Low salaries and a high turnover rate is the norm in the media industry as far as journalists and the general public are concerned. Over the past three years the situation has simply worsened. According to a Hong Kong Journalists Association survey, there are still many senior journalists in the industry, but half of those interviewed said they would like or have tried to look for a new job. Some 30 percent of interviewees said they would leave journalism within a year or two. This high potential for departure has alarmed the industry. Media managements will have to face up to succession challenges and to maintain professional standards as experience gives way to newcomers.
HKJA conducted the survey between February 24 to March 14, investigating the remuneration package of different kinds of journalists and their views about their future. Some 58 percent of the interviewees were degree holders, 16 percent were postgraduates and 15 percent were sub-degree holders. This shows the educational level of journalists is high. However, the male vs. female ratio of respondents was 51:47. This seems to contradict the general perception that women dominate the media industry.
High education level, low remuneration
The survey shows that most of the interviewees were journalists with two years or less experience. They made up 22 percent of the total. Those with experience of two to four years’ experience formed 38 percent. However, 29 percent of respondents have 10 to 20 years’ experience while nine percent have notched up 20 years or more. This suggests that journalists tend to stay if they can get through the early stages of the career even if the salary is not high. (Table 2)
Some 12 percent of respondents earn $10,000 or less a month. About 41 percent earned $15,000 or less while 61 percent take home $20,000 or less each month. The percentage of respondents earning less than $20,000 is the same as the percentage of respondents with experience of 10 years or less. A 10-year veteran journalist with $20,000 monthly salary can hardly go forward enthusiastically or aspire to greater heights in his career. (Table 3)
Of 398 respondents in our survey who identified themselves as reporters, about 30 percent had been working for two years or less, more than half have been working for four years or less. (Table 2) In terms of remuneration, the median is $12,000-$15,000, with 75 percent of respondents earning $20,000 or less. Only seven percent earned more than $30,000. (Table 3)
A difficult choice for most
In the circumstances, it is no wonder that most journalists find it difficult to decide whether to stay or quit the industry altogether. Some 43 percent of respondents say they “don’t know/never thought of it/hard to tell” when asked if they considered journalism a lifelong career. The number of respondents who answered ‘Yes’ and “No’ were almost similar: 28 percent and 26 percent respectively.
But while many said they had not made up their minds, action speaks louder than words. Some 31 percent admitted they had looked at job advertisements in search of another job outside journalism while 19 percent had actually applied for jobs in other fields. Only 47 percent said they did not look at or apply for jobs outside journalism. (Table 4) In fact, 31 percent actually said they would leave the industry within a year or two. (Table 5) The reason why respondents want to leave the industry is obvious: Low salary. (Table 6)
The number of team leaders and assignment editors in a newsroom is limited. It is impossible to accommodate all senior reporters. Hence more reporters are considering quitting. A total of 62 percent of reporters said they had looked at job advertisements in search of a job and applied for jobs in other industries during the last 12 months. The descending order of inclination to look for another job is team leaders, deputy or assignment editors (40%), editors (40%), photo-journalists (31%) and highest management (24%). The morale among better paid senior management is not exceptionally high. And they are not young: 24 percent said they were thinking of working in another industry. (Table 4)
It is surprising and worrying that 40 percent of the backbone of the media (team leaders, assignment editors and deputy assignment editors) are considering looking for work in totally unrelated fields. If they have no intention to stay, who will pass on the knowledge and expertise to new reporters? Can they be depended upon to carry out instructions?
This exodus from media most likely will happen after 12 months to four years
In fact, most people are thinking of leaving. This exodus of media practitioners most likely will happen after 12 months to four years. Among the various categories, 23-56 percent said they would quit at this period. The inclination to leave is stronger among reporters and editors. Over 50 percent said they would leave after 12 months to four years, much more than those who would quit after six years. (Table 5)
The low salaries have always been one of the main reasons for the high turnover rate in similar surveys in the past. But the ratio has now reached the highest in this survey. Every media management understands the situation. Some expect the aspirations of the journalist and the challenging nature of the job to compensate for the low salary. Others use their limited resources as the excuse not to increase wages. However, how such wishful thinking of management can be realized if staff enthusiasm is lost with the passage of time and the pressure of livelihood increases as the staff get older? How will the industry retain experienced journalists?
Highly educated, enthusiastic journalists give up opportunities for making a decent living in order to fulfil their dreams, while managements prefer to take on inexperienced workers at low salaries rather than keep experienced journalists. It looks like decline in the quality of news is inevitable.
The most practical way to keep skilled personnel, of course, is through pay rises and reasonable working hours, or even implementation of the five-day week. As a matter of fact, journalists can easily see that their colleagues have changed careers. HKJA contacted 33 former journalists who have successfully switch career paths since 2009. Among them 96% got salary increases, most getting $2,000 to $4,000 more each month. About 27% say they may return to journalism. For details see Annex 2.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Annex 1：Results (Journalists)
|Returned by Fax||128|
|Returned by Email||116|
Table 1：Backgrounds of respondents
|Deputy/ Assignment Editor(AE)||68||9%|
|Assistant, Deputy, Chief Editor, News Director(ADCN)||25||3%|
Table 2：How long have you worked in media industry？
|2 years or below||30%||18%||11%||1%||0%||22%|
|20 years or above||2%||12%||14%||24%||44%||9%|
Table 3：Monthly Salary
|10K or less than 10K||15%||14%||8%||0%||0%||12%|
|More than 40K||2%||8%||2%||31%||72%||9%|
Table 4：Media workers’ contemplation of switching career path in the past 12 months
|Looking at job advertisements for a job in other industry||38%||23%||21%||27%
|Applied for Jobs in another industry||24%||17%||10%||13%||8%||19%|
|None of the above||37%||58%||68%||53%||76%||47%|
Table 5：Estimated number of years staying in media industry
|Leaving within a year||11%||10%||2%||7%||0%||9%|
|After 1 to 2 years||28%||24%||6%||14%||12%||23%|
|After 2.1-4 years||28%||24%||17%||27%||16%||28%|
|After 4.1-6 years||10%||14%||16%||13%||32%||12%|
|After 6.1 years||18%||26%||51%||35%||32%||23%|
Table 6：Reason of Changing Field(For respondents who looked at job advertisement or applied for jobs in other industries)
|Salary of media industry offered is lower than other industries||77%||63%||79%||52%||56%||76%|
|Too long working hour, 5.5/6 day week affect work-life balance||48%||48%||30%||61%||67%||51%|
|Uncertainty of promotion opportunities||48%||35%||52%||20%||22%||45%|
|Eager to develop other careers or study further||28%||31%||21%||30%||22%||29%|
|Low Job Satisfaction||20%||21%||33%||35%||22%||24%|
|Poor atmosphere of the industry and low social status||39%||32%||52%||39%||44%||23%|
|Want to get married and have children||16%||14%||12%||17%||0%||16%|
Annex two：Results (Former Reporters)
Table 1：Salary Change after leaving Media Industry
|Not applicable(Studying, taking care of family, Volunteering)||6||18%|
Table 2：Do You Think of Returning to Journalism?
Hong Kong Journalists Association