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One in five journalists earn less than £20,000

28 October 2015

One in five journalists said they earned less than £20,000 in the past financial year, an NUJ survey has found.

The survey asked 1, 251 members including journalists, photographers and PR workers across all media sectors about their pay.

More than 80 per cent of staff and freelances said their income had not kept up with the cost of living and a quarter of staff and 60 per cent of freelances said they had suffered financial hardship.

Many, particularly younger journalists, said it was a struggle to pay their rent and bills and the prospect of buying a house in London and the south east was just a dream. A few commented their pay was below the national minimum wage. A number of freelances said they depended on tax credits, which they were now set to lose.

One member who works in newspapers said: "All wages go towards my bills/rent leaving no money for emergencies. When my car broke, I had to borrow from a payday loan company to put a deposit on a newer one."

Two-thirds of those surveyed said they had received a pay increase of between 1-2 per cent, but almost 15 per cent had not had a pay rise for more than five years. Almost 90 per cent of freelances said their rates had not increased in the past year and more than one in five said they had been asked to do work for no pay.

A major complaint was the lack of transparency over pay, with many saying they did not know how their pay compared with colleagues. Others said pay was decided at the whim of the editor. One respondent said: "Those at the top of the tree earn an outrageous amount of money whilst those of us who are at the bottom barely earn the minimum wage."

One strong finding was that women said they were paid less than male colleagues for doing the same job.  A woman working in broadcasting said: "Most men doing the same job as me are paid considerably more."  This summer, PRWeek reported that the average pay gap between men and women in the PR and communications industry stands at between £8,500 and £10,000 for the same role. An NUJ survey, carried out last September, as part of the union's evidence to the House of Lords communications committee inquiry into women in broadcasting, told a similar tale.

A number of freelances said they were able to negotiate rates for their work, but most said they were forced to accept a given fee. One said: "There is always another journalist willing to do the work cheaper." A photographer said she quoted rates depending on the job, but clients often tried to get her to knock down her price.

Another said said: "We made a record amount of profit last year, yet did not get any wage increase and were made to feel bad when submitting expenses."

One trainee said: "I have been working as a trainee for almost four years. We are so short staffed there is no time for me to complete training,so I do the job of a senior reporter, but for the wage of a trainee reporter."

Richard Desmond, owner of Express newspapers, has not given the staff on his newspapers a pay rise for eight years. This is despite pocketing more than £450 million after the sale of Channel 5 and latest company accounts for Northern & Shell, the parent company of the Daily and Sunday Express and Star newspapers and magazines including OK!, reporting an almost tenfold increase in pre-tax profits year on year to £333.7m in 2014.

Newsquest, one of the UK's largest regional publishers, which includes the Glasgow Herald, Brighton Argus, Northern Echo and Oxford Mail in its stable, is notorious for its stinginess. Its parent company, the American-owned Gannett, paid its top five executives received £15.9m and Gracia Martore, president and chief executive officer, received £7.5m (an increase of 56 per cent), but most of its journalists in the UK have not had a rise for several years.

A journalist who works for Newsquest said: "I earn £15,500 and most months I run out of money a week if not more before pay day. This adds a huge amount of anxiety, stress and pressure to my life. I love being a journalist but am constantly looking for other jobs that pay more which are outside the industry."

In June, staff working for Newsquest titles in London and the south-east voted to go on a 12-day strike over cuts and pay. On day 10, management agreed to return to negotiations which included a demand for the London Living Wage for its trainees.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"These findings are very worrying. While most journalists enjoy their job and get a buzz from their work, it is becoming evident that pay is a real problem, with many not being paid enough to cover their bills, never mind have a comfortable life.
"It is totally unacceptable for journalists, at whatever stage of their career, to be paid barely the minimum wage. There is absolutely no justification for this. Yes, times in the media market have been tough, but many of the organisations paying a pittance to their staff are in profit. When we look at the salaries and bonuses of executives and managers the story is very different
"The situation is acute in the capital and south-east where house prices are beyond reach and rent takes up a huge chunk of wage.  News organisations and publishers are creating a situation in which a career in journalism is unsustainable. Talented staff, sick of poverty wages and living in shared flats will drift off to other jobs and the industry will be the poorer for that."

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

"The move to digital and creation of new newsroom roles has been used by some news organisations as a way to drive down wages and undermine pay structures.  Some newspapers which traditionally paid better for print journalists are creating positions for digital staff at much lower wages. There is also a major lack of transparency which creates unfairness and distrust.
"Journalists working on local newspapers are really struggling. Newsquest hasn't given the majority of its staff a pay rise for years and is moving photographers off the payroll. Staff in South London had to go on strike just to get a living wage. The survey has provided a real insight into the difficulties many members are facing. This is compounded where there is no union agreement so no ability to collectively bargain on pay."

John Toner, NUJ freelance organiser, said:

“In cutting costs because of their own failed policies, media owners have struck at the most vulnerable workers – freelances. Rates have been cut and frozen, and many freelances now have to supplement their earnings with work in other industries.
"This is extremely short-sighted, and media owners should realise that in the years ahead their need for freelances will grow rather than diminish.  We have a government – and now an opposition – who claim to be committed to improving the rights of self-employed workers. They could begin by looking at a National Living Wage for freelances and a statutory right to collective bargaining.”
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