Why an ‘average’ journalism grad’s salary might not be an average salary where you work

After I blogged Monday about a survey that said 2012 j-school grads’ average starting salary was $40,900, lots of Poynter readers took to Twitter or emailed me to complain about how out of line that number was with their own starting, or well past starting, salaries. Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch retweeted lots of responses Monday night to his tweet pointing to the article:




All great contributions to an anecdotal conversation about journopay. And, I’m sorry to say, essentially useless when it comes to a statistical picture of the field.

The data in the study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) “are produced through a compilation of data derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, and a master data set developed by Job Search Intelligence (JSI),” its Employment Information Manager Andrea Koncz tells Poynter in an email. “The report contains employer-based data (from approximately 400,000 employers) gathered from government and other sources, and the data are actual starting salaries, not offers,” Koncz writes.

Now, there are very good arguments that a median salary — the middle value in a range — is a better way to take the temperature of a certain profession, since it’s not as easily distorted by outliers. Median salaries are usually lower. Last year, Susan Johnston looked at state-by-state BLS data to see what states were best bets for reporters. Washington, D.C., has a high average, or mean, salary for reporters/correspondents, according to BLS: $71,450. But the Bureau of Housing and Urban Development considers $82,400 to be median family income in D.C.

Average salaries simply add all the responses up, divide them by the number of responses and presto: a lot of angry tweets about how unrepresentative the data must be. In an email, Koncz writes JSI didn’t tell NACE how many responses it got for the journalism category, but “it was at least 31,400, since that’s the number of salaries that were reported for Journalism majors by particular industries,” she writes. This is important, too: That number includes journalism majors no matter where they land jobs (inside or outside newsrooms).

But the numbers aren’t wildly off from other data about the publishing industry. Here’s a map from BLS’ data about editor salaries at newspaper, book, periodical and directory publishers across the U.S. using May 2011 data. (Click to view larger image.)

The mean annual wage for editors is $60,490, the BLS finds. But let’s look at one more map, showing the “location quotient” of editors, the BLS term for “the ratio of the area concentration of occupational employment to the national average concentration.” The greater New York City area has 16,500 editors, who are paid an annual mean wage of $80,200. Champaign-Urbana, Ill., has a high location quotient, but only 240 editors, who are paid an annual mean wage of $46,490.

You can go through the same exercise with reporters, for whom the annual mean wage in D.C. is $71,450 and in Nebraska is $24,920. Average salary for reporter/correspondent is $43,640, says the BLS.

So where you work matters when looking at calculations like this — the more competition there is for your services, the better your chance of a higher paycheck. But what you make doesn’t mean the overall average is wrong, or that your boss is a notable no-good, penny-pinching schmuck. She or he may just be an average, no-good, penny-pinching schmuck.

Related/previously: BLS’ data set for all jobs at “Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers” | Starting salary for j-school grads rises to $41K, on average | Mizzou j-school grads have lowest starting salaries of any Missouri graduates | Reporters make 8 percent less than typical Americans (or maybe they make more) | Reporters: Move to Georgia, avoid Nebraska | J-school grads’ unemployment rate better than average

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  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.schwebke Scott Schwebke

    Never really understood journalism, an industry that prides itself on demanding others be open, is so secretive about reporter salaries. The Inland Press Association completes a pretty extensive salary study but won’t make it public. Frustrating for job seekers.

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

    The college newspaper is still a local newspaper, though. Now if you had said “local daily ..”
    You’re leaving out a couple of publishers, too. But I’ll revise my previous phrasing to “might account” for the account of 240.
    Finally, your previous post is still missing the quotation marks around the second reference to “editors.”

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Hi, Nicholas. Good question. This is a study of starting salaries and the data come from employers (by way of the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The data do not include freelancers. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • http://twitter.com/ClaytonNicholas Nicholas Clayton

    I do think another flaw in this may be “salary” itself. Does the government account for the large portion of the media/journalism grads that make money purely through freelancing?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pvawood Paul Wood

    There’s only one newspaper in Champaign-Urbana that is printed daily. There’s a college paper that doesn’t print for weeks at a time, and nobody is making $46,000 there. There are struggling weeklies that don’t pay anywhere near that much. In books, there is Sports Publishing, which hires editors but, unless things have changed, doesn’t not pay very many in that salary range. Then there is the University of Illinois, which has editors. Some make much more that $46, most make about that or significantly lower. Not sure they should count, since the post mentions ” editor salaries at newspaper, book, periodical and directory publishers.” I doubt there are 240 professional newspaper or periodical or directory editors in C-U, and I doubt that most of their salaries would be that anywhere near that high — especially for newbies.

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

    However, there are several book publishers in C-U who employ “editors.” I doubt many of them make the salary listed, but it would account for the count of 240.
    In addition, Paul Wood left off the quotation marks on “editors” when he was referring to the “only local newspaper.” Also, there is more than one local newspaper in C-U.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ruellealbert.castro Ruelle Albert Castro

    I’d like to see however the node, so we may know the figure with the highest distribution… :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/pvawood Paul Wood

    Per the example of Champaign-Urbana, where there are 240 “editors,” the only local newspaper has about 20 editors (using our directory.) They make that salary only after several years here.