Your new journalism job: what do reporters, editors get paid?

What is writing, reporting and editing worth to you?

Everyone says he didn’t get into journalism to be rich – particularly not the print field – but rather it’s what he wants to do.

But when you really face the numbers it may seem even more daunting.

So what is reporting worth to you? I hope less than it was in 2001.

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. (Via Mindy McAdams)

Working as an intern at the Philadelphia Business Journal, I made the equivalent of $16,000 a year. As a post-graduate intern covering state government this past summer in Harrisburg, Pa., I made what would be $25,000 during a full year.

Understand, though, the difference in cost of living. According to CNN Money’s salary calculator, I would need to make more than $30,000 to live in Philadelphia and maintain the same standard of living as I did in Harrisburg. That’s already well beyond the median salary for all newspaper reporters.

The only full-time gig in Philadelphia I seriously pursued offered a salary of just that: $30,000, though the position is going to remain unfilled because of budget cutbacks.

You need more than $190,000 to raise a child to age 18, according to estimates by Can you do that on that total?

How much can I make as a freelance journalist? I am in the process of figuring just that out, being two weeks into my freelance career. I’d set a goal of $30,000, considering I wouldn’t much want to dip below my standards as a post-graduate intern, but that seems daunting thus far.

Much more is to be discovered and learned, though, so keep all of this in mind.

My peers have found part-time work to develop a steady stream of money, though small, to compliment whatever freelance money they can earn. I’ve made a small step in that direction by blogging for BNET, a business-news subsidiary of CBS. I’m also selling my services, like I did recently with storytelling (hire me to tell your story!).

Maybe we ought to just look at these jobs.

Do those numbers shock you? Are you ready to find your own alternative revenue streams?

Photo from Graph from MindyMcAdams.

10 thoughts on “Your new journalism job: what do reporters, editors get paid?”

  1. The numbers don’t shock me, but they certainly don’t paint a pretty picture. The scary part to me is how many people in our generation of journalists choose to be scared away by them. We’re in a stage now where journalism needs the fresh faces and ideas to innovate and save some sinking ships.

    I am more than ready to work a part-time job flipping burgers to subsidize my reporting after graduation. Or to take on a full-time job elsewhere and do freelance and blogging work in the meantime to keep me sane. I just hope that there are more people out there than me who will.

  2. My first reporting job out of college finally came about a year after graduation when I responded to an ad in my local weekly newspaper. They paid me a cool $350 a week, with benefits coming after 3 months of employment.

    I’ve been lucky enough to be able to supplement my income through a side job that I’ve held for the past five years. Chances are I’d be making the same amount of money if I did the side job full time (and that only runs October to May)

    Working at a daily, they’ve bumped my pay up to $500 a week, but the commute sucks up most of that money to a level that’s the same if I had been working at my old paper.

    Flip burgers, write what you want. Be happy.

  3. Holly:
    I am glad there are other newspaper ideologues like me out there.

    I think what you say is a lesson for most who want to write and are willing for a challenge. Get some comforting forms of alternative revenue – blogging or bartending or, as you suggest, flipping burgers! – but then focus on writing what you want to write.

    Thanks both for reading and commenting. If you get a chance and use online aggregation, subscribe here:

    Thanks again. Any other thoughts out there?
    -Christopher Wink

  4. Now probably isn’t the “right” time to be saying this – but with all do respect to Holly – attitudes such as that are part of the problem. Journalism is a skilled trade, and an extremely important and valuable one to boot.

    When it comes to hiring journalists it is a buyers market for employers. There are tons of journalists willing to take jobs, uproot their lives, and “subsidize” their work, their career with a part-time job.

    Its not fair to other journalists, and its not fair to one’s self. It also is bad for journalism.

    In order to produce well thought out projects, investigative pieces, and other hard hitting socially useful articles one needs to be able to devote all of their working time to the project. This means two things to me: A. They need to be paid enough to have only one job. and B. They need to have the flexibility to cover what needs to be covered. A part-time job does not allow for that.

    That said, who can blame somebody for looking for more work when being asked to work at a Daily newspaper for $500 a week?

    Its these reasons that I chose not to go into the newspaper world. Not that I was “scared” by the numbers , I don’t think that’s the correct phrase.

    Journalists are some of the smartest people I know. They perform a vitally important duty for our society and they deserve to be treated, and paid with respect.

