Freelance business journalists in North America make an average of $25,000 to $30,000 a year, and two out of every five were laid off, according to an informal survey conducted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
More than two-thirds of those who responded said they would not go back to a full-time business news job if they could find one. The freelancers noted their flexible work schedule and ability to work for multiple media organizations and at home as the reasons.
The survey received 67 responses in October and November and is the first attempt at quantifying compensation among freelance business journalists. SABEW, which has its headquarters at Arizona State University, plans to conduct the survey annually to determine how compensation and other demographics among freelancers change.
“The survey results seem to indicate that many of our freelancers are grossly underpaid, but still prefer freelancing to a full-time position because of the flexibility it provides,” said SABEW board member Maya Payne Smart, founder of WritingCoach.com. “To me, this suggests a need for specific business training and resources so they can master the sales and marketing skills that are required to earn a healthy living outside of the newsroom.”
The informal survey found that nearly half — 32 — of the freelancers who responded make less than $25,000 a year. However, there were six freelancers who reported that they make more than $100,000 annually.
Nearly three out of four freelancers said they are making less now than when they were a full-time journalist. About one out of every five of the freelancers said they are making more than 50 percent less than their full-time work.
Fifteen of the respondents said they’re making more freelancing than when they were working full time, and four of those responded that they’re making more than 50 percent more.
If paid by word, freelancers receive an average of 75 cents to $1 per word, according to the informal poll. If paid by article, post or project, the average rate is about $250 per assignment.
Two-thirds of the freelancers have been their own boss for more than four years, and about three out of every five of the freelancers had worked as a full-time business journalist — often for more than 10 years — before striking out on their own.
Nearly all of the freelancers said they write for newspapers, magazines and websites, while half stated that they write articles for custom publications and nonprofit newsletters. A quarter perform consulting work. A handful say they perform corporate ghostwriting or editing duties for sites.
A third of the freelancers said they left full-time journalism because they wanted a lifestyle change or because their family moved to a new area.
Some of the freelancers noted that they still have full-time jobs but are trying to develop another source of income. “I still work as a full-time business journalist for a newspaper, but have been quietly cultivating a freelance business on the side because I will lose my full-time job at some point,” responded one.
Most of the freelancers wanted more opportunities to network with other freelancers and with media outlets who hire freelancers.
Three out of every 10 freelancers were located in the Northeast, the largest contingent in the survey. The next largest contingent was on the Pacific Coast, where one out of every five who replied resided.
Freelance business journalists were asked to respond to a confidential, online survey that asked for their geographic, their compensation, the type of media outlet where they worked, and length of time in their current job and in business journalism. Journalists were not asked for their specific place of employment.
(Chris Roush, who directs the business journalism effort at North Carolina-Chapel Hill as the Hussman chair, is SABEW’s research director.)
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