Business/Finance

Business side gets raises; newsroom side doesn't

Salaries at newspapers are rising, reports Jennifer Saba of Editor & Publisher, a newspaper industry trade journal. But it’s not necessarily good news for would-be journalists looking to break into an industry beset by revenue problems.

Newspaper wages rose 2.1 percent from 2008 to 2009, reported Ms. Saba, based on the annual Newspaper Compensation Study by the Inland Press Association using data from 400 U.S. and Canadian papers.

But the folks getting the raises, up to 13 percent for “interactive producers,” are not the people producing the raw content — news stories.

Those employees associated with “new and alternative business development” have seen wages climb by 5 percent, reported Ms. Saba.

But reporters and editorial-page editors — the folks who produce the “product,” the news stories, that the “interactive producers” and experts in “new and alternative business development” are trying to sell — saw flat-line salaries from 2008 to 2009.

Journalists at daily newspapers earn a salary of about $28,000 and those at weeklies about $26,650, according to the 2007 annual survey of journalism and mass communication graduates conducted by Lee Becker at the University of Georgia. Few get rich working as journalists in print newsrooms.

This salary survey offers further evidence that the newspaper industry refuses to invest in what could save it — more and better news coverage by experienced journalists. It has divested itself of the producers of its product by the thousands — 5,900 journalists lost their jobs in 2008 — and given little financial incentive through salary increases to those who remain.

Just more wise management from newspaper corporations …

7 replies »

  1. I’ve written and deleted two long rants about poor business decisions at the paper I’m currently employed at. After newsroom cuts in the last 7 months, four permanent, full-time reporters are expected to cover a county with a population of over 600,000. A small assortment of interns with varying degrees of ability are expected to help carry the weight.

    If what I’ve experienced in my time at the paper is indicative of the industry, it’s no wonder people like Joe no longer care for what was once a vital business. If newspapers insist on handicapping themselves, readers will look elsewhere for information. A lucky few might find it.

  2. Denny,

    I understand your anger, but let me try to bring a bit of perspective that you might find useful in understanding what is going on.

    The underlying factor in all base pay decisions is the cost of skills in the marketplace. Skills are purchased from individuals possessing them in the same way that a company buys any other commodity. The cost of those skills depends on supply and demand. As newspapers shrink, the demand for print journalistic skills decreases while the supply, in the form of out-of-work journalists, increases. That is going to depress prices for those skills. There’s no way around that. Theoretically, this should allow newspapers to hire more journalists since the cost-per-journalist is depressed, but we all know that isn’t going to happen because the money isn’t there to pay them, regardless of skills price.

    This is all regrettable, but it is the way the world works, I’m afraid.

    • You’re right as far as you take it, JS, but my interpretation of Denny’s post is that the money may be there to pay journalists, but that the business side is getting that money, not the newsroom.

  3. Thanks, all, for your comments.

    JS: I appreciate and understand your analysis. Brian noted, though, that the raises go to positions attempting to sell a product that’s poor because it has received little investment. Marketing has taken precedence at newspapers for years — while the quantity, quality, and uniqueness of the product marketing seeks to promote has declined. Throw all the money at marketing you wish, but you can’t sell a warmed-over, bad-smelling turd.

    Another kink left out of a straightforward economic understanding of the newspaper industry is this: Its product — journalism representing an adversarial relationship with government and protected by the Constitution — is essential to the competent, democratic functioning of the Republic. I know few blogs but hundreds of newspapers that can make that claim.

    So, yeah, I’m pissed at this decade of a devolving newspaper industry caused by flawed management decisions in the face of stiff competition from the Internet. The current condition of the industry — and its pay scales — did not have to happen this way.

  4. Brian and Denny:

    I don’t disagree with you, but the fact is that the newspaper industry is in a death spiral and is grasping at straws. The issue of flat pay for journalists is really beside the point. They don’t need to pay journalists more. They need to hire more journalists. But they can’t because they don’t have the money, so they’re hoping that the marketers can pull off a miracle and figure out how to make money off their product.

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