Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Being a journalist and being rich has little to no connection

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I’ve been pondering something. The connection or correlation between how prestigious a publication is and how much that publication pays. When I first had the idea for this blog post, I had an alternate title:

“The Correlation Between a Publication’s Prestige and How Much It Pays”.

Journalists often develop an understanding of where publications stand in the hierarchy of prestige. That hierarchy may have individual quirks, dependent on your beat, but there will be some commonly held tacit acknowledgements.

That, for example, The New York Times is right up there, significantly above USA Today — even though USA Today has a higher circulation — and that “The Gray Lady”, on an international level at least, probably sits above The Wall Street Journal in terms of byline prestige.

Magazines such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue and Esquire are many writers’ dream destinations in which to be published. They form the Royalty.

Next come the venerable Dukes of Journalism: The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, The Times (of London). Adjacent to these are The International Names of Standing — The BBC,, Al Jazeera, The EconomistTime. 

And there are now digital titans who, like Knight errants, have a glamour of their own: VICE; BuzzFeed, disrupting things.  

And yet, often, when I tell people about some of the publications I’ve been published in, they expect an amount of money I should have been paid commensurate to that publication’s prestige.

When I tell them the amount that I am actually paid, they are shocked.

And appalled.

So why do it?

Satisfaction, of course. It’s great to write and to think about writing. And the thought, which comes up much less frequently than might be expected, that I am reaching thousands of people is nice.

But there comes a point when you realize that doing this kind of job may not ever lead you to the riches that you dreamed for yourself in your younger days.

But that’s fine.


I am not destitute and unfortunate. Not by a long ways. And as I am writing this, it’s a glorious day in Beijing, where a cool breeze blows amid blue skies that I will soon enjoy.

But I think too many people get stuck on worrying about money and not anticipating the freedom and joy that comes from making choices based on your own priorities rather than that of other people’s or society’s.

By all means, chase that which is important to you. But never forget to enjoy the moments, the rewards strung along the way.


Related: Money or rather the lack of it when you’re trying to freelance

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