are superstar journalists still worth the investment?

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Saw a piece in The Wrap a few days ago that was simultaneously bewildering and infuriating. The topic? How a number of “superstar” journalists still command six- or seven-figure salaries despite working for companies struggling to get by. Look: If someone offered me that much money, I can’t say I’d immediately turn it down, but when 95 percent of the media landscape is crumbling, doesn’t the value of big-name talent diminish? When you can barely afford to maintain a marquee, why spend even more money to upgrade its lights?

Karen Danzinger, a managing partner at the Howard-Sloan-Koller-Group, a media/publishing search firm, disagrees, telling The Wrap:

“Talent is always at a premium — a star’s a star. If you are in the upper echelon of talent, especially now, there is a lot of opportunity.”

Perhaps that’s why ESPN splurged $10 million to steal Rick Reilly away form Sports Illustrated in 2007. Also: Historically, one of the few sections of a newspaper where readers paid attention to bylines—think Jim Murray, Red Smith, Grantland Rice—was the sports section.

But it’s 2010. Do most readers still care? With so many people getting their news via Twitter and RSS feeds these days, and with so much of it being wire copy or re-purposed wire copy, at what point are superstars not worth the investment?

And it’s not just legacy media organizations investing in star power. The Daily Beast just lured away Howard Kurtz, a 29-year veteran of The Washington Post. (Terms were not disclosed.)

Here’s a bit more from The Wrap piece:

“When some employers think it’s optimistic, that the revenue will return, they might go out on a limb for a star,” Danzinger said, “whereas they might not have before. But in general, those people have always been valuable.”

According to Folio, the average salaries for consumer magazine editors in 2010 was $90,000 – a 10 percent decrease from 2009 – and most of those surveyed by the trade expected the recessionary salary cuts to reverse this year.

But Min and co. aren’t your average ink-stained editors.

“We’re talking about 1 percent of the talent pool,” Danziger said, adding: “Janice Min, she’s always gotten big salaries. She’s always been a star.”

Well, what do you think, fellow journos? Is one superstar worth a sum you could spend on 10 actual reporters?

  1. Maybe it makes sense for big media companies that can afford it (I don’t imagine ESPN went through its budget line by line to free up money for Reilly), but for those companies that are struggling, looking for a superstar makes no sense. To use another sports analogy, it’s like a losing team using most of its salary cap to lure an all-star player. There might be some initial impact, but unless the rest of the team improves as a result, the investment won’t pay off.

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