    I really wish that all journalists would refuse to work for such low amounts of money, and in return would help to raise that median salary to a more sustainable range. Instead of working a parttime job concurrently with your newspaper gig, why not work a temporary fulltime job anywhere and demand higher salaries from career employers.

    Finally, think about the money in terms of hourly wage instead of salary, which in my experience can be misleading especially to recent college graduates who just hear the big number. A starting salary range from $20k – $30k means $9.60/hr – $14.42/hr.
    In other words, when I was in high school, when I was 16 years old, I was making more money as a salesman at Staples (with commission) than I could have expected to make as a college graduate.

  5. I agree with you, Colin, when it comes to independently wealthy journalists spoiling it for the rest of it, but it’s my understanding that a lot of freelancers, particularly magazine and travel writers, always had other means of income. That it’s infecting the daily product does seem harmful, but I am on board with anyone who finds a way subsidize what they want to do with something they are less sure about. I take less exciting gigs to pay for the ones I do want to do. A simple concept, but I think there is carry-over.
    -Christopher Wink

  6. Taking a less exciting writing gig as a freelancer, is not equivalent to taking a job flipping burgers when you have a full time career at a newspaper.

    To me there is a huge difference between being self employed, and working full-time for somebody.
    When you’re a career journalist, you should be able to put trust in the fact that your employer can pay you a competitive salary. A salary, that should be able to sustain you and your family at a competitive rate.

    As a freelancer, I’ve got nobody else but me to blame if I’m not paying myself enough. When a job comes in that doesn’t pay my rates, with the exception of pet projects or pro bono work , I politely decline it and explain that it is below my operating costs.

  7. Chris,

    When browsing for summer internships to take on the summer I graduate (2010), I noticed that a lot of papers pay $400-600 a week. This seems great for an intern, who can spend 3-4 months of their life doing something that probably want to do for the next 40 years of their life…but really that money sucks. It’s better than making what most college kids make, but nothing that sexy about it.

    But then I read what Lucas wrote. He’s making $500 a week as a full time employee with benefits. So this is where I am confused.

    How is it that an intern (although newspapers want to say “your like staff,” but we will label you as something less) can make just as much as staffers themselves? When you said you would make $16,000 as a PBJ intern if you worked fulltime, I would have assumed that the fulltimers actually made more than this (at least $23,000). So what’s the deal?

    Freelance has more opportunities, but how do you guarantee that 30 grand a year? Sure I’m lucky enough that I’m not at a point where I have to support by self entirely, but the freelance work I do only pays $500-1,000 a month! Of course that’s not my job, since I still am taking 5 classes a semester, but is it possible to actually make as much as you want to make being a freelancer. Networking seems like a bitch. How are you going to make sure you make that money?

    When I worked at my local hospital in HS I made $11 something a hour. If I were to work fulltime, as a high school kid I would be making more than someone working at some newspapers.

    Sure, this is super disheartening, but this is what I want to do.

    I don’t expect to make big money out of college as a photojournalist. Hopefully I can change the world. That’ll work for me.

  8. Hey Kevin,
    To answer your first question, Paper’s can afford to pay interns a slightly higher salary because they’re not footing the bill for their benefits, and in some instances their camera gear. ( You are a photog right? I think I remember seeing your stuff in the Temple News)

    To answer your second question, “how do you guarantee that $30k a year”. Simply put, you don’t guarantee it. But, taking a $23k job right out of school does guarantee that you wont.

    If you’re making about $500 – $1,000 a month freelancing as a student, you’re doing really well and you’re about where I was at when I was a senior in school.

    If you figure that you can spend all of your time and effort on reaching out and doing more freelance work after graduation I think you’ll find it easy enough to bring your income level up to a more manageable $1500 – $2000 a month. Think about it, 5 courses during a semester is a full time job, and you’d probably only need to double your income after graduation at this point to sustain yourself modestly.

    It won’t be easy, but its not as difficult or as daunting as it might seem. Within a year or two, I’d be willing to bet you’ll be making much more money than you could at a paper.

  9. Kevin:
    I’d also add many internships that do pay at newspapers are paid for in other ways – endowments, scholarships, fundraising, university funds, etc. Unfortunately, they might not stay.

    I would echo Colin’s comments on freelancing offering the opportunity for better money and more freedom. Some staff positions and permanent work in other capacities can offer competitive salaries and far more stable and steady employment, but, then, they are rare and getting rarer.

    Keep reading, I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing on my march to 30k.
    -Christopher Wink

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