Journalism is a career field that appeals to many people: those with a calling to get the scoop on a breaking news story, uncover hidden truths and expose wrongdoing or even to simply entertain. If you would love to work as a journalist, the one thing that might be holding you back from following your passion is concern over earning potential.
While journalism isn’t known as a particularly lucrative career path, it is still possible to earn a living as a journalist. To do so, you’re going to need the right education, enough work experience to develop a strong portfolio of clips, and the skills expected of an exceptional journalist.
What to Know About the Highest-Paid Journalism Jobs
If you’re concerned about the salary you will earn as a journalist or in a similar role, there are a lot of factors to consider. The first thing you should know is that the earning potential for journalists may not be as low as you are fearing. The median salaries for journalism jobs may not be especially lucrative, but they are above the median salary for all occupations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
If you want to work in one of the highest-paying jobs as a journalist, you’re going to need to put in the work to attain these roles. Your education is an important part of preparing for your career. If you want to earn the most money, you may benefit from pursuing an advanced degree, like a Master of Arts or Master of Science in journalism. This degree can help you land coveted senior-level reporter roles and high-level roles like managing editor.
Attaining one of the best journalism degrees from a top-rated school is just one piece of the puzzle. You also need to find a journalism role that pays a higher salary. A degree in journalism or communications is so versatile that it prepares graduates for any number of possible career paths, some of which pay more than others. Naturally, the job title you hold and the work responsibilities you perform play a big role in your earning potential. Your level of experience, too, is a factor that contributes significantly to how much money you make.
Because the job opportunities in the field of journalism and communications are so diverse, candidates have some degree of control over how much they make. They can choose a specialty or niche within the field to pursue. They can look for less stressful reporting jobs in small-town settings or aim for higher-paying roles in major metropolitan areas. They can work toward advancement in another career related to journalism, such as writing, editing and public relations.
Competition for the top journalism jobs is particularly fierce right now because the outlook for these jobs is somewhat discouraging. The BLS expects jobs to decline by 11 percent for reporters and correspondents and 7 percent for editors.
Does Journalism Pay Well?
For reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts, the BLS reported a median salary of $49,300 in 2020. Compared to the median wage for all occupations – $41,950 – that’s not a bad salary. However, it’s important to put this figure in context. As of 2020, the average income with a bachelor’s degree was $1,248 per week, or $64,896 per year, according to the BLS. Considering that most journalists need a degree, the salary for this occupation is somewhat underwhelming in comparison to other jobs that require the same level of education.
Still, there are journalism jobs that pay well. Jobs as a journalist in certain industries pay a lot more than other roles in more conventional employment settings. Higher-level jobs in journalism, like senior staff reporter and managing editor, also tend to earn a lot more. Self-employed, or freelance, journalists can sometimes make more money than staff journalists by shopping stories around to different publications and getting paid by the story or the word instead of the hour.
Keep in mind, too, that journalism degrees don’t limit your career prospects to only journalist jobs. The education of a journalist can be valuable for any role that involves research and writing, including high-paying management roles.
The Range of Salary Possibilities for Journalism Careers
The overall median salary for media and communication occupations was $61,310 as of 2020, according to the BLS. However, the full range of journalism job salaries covers jobs with earnings well below the median wage for all occupations, as well as wages that are approaching the six-figure range.
Your earning potential in the field of journalism depends a lot on your job description, work environment, education and experience. Generally, the journalism jobs that have salaries that barely surpass the median wage for all occupations include positions that require less education and fewer skills. For other journalism roles that encompass more extensive job duties and more advanced skills, the typical salary is nearly double the median wage for all occupations. The highest-paying journalism careers are senior-level and management job roles.
For broadcast news analysts, the difference between the 10 percent of the occupation that earns the lowest wages and the 10 percent of the profession that earns the highest salaries has historically been huge, with the BLS reporting a wage difference of more than $150,000.
Journalism Job Salaries on the Lower End of the Pay Scale
Let’s start with the journalism careers where the salaries are less impressive. With a median, or midpoint, wage below $50,000, reporters and correspondents – the professionals you may traditionally think of as journalists – are among the lowest-paid workers in the field. Expressed as an hourly wage, this median income is just $23.70 as of 2020, according to the BLS.
Interestingly, the average pay for reporters and correspondents is significantly higher than the median, at $66,000 per year or $31.73 per hour. What this distinction means is that the journalists who earn more money bring in salaries so much higher than their peers that their incomes cause the average salary data for the occupation to become positively skewed. Again, this difference between the median and mean salaries for reporters and correspondents speaks to the significant wage differences that occur within this occupation.
Which factors make you more likely to earn these low journalism careers salaries? Generally, reporters who work at small print news organizations in small towns and who have little experience typically earn the least. The median salary for reporters employed by newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers was just $37,900 in 2020.
