Starting salary of new reporters

Chong Hiu-yeung - General Secretary, HKJA

[Jul 2012 - The Journalist] Since implementation of the $28 per hour minimum wage the income level of the low-skilled employees has improved significantly. Some restaurants cannot hire a dishwasher even if they offered $9,000-$10,000 a month[1]. And we are not talking about those restaurants where they parlez francais[2].
On the other hand there are many fresh graduates joining the media. They make up the “new blood” of the industry, filling up vacancies left by senior reporters who have left the field. Unfortunately, minimum wage can only minimize the salary gap between low-skilled and knowledge-based jobs, and not all industries benefit from the legislation of minimum wage. Take reporters for example, the salary starting point of some organizations is around $10,000, or less, which is not better than the cleaning workers.(See table 1)
The Hong Kong Journalists Association has been investigating the starting salaries of the new reporters from 20 media organizations. Compared to the last two years, most have raised starting salaries to a point which can catch up with, or slightly above inflation rate. Generally, the starting salary of reporters of the electronic media is higher than print media. The starting point in the electronic media ranges between $10,000 and over $14,000 while the print media is between $8,500 and $12,000.
The increase in starting salaries at Ming Pao and Cable TV is more significant than the others among all media organizations. At Ming Pao, which some reporters have laughingly called “Chai Wan Foxconn”, there have been steady improvements. The reporters recruited this year received $11,000, rising to $12,000 after a three-month probation, putting it on par with the electronic media. Starting salaries of $8,500 or $9,500 is history there.
Ming Pao's move is assuring and should be complimented. With implementation of a five-day week, they may yet be rid of the name ‘Chai Wan Foxconn’.
Compared with teachers and civil servants, the starting salary for reporters is far too low. Take the assistant information officer as an example. The starting salary is $21,175, which is nearly double of that of reporters. The salary of reporters is low without taking account of those in investment banks, civil service and the professions. (See table 2)
As for subsidies for summer interns (See table 1), most of the organizations at least pay $1,500 per month but some merely reimburse interns for expenses incurred. The electronic media offer higher allowances then the paid print media. The free print media offer the least.
According to Professor Clement So of the School of Journalism and Communication of Chinese University of Hong Kong, only about 20% of its graduates join the industry each year. The salaries of teachers, civil servants and trainees of some big companies are more attractive as the salary of reporters is 30-40% less, especially in the print media. Salary is the main concern of graduates entering the industry.
Mr. To Yiu-ming, Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication of Hong Kong Baptist University, estimates that around 70%-80% of undergraduates who take Chinese journalism enter the industry and about half of them work for the broadcast news. The salary level of the reporters is only comparable to the small and medium size NGOs, yet NGO is non-profit making while media organizations make money.
Besides unattractive remuneration career prospects are another reason for graduates to shun the industry. Most of the senior reporters know that even if the salary level is increased by 7% every year, a reporter starting at $10,000 needs eight years to get to $20,000 which would still be lower than the starting salary of an Assistant Information Officer. Moreover, it is difficult for them to enter the management level. If they want to have a much higher income, they have to job-hop or get headhunted by other organizations rather than looking to promotions.

Moreover, most frontline reporters are under 30 years of age. Middle-age reporters are still on the frontlines alongside junior reporters clashes between police and demonstrators, awaiting government officials outside the CGO or reporting routine press conferences, rather than at desk jobs editing, perceived as incompetent second-rate reporters.

As To said, some graduates would still like to remain as reporters and are willing to accept the low salary levels, but they would definitely reflect on their careers after two years. The prospects in the profession concerns them the most.

He pointed out that being a reporter is not a lifelong career as the journalism in Hong Kong is in a pyramid structure, with only few reporters getting into the management level. The industry does not have room for reporters to acquire further education and to have time to develop. What determines whether a reporter will stay in the industry or leave depends on whether the reporter can find a niche and whether he or she is irreplaceable.

Table 1: Starting Salary of Fresh Reporters in Hong Kong News Industry
News Media
Starting Salary
Starting Salary of 2010
Stipend for summer interns
Electronic Media

Cable TV
(Contract Staff)
(Contract Staff)
Commercial Radio
Metro Radio
(Depends on which degree held
and academic performance)
Hong Kong Broadband
Print Media

Oriental Daily News
No internshipprogramme
Apple Daily
Around $12,000,depends on which section he / she works
Ming Pao
After probation:$12,000
Singtao News Corporation
$150 per day
Hong Kong Economic Times
Hong Kong Economic Journal
Depends on academic performance, what degree held and personal experience
Not determined yet
Sing Pao
South China Morning Post
$280 per day
Metro Daily
Around $9,000-$10,000
(for 6 weeks)
Wen Wei Po
Ta Kung Pao
After probation: $10,000
Reimbursed for actual expenses
Information Service Department
*New reporters are under a “Tree Planting Program”. The salary will be increased to $12,000 after the three-month probation. The new reporter has to compensate the company if they leave within a year. The salary of reporters with good performance will be increased to $14,000 after a year.

Table 2: Some examples of emoluments for first degree holders in private sector
Starting Salary
Hang Seng Bank, Functional Trainee
$14,500 - $16,000
CSL, Executive, Customer Analytics and Campaign Management
$12,000 - $15,000
Lady MacLehose Centre, Assistant Service Officer
Vitasoy International Holding Limited, Management Trainee
Oxford University Press(China), Management Trainee
$12,000 - $13,000
King Fook Holdings Limited, Programmer
$9,000 - $10,000

[1] 26/8/2011, Ming Pao

[2] 30/5/2012, Sharpdaily