New York(CNN Business) "I remember the punched-in-the-gut feeling I had the moment I learned that a young male reporter with just a few years of experience had nearly the exact same salary that I had, despite my two decades as a working journalist."
"Some reporters with advanced degrees earn less than $20 per hour. How are people supposed to live on that?"
"I am alarmed by the lack of mid-career female representation in our newsrooms and the dismal retention of female reporting talent. I can't help but worry that I will become one of those vanishing statistics."
These are some of the personal testimonies published Tuesday by the NewsGuild, a labor union that represents thousands of journalists, in a small study of 14 unionized newsrooms owned by media conglomerate Gannett (. The study relied on fall 2020 salary and demographic data from 466 employees at those newsrooms, including The Arizona Republic, the Indianapolis Star and the Palm Beach Post. )
Among the findings were that women and journalists of color are underpaid compared to their peers. More specifically, women at Gannett earned $9,845 less than the median salary of men, which comes in at $57,235. That gap grows to $15,727 for non-White women as compared to White men, who make $58,386, according to the study.
The pay disparity was even greater for experienced women at the company. The study found women who worked at Gannett for least 30 years earned $27,026 less than the median pay for male colleagues with similar tenure. Journalists of color earned $5,246 less than the median salary of White staffers, who make $53,252 a year.
The Arizona Republic, one of Gannett's largest newsrooms, had the largest gender and racial pay gaps. The study found women's median pay at the paper was $29,700 less than their male counterparts, which amounts to 61% of men's median salary. Journalists of color at the paper earned $25,100 less than their White colleagues.
In a statement to CNN Business, Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton accused the NewsGuild of providing outdated information and criticized the methodology.
"Gannett is a leader in the industry. Our market-driven approach to compensation ensures a fair review by role and responsibility level with considerations for geographic differences," Anton said.
"It is troubling that the NewsGuild's document would issue a 'study' that fails to take into consideration critical analysis factors and then espouses the benefits of joining a union as the solution," Anton continued. "Using selective data to drive a narrative that has clear bias raises questions of credibility and integrity. Gannett is committed to ensuring equitable employment practices for all employees - including specifically for all of our journalists, as they champion the stories of the communities we serve."
Rebekah Sanders, a reporter at The Arizona Republic and chair of the newsroom's guild, told CNN Business that the data was from this past fall and said that there have not been major changes other than a buyout.
"Since that time, there hasn't been any kind of wide scale raises or wide scale fixing of pay disparities by the company," Sanders said. "We feel like the overall trends represented in this study are very much the same as now, as they were nine months ago. The reason that it's nine months old is because we wanted to put in the work necessary to do this data justice and make sure everything was accurate."
Sanders said that getting access to data to conduct a pay equity study was one of the reasons her newsroom unionized in 2019. Her union and 13 others across Gannett decided last summer to team up on this one study so the data could be better anonymized for smaller newsrooms.
"Doing it collectively we were able to help those smaller newsrooms that wouldn't have had these insights on their own," Sanders said. "Our goal in doing this report is not only to fix the pay disparities in our newspapers, but to spur Gannett to make change across the country's largest newspaper company."
Sanders and other employees interviewed for the study criticized Gannett for committing to diversity improvements but not pay equity. Last August, Gannett announced an initiative to have its workforce match the diversity of the United States by 2025. That effort included sharing diversity data of the overall company and individual newsrooms.
"We believe there's a serious problem when Gannett is making lots of admirable diversity pledges, but failing to address pay fairness," Sanders said. "We don't believe that the company will be successful if it doesn't address the problems of very low starting pay, pay scales that are not tied to experience and pay disparities for women and people of color."
A journalist at The Arizona Republic, who indicated they have more than a decade experience in the industry, anonymously shared for the study that they earn entry-level pay as a mid-career reporter.
"There is always an excuse when I ask to be paid equally to those with my same experience level," the journalist said. "Don't use my skin for your diversity. My skin made me work twice as hard to be here so I deserve to earn twice as much as you can afford. I could at least get even."