Monday, July 28, 2008


Here's an insightful comment on the media industry from Mike.

Kayode's analysis is spot on.

"I just think that the last paragraph is a bit misleading. I wouldn’t describe the news industry as dying. It's adjusting, certainly, but not dying. I also don’t think that news companies have a problem paying good money to newbies while maintaining veteran journalists’ salaries.

"Newspaper layoffs are the result of an industry under pressure by the migration of advertising to the Internet, as Kayode notes. The fact is that companies in any industry facing competitive pressures have to re-examine their cost structures. Staff costs (salaries, pension benefits etc.) sadly are often targeted first as part of the restructuring. Look at what's happening in the banking sector in the wake of the credit crunch. Wachovia last week announced that it plans to cut about 6,000 jobs or roughly 5% of its staff, and Citigroup has also announced big job cuts.

"A couple years ago GM, Ford and Chrysler announced massive job cuts as foreign car makers continued to erode their U.S. market share.

"Also, journalism has always been a low-paying profession at the entry level. People who embark on journalism careers should do so knowing this. In fact, such information is readily available online.

"But journalism isn’t alone in this regard. Keep in mind that not all lawyers get paid big money, nor do all MBAs, for instance. In fact many U.S. lawyers and MBAs who go into public interest law or nonprofits make entry-level salaries comparable to journalists and teachers ($35-$50,000 a year) and over the course of their careers never make the salaries their corporate, criminal-law and investment-banking colleagues make.

"I have a friend who went to Yale undergrad and has a law degree from Georgetown. She used to work as a corporate lawyer, but gave that up to work with disadvantaged teenagers. Her salary was cut by more than half. But she is doing what she loves and is passionate about.

"Consider Barack Obama, who could be making a ton of money today had he gone into corporate law instead of working as a community organizer. (Given his talent, he’d probably be a millionaire partner by now). He and many other law grads who choose public-interest careers do so because it's their passion.

"Journalism is a vocation, something you do because you’re passionate about it. If money is a person’s prime motivation (and there’s nothing wrong with money being a prime motivator), then there are obviously better career choices.

"Note that I am not excusing T&T media companies for their terrible and disrespectful salary scales. The point has been made on this blog many times that T&T media salaries are shameful. One problem is that the salaries do not scale up significantly enough the higher up you go. Hence Kayode wondering, rightly, “what working as a journalist for my whole life would be like.” As someone with almost ten years experience, he should have been making more than he was.

"What we need urgently is an overhaul of HR practices within local media. But is anybody listening? Does anyone care?

"At the same time, we cannot generalise and apply Trinidad's standards to the rest of the world. Indeed, depending on the organization you work for, salaries can be respectable and indeed lucrative the higher up you go. There was a story a while back about Time magazine editors-at-large making US$300,000 a year for writing one column a week! That is not joke money. There are lawyers and MBA grads who are not making that type of money 10, 15 years out of school.

"Rick Reilly, the former back page columnist for Sports Illustrated, was making US$1 million a year for writing roughly 800-1000 words a week. He has since moved on to greener pastures at ESPN, making a reported $3.4 million a year.

"Also, see the salaries of those listed under “Media” on this New York magazine salary survey. These look to be from about 2003/2004 or so, but you can get an idea of what salaries are like on the high end of U.S. journalism. Note that in the case of, say, the editor of the New York Times, he also gets New York Times Company stock options. Those options can be worth several multiples of his salary.

"I imagine it would help if T&T media companies paid salaries at least nominally on a par with U.S. salaries. So, for instance, we’d expect a national newspaper like the Express to pay its editor somewhere between, say, TT$300k-600k. Using this line of reasoning, TV salaries should be even higher, with top salaries exceeding TT$1 million. But then again, you'd have to have talent that deserves this type of salary. I'm not sure that many of our current crop of 'journalists' deserve to be making big money. A few, yes, but the majority, no. I bet if media companies raised salaries they would attract better talent that would then warrant big-money salaries. But I know this is wishful thinking.

"One thing Kayode failed to touch on and that I think is equally important is the general standing of journalism in T&T. Journalism is not respected as a profession. Even a small bit of respectability may have compensated for the dismal salaries. Journalists abroad stick with it because they see the results of their reporting. Politicians and other powerful people are investigated, indicted, fined, jailed; laws are reformed; policies are altered; lives are impacted in a real way, etc.

"Does journalism matter in T&T? Who really cares about what journalists do in Trinidad? Journalists themselves don't even care!

"Who’s to blame? Media owners? Journalists? MATT? The education system? The public? Bin laden?

"I'll leave it here."


We welcome all comments on this subject since it cuts to the heart of the media industry in Trinidad & Tobago.