January 29, 2013

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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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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