Sports journalists come in all shapes and sizes, as well as in a variety of job titles, education levels, experience backgrounds and salaries. The traditional newspaper journalist of the 21st century is being crowded out by an increasing number of online reporters, columnists and bloggers. A sports journalist may be a print reporter, a TV or radio reporter, a photographer, an editor, a columnist, a TV anchor or talk show host, a blogger or a statistician. Education and experience levels, the type of medium for which you work and the market in which you work all affect salary levels.
Education & Training
A typical route for sports journalists is to obtain a college degree, either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. Common degrees include journalism, print journalism, broadcast journalism, communications, English, or even marketing and public relations. Many journalists, especially with the advent of the Internet, have little or no formal training or experience, although critics may argue that there’s a glut of amateurs posing as journalists in many online forums. Sports journalist salaries are comparable to other journalist earnings, with the exception of high profile, television and celebrity sports journalists, who earn salaries far beyond median, average or typical incomes.
According to a May 2011 Michigan State University salary survey of communication science majors, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in journalism earned an average income of $34,117 a year, with a minimum starting salary of $14,000 and a high end figure of $75,000. The web site Daily Beast, in a survey of 2009 college degree salaries, concluded that a journalism degree was the most “useless” degree awarded," with a median starting salary of $35,800. The median mid-career salary was $66,600. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t isolate sports journalist salaries, but reports a median income of $34,530 for all reporters and correspondents. The middle 50th percentile salary range is $25,520 to $51,540, with a 10th percentile salary of $19,970 and a 90th percentile figure of $75,230.
The national median and average salaries of sports journalists, and all journalists, is lowered by the wages of journalists who work at weekly newspapers, either as employees, contract workers or freelance writers. Many sports and other reporters at weeklies work for hourly wages — many part-time — and others work on a per article fee schedule. Minimum wage hourly rates are common and per article fees can be as low as $5.
Online Sports Journalists
Online sports journalists who work for major outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, major newspapers and TV stations make salaries equal to or greater than newspaper journalists. Many newspapers are moving large parts, or even all, journalistic functions online, and many journalists perform multiple roles for a media company’s print, broadcast and online services. Their salaries reflect at least average national salary levels for reporters. Bloggers’ salaries are extremely difficult to estimate because they’re based on myriad site visit, advertising and per view formulas. However, many sports blogs are valued at millions of dollars, based on a formula that estimates a blog site’s worth at 10 to 20 times its monthly revenues, according to Juiced Sports.
Other sports journalists, like editors, photographers and columnists, generally earn as much as and usually more than reporters. Celebrity sports journalists like Mike Wilbon of "The Washington Post," Mike Lupica of "The New York Times," Rick Reilly of "Sports Illustrated," and Mitch Albom of the "Detroit Free Press" — all of whom also work for ESPN — make base newspaper salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Taking into account their television work and book deals, their annual incomes easily run into the millions of dollars. The average salary of a sports editor in Manhattan is $77,764, according to Salary Expert. The average salary of an assistant sports editor, according to SalaryQwest.com, is $42,600.