Name: Don Perteller
Job Title: Journalist
Where: Denver, CO
Years of Experience: 10
Education: BA in Film, Wesleyan University
Salary: See PayScale’s Research Center for the average salaries of journalists in different cities.
Salaries of Journalists
Journalist salaries and careers vary greatly as we’re about to see in this profile of a journalist who has spent a decade in the trenches. Veteran scribe Don Perteller (pictured here with Elvis’ favorite chair in Studio-B at RCA Studios in Nashville) recently sat down with us to discuss the typical 9-to-5 journalist life, the different salaries of journalists – including the average salary for starting journalists, the steps to becoming a journalist and the drawbacks of being a journalist.
Having built a successful journalism career from the ground up, Perteller has first-hand knowledge of the average salary for starting journalists as well as how to manage the ups and downs of a freelance journalist’s salary. Because the salaries of journalists are so varied, it’s important to do your research if you’re considering a career as a journalist. Would you prefer the life of a freelance journalist or being on staff at a magazine? This is a must-read for anyone who is curious about how to become a journalist or the salaries of journalists.
Journalist Job Description:
I pitch an idea for an article to various editors until one of them likes it and assigns me the article to write. I then negotiate a fee. I try to get paid “on submission” as opposed to “on publication.” There is a big difference between the two. “On submission” means that the publication pays (theoretically) right when I turn it in; “on publication” means that they pay when the article is actually published. Unfortunately, some publications take many months to publish an article. After you negotiate all of the details, you must research the article. You have to track down interview subjects – the key players involved in the topic that you’re writing about.
What were your career steps in becoming a journalist?
I held a series of odd jobs, including: psych-meds dispenser, researcher for a documentary series, and I was a search specialist who helped unite long-lost loved ones. Then a friend of mine got a job as an editor at a well-known national magazine. I pitched him a bunch of article ideas and he finally went for one. The article turned into a much larger feature and the magazine was pretty happy with it; so they assigned me more articles. I thought it was great. I could make money without having to work 9 to 5 in an office. But then my friend resigned, and the magazine offered me his job, and I started working in an office 9 to 5 (actually, 9 to 5:30).
What do you like about journalism, what are the drawbacks of being a journalist?
You can write about any topic that interests you, so long as you can find a magazine that covers the same topic. You get to meet all kinds of people. I have interviewed everyone from G. Gordon Liddy to the late, great Anna Nicole Smith. I have interviewed criminals, cops, entrepreneurs, artists, cultists, exorcists, puppeteers, ping-pong revolutionaries, homeless people and members of Congress. Occasionally, you can expose evil doers and give a voice to the powerless. You set your own hours and only work when you feel like it. Sometimes magazines will pay travel (and other) expenses.
The drawbacks are trying to get editors to go for your article ideas and then trying to get paid from certain publishers. Transcribing is also a nightmare part of the job. The worst part of being a freelance journalist (or a magazine editor) is dealing with celebrities’ publicists. Either the publicist will try to push you to write about one of their clients that no one on earth would want to read about or they won’t give you access to a celebrity you do want to interview. I try to call the celebrity at home and by-pass the publicist entirely.
Do you recall any funny or memorable moments in your journalist life?
I hung out with a UFO cult and watched as they had their genetic codes transmitted to outer space. I went on a ride-along with the makers of the “Bumfights” videos and we had to talk a homeless man out of jumping onto a moving rollercoaster. One time, a publisher owed me about 1,500 dollars for over a year, and I didn’t get paid until comedian Andy Dick saw the publisher at a party (Andy had been on the cover of the magazine) and started screaming at him in front of his friends. Needless to say, I was paid soon after.
What advice would you give to those interested in becoming a journalist?
The best thing to do is study the magazine you are pitching and then pitch articles that would work for that magazine. Don’t pitch an article about monster trucks to “Competitive Knitting Magazine.” Call editors after you send them pitches by email and have a few backup ideas handy in case they don’t like your original idea. Don’t be afraid that editors will steal your ideas and give them to other writers. They will do this occasionally, but they will usually feel so guilty about it that they will give you an assignment.
What can you tell us about the different salaries of journalists?
Salaries of journalists are really varied. You might be paid be a few hundred to several thousand for an article. If you retain certain publishing rights, you can sell the same article more than once. For someone on staff at a magazine, a journalist salary could range from $40K to $100K, depending on the circulation of the publication; the larger the circulation the greater the journalist salary.
What do you like to do when you’re not living a journalist life?
I produce the mind-blowing public access television show, The Three Geniuses, play music and attend law school.
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