If you want to make money as a business reporter, it’s better to work for yourself than as a staff writer.
That’s one of the takeaways from a new survey of business journalists’ annual earnings by The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State.
According to results culled from 773 randomly selected business journalists polled in mid-July, median salaries for 2010-2011 were:
* Print: $50,100
* Freelance: $54,091
* Broadcast: $55,588
* Online: $57,308
* Wire services: $78,438
As these results show, the risks of working for yourself can ultimately have a higher payoff than sticking with the relative security of a staff position. According to the Reynolds Center survey, freelancers’ median annual income is 8 percent higher than staff business reporters. My own experience bears that out: I’ve been a full-time freelance business reporter for nine out of the last 16 years and even in my worst year, my income was higher than in my last year as a staff business reporter, even figuring for inflation-based cost of living increases.
Results of the Reynolds Center study also show the relatively greater rewards of working in a media other than print, another reason why regardless of where you are in your career, it pays – literally – to know how to work in more than one medium. According to the survey, business reporters working in TV make about 11 percent more than their compatriots in print, and online reporters make 14 percent more.
The Society of American Business Editors and Writers, another group that tracks business journalism, also conducts annual business journalism salary surveys. According to SABEW’s 2010 survey, the median annual salary for business journalists, including freelancers, is $65,000 to $70,000. The group is wrapping up work on its 2011 survey now.
As far as incomes go, the real money is in editing. Both the Reynolds Center survey and the 2010 SABEW study report higher annual salaries for editors of business sections of daily newspapers, websites or other publications. According to the Reynolds Center survey, editors and other supervisors had a median annual salary of $57,308, or about 3 percent more than business reporters’ overall median annual salary of $55,714. But it could be even higher. SABEW’s 2010 survey found the editor of a business print publication’s median annual salary to be $95,000 to $100,000. That also jibes with anecdotal evidence I’ve picked up through freelance editor friends and acquaintances.
Read the complete results of the Reynolds Center’s new study here: Business Journalists Study 2011