In her article, How Much Do Freelance Journalists Make, Nicole Cohen reports her doctoral research on the subject.
Her data suggests a “1 percent, 99 percent” effect occurring among freelancers, with top freelancers earning over $150K per year, but the average freelancer earning just $24K.
Equally troubling, pay has stagnated over the past few decades–going down slightly in actual dollars and a lot in inflation-adjusted dollars.
(We assume that those earning at the bottom receive their primary income from journalism but she does not confirm that nor does she indicate whether the freelancers work part- or full-time.)
One factor in the current stall in pay is the rise of “free” as a business model. For example, the Huffington Post does not pay for freelance contributions. That’s great for people who merely want to make a name for themselves; but not for those who actually rely on writing for a living.
The article cites massive profits for publishers. Although that may be true in some industries, the Internet has decimated the journalism industry. Major publishers in the US and Canada have declared bankruptcy (admittedly, some of the worst cases have resulted from exceptionally bad business judgment by the owners). But even the survivors have to cut costs to survive as readership moves to the web and increasingly refuses to pay for subscriptions, ad revenue plummets (fewer readers so fewer ad dollars for print; online ads are relatively inexpensive to begin with), and competition from all-web and other new and information sources grows.
Even with these caveats, the salary trends are still very troubling.
And what’s good is that journalists track this information. Trainers and instructional designers generally do not track freelance salaries, and technical communicators only conduct such surveys locally or regionally, and only when someone really takes the initiative. As a result, we do not have reliable data about our freelance salary trends. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the situation is not as bleak as in journalism, but the general trends are the same–stagnant or slightly declining wages.