Is passion enough? Dealing with the financial realities of student debt and unwaged labor in journalism.

Session Host: Yu Vongkiatkajorn and Simon Nyi

Reporter: Jesse Hardman & Yu Vongkiatkajorn

Keegan Clements-Housser
Jesse Hardman
Simon Galperin
Mark Rellman
Lisa Heyamoto
Gracie McKenzie

The purpose of the session was to open up a space for people to discuss what’s usually a taboo topic in journalism: fair wages and how little journalism pays. Participants shared what brought them to the session and questions they were dealing with.

Simon N. Worked in a college newsroom. Avoided working as a reporter on the hill because knew I had student debt. Risk adverse. Was never an option to just ‘do what I love.’ Doesn’t work in traditional journalism now, but has economic security. Such a taboo to talk about fact that journalism doesn’t pay. Spaces need to be created to talk about this.

Simon G. -has lots of college/grad school debt. Wondering: what can we do moving forward actionable moments in changing paradigm of what journalism pays? Tough to get experience (internships) to get to a job when internships don’t pay very well. Have always wanted to start an intern rights org.

Mark- graduating from U of Oregon and going into corporate PR, not journalism. Important to take burden of college debt off students. “I want a livelihood and career that can grow.”

Lisa- Teaches at UO J-school. As a journalism teacher I’m dealing with j school students every day who see this problem on the horizon. It’s tough, because students feel that they are signing up for a really difficult financial future.
Other aspect, as a mid-career person, I think about my own path. I’ve got two kids, partner in media. Many years trying to balance passion/finance. Academia has provided a living wage. Making enough to not worry really helps.

The journalism model has been disrupted, and there are all these opportunities, but they don’t pay well, if at all.

Gracie- Citylab DC. Does social media for the site. Senior project in college was history, politics and intersection. Feels like she can’t speak out about fair wages without potentially feeling repercussions in her work.

Simon- We need to talk about this issue, but it puts burden on people who are willing to actually put this topic out there and might be affected.

Lisa – Prestige can get in the way of actually coming up with a plan that works.

Simon – If you start conversation around Unionizing a media outlet, you can get labeled a troublemaker.

Keegan – Notes that he is getting paid more from an international media outlet than in the US. We have to challenge the concept that there is not money in media. Call them out on that.

Other Simon – working in community media you hear mainstream journalists say, we don’t have time to go cover something.
Gannett has money, it’s just not going to the product, and reporters.

Yu- When Mother Jones fellows recently asked for (and successfully) received minimum wage, they argued that their work was crucial to the magazine.

Some overall takeaways and common themes:

  • People recognize that journalism pays little and have *consciously* chosen to not pursue careers in journalism as a result.
  • There needs to be more transparency about pay and spaces to talk about pay.
  • We shouldn’t be demonizing PR.. and it’s okay to look for other sources of pay.
  • Unions and labor movements are often portrayed by the media as agitators—is there a way to change how they are covered so that it’s not so antagonistic?
  • Our conversation just scratched the surface, and we need to keep it going!

About Yu Vongkiatkajorn

Journalist in SF. Recently: digital fellow at @motherjones; @cunyjschool & @wesleyan_u alum. Thai. Opinions are my own. Get in touch at yukvon[at]gmail[dot]com.
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