Do Journalists Earn A Good Amount Of Money?

Do Journalists Earn A Good Amount Of Money?

Journalism is a noble yet complicated profession. While journalists serve the invaluable role of keeping the public informed, their compensation doesn’t always reflect the importance of their work. So do journalists actually earn a good living? The reality is complex.

Journalist salaries range widely based on factors like:

  • Years of experience
  • Type and size of employer
  • Job title and role
  • Geographic location

The average pay isn’t spectacular, but it’s possible to earn a comfortable living as an experienced journalist working for national broadcast or top-tier publications. Local newspapers and online-only outlets tend to pay less.

Let’s analyze income data, job outlooks, and other key statistics to better understand what journalists truly earn today.

The Average Journalist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual pay for reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts nationwide is $56,750 as of May 2021. That breaks down to around $27 per hour.

To put that in context, the overall median wage for all U.S. workers is approximately $41,950 per year or $20 per hour based on BLS data. So journalists make about 35% more on average.

However, once you factor in inflation and cost of living increases, real wages for journalists have declined over the past 15 years. The median inflation-adjusted salary has dropped from $51,000 in 2002 to $48,000 in 2017 (in 2015 dollars).

So while journalist pay still beats national averages, incomes haven’t kept pace with rising living expenses.

Key Journalist Salary Statistics

  • Average journalist salary: $56,750 per year or $27 per hour
  • Median salary at newspapers: $37,800 per year ($18 hourly)
  • Median salary for reporters/correspondents: $43,000 ($21 hourly)
  • Median salary for editors: $59,400 ($29 hourly)
  • Highest 10% of editors earn: $116,540+ ($56+ hourly)
  • Lowest 10% of reporters earn: $21,490 ($10 hourly)

So pay varies widely based on role, employer, and experience. Top editors at national outlets earn 6-figure salaries, while beginner reporters at small local papers may earn under $30,000 a year.

Salary Factors: Experience, Employers, and Job Titles

What impacts how much journalists get paid? Here are key determinants of salary levels.

Years of Experience

Unsurprisingly, salaries tend to correlate with years on the job. However, journalism is also an unstable industry with frequent layoffs. So longevity isn’t always guaranteed.

Entry-level journalism salaries typically range from $30,000 to $40,000 depending on employer and cost of living. Expect to start around $35k at smaller local newsrooms.

Reporters or correspondents with 5+ years of experience average around $50,000 per year. Veterans at large metro papers or network news earn $60k+.

Top editors and senior management with 10-20 years under their belt can make over $100,000 at national outlets. But even experienced columnists average around $70-80k.

Type/Size of News Organization

The type and size of employer plays a major role in compensation.

Unsurprisingly, major national newspapers, cable/broadcast networks, and large metro dailies pay the top salaries for journalism:

  • New York Times reporters average $92,000 a year
  • Washington Post pays $75,000 on average
  • Wall Street Journal averages **$72,000 **
  • Associated Press pays $62,000 on average
  • Local TV news salaries average $55,000

Small weekly local newspapers often pay under $30,000 a year for entry-level reporters. So market size and scale equals bigger paychecks.

Job Title/Role

The most lucrative journalism jobs are often management roles like:

  • Editor-in-chief: $100k+
  • Managing editor: $80k+
  • Executive editor: $150k+
  • Publisher: $180k+

Rank-and-file editor positions pay around $65,000 on average.

Staff writers/reporters average $50k, while beginner beat reporters earn around $35,000. Freelance writers average $24 per hour.

Photojournalists, sports reporters, and broadcast presenters also average around $50k depending on market/outlet.

Geographic Differences in Journalist Pay

Where you work also impacts salary potential. Not surprisingly, major media markets like New York and D.C. pay the top salaries.

But even smaller markets see variability. Here are some geographic salary differences:

  • New York City: $94,000 average
  • Washington, D.C.: $75,000
  • Los Angeles: $63,000
  • Chicago: $58,000
  • Seattle: $55,000
  • Cleveland: $47,000
  • New Orleans: $43,000

So bigger cities with higher costs of living also yield bigger paychecks for journalists. Smaller regional markets still pay decent middle-class salaries, but likely top out under $60k unless you reach senior roles.

Job Outlook and Growth Trends

While the internet has created more outlets for journalists, employment is expected to decline over the next decade due to falling newspaper circulation and shrinking newsrooms.

Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth outlook for reporters/correspondents from 2020-2030 is:

  • Total employment change: -11%
  • New job openings: 27,400

The decline is even steeper for newspapers, with a projected -18% contraction by 2030. Employment at digital outlets is expected to grow slightly.

So while opportunities may be shifting away from print, digital journalism continues to grow. Savvy journalists may need to consider branching out into multimedia formats.

Tips to Increase Your Journalism Salary

  1. Gain broad experience: Specialize in high-demand “beats” like technology, business, or politics. Become fluent in social media, SEO, and analytics. Broaden your skillset.
  2. Get promoted: Moving up from staff writer to senior editor/producer roles boosts pay significantly. Seek leadership opportunities.
  3. Consider side gigs: Many journalists supplement incomes with side projects like consulting, teaching, blogging ads, or speaking engagements.
  4. Switch jobs strategically: Changing employers every 3-5 years is often the fastest way to increase salary. But avoid job-hopping too frequently.
  5. Negotiate raises annually: Don’t be afraid to negotiate fair pay increases based on performance and experience. Know your worth.
  6. Live within your means: Especially early on, journalist salaries won’t permit lavish lifestyles. But careful budgeting allows a comfortable living.
  7. Develop a specialty: Become an expert in a topic like politics, investigations, video production, data journalism, etc. Specialists earn more.
  8. Consider business/management training: Leadership, editing, and publishing roles pay the top salaries. Consider a dual MBA.
  9. Relocate to larger markets: Larger cities with pricier media outlets also yield bigger paychecks. Be willing to move up.
  10. Explore alternate models: From Substack newsletters to podcast networks, new journalistic models are creating financial opportunities.

The key is to continue gaining skills, experience, and exposure over time. Salaries likely won’t ever match tech or finance fields, but journalism remains a viable long-term career if you play your cards right.

Just stay versatile and open to new directions where growing public demand lies.

Conclusion: Mission-Driven but Middle Class Careers

While monetary compensation isn’t always fair for the vital accountability work journalists provide, the field still offers solid middle-income salaries on par with national averages.

However, income potential varies widely based on factors like experience, employer, role, and location. Salaries at top national publications can exceed $100k+, but local newspapers often pay under $40k for beginners.

With declining circulation and employment projected to contract over the next decade, journalists may need to branch out into new digital formats and specialty reporting areas where demand is growing.

But those willing to hustle and adapt have ample opportunities to earn fair living wages – even if mega-salaries remain rare.

The key is budgeting wisely, expanding your skills continuously, and focusing on growth opportunities rather than lamenting the challenges. Journalism remains a viable long-term career for the mission-driven.

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