Public Radio News Salaries

New data from a 2010 local public radio station survey shows the median news reporter salary under $37,000 per year.

The median for news hosts was $40,000. The median for news directors was $45,000.

The overall highest paid position was vice-president of news with a median of $92,500. The lowest median salary was $32,000 for assignment editor.

The data show vast differences between individuals performing the same job at different stations. For example, the lowest paid content director earns $128,000 less than the highest paid content director.

The most common jobs in local public radio newsrooms are news directors, reporters, hosts and producers.

(Note: See also News Salaries by News Budget and News Salaries by Market Size)

The charts below compare median salaries for 16 newsroom positions. Below each chart is a table showing the salary ranges for each position. In addition to the highest and lowest salary are the median and average. The “count” is the number of stations reporting a position salary. (The “count” is NOT a count of individuals in those jobs.)

Median Public Radio Salaries

News Director Host/Anchor Reporter/ Corresp Producer
Count 169 92 112 67
Low $5,500 $8,000 $7,000 $4,000
Median $45,000 $40,000 $36,500 $35,000
High $140,000 $114,000 $75,000 $60,000
Avg $47,972 $44,786 $37,793 $35,814
Median Public Radio Salaries Chart Two

VP of News Exec Producer Content Director Managing Editor Online Editor Senior Producer
Count 12 25 17 17 14 33
Low $45,000 $10,000 $12,000 $26,000 $49,750 $20,000
Median $92,500 $57,000 $56,000 $55,000 $50,000 $49,000
High $150,000 $97,500 $140,000 $97,500 $62,000 $90,000
Avg $94,167 $60,486 $60,695 $55,889 $48,268 $50,616

Median Public Radio Salaries Chart Three

Pub Aff Director Bureau Chief Asst News Director Web Producer Photog/ Videogrphr Assignmnt Editor
Count 15 15 24 22 11 11
Low $55,369 $48,900 $15,000 $5,000 $17,000 $10,000
Median $45,000 $45,000 $40,250 $38,415 $38,000 $32,000
High $100,000 $76,000 $70,000 $50,000 $51,000 $59,500
Avg $53,677 $47,795 $40,652 $33,149 $34,992 $35,494

The survey was conducted by myself with help from Steve Martin and Ken Mills during July-August 2010. Over 300 stations participated. The survey was a supplement to the PRNDI/CPB census of journalists which has yet to be released by CPB.

This is the first comprehensive public radio news salary survey that we know of. As such, we do not have trend data.

However, we can make some salient comparison using data gathered by Dr. Bob Papper of Hofstra University who conducts an annual newsroom survey for RTDNA. Dr. Papper includes both commercial and non-commerical broadcasters in his survey, though, in general, his data are viewed as a snapshot of commercial newsrooms.

Here is one chart from the radio section of Papper’s 2010 newsroom survey

Credit: RTDNA/Papper 2010

As one can see, public radio stations show a wider range of high and low pay rates for news directors, reporters and anchors. Somewhat encouragingly, public radio newsrooms show overall higher median pay rates for those positions.

Local Public Radio Spending: Most News Budgets Under $250K

Our survey of U.S. public radio stations in 2010 found that 90% had news budgets under $1-million, and 70% spent less than $250-thousand on news.

The sample of 288 stations spent between $77-million and $168-million on public radio news programming.

As the chart shows, the single largest news budget bracket was $50K-$250K (37% of stations).

Distribution of NPR Stations by News Budgets
Two Thirds of Local Public Radio Stations Spend Below $250K on News Annually

Survey Question: Approximately, what is the dollar range of your total budget for local news and public affairs in FY 2010?
Answer Options Response Percent Response Count
Less than $50,000 33.3% 96
$50,000-$249,999 37.2% 107
$250,000-$499,999 10.1% 29
$500,000-$749,999 7.3% 21
$750,000-$999,999 3.1% 9
$1m-$2.49m 5.2% 15
$2.5m-$4.99m 3.1% 9
$5m-$7.49m 0.7% 2
answered question 288
skipped question 13

Typically the lion’s share of spending in a newsroom is for personnel.

