So you just managed to land a journalism job in what has become a seriously tough market. Congratulations! Now it’s time to negotiate.
Yeah, we both know you’re going to take the job anyway because it’s a decent gig and there are so few of those right now. That doesn’t matter. As one young editor wrote me, “I’m going to take it no matter what, but the sense I get is that I’m being lowballed on the salary front.” You should still negotiate, even if you’re early in your career. It may seem like you have the least leverage, but now’s the time to set a baseline salary from which you’ll negotiate all future salaries. Young journalists, especially young women, ask me how to do this all the time. So let’s walk through it.
First, figure out how much you really want to be making. Let’s say you make $30k right now and you’d diiieeee to be making $50k. You probably think that’s more than you deserve. You’re wrong about that. You deserve all of the money. If they don’t give it to you, it’s not like that money is guaranteed to save the company from financial ruin. It doesn’t work like that. So don’t feel guilty about asking for more. Set a goal salary.
Here’s where you move into journalist mode. Before you officially accept the new job, tell the potential new bosses that you asked around—you know, used your reporting skills—and $50k (or whatever amount you have determined you’d like to earn) is the minimum for what a [INSERT YOUR NEW TITLE HERE] makes at competing publications. Tell them you approached the salary question as a journalist, tackled it like a reporting problem. You sought out people who did similar work with similar titles and asked them what they were making. Now, you can actually do this reporting if you want to. But you don’t have to! If the new bosses push you to reveal your sources, you can say that you told those other journalists that you’d keep their names confidential. But they probably won’t push you to name names. As with statistics and infographics, you can always find numbers to support the story you want to tell. (Think of it like reporting a trend story! Ooops, did I actually type that? But seriously.)
Inside info will help you negotiate with confidence. Especially if you heard about the job through a friend, often you’ll have gotten an inside tip about what your predecessor in this position was making. So you’ll have a sense of what the publication can afford. Chances are, you’re going to be replacing someone with more experience (because you’re a baller like that, but also because this is just what’s happening in our industry right now), so your ask might be a little lower. Let’s say you know (or think) they can afford up to $70k. That means $50k is still a deal for them.
And speaking of confidence, don’t use phrases like, “I need” or “I’m sorry but” or “I know it’s a lot of money…” Just say it matter-of-factly: “This is what other people make to do this job, and I’d like to be making the same.” There is a sort of survivor’s guilt that’s taken hold in media, wherein we all feel grateful to be employed at all. But here’s a secret: There is no objectively “appropriate” salary. In many industries, not just ours, people are compensated at wildly different levels the exact same work. Those who are paid higher have usually negotiated harder. Especially if you’re at the stage in your career where you’re going to define your future earning potential, negotiation is not optional. Yes, even at this moment in media. I’m confident you can get that money.