When journalists want to talk among themselves about something difficult, the anonymous Google Doc seems to have become the mechanism. First there was the “Shitty Media Men” document, which was circulated in 2017, and eventually grew into a long list of alleged sexual harassers, working at some of the leading media outlets in the country. Today there is a document circulating in which journalists are being encouraged to share the details of their salaries (Note: CJR hasn’t verified any of the information independently).
You might think talking about salaries would be a lot less contentious than naming sexual abusers, but what people get paid has always been a touchy subject in the media business. That is in part because it dredges up all sorts of awkward and uncomfortable issues like lower pay for women and people of color (something a recent Washington Post salary survey confirmed is still a problem), and because it reinforces just how low salaries are across the industry, for almost everyone.
A web producer for Wirecutter, the consumer review site now owned by the New York Times, makes just $45,000, according to the list. An editor at the same site with three years of experience has a salary of only $62,000. For a job based in New York City, that seems barely livable. A deputy editor with the Times with 15 years experience reportedly makes $145,000, but those kinds of figures are the exception rather than the rule. A senior video producer at USA Today makes just $50,000.
Journalists doing anonymous journalism about journalism, in the shape of Google docs, is a new development in form. And examples like the SMM list definitely bring up ethical implications that should be considered. But in the long run, we would probably all be better off if the salary list sparked a healthy conversation about who is paying whom how much, and for what.