For illustration purposes, we multiplied the number of stations per bracket by the low and high end of the dollar ranges so we could see what the range of actual spending was for this sample. It showed actual spending between $77-million and $168-million.

Actual dollar range spent on local npr news
Actual FY 2010 spending on local public radio news was between $77 and $168 million

This chart shows how the overall spending on news is not carried out by the many stations at the lower dollar amounts. Rather, the lion’s share of news spending is generated by fewer stations in the larger brackets.

A Fourth of Local Stations Report Growing News Staffs

Here is data that has not been reported anywhere before. It comes from a 2010 system wide survey I did as a supplement to the CPB/PRNDI Census of Journalists*.

Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, August 2010

The chart shows that despite the weak economy 58% of stations maintained their news staffing levels during FY 2010 while 27% of stations actually grew their news staffs during that time.

The following chart reports the results of a second survey question, looking ahead to FY 2011. It shows 61% of stations planning to maintain their current newsroom size, while a healthy 26% of stations plan to increase their news and public affairs staffing.

Anticipated 2011 Radio News Staff Changes
Source: PRNDI/MVM Consulting, 2010

There has been strong emphasis lately on growing local station services as a response to changing patterns of public media consumption. For example, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is funding nine “Local Journalism Centers” involving more than 40 stations — which would account for roughly half the growth reflected here in 2010 (and some of the optimism for 2011).

For more theory and recommendations on the trend toward local growth, see Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive by Barbara Cochran for the Knight Commission and Aspen Institute.

Helping on my research team was Steve Martin and Ken Mills.

*The CPB/PRNDI Census of Journalists in local newsrooms was conducted in July-August 2010 and filed as a complete report in September 2010. CPB has yet to release the results because it wants to add to the headcount the number of national/network journalists. The data presented here are not part of the census report.

Journalism U: Fight or Flight

My question: why is a leading advocate for non-profit journalism saying get the hell away from universities?

I’m trying here to contribute to the Carnival of Journalism, topic 1: how to make universities important centers of journalistic activity.

The topic has great cachet. It is riveted into the Knight Commission reports to save journalism. Some schools have become bright beacons for experimentation. (USC/Annennberg, Berkeley, Columbia, American U, Missouri, CUNY, Arizona, Georgia… and the list goes on).

And from what I can tell, the vast majority of COJ bloggers agree there is much universities, particularly j-schools, can do to vault journalism forward. Universities can serve as living laboratories to incubate new service models. They can aggregate research, funding, training and workforce to cultivate new forms of news. They can keep us focused on the ethical issues, the emergent possibilities and the instructive lessons of the past. They can host community initiatives — locally and globally — and do all of this while staying true to their mission of education, research and service. What heroic opportunities await!

So who is the guy dropping the you-know-what into the collegiate punchbowl? And does he know something these bloggers don’t?

I’m talking about the most entrepreneurial man you’ll ever meet. His name is Bill Kling and he built Minnesota Public Radio — nay, American Public Media –into the biggest nonprofit news network outside of Washington DC.

Bill Kling (Credit: Current)
Bill Kling (Credit: Current)

The so-called Klingon empire grew from a small college station in Minnesota to a coast-to-coast success story. Its 44 stations include KPCC in Los Angeles and WKCP in Miami. It produces MarketPlace and A Prairie Home Companion. It founded the biggest crowdsourcing project in public media: the Public Insight Network. It generates more than $100-million in annual revenue. And it is the top employer of local journalists in public media (57 full-time at MPR, 33 full-time at KPCC).

Mr. Kling is stepping down from his CEO role and has been making the rounds lately, pressing two rather emphatic points. He wants to see a handful of local stations go super big by adding 100 reporters. And he wants those stations at universities to flee their captivity so they can excel at journalism and be free to succeed.

