At yesterday's Chicago Journalism Town Hall, I suggested that it'd be possible to replace the local-news functions of the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times with an online news operation costing $2 million a year.
A big part of that, I said, would be reporters making $35,000 a year and covering key local beats like City Hall and the County Board.
This idea was met with guffaws. Imagine... Reporters making $35,000 a year.
The group then moved on to consider ways to ensure that talented reporters in Chicago make $100,000 a year or so.
But the federal Department of Labor has the last laugh on this one. The average salary for reporters in the Chicago metropolitan area is $40,290.
Throwing around this $100,000 number is a terrible idea -- most journalists, even at the Tribune and other large news organizations, don't make that kind of money.
And the notion, articulated by some at the Town Hall, seems to be that we're entitled to.
But the framers of the Constitution didn't write the First Amendment to ensure that journalists would be able to live a comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyle.
They did it to ensure citizens would be informed and government held accountable.
One of the best ways to do that is to pay reporters what average Americans make. That way, they're more sensitive to the concerns facing their audience than a stuffed shirt making $100,000 would be.
On a practical level, $40,290 is a living wage, and that there are plenty of talented people out there who would be happy to make it.
Insisting otherwise sends the wrong message. It makes journalists sound petulant, and it's jarring to funders. It makes building new news organizations to replace dying newspapers sound prohibatively expensive.