The paycheck's always greener. . .

Joel Stein


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Negotiating a salary — for some of us it's actually fun. But for most of us it's the circle of hell that Dante missed. Nobody wants to be a sucker, but you also don't want to come off as a greedy jerk with your boss. So how do you know if the initial offer is fair? Well, the Internet of course. Websites like can help you figure out what people generally get paid for different kinds of work. We sent commentator Joel Stein out to look at how our freelance pay stacks up.

JOEL STEIN: I'm not a good negotiator. So when Marketplace asked me for my first on-air essay, I immediately accepted their offer of $150. After all, this is a medium whose business plan involves asking people for money in exchange for tote bags.

In the past, only your boss — whose company paid for salary surveys from specialists — knew how much other people got for doing your job.

But PayScale has gotten 5.5 million U.S. workers to log on and give them detailed information about their salary, which they'll then give to you for free for providing yours. This, of course, seems like an even worse business plan than the tote bag thing.

After just six minutes of answering questions, I would be armed with data allowing me to demand just compensation for my work. I had dreams of big money. Ira Glass kind of money.

When PayScale asked about how many hours a week I'd be working, I figured an essay like this would take about three. I was including snack breaks. And some Web surfing. And a couple of TV shows.

To my surprise, five people with eerily-similar on-air jobs had given their info to PayScale.

And to my greater surprise, they averaged $20.90 an hour. Since I was making nearly $50 an hour, I was in the 99.9th percentile, flat-out kicking all of my new radio friends' financial butts. Without ever even having done one of these yet.

In fact, per hour, I was doing better than Stanford-grad software engineers ($82,750 a year), porn stars ($63,275 a year), and almost as well as rabbis ($98,610 a year).

You see, this is the problem with perfect information. It stripped away all of my glamour about being an underpaid public radio guy.

Now that I knew I was getting the most of out of my employer, I felt like I had to work a little extra hard on this. By which I mean re-reading it before I sent it off.

No wonder this station has to beg you for money.

THOMAS: Joel Stein is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. And in Los Angeles, I'm Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great day.


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