $30,000 in the New York market. With her student loans, she was barely getting by. She had no money to do anything other than pay her bills and quickly became burned out by journalism at a mid-sized daily.

    She rarely had times to take breaks, routinely worked unpaid overtime and was rewarded with a raise that was less than inflation, despite getting a glowing review. The top raise that a journalist at her 50,000-circulation Gannett paper got was 3%.

    Now she is making in the upper 40s doing marketing and PR for a university and much happier because of it. And she doesn’t have to work 4:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. anymore or lose most of her weekends.

    I too am bullish on the future of journalism. I’m very bearish, however, on the future of newspapers.

  4. @Rob – Thanks, man. I am back. The trip was wonderful. How’s your newspaper doing?

  5. Nice post with good, useful info for students. Everybody is told that you don’t go into journalism for the money, but that vague, nebulous concept takes on new meaning when you flesh it out with some actual numbers about what a new grad can expect in terms of salary.

    The story Pat shared about his girlfriend’s experience is a familiar one. And he’s right that anybody who has the skills that newspapers want, both old and new media skills, can get much better compensation in just about any field other than newspapers, especially starting out (the crappy hours and working on weekends, of course, would still be part of being in journalism, newspaper or not).

    I was fortunate enough to start out at $30k as a designer/copy editor at a 50k paper back in 2000 and moved up to above $40k at a bigger paper within about 3 years. Honestly, I’ve never taken a newspaper job at a salary that I didn’t feel satisfied with (though I’ve been very lucky in that regard). The problem now is that if you move up far enough on the salary scale in newspapers, you become a target for the next round of job cuts. It’s a no-win situation.

  6. Thanks for such a fantastic site, Mindy. I’ve just found you, and look forward to reading so much more. But this topic is such a great one for me to jump into. So here goes…

    I am an example of one of those people who left the newspaper job (making less than $28k and looking at nothing better than the prospect of an annual 2% salary increase — or is that a 2% decrease, depending on inflation?) and now work for a large company doing internal web and print communications.

    It’s unfortunate. I enjoyed many aspects of working at a newspaper. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my future was so limited. I felt let down that I’d bought into the American belief that education promises a good life. Instead I ended up with a Master’s, a mountain of loans and no prospect of being able to afford even a modest lifestyle, as long as I worked in the core tradition of journalism. Well, my education and newspaper experience is giving me a good life, but not in the way I’d anticipated. (And for the record, by “good life,” I only meant earning $30-40k/yr at a newspaper, nothing grandiose.)

    Second example: My wife, ex-photojournalist. She now is an art and Spanish teacher.

  7. Pingback: Profissão: Jornalista; Salário: …pois… | Profession: Journalist; Salary: …er… « O Lago | The Lake

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