Kling is quite serious about this being the time for public media to step up and fulfill its mission to the American people. What is so fascinating in his particular recipe is this proposed break from the academy.

“…he wants those stations at universities to flee their captivity so they can excel at journalism and be free to succeed.”

You should know that Kling is jabbing his thumb in the eyes of many public radio managers. The largest share of public radio station licensees are university-based.

Most public radio stations are licensed to universities.

Kling believes these university licensees cannot reach their greatest journalistic aspirations unless they break from university ownership (private or public, doesn’t matter) and become independent (community) licensees.

Kling’s argument is simple: Universities have different missions than public radio stations, so their goals clash.

He says universities are bureaucracies that don’t promote entrepreneurial activities by station managers. In fact, he says they are notorious for skimming large percentages of station grants or earnings for “overhead.” He says university presidents and their development and public relations offices don’t much care for hard-hitting investigative reporting of powerful people. And, at the end of the day, the byzantine governance  structure of universities may pay lip service to free inquiry but it constrains stations from paying big bucks for big talent, doing anything that rocks the political establishment or involves risk in general.

I find myself conflicted over this criticism. I think it has strong resonance but it may be overstated, at least as a general proposition toward all universities.

(In my 30 years of working toward strong, meaningful journalism — as reporter, public affairs director, anchor/host, and news director — I’ve worked for university-based stations [UGA, OSU, PLU and SDSU]. I had a few run-ins with university officials and station managers — but I never censored a story nor caved to pressure to alter a story out of obeisance to the licensee. Still, those times when the university was in the news, in a negative context, we did feel tested in our editorial independence and integrity.)

I have spent many an hour working on heat-shield policies, ethics statements, codes of editorial independence, etc. toward fortifying journalism at university licensees. This is because Kling’s point has its basis and I’ve know many news directors who needed back-up. (For an egregious case of university interference in editorial independence, see the WFDD case I included in the Public Radio News Directors Guide.)

At the end of the day, I refuse to believe that university licensees are structurally compromised in their editorial integrity. And I believe Mr. Kling has some self-interest in play — hoping to pick off a few more stations for his empire.

I think the challenge is situational and it can be managed with strong leadership, clear mission, policy priorities and a cadre of like-minded professionals who will fight for the public interest. I also think most college presidents have the insight to understand the severe consequences that would typically result from a case of heavy-handed news interference. (Again, see the WFDD case where the community came to the aid of the beleaguered radio station.)

Still, it should be noted that Mr. Kling is both wise and experienced on this topic. His successes generally came from transforming university licenses into those under his control where he has gone on to do many wonders with them.

As for applying Mr. Kling’s criticism of universities as stewards of public media news stations to what the Knight Commission and others are advocating in terms of colleges as incubators of new media experimentation, I think the warning should be taken to heart. Public media has a great deal of experience to offer here.

If Mr. Kling is absolutely right about universities, then perhaps the message is that they are fine for growing experiments up to a point. It may be the truth that a mature public media newsroom would be best served by leaving the comfort of the campus and striking out on its own. This idea would encourage incubation advocates while also suggesting some kind of sunset plan. Perhaps as part of the incubation arrangement is the eventual transfer of the projects to community ownership.

Mr. Kling’s worry might also suggest a tolerance test for journalistic advancement. That is, if we are talking about a university that has stunted the growth of its public radio newsroom, how can you hold high hopes for what it might offer a new media initiative?

On the other hand, schools that have strongly supported the journalistic mission of their public news stations, may be the place most prepared for broadening new media experimentation.

To this I would append one last thought: let’s make those public media stations themselves part of this conversation.

New Policy Paper Recommends Transformation of Public Media

New Policy Paper Recommends Transformation of Public Media – Knight Foundation.

The December 2010 whitepaper by Barbara Cochran, "Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive"

This white paper provides a basis upon which to build our plans for local public media.

Please check it out.