SABEW survey reveals low freelancer salaries

Freelance business journalists could use some more cash, according to this informal poll of 67 self-employed writers and editors conducted in October and November by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW). (Full disclosure: I serve on SABEW’s board.)

The independent journalists reported earning just $25,000 to $35,000 a year — or less than half the median salary earned by business journalists as a whole. A previous SABEW survey showed that the median annual salary of business journalists is $65,000 to $70,000.

To earn more, freelancers need a dose of optimism and a serious entrepreneurial education.

In theory, business journalists should be poised to forge a path toward profitable freelancing. After all, these are people who’ve been trained to read financial statements, ask tough questions and hold executives accountable. But, as the low freelancer salaries suggest, reporting on businesses and managing one are different stories.

A whopping 40 percent of SABEW’s freelance survey respondents had been laid off from staff positions. This suggests that they may be reeling from the loss of newsroom structure, competition and camaraderie while treading onto unplanned and uncharted freelance terrain.

Beyond writing, reporting and editing chops, thriving financially outside of a traditional newsroom requires one major skill that most journalists lack: salesmanship. Commerical considerations make many journalists squeamish because they are taught that their job is to inform the citizenry, tell compelling stories and bring truth to light.  News flash: all of these goals require money.

Freelancers must learn how to finance worthy projects, pay themselves a healthy wage, and maintain journalistic integrity. But how?

Read my solution here.

[This information was provided by freelance expert Maya Payne Smart. After spending six years in the trenches, Maya Payne Smart founded to help journalists, authors and other writers build profitable businesses. She currently serves on the boards of the Society of American Business Editors & Writers and James River Writers. Visit for tips and tools to help you build a more profitable writing business.]

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