Staff Writer

February 27, 2020 (Updated )

As Heath Ledger’s Joker once said in The Dark Knight: “If you’re good at something, you should never do it for free”. While we can’t support all of the chaos and mayhem he caused in Gotham City, when it comes to knowing what you’re worth the Clown Prince of Crime might’ve been onto something.

It’s hard enough to break into the journalism industry, with so much unpaid work experience out there, so if you’ve managed to secure yourself a paying role give yourself all the credit. But whether you’re part of the furniture in your office or you’re mulling over an offer to go to new pastures, here’s some free good advice – it doesn’t hurt at all to know all you can about the world of salary negotiations.

This can be a frightening thought if you’ve never done it before, and, according to a survey conducted by, that goes for most of us. Statistics show that only 37 per cent of people always negotiate their salaries and 18 per cent never get too.

When it comes to performance reviews, 44 per cent of people choose not to bring up the subject of a raise. So, in the interest of bucking this trend, we spoke to 20-year HR veteran Wayne Clarke, founding partner of the Global Growth Institute and a couple of our journo friends to find out what the key things you should be aware of are. We hope that by the time you get to the bottom of this article, you’ll be brave enough to charge into your next salary negotiation armed with knowledge – ready to secure that all-important pay rise.

How Much Does A Journalist Even Earn These Days?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to illustrate an article on salaries? (Image Credit: Micheile Henderson / Unsplash)

Let’s start out by briefly talking about what salary in is like in the media industry. In 2015, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) published a bombshell report in 2015, which stated that one in five of all journalists earned less than £20,000 per year. More recent figures continue to reflect this, with reporting that the average salary for a journalist today is just under £24,000. We’ve also just relaunched a huge database of journalism salaries, broken up by sector, so you can see how much you should be aiming for,

We need you – and just 29 other people to make more pieces like this.

Some attractive salaries do exist at the top of the industry or in “journalism adjacent jobs” like social media managers though, but it’s the getting there that can sometimes proves a bit tricky. And, perhaps the biggest problem, is the lack of transparency around who pays what. A look at most journalism job websites is no help, and it’s highly unlikely it’s a chat you’re often having down the pub.

The same NUJ report also stated that more than three quarters of journalists with staff jobs said they had not received a pay rise in the past year as well as a whopping nine in 10 freelancers. Throw in the fact that almost two-thirds of journalists are based in London and the South East, where the cost of existing is sharply on the rise, it’s not hard to see why many new and junior journos struggle to make ends meet. 

Our Approach To Salary Transparency

Journo Resources is the only UK jobs website that only advertises jobs that list a salary range. We also run a newly re-launched salaries database which has data from thousands of different jobs on how much you should expect.

And here, the bad news ends. All of this just makes it even more important for you to get into the habit of negotiating pay regularly, and especially early on in your career. That might be a tough hill to climb, as most of us get into journalism out of passion rather than pocket, but doing this will set a benchmark to negotiate all your future salaries, so it’s an investment worth making.

Getting Your Research In Early

The answer is probably more often than you think. Image Credit: WOCInTechChat / Unsplash)

First things first, you need to think about if you’re even in a position to negotiate on a practical level. Some companies have fixed-scale salaries, such as the Beeb, where they’re labelled into different bands. This means you’ll earn a pre-ordained amount depending on where your job sits in the company, but there is usually a small amount of wiggle room to help reward staff development and loyalty.

Freelance journalist Lucy Skoulding says it’s all about knowing your worth.

The main thing we’re going to tell you here is no surprise – but do your research and take your time to make the right decision for you. Especially when you’re in the market for a new job, it’s as much about researching the salary as it is the role. When they ask you how much you expect to be paid by interview, the goal is not to be flummoxed or panic and mumble out any old number. Similarly, when you get a job offer, you’ll be asked if you want to accept it or not. This doesn’t mean, however, that you must accept the job right away. It’s perfectly acceptable to take some time to consider.

“I think pay transparency at companies is powerful, and a really effective display of solidarity.”

To a certain extent, research can mean knowing the right people, which in itself is part of the problem. But if you do know people who already work at the company, ask them about what benefits they enjoy, or if you know them well enough, ask how much they earn. The same goes for if you’re trying to negotiate a pay rise at your current job –  knowing how much others are paid can help you work out where your salary should fit in. Even if you’re chatting to people outside the company, it can be useful to look at how much the rest of the sector pays.

One journalist who we spoke to for this story told us: “I think pay transparency at companies is powerful and a really effective display of solidarity. So, if you are a staffer, talk about pay with your colleagues, if it’s something you think they won’t be too offended by. If you’re a freelancer, again it’s about chatting to others and finding out how much they earn.” Especially as a freelancer, you may be surprised as the flexibility behind the curtains. “It’s much more flexible than a salaried job,” says freelance journalist Lucy Skoulding. “The benefit of negotiating pay as a freelance journo is that you get to set the rate and prove why you should have the amount you’re asking for.”

Outside of talking to people you know, there are a growing number of resources online. For our part, we collate massive lists of salaries and freelance rates that are updated every week and split up into a variety of different sectors. You can also see freelance rates on the NUJ’s Rate for the Job and job websites like Glassdoor will often put together a best guess for how much to expect. And, if you can cope with the notifications, Facebook groups like No 1 Freelance Media Women or Can Pay Won’t Pay Freelance Journalists UK are good places to get a second opinion on rates.

And, before you get bogged down in a swamp of numbers, it’s worth adding that it isn’t the only thing you should consider. Especially with staff jobs, perks and benefits may increase the value of what you’re being offered. When you’re going into a negotiation, make sure you’ve also thought about other things which either are or aren’t valuable to you. We’re talking stuff like a season ticket loan, a generous pension contribution, gym memberships, professional development opportunities, and increased flexibility, to name just a few examples.

