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Summary:

You may have heard about the salary freezes and wage cuts at media companies like the NYTCo (NYSE: NYT), Gannett (NYSE: GCI) and Dow Jones (…

imageYou may have heard about the salary freezes and wage cuts at media companies like the NYTCo (NYSE: NYT), Gannett (NYSE: GCI) and Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS). But that’s not the full story: A new report says that overall, newspaper salaries have actually been on the rise. E&P’s Jen Saba cites a study of 400 papers in the U.S. and Canada by the Inland Press Association that found that newspaper wages rose an average 2.1 percent from 2008 to 2009.

To be sure, the gains were concentrated in a few areas, such as graphics and on newspaper websites. “Interactive producers” saw their pay jump 13 percent, while those in “new and alternative business development” are making 5 percent more than the year before. Salaries for new reporters and editorial-page editors didn’t move up at all.

Considering the wave after wave of layoffs in the media industry, it’s natural to ask: are new graduates of the nation’s journalism schools finding work? Daily Finance’s Jeff Bercovici finds that j-school grads at two relatively elite New York schools are doing pretty well.

Since graduating last month, 197 people, or 64 percent, of the 306 Columbia University j-school students who have left have lined up work within their chosen profession, a rep for the school says. However, that might not necessarily mean actual paying jobs, as it includes internships, fellowships and continuing ed. The Columbia rep tells Bercovici that the 64 percent is higher than last year, and some students have gotten job offers from places like The New York Times, NPR, CNN. Meanwhile, CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism is claiming that 60 percent of the 45 j-school grads who finished last December now have full-time editorial work, while another 15 percent are doing internships or have been getting steady freelance work.

Rafat adds: Couple of counter-points here: First, it is misleading for Bercovici to take two “elite” NYC J-schools and extrapolate from that “as bad as things are in the media industry, J-school grads are, far more often than not, finding jobs.” Reality is, speak to even a smattering of J-schools outside of the main cities, and it will become amply clear that the job market even for fresh graduates remains dismal, at least in the traditional reporting jobs. Secondly, it is important not to brush off the “internships, fellowships and continuing ed” numbers from Columbia because that data helps shed light on the real number of grads who got full-time paying jobs. Also, the better statistic would be to find out the nature of students going into these programs, whether the trends are moving more towards students who have some prior experience in journalism and want to get additional skills (and a shelter from the cruel economy), or these are undergrads. A list of the right questions to ask is here in a comment on a previous Forbes.com story. Cynical tone, yes, but ignore that.

By David Kaplan

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  1. LOL. I heard that the NY Times is billions in debt and it keeps increasing… They need to file bankruptcy or something.

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  2. As newspapers let go of their more marginal staffers and keep their more essential — presumably more veteran — staffers who are paid more than the marginal staffers, then mathematically the average wage at newspapers has to rise. No surprise here, except to the innumerate.

    Likewise, the Newspaper Association of America has been touting that newspaper subscription churns rates have markedly declined. Well, of course churn is declining: newspapers are losing so many marginal subscribers that only the most loyal are left!

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  3. Staci D. Kramer Friday, June 12, 2009

    Vin, I'm not so sure the evidence supports that the people staying are either the most essential or the best paid. There are too many variables — unions, pay grids, the need to balance ages in layoffs so no one over a certain age has a case of age discrimination, the need to make broad buyout offers that wind up attracting people who weren't intended targets, etc. I'm also aware of some cases where senior people a paper meant to retain exercised their right to step in when someone younger was laid off, swapping themselves out but realize that may not make a big difference.

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  4. Staci:

    I think the data from the Inland association will show that — although many well-paid newsroom veterans are taking buyouts, which creates news stories written by the remaining journalists who are worried about editorial quality continuing after those veteran have left — the vast majority of the staff reductions among U.S. newspapers have been among less-well-paid staff whose roles in producing the dailies were less integral than those veterans.

    Indeed, the vast majority of staff reductions have been among circulation, press, composition, and administrative staff, and not newsrooms. While it's true that some veterans in those non-news departments have taken buyouts, again the numbers of those veterans who've been bought out is dwarfed by the numbers of lesser paid employees who've been let go.

    The mathematical function is fairly obvious: as newspapers reduce all of their department staffs until only the most integral remain, the remaining staffers are likely to be those higher paid because they indeed were integral. Thus, staff reductions tend to increase the salary average. (If the publisher were to let go everyone but himself, you'd see a whopping increase in the average salary.)

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  5. David Kaplan Friday, June 12, 2009

    Hi Vin,

    I spoke with the person who helped prepare the report for Inland and she says that the reason for the slight uptick in salaries is not due to the loss of lower paid staffers. I've called around to a number of researchers, and the feeling is that the cuts have been made at all levels, while most assume that older, higher paying posts have tended to be eliminated. However, if you have any specific data supporting your view, we'd love to see it.

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