Mark Glaser’s dubious silver lining

The statistics on job losses in journalism have not been pretty. According to a study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), the newsroom staff of U.S. papers declined by four percent between 2001 and the end of 2004, with a net loss of 1,000 reporters, 1,000 editors, and 300 photographers and artists. Another study, by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, estimated that between 2000 and 2005 the total number of newsroom professional jobs in American newspapers fell by between 3,500 and 3,800. During 2006, ASNE reported that newsroom professional employment fell by another 600 jobs. Although overall statistics aren’t available yet for 2007, the steady stream of layoff announcements from papers doesn’t bode well.

Looking at media more broadly, the news remains bad. An early 2007 study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that media companies announced 17,809 job cuts in 2006, up sharply from the 9,453 cuts announced in 2005. U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that employment in the publishing and broadcasting business as a whole fell by 13 percent in the six years from 2001 through 2006, with nearly 150,000 jobs lost. During this same period, even the number of Internet publishing and broadcasting jobs dropped by a sharp 29 percent, from 51,500 to 36,600.

Mark Glaser, in a new post on his MediaShift blog, titled “Traditional Journalism Job Cuts Countered by Digital Additions,” contends that, despite the reported statistics, things aren’t really so bad. When I saw Glaser’s headline, I assumed that he had some new data that would provide a counterweight to the mountain of depressing stats showing a steady draining of reporters, editors, and photographers from newsrooms across the country. Alas, he doesn’t. All he offers is a string of cheery anecdotes, mainly about job listings, that add up to little.

Glaser tells us that, “when I heard about job cuts at the New York Times Co. last winter, I took a quick look at the company’s online job listings, and saw a healthy supply of digital jobs still up for grabs.” What, exactly, is “a healthy supply,” and precisely what sorts of jobs were they? He doesn’t say. He continues: “And while Tribune Co. has been in the news for all its devastating cuts to the L.A. Times staff, there’s still a selection of 85 interactive job openings at the parent company, including a handful at the Times.” I followed his link to the Tribune “interactive” listings – there are 86 of them at the moment – but what I discovered was hardly cause for excitement. The 86 jobs were split between business-side posts (ad reps and the like) and digital production jobs, bearing titles like Senior Internet Administrator, Web Developer, Junior User Experience Designer Intern, Fall Interactive/Website Intern, Managing Director of Software Engineering and Development, Database Administrator, Internet Software Development Administrator, and Software Developer, Ruby on Rails. Not one of the openings, so far as I could tell, was for a reporter, an editor, or a photographer.

Just today, Tribune Co. announced, according to the AP, that “its revenue fell 5.9 percent last month on a continuing tailspin in classified advertising sales that resulted in an even steeper decline in its newspaper division.” So anyone counting on an upsurge of employment at the company, whether interactive or not, will probably be disappointed.

The third piece of evidence Glaser offers for “digital additions” is this: “Similarly, the MTV cable networks have had far-reaching cuts and reorganizations, yet there are dozens of digital job openings listed online.” I have no doubt that such listings exist, but in isolation they tell us little. Even when an industry goes through a general decline in employment, jobs are still routinely filled – people not only get laid off but they retire, go to other companies, or switch careers, and to continue operating companies have to fill some of the open slots. Unless you look at the broader dynamics of the job market, generally or within individual companies, seeing a few dozen job listings tells you little. Some media outlets, for example, may well be hiring software programmers as they fire reporters, but while that’s good for coders, it’s hardly a boon for journalists.

Glaser’s post continues in the same vein for many paragraphs, with more surveys of job board listings and anecdotal comments from headhunters and others. Some of his anecdotes are intriguing – he shows, for instance, that there are a few hundred openings for journalists at small-town papers – but he provides no hard evidence to counter the statistics that show a substantial decline in the number of professional journalists employed in the country. There seems little doubt that there will be a relative increase in digital media jobs compared to print media jobs in the years ahead, but as the statistics from the Department of Labor and other organizations show, the general direction in journalism employment, whether online or off, is downward – and strongly so. It takes more than a handful of exceptions to counter a general trend.

8 thoughts on “Mark Glaser’s dubious silver lining

  1. Silas

    I don’t get it. If those papers transitioned to web they should have lower operating costs (ie no truck fleet to distribute the paper, no printing press, no warehouses etc.) even with competition on ads and content? There was an article on Fortune on “Will the Washington Post Survive” and one of the things publishers noticed was that traffic to the site came primarily from outside sources who were just linking to its articles. I take that to mean the print edition of the paper wasn’t doing a good job of weaning their readers to start getting used to the online version? The papers should also stop thinking in terms of delivering content only. They should add other enticements to their online versions. There’s no rule that says you can’t add a social networking aspect to the online paper for example. Whatever it takes to increase the “stickiness”. Besides being a media outfit, they have to start thinking like a tech/software outfit. Because they have the readership, they are already in a good position. Just my humble opinion.

