How poorly are journalists paid? Depends on where you live
In April, CareerCast ranked newspaper reporter as the worst job in America. With diminishing salaries and job security, some warn aspiring journalists that journalism can't provide a "decent" or "modest" salary. But terms like those are ambiguous and do not take into account regional differences. We found that in 14 states, journalists make about the median salary, in 13 states they earn more than the median, and in 23 states they earn less than the median.
That is not to say that the news is good. Last summer, as a Google Journalism Fellow at the Pew Research Center, I analyzed how much journalists earned compared to a similar field, public relations. I found that journalists earned significantly less ($35,600 versus $54,940) and that in the past decade, this pay gap has widened. During the past 10 years, the salaries of journalists haven't even kept up with inflation.
This dire job market has led many to reconsider entering the field because they won't make a "decent" salary and have to think about whether journalism can support mid-career adults with family responsibilities who can't work long hours for "modest salaries." The question of whether journalists earn enough is incredibly important because it speaks to the future of the field—will people continue aspiring to be journalists and will they earn enough to have a sustainable career?
But what constitutes a "decent" or "modest" salary? I compared the median salary of journalists to the median salary in each state, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Where do journalists earn the median salary in their state?
In 13 states, journalists earn about the median salary of their state (within 5 percent). In West Virginia, journalists earn a salary that is nearly identical to the median salary ($29,310 compared to $29,410), a difference of only -0.3 percent. The next closest were: Alaska (-1.2 percent), Illinois (-1.3 percent), Alabama (-1.4 percent), and Tennessee (2 percent).
Geographically, states where journalists earn the median salary are most concentrated in the Southeastern, South Central, and Southwestern regions.
Where do journalists earn more than the median salary in their state?
In 13 states, journalists earn a salary that is at least 6 percent greater than the median salary. In Rhode Island, journalists earn 58 percent more than the median ($60,750 compared to $38,330), which is the largest in the nation. The next highest are: Nevada (34 percent), Utah (30 percent), Georgia (27 percent), and Hawaii (25 percent).
In terms of geographic concentration, journalists are most likely to earn more than the median in the Southwest and Southeast regions.
Where do journalists earn less than the median salary in their state?
In 23 states, however, journalists earn a salary that is 6 percent less than the median salary or lower. In North Dakota, journalists earn 30 percent less than the median ($25,790 compared to $36,920), which is the lowest in the nation. The next lowest are: Wyoming (-24 percent), Nebraska (-21 percent), Washington (-20 percent), and Connecticut (-18 percent).
Geographically, it is clear that journalists earn less than the median in the Northwestern and Midwestern regions.
While it's tempting to say that journalists should try to work in the Southeast or Southwest, the truth is that many jobs in journalism are concentrated in areas like Washington D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles. Indeed, in 2014 these three areas accounted for almost one in five reporting jobs. How much do journalists earn in these areas?
In D.C., journalists earn a median salary that is 3 percent more than the median ($66,680 compared to $64,890). At the state level, a similar pattern is seen in New York (12 percent) and California (5 percent), with journalists earning more than the median. Looking at the three metropolitan areas that employ the most journalists, journalists earn 22 percent more than the median in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, 22 percent more than the median in New York-White Plains-Wayne, and 2 percent less than the median in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale. Of course, these areas are very expensive to live in, with many people who earn more than the median still struggling with high housing costs.
What states are the best and worst for journalists’ to live in?
Journalists only earn significantly more than the median in 13 states. And in 23 states, they earn significantly less than the median, particularly in the Northwest and Midwest.
In general, this causes the following dilemma for journalists: in many of the most expensive states in the US, journalists earn about the median or more, but likely still struggle with the high cost of living; but in many of the least expensive states, journalists earn significantly less than the median income and have less purchasing power than those around them.
However, there are a few states that have high costs of living and journalists that earn much less than the median: Washington (-20 percent); Connecticut (-18 percent); and Maryland (-16 percent). Journalists in these states are presumably struggling the most.
At the other end of the spectrum, journalists earn much more than the median while enjoying low costs of living in: Utah (30 percent); Georgia (27 percent) and Louisiana (23 percent).
Still, until we find a better business model to support journalism, we will likely continue to see journalists leave for the public relations industry, where public relations specialists earned at least 28 percent more than the median in all 49 states with data available.