Half of freelance biz journalists saw increase in pay in 2011

Posted By Spring Eselgroth

By CHRIS ROUSH, SABEW research director

Nearly half of the freelance business journalists who responded to an informal online survey said that their compensation has risen in the past 12 months.

A third of those whose salaries have risen say that they have been more aggressive in finding new clients, according to the survey, conducted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

The survey received 56 responses during the last two months and examines the conditions of working as a freelance business journalist. SABEW, which is headquartered at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications, conducts the freelance survey annually.

“These results are encouraging for business journalists who rely on various media organizations for a living,” said Kevin Noblet, SABEW’s president and a managing editor at Dow Jones Newswires. “It confirms that industry conditions are improving, helping freelancers across the country.”

Kevin Noblet, SABEW president

The typical freelance business journalist has been their own boss from four to 10 years and is more likely to live in the Northeast or on the Pacific coast, according to the survey.

And they worked full time for more than 10 years as a business journalist for a media organization before going into freelancing.

The survey found that the average freelance business journalist made between $30,000 and $35,000, up from the $25,000 to $30,000 range found in 2010. However, 14 freelance business journalists replied that they made more than $80,000, and six said they made more than $100,000.

Still, nearly three out of every four respondents said that they’re making less as a freelancer than when they were a full-time journalist. More than 40 percent making less said that they’re making more than  50 percent less.

Fourteen respondents said they make more freelancing than when they worked full-time for a media organization, and four of those said they’re making more than 50 percent more.

Chris Roush, SABEW Research Director

“Publications seem to be assigning more and paying slightly better,” said one freelancer who responded to the survey. “I also now write less about personal finance and more on other topics.”

The typical freelance business journalist received $1 to $1.25 per word if they are paid per word, according to the survey. If they are paid per hour, the typical freelance business journalist receives $50 per hour.

Those paid by assignment typically receive between $250 and $500 per assignment.

Nearly seven out of every 10 freelance business journalists said they would not return to full-time work, citing their flexible work schedule (48.6 percent), working for multiple organizations (22.9 percent) and working from home (20 percent) as reasons. Three-fourths of those who responded to the survey said they worked full-time before becoming a freelancer.

Slightly more than a third of the freelance business journalists said they had been laid off before entering freelancing, while nearly a third said they became freelancers to make a lifestyle change.

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.

2010 freelance survey results can be seen here.

Chris Roush, SABEW research director, is senior associate dean and Walter E. Hussman Sr. Distinguished Scholar in business journalism at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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