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Journalism Salary Report

Ask just about any journalist or teacher if you can get rich being a newspaper reporter, and you will quickly hear the raw truth.

A financially lucrative career in journalism is generally thought to be occupied by those fortunate and talented enough to:

  • make it big as the editor or publisher of a major newspaper or magazine,
  • become one of the half dozen or so network television news anchors, or
  • write a book that is picked to be the basis of a movie.

Most career journalists will say they entered the field for the creative rewards - or so they claim in surveys and interviews.

Or they may say they're in the news business because of the thrill of seeing others read, enjoy and learn from what they've written, edited or designed - not for the money alone.

Other rewards of being a journalist are described elsewhere on this Web site.

But those more cerebral pleasures of being a career journalist won't put food on the table or a sleek car in the garage of the house of your dreams.

The big problem is how to get a start and make enough money to afford to live ... to lease or buy a car to get to work, to pay the rent on a modest apartment, and to have enough money left over to go to a movie or eat out from time to time.

Beginning salaries right out of college won't be sufficient to maintain a lavish lifestyle. But the median starting paycheck, which you can read about below, will provide the basics.

And after two or three years of work ... plus good performance reviews from the boss ... a majority of newspaper and news service writers and editors will find they are reporting annual wages of $30,000 and more when they fill our their tax returns.

Newspapers generally hire beginning reporters on a probationary basis, and then award a significant raise after a six-month performance review. A TIP: During your interview, ask when the first performance review will happen and if that is also considered a salary review.

Also, you will find that many journalists advance by changing employers two, three or even four times early in their careers.

The fact is, you can make good money as a journalist, you can have a comfortable lifestyle, and you can finish a career of 40-plus working years with a handsome retirement fund. A TIP: Be sure to ask about a company's retirement plan or pension fund during your job interview and when you talk with your future co-workers. What you will be trying to determine isn't about your own pension plan, but to find out just how much the company cares about the future of its employees. Retirement may seem like a long way away, but a good pension plan will signal that the company is a good place to start a career, too.

Studies about what journalists earn are abundant, but three fairly recent ones may shed some light on what you can expect to earn as an intern, when you finish college and in the years beyond. Here are some excerpts:

  • Nontraditional areas of journalism are becoming more and more important at many newspapers. These same nontraditional areas also were the highest paying. The average salary for students working (as interns) at online services was $376.70 a week, while that for graphic artists and layout specialists was $345.19. Salaries for copy editors averaged $329.28 a week and that for reporters averaged $272.50.
    (Article by Rich Holden in the 1999 edition of The Journalist's Road to Success by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund).
  • The median income of full-time journalists increased from $19,000 in 1981 to $31,297 in 1991. Daily newspaper journalists saw their salaries increase by 68% to a median of $35,180. Journalists 55 and older, with a 1991 median salary of $40,333, made gains over their young colleagues. What ... were the real predictors of who made the most money in journalism in 1991? Years of professional experience and the size of the employing organization were the strongest factors in 1991, as they were in 1971.
    (Article by David H. Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit in the March 1997 issue of The Quill).
  • The data reported here suggest that excess supply of labor ... serves to hold down salaries generally and to explain the lower pay in television news in comparison with daily newspapers. Television ... has many more persons seeking entry-level jobs than there are jobs available. The daily newspaper industry also has an excess supply of entry-level applicants, but the ratio is about half of what it is for television. If daily newspapers want to hire persons who specialized in print journalism (in college), had a newspaper internship, and worked for the campus newspaper, ... there are not enough graduates to go around. Obviously, employers are going to have to compromise to fill positions.
    (Article by Lee B. Becker, Vernon A. Stone and Joseph D. Graf in the Autumn 1996 issue of J&MC Quarterly).

The deeper reasons for choosing a journalism career are, perhaps, told in the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund's career guide. Here's a sample of what that book, The Journalist's Road to Success, says:

"Today's young journalists have a mission that goes beyond making a name for themselves or making a lot of money. The good ones will achieve both fame and fortune, but they will make it to that level because they have a more important career goal. Their goal is to ask good in-depth questions and to write and edit honest and fair articles for newspapers, including school newspapers. That dream is made possible by resisting all attempts by elected and appointed officials and others to restrict the free flow of information to readers -- to the community, the nation and the world."

This article was compiled and written by Tom Engleman, program director of the New Jersey Press Foundation. It was updated in July 2000.

NOTE: Information about newspaper careers, how to choose a newspaper for an internship or job, and the future of newspapers is available elsewhere in this Web site.

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