THE MIDDLE-CLASS PUNDIT...

THE MIDDLE-CLASS PUNDIT CLASS. Newbie media critics like to point to the big-shot opinion-makers on television as a way of dismissing the entire "pundit class" as a wealthy elite that's out of touch with America. But in so doing they reveal their ignorance of the pay dynamics of print journalism, where newspaper columnists remain a middle-class bunch, according to a new survey. Presented Saturday at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference by the University of San Francisco's J. Michael Robertson, the survey of 124 columnists found that:

Respondents have been a columnist for a median of seven years. Median salary for the full-timers is $50,000 to $60,000, and median pay for each freelance column is $50. Freelance columnists, on average, make only 10% of their income via their columns. [Link added.]

Pay at this level is not just characteristic of smaller papers in out-of-the-way places. Most left-of-center opinion magazines pay writers roughly at the same level, if not less -- though they are better on the per-piece rates -- and at least one major national newspaper pays weekly columnists, the vast bulk of whom are not on staff, as little as $25,000 per year. To the extent that opinion writers manage to move into a more than middle-class income bracket, it's because they either become editors, win lucrative book contracts, or find second and third jobs at glossy magazines or think tanks and universities that supplement their income, or even provide the bulk of it. Bloggers who are looking to make a living off their opinion writing ought to keep this in mind. It's an old truism that there's no money in journalism (television being an exception, of course) -- and there's certainly no reason to think there will be more of it now that there are a flood of new writers competing for pay. The few bloggers who do manage to make a living at it have, like regular media pros, either gotten themselves supplementary fellowships at other progressive institutions; been hired by major media companies or political candidates; or else are pioneering a business model in which they can survive financially only because they run media sites where they, in turn, don't pay their site's many other writers.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

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