Resolution #4 – This year, we pay journalists their worth

The challenges that plagued the media landscape in recent years are certain to follow us in 2024.

Journalists worldwide face significant difficulties such as financial instability, technological disruption, and an increased focus on online engagement. This has led to stagnant wages, disappearing benefits, and a lack of job security, making it difficult for professionals to hold power accountable and give voice to marginalised communities. The overreliance on clickbait content and sensationalised narratives has resulted in a decline in investigative journalism, while the collapse of local news has left information deserts where communities once thrived.

A 2021 study by ACME on the profile of Ugandan journalists revealed concerning income disparities. The majority, exceeding two-thirds, earn $280 or less per month. This financial strain is particularly pronounced in rural areas, where three-quarters of journalists make $140 or even lower, compared to only one in ten in Kampala reaching the $210-$280 range. Notably, no upcountry journalist surpasses the $280 mark, and consistent, timely payments are not guaranteed.

Similar trends were observed in ACME’s Tanzanian study, where over half (63%) of journalists earn less than $217 monthly, with only a small percentage (3%) exceeding $870. Additionally, a significant disparity exists based on media ownership. State-owned media offers considerably higher salaries, with nearly half earning above $435 monthly, compared to the significantly lower figures in online media (6%) and local media (0%).

Paying journalists a fair wage is not merely an economic issue, but an ethical imperative. Journalism is a demanding profession requiring skill, dedication, and unwavering commitment to truth. Journalists put their safety, reputation, and even lives at risk to produce stories that matter. Asking them to do this on bare minimum wages, juggling second jobs, and living paycheck to paycheck is not only exploitative, but undermines the very essence of journalistic integrity.

Beyond ethics, there’s a compelling economic argument for fair pay. Investing in journalists generates returns. Quality journalism attracts readers, builds trust, and fosters engaged communities. This translates to increased engagement, subscriptions, and ultimately, advertising revenue. 

Fairly compensating journalists is not a handout, but an investment in our democracy, communities, and future. It’s recognising that quality journalism is not a luxury, but a necessity. In 2024, let’s stop turning a blind eye to the exploitation of those who provide us with light in an increasingly opaque world. Let’s make this the year we say “enough is enough” and pay journalists what they deserve – their fair wage.

The future of journalism, and consequently, the future of our democracy, hangs in the balance. 2024 can be a turning point, a year where we stop asking journalists to sacrifice their well-being for clickbait and short-term profits. It’s time to recognize their value, not just with words, but with action. It’s time to pay them their due wage.

Take action!

How can we address this issue in 2024? The solutions are multifaceted but achievable. Here are some crucial steps:

Internal practices:

  • Conduct salary audits: Analyse wage disparities across geography, ownership, and roles. Implement strategies to bridge identified gaps and achieve fairer compensation.
  • Review budget allocation: Prioritise journalist wages by adjusting spending in other areas. Explore revenue diversification through innovative models like subscriptions, grants, and partnerships.
  • Invest in professional development: Offer training and mentorship programs to enhance journalists’ skills and marketability, potentially leading to higher earning opportunities.
  • Promote transparency: Publish salary ranges or salary grids to foster trust and encourage internal advocacy for fair compensation.
  • Develop ethical hiring practices: Avoid precarious working conditions like freelance-only positions or excessive unpaid overtime. Ensure all roles offer stable contracts and adequate benefits.

External collaboration:

  • Advocate for industry-wide standards: Collaborate with other media organisations to establish fair wage benchmarks and best practices for journalist compensation.
  • Support independent media: Partner with smaller, independent outlets committed to quality journalism and fair wages, expanding options for journalists.
  • Work with unions and associations: Engage with journalist unions and industry associations to advocate for policies that improve journalist pay and working conditions, such as tax breaks for media organizations meeting specific wage standards.

Focus on sustainability:

  • Develop long-term revenue strategies: Explore sustainable funding models beyond advertising, such as reader subscriptions, memberships, or non-profit partnerships.
  • Diversify content offerings: Expand beyond traditional news formats to attract new audiences and revenue streams, while maintaining journalistic integrity.
  • Embrace innovation: Utilise technology and new platforms to reach wider audiences and optimise operational efficiency, potentially freeing up resources for higher wages.

 

ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]acme-ug.org.

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