According to Payscale.com, the average journalist in the US makes $39,296 per year. ¼ of them don’t have benefits.
We don’t have an average salary metric for the American worker, but the median household income is $56,516 in the US in 2017.
Based on a two-earner home, journalists would be making nearly $80,000 on those two salaries. That’s in the 63rd percentile in the United States. A person without a partner would be in the 34th percentile.
I studied journalism. I went to school to be a writer. The very first class on the very first day talked about two very important messages that we all had to internalize.
1. There are lots of rules to follow. If you want to tell stories and write creatively and make an impact, do the grunt work for 20 years and you might get a chance.
2. You won’t get rich doing journalism.
Anyone doing this professionally got the same lecture I did.
Now the game has changed somewhat. You can start your own website, gain a following and make a living. You can start as a columnist in some areas without paying your dues as a reporter. Especially in sports, you can break a few stories, gain a following and become a TV personality.
There are different options than there used to be. But that $39,296 is the number. The average journalist in 2017 is making less than $40,000 per year.
You might think those people should make more than journalists. You might think that being a truck driver or a construction worker is tougher than being a journalist. It’s more back-breaking. It matters more to society. You can reasonably think those things. But that’s not the point.
The point is that too many people, from the President to unhinged Youtube personalities to random Twitter eggs to AM talk radio hosts and callers to the people in the cubicle next to me keep talking about the Media Elite and how the out-of-touch “media” is the problem in America. (It’s always “media”. It’s never the free press or journalists or journalism or fact-finders or any other euphemism. I think the “media” makes a good catch-all because it doesn’t sound like people the same way the others do)
· They’re out of touch with real Americans.
· They live in their penthouses and don’t know what it’s like to work for a living.
· They live in Washington DC or New York or Los Angeles. They don’t know what America is like.
· They’re biased because they live in a bubble.
In 2018 this is considered a fair and reasonable take. The position that people whose entire job is to tell the rest of us what’s happening are too insulated or too indifferent to the world at large to be able to do the job.
Are they right? Are journalists an out-of-touch class who can’t effectively do the job?
We already know they don’t make any money. I mean, sure, Anderson Cooper does. Lester Holt does. Laura Ingraham does. But the guy delivering the weather in Omaha, Nebraska or Boise, Idaho doesn’t. And you can forget about the people producing and editing those segments.
And sure, Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman make money. But the person writing op-eds in Jackson, Michigan or Santa Fe, New Mexico doesn’t. And you can forget about the people fact-checking those articles.
So, they don’t live in their penthouses. They do know what it’s like to work for a living because they want to eat.
They live in Washington DC or New York or Los Angeles. That’s true. Many of them do. Because that’s where the work is!
That’s like attacking an actor for moving to New York or LA. That’s where the work is. If they could make a living doing the job in Orlando or Nashville or Indianapolis they would. Some do. But the top of the profession is in those huge cities. The same America that values hard work, ingenuity and greed above all else is now mad that journalists do the same?
Lester Holt hosts the NBC Nightly News. He’s from suburban Sacramento. David Muir hosts the ABC Nightly News. He’s from suburban Syracuse. Jeff Glor hosts the CBS Nightly News. He’s from Buffalo. Katie Couric is from Arlington, VA. Diane Sawyer is from Louisville. Thomas Friedman is from Minnesota. Dan Rather is from Houston. George Stephanopoulos is from Cleveland. Robin Roberts is from Alabama. Chuck Todd is from Miami. Shepard Smith is from Mississippi.
I could go on.
The point is, we’re all from somewhere.
Am I out-of-touch because I lived in Chicago and now live in Los Angeles? Those are huge, metro areas, right? Or am I salt-of-the-earth because I grew up in urban, suburban and rural Michigan? Those are real Americans, right?
Here’s the real point. There are good and bad journalists just like there are good and bad and prepared and unprepared and professional and unprofessional and believable and unbelievable people at your job. Some of them do the work everyday in the hopes of glory and recognition and riches. Others do the job because it matters, and they want to make a difference.
Remember, these people started their careers being told that it would be hard work and that they’d never get rich doing it. Hats off to those who heard that message and stuck to it. I didn’t. There’s a reason the only writing I do now is this.
I don’t write this to praise journalism as a calling or journalists as a people. Some are shitty. Some don’t deserve respect. Some wear the badge of journalism while writing barely-researched think pieces that intend to harm others. But we need a free press. It’s a fundamental tenet of democracy. There’s so much happening at any time that we can’t keep up. It’s not possible. You can’t read every white paper or listen to every press conference or interview every elected official. There’s not enough time in the day. We need people who are trained to do that work on our behalf. Like elected officials they work for us.
The 1st amendment to the US Constitution talks about freedom of speech, assembly, petitioning the government, religion and the press. Those were the most important rights the framers identified.
Why the press?
Because they knew that holding those in power accountable was the key to a functioning democracy. When the powerful hold the keys to the stories we tell our rights suffer.
I have no catchy, fun ending here. And professional journalists have among the loudest megaphones to be able to share their thoughts and feelings. They need no defense from me. But I know a little something about this stuff. I know about the business of media and the study of media and the long odds it takes to go from someone interning at a random newspaper to being someone who you read or watch regularly. And I’m tired of seeing those in power disregard their work and call them dishonest and untrustworthy and undeserving of basic decency. It’s disgusting and it’s dangerous.
So no fun, catchy ending here. I just know the feeling I get when someone calls the free press, among our most important rights, the “Enemy of the people.” Maybe you’ll get that same feeling too.
Thanks for reading.