The question looms for every journalism student: What is my professional value, especially in an industry in flux? Julia Haslanger, a graduate student at CUNY, had the good sense to ask.
“I’m surprised by how not surprising things are,” reports Haslanger, whose “Journo Salary Sharer” survey went live six weeks ago as part of a class assignment and has since been circulating through the industry. It’s already collected over 3,400 responses. Rather than finding something revelatory, Haslanger is struck by the fact that her findings don’t support a more pessimistic narrative about new careers in the news business. “Median salaries are consistent across the board.”
As a social journalism student, Haslanger deserves extra credit for catching the attention of media observers like Poynter and NeimanLab, which helped sharing of her survey get off to a hot start. Haslanger is upfront in noting that her survey is unscientific and her sample is skewed (more than 1,000 respondents from the first two weeks identified as reporters, a majority of whom checked the 24-to-33 age bracket), but part of her goal for the survey was simply to initiate a conversation about how working journalists can expect to be compensated. When introducing the project in early August, she wrote, “Have you ever stared at that ‘Desired Salary’ box on a job application and just felt clueless and powerless?”
Haslanger has been releasing her findings in stages. Each weekly installment focuses on data for a different title. So far, she’s reported on editors, reporters, Web producers, copy editors, page designers, and photojournalists. Responses are still being collected and there are results to come; findings for video journalists are up next.
The median salary for first-year reporters surveyed was $36,000. Web producers, most of whom were in their 20s, had a median salary of $50,000. All varieties of journalist seem to make more in expensive places to live and at larger outlets (which often go together). Haslanger’s data get progressively less reliable as the sample shrinks; of the 21 respondents who identified as editors-in-chief, mostly at small-scale publications, the median salary was just over $100,000.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducts an annual survey of salaries among recent grads in different fields. In 2014, the average entry-level journalist was found to make $41,900.
Many aspiring journalists are anxious about whether their chosen career is financially viable. Haslanger’s survey is reassurance that they can make a living, though usually not much more.