QUESTION: I am writing to you on behalf of my partner, who changed careers about two years ago and is now pursuing a career in journalism. His focus is on TV, but he is currently working for a radio station. He has been finding it very difficult to find work that pays enough to support a family on and he is becoming disillusioned. My question is this; Are there enough well-paying jobs to go around and what kind of a process should he expect? (i.e. how long should he expect to work for $30,000/year before he can be considered for a better paying job?) Can the industry support more up-and-comers, or should he start considering a career in communications?
Answer by Jeff Gaulin
A career in journalism can be noble, distinguished and personally rewarding but rarely is it financially rewarding. With time and effort you can make a respectable wage as a journalist but you need to temper expectations, you need to be mobile and you need network extensively. Many journalists do not last even 10 years in the industry because they are unwilling or unable to do those three things.
First, you need to have realistic expectations about compensation. Few journalists make more than $100,000 and an average salary is around half that – about $50,000. Exact figures are not available in Canada, but both the Canadian Media Guild and Masthead Magazine publish annual salary surveys. From these and other sources, average entry-level and junior salaries generally range from $25,000 to $35,000 a year; intermediate salaries range from $35,000 to $50,000; anything above $50,000 can be considered a “reasonable wage” in journalism terms. There is definitely more money to be earned in communications than in journalism.
Second, you need to be mobile if you want to advance your career rapidly in Canada. Journalists who relocate across the country tend to find themselves rising faster than journalists who restrict themselves to a specific geographic location. Even if that geographic area is the Greater Toronto Area, unquestionably the “media capital of Canada,” there will be limitations to rapid advancement, for while the sheer volume of jobs is greater in Toronto so too is the competition. Journalists who move around the country every two years or so tend to do so for promotions – both in terms of responsibilities and compensation. Mobile journalists also tend to work jobs where they have do a lot of work around the newsroom and this tends to polish and expand their skills more rapidly, which also tends to help them leverage their experience into better-paying jobs earlier in their careers.
Third, you need to network extensively if you want a better job. Just as you would establish a network of contacts for story ideas, so too should you establish a network of contacts to help find job leads for you. It helps to have as many eyes and ears on the lookout for the next great opportunity, and not just to rely on yourself. Newspaper classifieds and specialized web sites can be a great start for your job search, but the majority of available journalism jobs in Canada are “invisible” – they are not advertised but are filled by word-of-mouth or by private referral. Networking can therefore help to “keep you in the know.” In addition, having a portfolio of contacts – in other media outlets or in other industries – helps to broaden your understanding and perspective, making you both a better journalist and a better job seeker. If you want to leave the door open to moving into communications, it’s good to have a few communications folks in your contacts list to speak with regularly about the demands, rewards and challenges of such a career.
A career in journalism does not blossom just on talent alone. There are always exceptions – like my j-school classmate who waltzed straight into The Globe and Mail after graduation – but they are exactly that, exceptions. Most journalists have to work hard to advance their careers and have to make choices and sacrifices along the way. However, if you apply the same skills you use as a journalist to your career as a job seeker you may find you have more success. Track down leads. Make contacts. Assemble all these disparate items into a coherent story. Pitch to employers – selling yourself, not just a story idea. These are all skills that you can apply from being a journalist to being a job seeker.
Jeff Gaulin is an award-winning journalist, poet and playwright and the manager of Jeff Gaulin’s Journalism Job Board (www.jeffgaulin.com), Canada’s largest career web site for media and communications professionals. He has masters degrees in business administration and journalism. He worked in television, newspapers and magazines before moving into communications.
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