Would you trade jobs (and salary) with your favorite hometown newspaper reporter or columnist? Would he or she be willing to move into the civil service? And why is so much of the media on a crusade about overpaid, fat cat feds?
Let’s go to the tape. First an explanation. For many, many years, I was a dues-paying, card-carrying member of The Newspaper Guild. I now belong to SAG-AFTRA, along with my pal George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and most radio-TV people you listen to and watch. My favorite issue of The Guild Report comes in the summer of each year. One of its features lists the top minimum salaries that are paid to various union-covered newspapers around the country. The top-minimum is just that. It is the MINIMUM that can be paid to a reporter of a certain experience level at each newspaper. That can be anywhere from two to five years of experience, depending on the contract at that newspaper.
Many, maybe most, make more than the top minimum. Let’s hope so. Because people outside of the business who have no idea about print media salaries are often shocked when they find out. So here are some examples of the top minimums at a select group of newspapers that are coincidentally in towns with large federal-postal worker populations. For example, the highest top minimum of any union newspaper in the U.S. is at The New York Times. It is $1,886.65, which translates to $98,000 and change per year. If that reporter went into a federal job in the New York City locality pay area, he or she would be a GS-12. At the 8th step of the grade.
The Boston Globe’s top minimum (with five years of experience) is currently $1,336.20 per week. That’s just a few bucks more than the top reporter minimum at The San Francisco Chronicle. If reporters in those cities were to go into the federal government they would likely come in at the GS-9, 7th step level.
The side-by-side comparisons are equally interesting city-by-city.
Reporter top minimum pay at the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the San Jose Mercury are roughly equal at the $61,000 annual rate. Again, many make more than this some — one hopes — considerably more. But some don’t. An experienced beat reporter in St. Louis who went into one of the city’s federal operations could expect to come in as a GS-10 in the middle of the longevity step pack. In San Jose, the reporter-turned-fed would likely be placed in a GS-9 job.
Top minimum pay (with five years experience) at The Washington Post is $1,069.50. That works out to just over $55,500 per year. That’s well below what the typical D.C.-based fed earns. And if the move was into a political slot, which many if not most are, the ex-newsie could be paid much, much bigger bucks than he or she got with The Daily Planet or wherever they came from.
Finally, comes The Dayton Daily News. It has many readers who are feds. The top minimum at the paper is $394 a week, or just over $20,500 per annum.
A spokesperson for The Guild Reporter said that some newspapers — despite the best efforts of the union — “haven’t had a pay raise in years.”
Lots of your favorite newspapers aren’t listed because they are nonunion, or don’t have contracts with the CWA. Or they are in Right To Work states. Some pay much higher salaries than union papers. But a lot don’t .
If you are interested in salaries at other union-newspapers click here. This may be where the modified expression ‘Don’t quit your daytime (government) job’ originated.
In his “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” (1811), Capt. Francis Grose defined a “kettle of fish” as “when a person has perplexed his affairs in general, or any particular business, he is said to have made a fine kettle of fish of it.”