Reporters who advance to roles at larger news agencies that serve larger cities tend to make more money, according to the BLS. The tradeoff is that reporters in major cities may also be under more stress, as well as facing increased costs of living.
With experience, even reporters at small news stations and publications in small towns can move up into higher-paying roles such as editor, although the job opportunities for editors in these regions and work environments are limited.
Mid- to High-Paying Journalism Jobs
Not all journalists who start out in lower-paying roles stay in those occupations. For many journalism professionals, these are simply entry-level jobs that allow them to start gaining experience and networking within the industry. By using their education and experience in other capacities, these professionals can significantly increase their earning potential.
Most reporters, news analysts and correspondents work for either the radio and television broadcasting industry, accounting for 32 percent of the occupation, or the newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers industry, which employs 35 percent of the workforce. However, journalists can actually earn more money by pursuing less conventional employment paths. For the 10 percent of the occupation working in what the BLS categorized as “other information services,” the median annual salary in 2020 was $73,300. Even for journalists in the radio and television broadcasting industry, the median pay rate isn’t bad, reaching $55,030 in 2020.
You could also use your journalism education for careers outside of reporter and news correspondent. Writers and authors earned a median salary of $67,120 per year in 2020, according to the BLS, but those who specialize in technical writing made closer to $74,650 per year. For editors, that median salary was $63,400 in 2020, the BLS reported, and managing editors and executive editors naturally saw some of the highest salaries.
Public relations specialists have a similar earning potential, according to the BLS, with a median wage of $62,810 in 2020. Public relations specialists may perform job duties that are similar in many ways to journalists, such as interviewing people involved in an assigned story and telling that story in the form of articles, photographs, videos and multimedia materials. Additionally, public relations specialists often work with journalists and other members of the media, pitching their stories for publication.
However, while journalists are supposed to be impartial and report news, public relations specialists’ job is to shape the public image of their organizations or the clients for which they work. This means, of course, that public relations specialists’ stories always have an angle that favors the organization they’re trying to promote.
Some journalists go the freelancer route. Self-employed writers earn money for every assignment and submit work to multiple publications. Salary.com reported an hourly wage range between $21 and $29 for freelance writers in 2021, but those with extensive experience or specialized skills can earn a great deal more.
The Highest-Paid Journalism Jobs
At the higher end of the pay spectrum are senior-level roles. Senior-level reporters, correspondents and news analysts are the ones most likely to attain the highest salaries in journalism. Journalists in these roles reported making $38.92 per hour, or $80,950 per year, at the 75th percentile of the occupation, according to the BLS. The reporters in the 90th percentile – the top 10 percent of earnings in the profession – made $ 61.24 per hour, or $127,370 per year.
What about wages for those journalists who move up to editorial leadership roles? Executive editors earned a median salary of $98,109 in 2021, according to Salary.com, and the typical salary range for this role was between $88,106 and $110,791. With a job title like managing editor, your income potential is even higher. The median salary for managing editors in 2021, according to Salary.com, was $103,300.
Plenty of management jobs are open to candidates with a degree in journalism or communications and a great deal of work experience in the field, especially if you have an advanced degree, as well. It’s not unusual for these high-level professionals to earn close to – or more than – $100,000 per year. Public relations managers and fundraising managers earned median annual wages of $118,430 in 2020, according to the BLS. For sales managers, the BLS reported a median salary of $132,290 per year.
If you want to move into the intersection of media and communications and business, you might seek roles in advertising and marketing. For advertising and promotions managers, the BLS reported a median wage of $133,460, while marketing professionals earned a median salary of marketing managers was $142,170 in 2020.
Writing stories that win major prizes, like the Pulitzer Prize, may also help bolster your reputation as a journalist and allow you to earn more money.
Master’s in Journalism Salary
In journalism, having a graduate degree doesn’t necessarily put you on the path to different career roles, although it can help you make the leap from mid-level reporter to senior-level report or from reporter to editor. You may not get a pay raise specifically for earning your master’s degree in journalism.
Still, the overall salary difference between American workers with a master’s degree and those with a bachelor’s degree was nearly $13,000 in 2020, according to the BLS. It stands to reason that reporters with a master’s in journalism degree, along with a corresponding level of experience and an impressive portfolio, would gravitate toward the higher end of the pay scale for their job title, geographical region and publication type and size. It’s not unusual for graduates of a master’s in journalism or master’s in communications program to see salaries in the $60,000-, $70,000- or $80,000-range, and the highest-earning workers with a master’s degree in journalism end up earning six-figure annual salaries.
A salary boost from a master’s degree in journalism is certainly possible and even likely, but it’s not guaranteed. As a result, prospective students should weigh the likely return on their investment and be realistic about their strengths, skills and reputation to determine whether going to graduate school is worthwhile.
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