While Public Relations Salaries Increase, Journalism Salaries Can’t Even Keep Up with Inflation

By Aurora Almalvez September 2nd, 2014

There’s a thin (but very significant) line between PR and journalism, and according to an article by the Pew Research Center, that line is increasingly paved in dollar bills.

Journalism has never been a good way to get rich quickly, but the pay gap between annual salaries for reporting and public relations has widened to almost $20,000 over the last decade. In 2004, the average reporter made 71 percent of a public relations salary; in 2013, that dropped to 65 percent.

The median income for reporters is now about $35,600. For PR specialists, the median salary is $54,940. Perhaps more disheartening: PR salaries have continued to increase, while the average journalist salary hasn’t even kept up with inflation over the last decade.

The immediate impact of this trend is one reason why more graduates and newsroom veterans are heading toward PR. Now that so much content is distributed via social media, PR specialists don’t necessarily need journalists as a conduit for getting information to an audience. And by posting their CSR initiatives or their own videos, podcasts, and content, brands can use in-house staffers to get their messages out.

In an email interview, Alex Williams, the author of the article and a Google Journalism Fellow at the Pew Research Center, said, “Substantial decreases in print advertising revenue, which were once the primary revenue source for news outlets, have led to shrinking newsrooms and likely lower salaries as outlets try to cut costs.”

The goal of public relations is to control the message and benefit the employer; journalism, at its purest, is about exposing the truth, regardless of who benefits. So while many people with the skills to be a journalist are opting for more lucrative careers in public relations, the mission divide between the two industries is still important.

“The implications of a diminishing number of journalists in the future are worrisome,” Williams added. “It likely means that the public will be less equipped with objective information in regards to the issues impacting their communities.”

Content marketing has emerged to help reporters maintain their journalistic chops while dipping into the money pot of public relations. This solution may put food on the table and allow a journalist to report another day, but it hasn’t fixed journalism’s perception problem. There’s a significant lack of consumer trust when it comes to news, and that has contributed to the undervaluation of journalism.

Williams pointed out that there is still some hope for journalists looking to make a living. “The main reason for optimism in the news industry is that demand for news content seems to be expanding,” he said. “The challenge, however, is that a sustainable business model that can replace diminishing print revenue due to this digital transition has been elusive. … I believe that journalists would be best served not to enable a race-to-the-bottom mentality, where the journalist willing to work for the lowest amount of money is chosen.”

Yet, journalists still need to generate income, so turning down work is not exactly an easy resolution. And until someone comes up with a sustainable business model, there’s more incentive to head to PR, where for now, the money is greener on the other side.

Image by David J. Phillip
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