Journalism schools, internships, and fellowship programs have a responsibility to teach aspiring journalists strong negotiation skills

Journalism schools, internships, and fellowship programs have a responsibility to teach aspiring journalists strong negotiation skills

The idea of asking for more money after receiving a newsroom job offer at first seemed unfathomable. “You should feel so fortunate to have a full-time opportunity in journalism,” a professor told me in college. Another questioned how I could ask for more money during the height of mass layoffs.

Only after I learned how to negotiate did I realize that the initial offer you receive is often not necessarily final. Accepting an offer on the spot without asking for more risks leaving money on the table, since companies often lowball an initial offer because they expect you to negotiate. 

That’s why journalism schools, internships, and fellowship programs have a responsibility to teach aspiring journalists strong negotiation skills. Not only will this empower people to ask for fair compensation, but it also contributes to the overall advancement of the journalism industry. Valuing and paying journalists fairly is key to reducing the barriers to entry and retaining talent.

I was one of many fellows at The Texas Tribune who received negotiation training as part of my fellowship. Regina Mack, a freelance audience engagement journalist and former off-platform editor at The Tribune, developed and taught the workshop, which focused on why it is crucial to negotiate salary and how to do it. 

I’ve used this guidance with every job offer, and it has helped me negotiate higher salaries than originally offered and even relocation assistance. I learned to aim to increase the base salary of an initial offer to as high as possible. Asking for more money is vital because future raises are often calculated based on your initial salary, and neglecting to negotiate can result in missing out on thousands of dollars over the course of your employment.  

“If people aren’t advocating for themselves from the beginning, or getting the short end of the stick when it comes to not having a great starting salary … that has an impact on employee morale,” Mack said during a recent interview. 

Studies show men and women often take different approaches to pay negotiations, which is cited as a contributing factor to gender pay disparities in the United States. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, a majority of non-self-employed workers in the U.S. said the last time they were hired for a job they did not ask for more pay beyond the initial offer. The survey also found that men were slightly more likely than women to say they negotiated for pay that was higher than originally offered. 

Teaching the art of negotiation can help foster a mindset that values one’s worth and a confidence to advocate for yourself. Journalism schools, internship programs, and industry leaders all have a responsibility to educate people on how to strategically ask for what they deserve. Creating space and time — whether through a workshop or office hours — to explore compensation packages to ask for during negotiations is important. Leaders should also teach journalists how to justify their ask (researching salary and cost of living data is an important part of this as is knowing how to talk about the skills you would bring to the organization), as well as bouncing back from a declined negotiation request. Integrating a negotiation lesson near the end of the semester or internship program gives journalists practical tools they need to navigate the next step in their careers. 

Requesting a higher salary is only one piece of a bigger negotiation picture. Attending journalism conferences and obtaining learning opportunities, for example, can be important tools for building a community within the journalism industry and expanding your skill set. It is often worthwhile to include such requests, like the chance to attend conferences, as part of negotiating an employment contract. Perhaps your future employer would sponsor a graduate degree. Inquiring about the ways they will invest in your career is crucial to ask before accepting an offer. 

Consider the benefits being offered as potential areas for negotiation, such as health insurance, 401k matching, paid time off, and cell phone stipends. If relocating is essential for your new job, for example, asking for a relocation stipend or bonus can help alleviate the cost and the stress of moving. Are you enthusiastic about the job, but less so about relocating? Inquiring about opportunities to work remotely might also be a negotiable benefit. Or, if an employer can’t meet you fully on a higher salary request, you could ask for a signing bonus. Some companies also offer performance bonuses, and asking for a higher bonus could also be worth it, especially since the money is taxed.

When I negotiated my first salary, I struggled to name a reasonable figure. The Tribune negotiation workshop recommended we scroll through Glassdoor and find comparable newsroom salaries. I also referenced an anonymous Google spreadsheet, where media professionals had voluntarily shared their salary info, job titles and employers, demographic information, and years of experience. Depending on your comfort level with mentors and peers, it can be useful to ask other professionals what they earn. 

As for how to approach negotiating with a prospective employer, The Tribune workshop urged us to adopt a collaborative approach. Always request time to think about an offer, which will allow you to review the things you hope to negotiate.  A collaborative tone is important when asking for a higher salary, more paid time off, or a bigger bonus. 

“Is there anything we can do to get me closer to that number?” was the wording The Tribune fellows were taught to use as a way to make it clear that you are willing to work together to find a middle ground.

Before my fellowship at The Tribune, I did not feel fully prepared to evaluate a job offer. I would never have thought to negotiate my salary, or a relocation bonus, had it not been for the training. We are taught that transparency and fairness are the cornerstones of rigorous journalism, and it is important to stand by these values in finding a job in the industry. Educational institutions have the opportunity to make the field more equitable by empowering individuals to negotiate for fair compensation and benefits that advance their professional and personal development. Negotiation training should be the standard — not the exception.

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