Money can be an awkward topic of conversation. It’s perfectly acceptable to respond to someone who compliments your outfit with, “Thanks! It was $5 at the op shop down the road, what a bargain!” But it would be rude in most circumstances to ask how much that outfit cost.
If you’re thinking of moving to a new suburb, it’s also a delicate matter to ask friends who live there how much they pay in rent.
And the amount of money we earn is more or less a taboo topic.
I’ve been job hunting over the last few months and some of the editors who have interviewed me have asked how much I would expect as a starting salary. For example, at the end of last year an editor from a fairly fancy, corporate-sounding organisation asked that question. I didn’t know what to say. Should I have increased the figure based on the fact that I would have needed to move interstate to work for them? Or should I have kept it low to show I wasn’t grasping? In the end, I avoided answering.
Much later I realised that I needed to know the industry standard to have a professional conversation with prospective editors about it. I emailed about two dozen people I knew who had a graduate job or had had a graduate job in the last few years. I felt awful asking but most people were super helpful. I’m not going to break their confidences and reveal individual figures (sorry if you read this far in hope) but here is some aggregated information:
Almost every journalist I spoke to started on a salary between $35,000 and $47,000 a year, plus superannuation.
Some of the more prestigious positions are towards the upper end of that bracket, like you might be able to guess, or figure out from very clear job ads. And if you follow this kind of thing, you already know that in some cases the journos who get those “graduate” jobs (e.g. at the ABC) already have a couple of years’ experience under their belt. But there are also companies I’d fall over myself to work for that paid their graduates somewhere within the lower end (which no-one was complaining about). Jobs at country newspapers/broadcasters were often at the lower end too, but I guess rent is cheaper in smaller towns anyway.
I had a couple of responses that worked out lower than $35,000: one was working a casual job, one heard on the grapevine what their salary would have been if they’d converted from casual to full-time, and one started work more than a few years ago. I’ve also been made an offer that’s lower than that range, but like I said, it’s difficult to have these conversations without sounding grasping.
Someone I spoke to pointed out that how much interning and volunteering we’ve all been doing to get this far, which is true. I don’t think there’s any point turning down an honest-to-goodness graduate journalism job because we might not be paid as much as our friend who’s working for the public broadcaster. But doing some preparation doesn’t hurt.
Something else I discovered is that there’s law about this. Print journalists have an award which specifies legal minimum pay rates. If you’re employed as a cadet journalist straight out of high school and don’t have a university degree, the minimums are $23,362 in first year, $29,202 in second year and $35,043 in third year. If you’ve graduated from an appropriate university degree, you can either be employed as a graduate cadet if you’re doing some kind of training course on $35,043, or as a level one journalist on $38,937.
If you want to be a gazillionaire, probably go and study commerce. But if you want to write, I hope this helps a little bit.