Hands holding a stack of twenties

One hour of sifting through job postings. Another hour of filling out applications. Tack on two hours of interview prep, as well as a one-hour edit test. If you are lucky enough to make it to the fifth interview, add an additional two hours.

Journalists are too familiar with spending hours upon hours applying for jobs and interviewing with top editors of publications without knowing the answer to a crucial question: How much does it pay? It is easy to spend unpaid days, weeks or even months moving through job interviews and applications, only to reach the final stage and realize it’s not feasible to live on the salary offered.

Transparency and fairness are the foundations of ethical journalism. Newsrooms should stand by these values during the hiring process by publishing salary ranges with every job posting.

We cannot serve the public to the best of our ability if our own employees are not being fully valued.

News organizations have long emphasized the importance of catering to people outside of the newsroom: our audiences. This same level of respect should extend to employees and job applicants. We cannot serve the public to the best of our ability if our own employees are not being fully valued.

One news organization that began listing starting salaries several months after its founding in 2020 is The 19th*, a nonprofit newsroom covering the intersection of gender, politics, and policy.* Disclosing this information saves employers’ time while hopefully also giving applicants the information they need to determine whether going through the interview process is worth their time, says chief people officer Jayo Miko Macasaquit.

“When it comes to giving the salary starting point, it’s also one step in balancing power between employers and applicants in the process, which helps build trust,” Macasaquit says. “It doesn’t even the playing field completely, but it’s one step closer to a fairer negotiation in the long run and is a great way to start an employment relationship.”

A news organization cannot negotiate in good faith if it asks applicants to disclose salary expectations in an application but not share the same information with the applicant, Macasaquit argues. The employer has an upper hand in the negotiation process.

When applying to jobs, Eric Fayeulle, an associate producer at Sirius XM and a graduate journalism student at Georgetown University, says he lists a lower salary range for this application question to avoid being automatically eliminated from a potential opportunity. “If I was lucky enough to get to the point where they’re offering me the job and it’s too low for a livable salary, or I just don’t think that I can live within reason with it, then I can always turn it down then,” Fayeulle says.

Asking applicants for salary expectations before disclosing the base salary for a job can also perpetuate pay disparity. If two applicants with the same previous job title and responsibilities are already being paid different salaries, they might list different expectations on their applications. Companies could then lowball an offer, thus perpetuating the cycle of unequal pay across multiple employers. Plus, if companies were to list salary ranges, current employees would also have a marker to see how they fit in the pay scale.

Listing salary ranges is also a step toward making newsrooms more socioeconomically diverse. Matt DeRienzo, editor in chief of the Center for Public Integrity, says the nonprofit newsroom began advertising salaries in job postings over the past year as a broader effort to address pay equity. If a salary is too low, the job would inherently favor applicants who can tap into other financial resources.

Transparency around salary ranges is a first step, but it does not fix the fact that many newsroom salaries are too low to live on.

Transparency around salary ranges is a first step, but it does not fix the fact that many newsroom salaries are too low to live on. As local news outlets are dwindling due to limited resources, solely publishing ranges does not solve the broader problem of socioeconomic diversity in newsrooms, but it is a place to start.

Including salary range information with the job posting can be used as a recruiting tool to attract top candidates and talent, who might otherwise look elsewhere. Potential job applicants might be more likely to spend time applying for a job if they know how much they will earn. Employers will then know applicants will not turn down a job offer due to compensation since applicants were aware of the range from the start.

And if an organization claims to pay competitively, shouldn’t it be proud to include the number? From The New York Times and The Washington Post to The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune, some of the largest and most renowned news organizations are headquartered in the most expensive cities in the U.S. But many newsroom employees are paid low and stagnant salaries.

When I applied to jobs this year during my spring semester at Boston University, I relied on a Google spreadsheet where people in the media industry could anonymously post their salaries, as well as demographic information, geographic location, and news organization. This helped me determine my value in the labor market and how much I should be getting paid in different roles to which I applied. But the burden should not be on employees to manage pay disparities across the journalism industry.

Confronting discussions around wages and compensation can lead to bigger questions about diversity within the journalism industry, says DeRienzo. Disclosing starting salaries in job postings might reveal pay inequities for women and minorities in the newsroom — an issue that thwarts the vital work of making sure underserved communities are accurately and extensively covered. Those conversations might be difficult for employers to navigate, but it’s a problem worth tackling.

“It will lead to conversations that aren’t comfortable,” says DeRienzo, “but those are meaningful conversations that can lead to better equity. If it didn’t lead to uncomfortable conversations, it wouldn’t be a significant change.”

Representation in newsrooms is vital to coverage. If organizations want to retain women and people of color, addressing the gender and race pay gap is crucial and listing salary ranges is a place to start. Our industry and the communities we serve will be better off because of it.

*Editor’s note: The description of The 19th’s mission has been updated to reflect the full scope of its coverage and includes newly provided information from the organization about when it began listing starting salaries.

Kami Rieck is a social media editor at Bloomberg Opinion and student at Boston University. She previously worked on the audience engagement and social media teams at The Texas Tribune, The Boston Globe and Business Insider. Her work has been published in Poynter.

The Newsrooms We Need Now

As American society—and American newsrooms—grapple with an unprecedented time in the country’s racial justice movement, Nieman Reports is publishing a series of essays about how journalism should respond to the challenges of the moment, from accelerating journalists of color moving into senior decision-making roles to improving coverage of racism and white supremacy.

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