The Growing Pay Gap Between Journalism and Public Relations

Most people aren’t aware that journalists and public relations professionals share a number of mutual goals like communicating with the public, building trust, and sharing stories. Yet in spite of the similarities, there’s a growing gap in pay between these two professions. Why is that so?

For one, there’s been a steady decline in the number of newspapers in the United States. In 1970, there were 1,748 daily newspapers. By 2016, the number had dropped to 1,286. The number of public relations professionals working in PR agencies alone at the end of 2016 was 58,489. And that didn’t include those working for corporations, associations and other organizations.

Forty years ago, there were usually two daily newspapers in major markets, a morning and an afternoon paper. Like the newspapers, most of the TV stations were locally owned. However, around the beginning of this century, some business people realized that a media conglomerate, similar in ways to the big box stores, had great potential to earn huge profits.

In those days, the news media had good credibility. Because most were locally owned, the owners were responsive to their communities and covered neighborhood stories more thoroughly. They had earned the public trust. It was then that these conglomerates began buying up stations and newspapers and changing the complexion of the media. At the time, the media were “cash cows.”

In 2006, there were 55,000 working journalists in the U.S. That number dwindled to 38,000 by 2012   One would think that this decline would create demand and raise reporter salaries. Quite the contrary.

Social media changed this all. Increasing demand for PR professionals because of the entry and popularity of social media expanded the reach and recognition of public relations. That demand also drove up salaries because of the heightened competition to recruit the best PR people.

Another reason for the rise in public relations jobs is digital technology. Where public relations professionals once had to rely on getting information to the news media before their deadlines, PR folks now faced the challenge of responding quickly online.

Conversely, the advent of social media created the potential for anyone and everyone to be a reporter. Sadly, this also increased the number of incidents of fake news stories. And ironically, this, too, created more of a need to have a public relations person available to defuse such rumors.

It’s not surprising then that the pay gap between the two professions continues to widen. A public relations specialist today can earn over $60,000 a year while a reporter with the same level of experience can expect to earn about $10,000 less.

Alert companies that had been advertising in the newspapers recognized the power and tremendous reach of social media and began hiring public relations experts to use platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc. to promote their product or services. The journalism department at the University of Southern California even offers a master’s program in digital social media. Undergraduate and graduate programs in social media are thriving on university campuses.

And because of the similarity in communication goals, many former journalists are finding themselves entering the public relations arena. It’s actually a plus for most because these journalists already have contacts among their remaining counterparts who still work in the media and they already know that end of the system.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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