Are journalism grads really earning starting salaries of $41k?

Third in an unplanned series about journalists’ salaries

Among the objections to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers I linked to Monday that said 2012 graduates of journalism programs had an average starting salary of $40,900:

I salute any attempts to add context to a study that does only what it claims to do: Collect data on starting salaries of 2012 graduates who are employed full-time.

But there’s one objection I can try to tackle: that NACE’s data doesn’t look much like the results of the most recent annual study of communications grads’ salaries by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

The careful reader will notice that the Cox study measures median — not average — salary of graduates with full-time jobs; its median salary for all comm majors in all fields is $31,000. As I noted Tuesday, median income is usually lower than average and thus can be a better way to take the economic temperature of a population because it’s less easily distorted by outliers.

Dr. Lee B. Becker wrote the Cox study with Dr. Tudor Vlad and Konrad Kalpen. Reached by phone, Becker said mean and median salaries nonetheless shouldn’t account for such a difference between Cox’s and NACE’s findings: “The only times you’re going to have big discrepancies is when you have very discrepant cases,” he said. “So if they’re reporting arithmetic mean and they had data from 10 people who were working in New York in some high-paying job that they managed to land, then that’s going to jack those figures up. The differences usually are not so great.”

In the Cox study, students self-report their data. The authors mailed surveys to 9,480 grads of 82 schools selected at random among the 491 offering four-year programs. 2,195 usable studies came back. NACE’s study, by contrast, gathers data from “approximately 400,000 employers,” it says; NACE Employment Information Manager Andrea Koncz told me her organization received “at least 31,400″ salaries reported for journalism majors.

“Where are you going to get the best information on what graduates from a particular major are earning? I’m inclined to say you should ask them, and that’s what we do,” Becker said. He said he’s “not critical of the strategy” of asking employers — “the ideal is to have multiple indicators of anything you want to measure.”

Interestingly, there’s one area where NACE and Cox’s data get close: Cox’s report said 51,784 people earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism in 2011. Assuming that figure was close in 2012, the number of salaries NACE reported would mean about 60 percent of journalism grads found full-time employment; Cox found 53.3 percent of the Class of 2011 had done so.

Both studies survey the earnings of journalism majors who don’t necessarily end up in journalism jobs.

Job Search Intelligence is one of the sources for NACE’s data. Becker noted that Cox’s data on salaries was fairly close to that for communications jobs on JSI’s site, where, for example, the first year average (not median!) salary is $29,200 for reporters and correspondents; $27,100 for editors; and $31,000 for PR specialists.

The average full-time starting salary for communications majors in NACE’s study is $47,200. “I don’t really know what’s in this NACE category,” Becker said. “All I can conclude is those data are not consistent with what’s being shown” on JSI’s site.

JSI gave NACE a different dataset, Koncz told Poynter via email, and that was compiled using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau as well.

“The aggregated data does explain the difference,” she wrote, adding that the JSI info on the Web gives “salaries for specific positions, and our report is much more broad in that it’s for overall journalism majors. In addition to all of this, JSI pulled our data in November 2012, and they are constantly updating their site, another reason for a difference.”

Related: More journalism majors finding jobs after graduation (Poynter) | For communication grads, a modest job recovery (PEJ)

Previously: Starting salary for j-school grads rises to $41K, on average | Why an ‘average’ journalism grad’s salary might not be an average salary where you work

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  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    Poynter should give up on articles that involve numbers. Seriously — it takes two articles to get to the bottom of the mean/median mystery?

  • http://www.facebook.com/markfriesen Mark Friesen

    A vaunted one, no less!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656715835 Andrew Beaujon

    I’m flattered to be referred to as a journalism education institute ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/markfriesen Mark Friesen

    It’s a good lesson for us all. If the vaunted journalism education institute had taken the time to offer some context to the study from the outset (or at least displayed a modicum of skepticism and explained its possible shortcomings), it might not find itself buried in social media #WTFs and wouldn’t have needed to embark upon an “unplanned” series. Still, thanks for coming back at it. And for explaining that median is often a better stat than mean. Always amazed at how many journalists don’t get that.