Here’s What I’ve Learned About Transparency & Media Salaries

With a special focus on radio and podcasting, I’ve been collecting data on what media professionals earn

(WOCinTech Chat)

This year, I joined the staff of AIR to lead our Freelance Futures Initiative, where I’m researching and reporting on the policies and practices that are actively shaping freelance opportunities, particularly in radio and podcasting.

I’ve spent a large part of the summer and fall interviewing indies in radio and podcasting about their rates and talking to employers about what they pay, both to freelancers and to staff. Those interviews have been confidential, but they form the foundation for the rate guides that we’ve been rolling out at AIR.

In addition to those interviews, however, I’ve been compiling and reviewing a ton of research, some ad hoc, some methodical, to understand the range of compensation both of independent contractors and staff in (and adjacent to) radio and podcasting.

I don’t have a perfect link to point you to yet, one that makes the case for salary transparency, but as Emma Carew Grovum recently noted right here on Source, sharing salary information can go a long way towards leveling pay gaps. And there is good research that backs that up: Tim Herrera at the New York Times has written extensively about the power of salary sharing, and a report in the Washington Post looked at the power and the perils of sharing compensation information.

In the spirit of sharing my work, I wanted to share my research to date with you. I’d love to add any resources I’ve missed.

The wide-open, living, documents truly make clear the range of rates that folks are taking home, even though this self-reported data is, by definition, entirely unscientific:

  • Who Pays Writers is structured and somewhat vetted (i.e. it’s more than just a spreadsheet) but they do a great job of capturing ongoing data from freelance writers about what publications pay (and how quickly they pay it).

  • Over the summer an Arts + All Museums Salary Transparency spreadsheet made the rounds. When Hyperallergic wrote about them in June 2019 there were hundreds of entries. When checked in November they were at well over 3,000 entries.

  • This fall, a Real Media Salaries spreadsheet began making the rounds and raising some eyebrows. Some of the salary differentials were pretty significant. About 1500 people entered salary data directly on the spreadsheet. Another 1500 have filled out the form that was created when the spreadsheet got glitchy. Considering that when this project first cruised onto my radar two weeks ago, there were 672 entries, they definitely have some traction. There are also at least a few entries that are clearly jokes (or, I don’t know, maybe someone out there is paying in White Claw?)

The two most comprehensive and reliable studies of newsroom salaries come from Radio Television Digital News Association and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • RTDNA partnered with Hofstra to survey US newsroom salaries. The report itself is free of charge and a companion salary data guide is available for $25 (the salary data is free to RTDNA members).

  • The BLS tracks data on reporters and correspondents in the US.

There are probably more rate cards in adjacent industries than I caught wind of, but these are all excellent data points:

  • The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a rate guide that covers what they describe as “common rates” for copywriting, proofreading and fact checking —they don’t attach any methodology or documentation, and I didn’t ask them to provide any, so before you rely too actively on their figures, consider finding out more about how they were derived.

  • The Motion Picture Editors Guild is a consortium of about a dozen IATSE locals. They publish negotiated contract rates online. These are a very useful point of reference for corresponding rates in the film world.

  • The Screen Actors Guild or SAG AFTRA also publishes their negotiated rates every year.

There are also plenty of ad hoc surveys and industry snapshot that are worth looking at. Most are either very limited in scope or reflect data provided by self-selected participants. They’re definitely worth looking through:

More than a few newsroom unions have undertaken internal salary research. These studies look at salaries for all staff in the collective bargaining unit for a single organization so they’re both limited in scope and also more comprehensive than self-reported surveys.

Salaries and income are only a piece of the puzzle. Most benefits plans are hard to compare in any actionable format, but Nieman Lab looked at parental leave policies at newsrooms across the US in October 2019.

If you’re preparing to negotiate (or re-negotiate) your own compensation, the Journalists of Color Resource Guide is a great roundup of resources and research, including some great guides to negotiation and a cache of 990 forms that provide a valuable view of the budgets and top salaries in nonprofit newsrooms. (If you’re looking for data on a non-profit newsroom that they didn’t capture, definitely try ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer).

My takeaway: people want to talk about salaries and being able to see what other folks have submitted is a powerful motivator. And for folks who aren’t at the top of the scale, knowing where the top is can really help level the playing field.

Did I miss any resources or guides that you love? I would love to keep growing this list of sources.

Do you love AIR’s rates work? Whether this work is valuable to you, personally, and professionally or you just think it is important to the field, I would love, love, love your support!

If you’re already a member of AIR, you can further support our work by sharing it with your colleagues. And if you’re not a member yet, I encourage you to join us!


  • Amanda Hickman

    Amanda Hickman directs the Freelance Futures Initiative at AIR. She also shepherds emoji proposals with Emojination and teaches mapping and data visualization at the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute. Amanda led BuzzFeed’s Open Lab for Journalism, Technology, and the Arts from its founding in 2015 until the lab wrapped up in 2017. She has taught reporting, data analysis and visualization, and audience engagement at graduate journalism programs at UC Berkeley, Columbia University, and the City University of New York, and was DocumentCloud’s founding program director. Amanda has a long history of collaborating with both journalists, editors, and community organizers to design and create the tools they need to be more effective.


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