Journalists report news and information through different types of media. Their salaries depend on whether they work as print journalists for newspapers, as broadcast journalists for radio and television or as digital reporters for online news sites. The pay scale for journalists within each of those media sectors also varies according to whether the market is local, regional or national.
The growth of online news and social media sites has triggered a decline in newspaper readership while free online classified ads have cut deeply into the print media’s revenue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs for newspaper reporters will drop by 8 percent through 2020. According to the BLS, in 2011 newspaper reporters earned a median salary of $39,000. On the lower end of that pay scale are reporters who write for small, community weekly newspapers and earn between $20,000 and $25,000. Journalists on the upper end report for large daily newspapers on regional, national and international events, and earn median salaries of $75,000 a year. The District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Georgia top the list of the best-paying locations for print journalists.
The Radio Television Digital News Association, a professional organization of American broadcast journalists founded in 1946, tracks industry salaries with the help of Hofstra University. According to the organization's 2010 report, salaries for television news reporters ranged from $16,000 to $200,000, with an average annual income of about $40,000. The RTDNA reports salaries for radio journalists jumped by nearly 10 percent, but the spike reflects an increase in major all-news stations that reach more than 1 million listeners. Reporters for those stations earned a median annual income of $40,000. Radio news reporters for stations with 50,000 to 250,000 listeners had a median salary of $30,000 while journalists at small stations with less than 50,000 listeners had a median income of $18,500.
Pay scales at digital news organizations are more difficult to track. Several large news organizations have launched networks of community websites that cover the same news and events as small-town newspapers. One reporter/editor typically maintains the site and posts up to five items a day. Annual salaries for community online reporters range from $38,000 to $42,000, roughly the same as starting salaries at some of the large nationally known news sites that post a combination of links to other publications and staff reports. Other online news organizations pay reporters based on the number of hits, or page views, each of their stories generate.
News organizations that have laid off reporters to cut costs often turn to freelance journalists to maintain their news coverage. Many freelancers are seasoned journalists, with years of newsroom experience, who have traded the lack of job benefits and security for the freedom of freelance work. During the 1990s, top freelancers earned $1 per word for their writing. But new online brokers and agencies have since flooded the market with content from inexperienced writers who work for a fraction of traditional rates, making it much more difficult for freelance journalists to earn a living. However, several digital freelance companies are now setting higher standards for reporters, and offering better pay to freelance journalists.