With income inequality a focus of the current presidential candidates, workers in journalism, advertising and book publishing have anonymously posted salary information on crowdsourced spreadsheets, many of them hoping their efforts will lead to higher pay.
“Having salaries that aren’t transparent only benefits the people at the top,” said Sarah Kobos, a senior photo editor at the consumer products website Wirecutter, which is owned by The New York Times. Ms. Kobos started a spreadsheet for journalists last week.
The document, Real Media Salaries, has more than 1,400 anonymous entries, many listing sex, racial identity and years of experience in addition to salary information. It has given rise to a pair of similar documents in the publishing and advertising industries.
On Tuesday, an Instagram account, Real Agency Salaries, linked to a spreadsheet that has more than 1,000 entries purporting to provide information on compensation in the ad business. The document, which does not identify its creator, states in an echo of the media spreadsheet: “Talking about how much or how little money you make feels taboo, and it shouldn’t.” Its existence was first reported by the trade news site AgencySpy.
Real Agency Salaries suggests there are striking disparities in pay for different demographic groups. A white, male freelance creative director in New York with 28 years of experience reported a salary of $300,000. A Latino man with the same job description in New Jersey and 25 years of experience said he made $95,000.
The third spreadsheet, Transparency in Publishing Salaries, had not caught on in the same way, with 15 entries on Wednesday evening.
People are contributing to the lists during a wave of unionization in digital media, an industry of high valuations and young workers. Last week, employees of Hearst Magazines voted to join the Writers Guild of America East. Earlier, NBC News’s digital staff chose as its bargaining representative the NewsGuild of New York, which represents employees at The Times, The New Yorker and digital properties including BuzzFeed.
Ms. Kobos, the creator of Real Media Salaries, said in an interview that a recent union drive at Wirecutter had helped inspire the spreadsheet. She also acknowledged an antecedent: a 2017 spreadsheet in which media workers published allegations of sexual misconduct against men in the industry. That list, created as the #MeToo movement was expanding, led to investigations that resulted in the departures of prominent journalists.
The advertising industry had its own version last year, Diet Madison Avenue, an anonymous Instagram account that encouraged workers to submit reports of sexual misconduct. The account led to the dismissals of several men from ad agencies, but was eventually deleted and became the target of a defamation lawsuit that remains active.
Crowdsourced data allows for vast amounts of information to be collected — but it is a challenge to fact-check. Jessica Lessin, the founder and editor in chief of the tech website The Information, wrote on Twitter that the spreadsheet for journalists was “not even close to fact.” In an interview, she added that a listing that matched up with someone on her staff was inaccurate.
Similarly, some of the data on the advertising list seems to have been submitted in jest. One entry reported that an employee at the ad agency We Are Unlimited was paid in “White Claw and tears.” A person identified as a senior strategic planner at the VMLY&R agency claimed to have 111 years of work experience.