Timing Is Everything

Perfect timing and perfect nails. (Image Credit: Analia Baggiana / Unsplash)

As with most things in journalism, timing is crucial. Some people might argue that you should wait for your performance review before diving into negotiations, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. Either way though, you should lay the groundwork much before then and be prepared for the unexpected. For example, Lucy was once asked to take on extra duties while in a staff role.

Linda’s survey found some big differences in behaviour. (Image Credit: Carnegie Mellon University / Unsplash)

“I was asked to do this and was excited about the opportunity but knew I shouldn’t do it without also negotiating a pay rise, especially as I knew it would require working longer hours,” she explains to Journo Resources. “It’s important to set this as a precedent. Think of your skills & knowledge as something to sell.”

“The wheels need to be in motion before my annual review. So I wrote an email to my boss outlining exactly what I was asking for and why I deserved it.”

Even if you’re not sure on whether you should be getting more, if you’re a woman or a person of colour you should be negotiating at every chance you get. Why? Because statistically you’re affected by large pay gaps compared to white and/or male workers.

In a study done by Linda Babcock for her book Women Don’t Ask she found that there was a 7.6 per cent difference between the salaries that female MBAs were getting compared to males. She argued that it boiled down to the fact that only 7 per cent of these women attempted to negotiate while 57 per cent of men did. 

The same is thought to be true for BAME workers, for whom the pay gap is as much as 21 per cent in some parts of the country. Clearly, there’s a need for systemic change, but salary negotiations are key for these groups, who often underestimate their value, to address these imbalances on a smaller scale.

If this applies to you, move quickly and diligently. “Some helpful colleagues told me to bring it up to my boss prior to my annual review,” one journalist told us. “They said the wheels needed to be in motion before [my review] at this particular company. And then I wrote an email to my boss outlining exactly what I was asking for and why I deserved it, so he could show the managing director.”

Nothing Should Come As A Surprise

Dont look like this dog, basically. Image Credit: Pix Poetry / Unsplash)

We’ve said it once already, but the most important thing is to do your research. “Nothing in your negotiation should come as a surprise,” HR expert Wayne Clark tells me. “It’s really important that you’re having conversations about your value on a regular basis, then the challenge is to make sure you’re delivering that value.”

Wayne says that nothing should come as a surprise. (Image Credit: The Global Growth Institute)

Something you should be doing all year round is getting your manager agree on actionable metrics that relate to the overall business need. On a personal level this could be things like page views, the number of videos you make, coverage generated, or achieving new qualifications.

Then the challenge is to hit, or even better exceed, those targets. But, as Wayne says, it’s up to you to ensure that these targets are up to date and relevant to the business at all times. “You want to be checking in with your line manager on at least a 90-day rolling basis whether those priorities still correct,” he explains. “If the answer is no agree some new ones.”

When it comes to performance review time, put numbers on your contributions. Tell you manager exactly how much traffic your articles have bought in or how many times your video has been shared. If you can bring hard evidence to support your claim even better.

“You want to be checking in with your line manager on at least a 90-day rolling basis.”

If your manager has given you feedback during your time there, show them how you’ve been able to implement and apply it, and the effect it’s had on your work. Without this, Wayne says it makes it that much harder for your boss to fight your corner. “You put your line manager in a difficult position. Most line managers need to be able to justify a salary increase for someone in their team to someone more senior.” So give your manager as much ammo as you can. Once they see that you’ve surpassed what was expected of you, there’ll be no denying you.

If you’re a freelancer, it might be a bit trickier as you have less facetime with the person that’s commissioning you. In this case, Lucy recommends setting expectations right at the very beginning of the relationship. “When you’re first accepting work and negotiating pay explain that you’ll need to charge for any additional work,” she stresses, “and also how often you review your pay.”

Be Firm But Empathetic

Soon, friends, you’ll be shaking on it. (Image Credit: Brenda Godinez / Unsplash

Most people giving advice on negotiation will encourage you to be assertive and, while you do need to be clear and firm about what you want, you also need to be flexible. “There are some situations where asserting yourself is the right thing to do and others where it’s really detrimental,” Wayne explains. “Lots of people will say that you should let the other party make an offer first before asserting what you want, but it’s a case-by-case basis.”

At the end of the day though, business is business and even a seemingly small decision like a pay rise for one employee will have to be justified to upper management by your line manager. Having some empathy for this will help your case. In his experience “the nature of most organisations is naturally combative because you always got a limited resource – so people have to fight their own case as to why they should get a bigger share than someone else in the organisation.”

“Don’t just try and understand your boss’ objective, try to understand your boss’ boss’ objective.”

The solution, he says, lies in some advice he was given in his first year at an accounting firm. “Don’t just try and understand your boss’ objective, try to understand your boss’ boss’ objective. The ability to understand where someone else is coming from will definitely put in a better negotiating position.”

Remember, most importantly, that as long as you can empirically prove that you’re doing good work, you have no reason to be worried about going into a negotiation. Your employer is not going to want to lose you, and the worst that can happen is they say no.“If you’ve been producing great work, think about how much time – and therefore money – it could take for a publication or business to find someone else and train them up,” says Lucy. “So the first thing I would be aware of is that you will feel nervous, but don’t let it stop you.”

So now you have everything you need, don’t be afraid. And if the company can’t give you what you need, what’s to stop you moving elsewhere? After all, you’re more likely to get the top end of a salary bracket if you’re an external candidate. But, whatever you decide to do, negotiate well and often – and don’t sell yourself short. The world’s your oyster. Or something like that.

Featured Image Credit: Harry Strauss / Pixabay