Here’s how much graduate journos get paid

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Image via epSos.de on Flickr.

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.

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10 thoughts on “Here’s how much graduate journos get paid

  1. Great article. After studying journalism at monash, a small booklet from the MEAA the media entertainment and Arts Alliance, was thrust into my hand, about reasonable wages to expect as a journalist and also a free lancer.

    Like all industries casual rates were much higher than full-time/part-time (expectation being that you forfeit better wage for more job security and benefits), and salaries weren’t much higher than those expressed in your article. Also government funded jobs tend to pay more (to be competitive) but get taxed through the nose. Not that great when your paying off hecs debt

    Sure this would have been published in 2009 but by now there would be another 1000 or so journalism students coming out of degrees and it wouldn’t surprise me if wages have dropped because of it.

  2. I agree that that’s a helpful article, but I’m dishearted about the crappy pay rates!!

    35,000??? That’s close to the minimum wage. My lecturers weren’t lying when they said that journalism doesn’t pay

  3. I’m a graduate journalist in Melbourne and my salary is bang in between your two figures. About $41k. Good work on the article and good luck with the work!

  4. My first reporting job at a small daily in the northeast of the United States paid $9/hr in 1997. Even accounting for inflation, lower wages in the US and the relatively low cost of living in the area where I was working, this is shockingly low.

    It’s true that you absolutely can’t do journalism for the money — it just doesn’t pay. But it’s frustrating that the trade-off for climbing the pay scale is often integrity. I found that the best money I ever made was doing freelance reporting for a business journal, and the worst money I ever made was doing hard-hitting investigative work for the “alternative” press.

    If you’re going after the people with the money, they’re generally not buying advertising with your publication to pay your wages. Which is one of the major reasons why publications like Mother Jones, Ms Magazine and the new wave of public interest journalism outfits like Pro Publica and The Global Mail have turned to subscription-based or not-for-profit funding models.

    Make no mistake – the higher you climb, the harder it is to make waves. There are of course exceptions, generally if you’re exceptionally brave, diligent and persistent. It also helps if you’re an excellent writer.

    But no, don’t go into journalism for the money. You’ll just end up in PR, or creating the kind of drivel that gives the profession such a (generally) lousy reputation.

    It’s not fair that ethical journos struggle to earn a decent wage, but it’s reality.

  5. If you’re a graduate and finding employment hard to come across then stop stressing- does you no good at all! At the same time though don’t just ‘deal’ with any job after the 3/4 of hard core revising in a specialised area (waste of time and money) AND stay away from unpaid placements. If your anything like me your overdraft is probs long gone.
    Without trying to sound like a ‘sales person’ have a look at this website….it may help you, if not, just exit out 🙂
    http://www.bridge21c.com/blog/

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