Survey on freelance business journalism raises more questions than it answers

Are journalists who write about money making more of it than they used to? According to a recent survey, the answer is: maybe?

The Society of American Business Writers and Editors has conducted its second annual survey of freelance business journalists in the U.S., and the results tell us….well, not much. The online survey asked business journalists about their location, compensation, the type of media outlet in which they worked, how long they have held their current job and how long they’ve been in business journalism. The results say a lot, but do they provide any valuable insight into the industry?

First clue that something is off: The headline reads, “Half of freelance biz journalists saw increase in pay in 2011.” The lede clarifies, “Nearly half of the freelance business journalists who responded […] said that their compensation has risen in the past 12 months.” Nearly half, meaning just as many or more of those journalists surveyed made the same or less than the previous year (see the 2010 results here).

The next paragraph reveals that “A third of those whose salaries have risen say that they have been more aggressive in finding new clients.” In other words, trying harder to find work results in getting more work and making more money, which makes sense, but it doesn’t indicate that biz freelancers were actually better off in 2011 than 2010.

Other results:

  • “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 […] And they worked full time for more than 10 years as a business journalist for a media organization before going into freelancing.” (Note that the article about the survey results says it received 56 responses, so maybe “typical” is a bit of stretch.)
  • “…The average freelance business journalist made between $30,000 and $35,000, up from the $25,000 to $30,000 range found in 2010.”
  • “…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.”
  • “The typical freelance business journalist received $1 to $1.25 per word if they are paid per word […] 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.”

Despite a comment from Kevin Noblet, SABEW’s president and a managing editor at Dow Jones Newswires, that the survey “confirms that industry conditions are improving,” it really doesn’t tell us much of value about the state of freelance business journalism (apologies to SABWE; we sympathize). However, it does raise good questions. How much more would a full-time job have to pay you to outweigh the benefits of freelance writing (such as a flexible schedule and variety of work)? How many people become freelancers by choice and how many after losing a full-time job? Is pay for business journalism work increasing or decreasing? How does that compare with pay for freelance journalism gigs in other areas? How does pay for freelance business journalists in Canada compare to rates in the U.S.?

If you have any anecdotal evidence or general impressions (or even survey results of your own) related to these issues, please share in the comments.

Hat tip to Media Jobs Daily (Media Bistro).

Posted on January 9, 2012 at 10:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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