Can you afford to live on a reporter's salary?

I am the managing editor of The Prince George's Sentinel, a small weekly community newspaper (2o,000 circulation and shrinking) in a suburb of Washington, D.C. When I say "small," I mean we have a newsroom staff of four: one reporter, one production manager, one employee who works three days per week in production and two days in sales, and me. No receptionist to answer the phones, no typists to compile community notices and the police blotter, no proofreaders, no copyeditors, no page designers. It's all me. I do it all, except for covering stories (although I have been known to write one here and there, plus a column).

So, you can imagine my predicament when my one reporter gave her notice a few weeks ago and announced she couldn't live on the $20,000 per year salary. This reporter was a 15-year veteran in journalism and was hired a year ago because she wanted to "stay in journalism." In fact, she said at the time she felt lucky to land a newspaper job. But now her marital situation has changed and she is forced to support herself. But she can't do it on what this paper pays reporters.

Doesn't sound like an attractive place to work, does it?

So, I put a job posting on Journalismjobs.com last Tuesday. I did this eight years ago when I was working for Philip Merrill at Capital Gazette Newspapers and got about four responses. This time, resumes started popping into my inbox within 10 minutes after the posting went live. By Thursday, I had 60 resumes. They came from as far away as California and Michigan. They were willing to relocate here. Honestly, for a $20,000 job?

On Friday, I pared the resumes down to 16 and e-mailed the job seekers and told them more about the job: we were small, we didn't get raises, the $20,000 per year salary is non-negotiable.

Guess what? Nearly all of them still wanted to come to work for $20,000. Why? Because they've been out of work for six months to a year and have been solely freelancing. To them, $20,000 is at least a steady paycheck. However, most of them told me they need to keep their freelance gigs.

Since we're working on our resumes, I'd like to highly suggest you have something more than reporting on your resumes. Make sure you have some type of specialty, or expertise, and make sure to keep up with technology. After you've graduated, make sure you keep current in your field and have a variety of interests. It could make a big difference one day.