Salary data from the annual newspaper compensation study done by the Inland Press Association underscores the points I made in a lecture at Oxford University recently on why journalists deserve low pay.
According to the salary study, average newspaper wages in the U.S. increased 2.1% between 2008 and 2009, but that result was skewed because hefty increases went to producers of interactive (online) content and editorial personnel involved in new business development. Journalists on the average received no or marginal increases depending upon their category.
My lecture, which was carried in a significantly reduced form in the Christian Science Monitor , and redistributed by multiple online sites and blogs, produced shock, anger, and invective by many journalists who missed its point. The text of the full lecture can be found at the website: http://www.robertpicard.net/files/Why_journalists_deserve_low_pay.pdf
Journalists today create very little economic value and are having a difficult time getting people to pay for the social value they create. The fact that newspapers are rewarding those who help create new businesses and revenue streams far above traditional journalists accentuates this point.
I admit that the title of my speech was deliberately provocative. It was meant as a wakeup call from a former journalist who loves the news industry. The reality is that no one deserves either high or low pay. The level of pay is EARNED. Journalists deserve pay based on the economic value they create (evidenced by what the public is willing to pay for news) or on the willingness of the public to support social purposes contributing funds to foundations or non-profit news operations.
In today’s world—in which the mass audience for newspapers and its business model are disappearing—continuing to provide the same types of coverage and content in the past will not create economic value and earn good pay. I do not believe that Internet news aggregators, community journalism, and blogging will ever replace the functions of good journalism and it will not replace the functions of most newspapers in the short to mid-term. There is hope for journalism.
If journalists want to promote good journalism and value creation that makes them earn more pay, they will have to take more responsibility for coverage decisions and content choices so that journalism becomes more valuable. Journalists have shown unusual willingness to leave those decisions to publishers and editors who have stopped acting like journalists. But it need not be that way.