Salaries in the media

Media salaries - UK pound coins
Research starting salaries in the media for apprentices and graduates, and how much you could earn once you have a few years’ experience.

The media isn’t among the top paying industries. The Office for National Statistics has previously ranked 350 professions by earnings and places salaries for journalists, newspaper editors and magazine editors at 88th in its list. But with several years’ experience under your belt, salaries in the media are normally at the UK average level of around £29,000 and can rise to beyond £40,000, especially in London. And there are many reasons other than money for working in the media, not least of which is the likelihood of being surrounded by bright, sociable colleagues.

The figures below are for basic salaries (that is, excluding any extras you might be paid on top of your normal earnings). But some media groups give bonuses to experienced editors who increase the sales of newspapers, books and magazines. And some media groups will pay their freelance writers more if their articles are heavily clicked through online.

Starting salaries for media apprenticeships and trainee schemes for school leavers

There aren’t a huge number of opportunities in the media for school leavers, but among those that do exist:

  • On the media production and technical front, there are a limited number of advanced apprenticeships or traineeships that are open to school leavers and graduates. These are normally at level 3 (equivalent to A level standard). Channel 4’s media apprenticeships are among the better paying and you’re likely to earn £18,500 per annum while doing one. Those for smaller organisations can pay above the national minimum wage of £6.15 for 18 to 20-year-olds but sometimes just below the national living wage – which is set by the government at £8.21 for over 25s. This is equal to an annual salary of around £12,000 to £16,000 for a 37.5 hour working week.
  • Apprentice journalist roles (again, often called traineeships or junior apprentice journalist jobs) in broadcasting and newspapers offer a professional qualification. An editorial apprentice post with a local newspaper chain such as Archant has been known to pay around £200 a week for a 12-month scheme or around £10,800 a year.
  • Many entry-level editorial/media vacancies call themselves apprenticeships but are nothing of the sort in that they offer no formal education or training other than what you receive on the job. Although these positions claim to be open to school leavers, in reality they are mostly aimed at graduates – see the next section for details of how much they pay.

Starting salaries for graduates who work in the media

Starting salaries for graduates who enter the media are much more varied than for media apprenticeships. In well established media businesses:

  • Magazine journalists’ starting starting salary: typically £15,000 to (exceptionally) £26,000, although a few companies pay as little as £12,000. Entry-level newspaper journalists working on local newspapers tend to earn less than their counterparts in magazines but salaries for journalists on national newspapers tend to outstrip those for magazines. Some journalists start out as freelance writers. According to the National Union of Journalists, writing a 1,000 word article for a large, mainstream magazine should net £700, plus additional money for reprints and digital use, while a small magazine publishing company might pay £250 for 1,000 words. In practice, many freelance writers are paid at rates below the lowest recommended by the union.
  • Editorial assistants’ starting salary (book publishing): around £19,000 to £23,000, slightly higher than for entry-level editorial posts in other media industries, although senior salaries in the latter can be higher than found in book publishing.
  • Trainee producers’ starting salary (TV and radio broadcasting): around £17,000 to £23,000, although many junior producers are freelance on day rates of around £140 per day. This may seem generous but bear in mind that many freelance producers spend large stretches of time temping in low-paid industries between assignments.
  • Graphic designers’ starting salary: around £15,000 to £19,000 per annum.
  • Press photographers’ starting salary: between £12,000 and £16,000 a year.
  • Multimedia producers’ starting salary: those who who commission graphics for broadcasting typically start on around £20,000 to £22,000 a year.
  • Junior researchers’ starting salary (television): people starting out in this career often have to work for minimal pay or for nothing before they receive their first proper job, and then it tends to be on a freelance contract for around £400 a week.
  • Junior television production coordinators’ starting salary: many are freelance and are paid on a contract basis of around £140 upwards per day.
  • Graduate apprentices’ starting salary: the editorial ‘graduate apprenticeships’ mentioned in the previous section are usually found in very small media companies. They typically pay a salary calculated to sit between the £6.15 per hour national minimum wage for 18 to 20-year-olds and the national living wage of £8.21 an hour, although £8.50 or £9.00 an hour can sometimes be the benchmark in London. These add up to a salary of between £12,000 and £18,000 a year for a 37.5 hour working week. However, some of these jobs are on short-term contracts without sick pay or holiday pay – or pay a salary that is equivalent to around 40 hours a week on the minimum wage despite the actual working week sometimes being longer.

Comparing media salaries for graduates and apprentices

It is hard to compare the salaries of graduates and non-graduates in the media, as in many cases you need a degree to get in. However, the main exceptions are for technical and broadcast production roles. If you can get into those via an apprenticeship you will typically end up earning exactly the same as a graduate but without the uni debt.

Salary progression in the media

How much you earn once you have a few years’ experience depends upon the market you work in – see ‘What else might affect my media salary’, below. However, with three to five years’ experience, senior staff in mainstream media might expect to earn the following:

  • Magazine features editors: at senior level you could earn £35,000 to £65,000.
  • Book commissioning editors: typical salaries are £28,000 to £40,000.
  • Broadcast engineers: over £30,000 is typical. Senior TV editors earn around the same, although if they work on very big productions their salaries can be up to £60,000.
  • Camera operators: have been known to earn around £350 to £600 a day.
  • TV researchers: salaries have been known to be in the region of £600 to £700 for a 48-hour week.
  • TV producers: pay ranges from £40,000 to £55,000. Heads of TV departments typically earn from £60,000 to over £80,000.
  • Graphic designers: from £25,000 to £55,000. The salary for a creative director can be over £60,000, although this post is usually for employees who have spent considerably more than five years in the profession.
  • Highly experienced press photographers: earn between £25,000 and £60,000 a year.

What else might affect my media salary?

Traditionally, pay is higher for jobs in established media organisations such as the BBC, News Corp or the magazine publishers Condé Nast. It’s at its lowest in start-ups or the numerous small media organisations run by a couple of people. Many of the largest media groups are still based in the UK’s capital cities and in London especially. Salaries there are higher but so are living costs.

Starting salaries tend to be lower for media that cover very popular consumer topics – for example, film, music, celebrity and fashion. But precisely because those sectors are popular (and lucrative) highly successful editors who work in them can command high salaries.
Conversely, starting salaries for business publications tend to be higher but might not climb so steeply. Some of the highest salaries overall are for markets that serve wealthy business clients such as global bankers. To work in top-end, business-to-business financial journalism it helps to study finance at university, and potentially to work for a while in the finance industry.

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