  2. Mark Deuze

    Its crucial to see the gradual “depopulation” of the media industries in the context of two key trends, both facilitated by digital technologies:

    1. outsourcing, offshoring and subcontracting of media work to consumers (under the banner of “citizen journalism” or, for example in advertising, “interactive/viral marketing”), and to constantly shifting regions all over the world (at the moment: newswork to India, film/TV to Mexico and Canada, advertising to China).

    2. the automation and augmentation of media work: think of the decade-long “surge” of special effects and CGI-laden productions in film and TV, the convergence into multimedia newsrooms in journalism and full-service companies in advertising.

    I’m sure there are still tremendous creative opportunities for media professionals out there (and to some extent even resulting from these trends), but let’s not kid ourselves: outsourcing and automation are NOT introduced to make more and better media – but to cut costs, streamline and rationalize production, and save time/money in human resources.

  3. markglaser

    I’ve posted my response to your critique, Nicholas:

    In brief, I think you had the wrong assumption about my article. While the headline said that digital jobs “countered” all the layoffs, I never said that they had made up for the losses. In fact, I still have no idea how to figure out the total number of “reporters, editors and photographers” in newsrooms because no one keeps that stat and includes online journalists or digital jobs. ASNE started counting that this year but there’s no trend line or history to their numbers.

    All the gloomy stats you point to are more generalized and do not count reporters, editors and photographers either. I think you’d like to paint me as the optimist to your pessimist/realist, but I honestly think it’s a more nuanced picture. Yes, there are tons of layoffs, but there are also some digital hires, it’s not as bad in rural areas at small newspapers, and it’s very different in other parts of the world where print and digital jobs are booming.

    If you think I’m missing the bigger picture, please paint it for me with hard numbers that you’ve found — not old Dept. of Labor and ASNE numbers that give general trends in the industry.

  4. Mark Deuze

    Mark, this seems a response that asks others to provide you with evidence to counter claims that you make without any.

    Please allow me to briefly respond:

    “I still have no idea how to figure out the total number of “reporters, editors and photographers” in newsrooms because no one keeps that stat and includes online journalists or digital jobs”

    I would suggest reading the surveys among U.S. journalists by Indiana University-professor David Weaver (note: I am also at IU, but at another department). His most recent report (2002) clearly indicates that the median age of journalists is rising steadily – which indicates that there are hardly any younger newcomers in the profession.

    Evidence from a 2006 report by the International Federation of Journalists additionally shows how almost all jobs of newcomers in the news industry are “atypical”, meaning: contingent, temporary, parttime, freelance, project-based, and otherwise uncertain.

    Research in online journalism also shows how these new newsrooms are generally incredibly small (between 10-30 people, often only 1-5 at smaller organizations), and tend to be staffed by interns, a couple of parttime copywriters, and tech people. If that is good for journalism… I leave that to you.

    Another claim you make: “it’s not as bad in rural areas at small newspapers, and it’s very different in other parts of the world where print and digital jobs are booming.”

    Really? on the basis of what data exactly? The only part of the world where newspapers are doing reasonably well (in terms of readership, that is), is China and to some extent other South-East Asian countries. But there is no indication the companies involved are hiring more people, or do more extensive reporting. Also, in the more affluent countries in that part of the world (South Korea, Singapore, Japan), only TV, internet and multimedia news companies are doing okay – not newspapers.

    You really need to look beyond individual statements makde by PR people and managers to see the pattern or “big picture”: media lay-offs and a restructuring of media work to make the workforce more flexible (thus increasing the precariousness of labor in journalism) go hand-in-hand with investments in new technologies that facilitate convergence and user-generated content.

    Some good research (with “hard” numbers…) has been done on this by people like Catherine McKercher, Gregor Gall, Susan Christopherson and many others (including, if I may, me).

    Doing extensive research on a blogpost is by all means difficult in this fast-paced digital age. But perhaps when you talk about your colleagues, and particularly when you talk about young people entering your own workforce, I think you owe it to them to show just a bit more diligence and professional responsibility.

  5. markglaser


    You’re quite wrong in the way you are framing this. I am not asking others to provide it for me. No one has given me solid data on how many “editors, reporters and photographers” all media companies employ in the U.S., how many of those jobs are digital, and how those numbers have changed recently. You cited a survey of journalists and their median age, and an IFJ report about freelancers and “atypical” journalists. Neither of those gives me an updated census of numbers in newsrooms.

