Recently, I went looking for reliable data on local and regional public media journalists’ salaries and came up frustratingly short. Here’s what I found:
- The CPB salary survey is no longer readily available.
- My friend and colleague Mike Marcotte was commissioned to do an extensive salary survey in 2010, which he updated in 2015 based on the inflation rate, but even those numbers are out of date now.
- RTNDA’s annual local newsroom salary survey groups public and commercial stations together. The most recent report says noncommercial salaries are almost 50% higher, so the median and average numbers aren’t too helpful for public media employers.
There’s no doubt it’s time for a new system-wide comprehensive salary study, but in the meantime, I decided to do a little research of my own.
I created an informal survey and shared it through my mailing list and Twitter feed, as well as on several public media Facebook pages. Between February 19 and March 7 of this year, 121 people from over 70 public media stations and collaboratives took the survey. While not scientific, its results provide a snapshot of the situation on the ground.
Top Line Results
The vast majority (93%) of respondents said they were employed by either NPR member stations or joint licensees. The highest proportion (42%) work at organizations that serve areas with populations between 1 million and 5 million people. Another 28% work at organizations serving half a million to a million people.
A quarter of the respondents identified as reporters; another 22% identified as managerial-level news leaders – News Directors, Managing Editors, and the like. The following top-line results primarily reflect those categories.
For the 30 reporters in the survey, the highest reported salary was $85,500, and the lowest was $35,000. The median reporter salary was $57,500; the mean was $58,342.37.
Of the 27 respondents who identified as managerial-level news leaders, the high salary was $160,000; the low was $40,000. The median salary came out to $70,000, with a mean of $74,693.25.
Adding the additional five respondents who identified as executive-level news leaders with titles such as Vice President of News doesn’t change the high and low salaries, but it does increase the median salary to $75,000 and the mean to $82,103.69.
Sample sizes were extremely small for individual positions in individual market sizes, but the data suggests possible correlation between market size and salary across the three market sizes with the most respondents. The following two graphs illustrate these findings.
As previously mentioned, this survey was not meant to be scientific or comprehensive, but a couple of conclusions can be drawn from the data collected.
- There is little consensus on salary ranges across the public media system.
Salaries reported in this survey were all over the map. The difference between the highest and lowest reported news manager salary is $120,000; even within one market size – 1-4.9 million people, for example – the range is $74,000. The range for reporter salaries is $55,000 overall and $43,000 for that market size.
- Salaries appear to have increased significantly over the past two decades.
The median reporter salary in Marcotte’s (much larger) 2010 survey was $37,000, compared to $57,500 now. The median 2010 news director salary was $45,000, compared to $70,000 for a managerial level news leader today.
We all look forward to a new system-wide survey of public media journalists, perhaps under the auspices of CPB or PRNDI, but I hope this data provides helpful information in the interim.