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Whether you’re building a breaking news publication, starting a viral news portal, or developing a brand-sponsored content hub, the costs of starting a newsroom are high and often unpredictable.

From hiring editors and writers to managing end-of-year taxes and operational costs, running a newsroom is a full-time job with a lot of overhead and oftentimes many frustrations.

At Presto Media we have taken over newsroom operations for dozens of clients. Through our market research, we have put together a list of operational considerations that lays out the true costs of managing a high-performing team of writers for a single publication.

For the purpose of this article, we are assuming an editor is being “maxed out” at 1,800 words per hour or 6 short-form pieces of content at 300 words per article.

There’s a lot a math ahead so please bear with us as we dive into the economics of starting a small in-house newsroom.

High-Quality Editors Come At A Premium

Average National Editor Cost: $64,660

Depending on the type of content being edited a single editor on average will cost your publication $64,660. As of April 27, 2017, Salary.com places editor pay between $55,864 to $77,362.

Our average editor at Presto Media spends 10 minutes editing every 300 words of an article or 1,800 words per hour.

A short form publication will pay approximately $5.10 for every 300 words of edited content based on the national average editorial pay schedule.

Writer Pay Can Vary Based On Quality

Average Writer Pay $24.70/hour or $.06/word

A Freelance Writer earns an average wage of $24.70 per hour. The writer’s experience in the field and their ability to turn around quality content quickly and accurately affects the bottom line.

Assuming a viral news publisher can turn around a short form article in 45 minutes, a single piece of 300-word content can cost upwards of $18.56 or $.06 per word.

If you streamline the content creation process timeline you are still likely to pay in the ballpark of $.04 per word or a minimum of $12 per 300-word article before additional costs.

Hiring A Content Strategist

Average National Content Strategist Cost: $70,000

A content strategist can save your publication time and money by determining which type of content will resonate with your demographic.

From overall content focus to specific campaign ideation, the content strategist is a crucial part of the newsroom team. These individuals serve as a de-facto Editor-In-Chief and content leader.

Salary.com places the cost of a content strategist at $70,000 per year.

On average, a content strategist will add $5.52 to the cost of every 300 words published to your content hub when paired with a single editor who provides 1800 words per hour of work.

Hiring And Training Writers

Average National Editorial Operations Cost: $64,660

The costs associated with hiring and training new writers varies based on industry.

At Presto Media we experience what we consider a typical churn rate from our highly vetted content creators. In hiring upwards of 50 writers per month we typically find that 15 highly-qualified individuals will engage weekly with our platform and 5 will create content several times per day.

Keep in mind that our average rate of application approval is under 10% of applicants which means vetting 50 writers can require scouring over 500 applications to find 15 qualified people who stick around for the long-term.

It took Presto Media 12 months to build a stable team of 150 very active writers and we continue to hire and train new applicants on a daily basis.

We employee a Chief Content Officer within our organization and they are responsible for developing training guides, vetting new content creators, and ensuring all our content quality remains top-notch and shifts in focus based ever-changing industry standards.

If you hire an editor to vet, train, and monitor writer performance you can expect to spend an additional $64,660 per year or $5.10 per every 300 words of content created.

Operational Expenses / Accounting

Part-Time Accountant $18.50/hour or $18,500/year at half time

With writers coming and going as they pick up other long-term or higher-paying work, a newsroom in the digital space can easily end up with dozens and even hundreds of year-end tax forms to fill out and deliver to their current and previous writer teams.

You also have to pay your writers on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, adding to the time spent operationally dealing with newsroom finances.

Glassdoor.com places the cost of a part-time accountant at $18.50 per hour or $18,500 per year if they work just 20 hours per week to manage your team’s payroll, end-of-year tax forms, etc.

Ultimately, with this payment, you will add $1.46 to every short form piece of content created regardless of size.

The True Cost of Every 300 Words You Publish

300 words x $.06 per word = $18
300 words x Editor Payment = $5.10
Content Strategist Payment Per Article = $5.52
Accounting Payment Per Article = $1.46

Hiring and training writers will likely cost you an additional $5.10 per article.

Those $18 articles you have requested in real value now costs $35.18

You Can Apply These Same Principles To Content At Scale

If you are a viral news publisher that develops slideshows with 20 slides at 100 words per slide with a 100-word intro your word count jumps from $35.18 to $168.68 per listicle.

Even a long-form piece of aggregated content with 1,000 words will cost you $100.98 in overall operational costs.

Many startup publishers source low-cost writers at $.03 per word. With overhead costs, a 300-word article still incurs a cost of $15.56 without a second editor or any type of revisions being requested, which is unlikely.

The Final Costs Of A Newsroom At Full-Scale

To wrap up our newsroom cost analysis here’s what you’ll pay if you run a newsroom with the right checks and balances required to succeed. Our analysis is based on a Monday to Friday work schedule or 260 work days per year.

Cost of articles based on 1,800 words edited per hour ($.06 per word: $224,640)

Cost of Editor: $64,660

Cost Of Content Strategist: $70,000

Cost of Writer Training (Second Editor): $64,660

Cost Of Part-Time Accountant: $18,500

Base-Cost with no surprises: $442,460

Here’s a visual breakdown:

Producing less content with a smaller team will reduce your overall budget but also increase your cost per article since your editorial and accounting/operation expenses remain static.

The Dangers Of Low-Quality Content In A Changing Digital Landscape

The days of hiring a $5/article writer are quickly coming to an end.

Google’s Fred and RankBrain algorithms recently started examining the quality and context of articles. Poorly written content that has been published without editorial oversight is now being punished en masse.

The team at RevContent, the world’s largest native advertising platform, recently announced a reader-driven feature that allows site visitors to report fake news and other forms of poorly constructed content.

As quality content with proper contextual information becomes not only prominent but required, a real newsroom is needed to ensure your publication stays ahead of the game and out of trouble with Google, Facebook, Native Ad Networks, and other promotional tools.

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