    I’ve seen your site and the info on your book, but I’m surprised that with all your knowledge and data — and pointers to so many people doing this research — that you can’t actually produce the numbers of people in newsrooms today or last year or the year before.

    I stand by the work I’ve done on the subject, and I obviously don’t have the time to do as much research that you or others have done in academic institutions. But simply criticizing me doesn’t take this argument any further. If you have the data, share it.

  6. Mark Deuze

    Mark, I appreciate the response. Let me try to address your concerns as best I can.

    You ask for “the numbers of people in newsrooms today or last year or the year before”, and “solid data on how many “editors, reporters and photographers” all media companies employ in the U.S., how many of those jobs are digital, and how those numbers have changed recently”.

    The best source for that information is David Weaver at the IU School of Journalism – I just asked him for the latest numbers via email and when I have them, will post them immediately.

    Another good source are the Annual Surveys of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduates (conducted since 1988), which are designed to monitor the employment rates and salaries of graduates of journalism and mass communication programs in the United States, including Puerto Rico.

    Let me quote from their website: “Graduates of U.S. journalism and mass communication programs confronted a weakened job market in 2006 and early 2007 […] the journalism and mass communication job market still lags behind what it was in 2000—the year that represents the most favorable market for graduates in the last 20 years.”

    Let me predict this (on the basis of the research of colleagues and my own work):

    – the total number of professionally employed journalists in the U.S. and other similar countries (Holland, Germany, UK, Australia) has eroded slowly (but surely) over the last 5-10 years or so;


    – the number of people employed fulltime with permanent contracts and other types of job security and benefits has however significantly fallen: the International Federation of Journalists reports roughly a third of all jobs in journalism as “atypical”, and especially for newcomers and younger journalists these jobs – contingent, uncertain, precarious – have become the norm for employment in journalism;


    – a small but rapidly growing number of people counted as “employed” in journalism are in fact sharing writing/shooting/editing copy for news publications with work outside of the profession, especially in PR, advertising, and marketing communications.

    So – and forgive me for sounding “academic” for a moment – the numbers you ask for will not tell you much about the changing working conditions in journalism, nor how this indeed affects the quality of reporting.

    Beyond these hard numbers, it is possible to make an educated guess as to what happens when (fulltime, permanent, protected) job lines are cut in “offline” newsrooms (print, broadcast) of normally between 100-500 newsworkers, while new lines (temporary, project-based, contingent) open in online/digital workplaces where on average between 10-30 people work… You can do the math of what this does to overall employment options for journalists.

    Although I am excited about the creative possibilities the digital context offers for a truly multiperspectival, cross-media and participatory journalism (…), I am afraid that all the evidence suggests that all these technological innovations in journalism have been primarily introduced as part of managerial strategies to cut the costs of labor – in other words: to gradually depopulate the profession. Of course there are exceptions. I think its our job to make those the rule.

  7. Mark Deuze

    PS: a follow up…

    This comes from my IU colleague David Weaver:

    “The data you want is in Table 1 on p. 2 of our new book, THE AMERICAN JOURNALIST IN THE 21ST CENTURY (by David Weaver, Randal Beam, Bonnie

    Brownlee, Paul Voakes, and G. Cleveland Wilhoit, and published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates in 2007). This table shows that the overall number of

    fulltime journalists working for mainstream, English-language traditional news media dropped from an estimated 122,015 in 1992 to an estimated 116,148 in 2002. The largest drops were for journalists working for daily newspapers and radio stations. The largest increases were for those working for weekly (or nondaily) newspapers and television.”

    Beyond warmly recommending that book I have to add that David only sampled fulltime employed journalists for the various surveys among U.S. journalists – hence my additional comments earlier.

  8. Nick Carr

    My thanks to Mark Deuze and Mark Glaser for the informative exchange.

    It seems to me that the evidence all points to a steady and ongoing decrease in newsroom employment and that the onus remains on Glaser to come up with hard numbers showing that “digital additions” are indeed countering the loss of traditional journalism jobs (and not just by adding software coders and site designers). The Internet has been an increasingly popular news medium for many years now; if it was creating a boom in digital journalism jobs, you’d think we would have seen some clear evidence of it by now.

    What we do have is Department of Labor statistics showing that total internet media jobs actually declined between 2001 and 2006, a time when readers and advertisers were shifting to online media. Given both the evidence and the lack of evidence, it’s hard to imagine that there’s been some kind of hidden boom in digital jobs that would counter in any meaningful way the erosion of traditional journalism jobs. As for 2007, it’s estimated that another 600 newsroom jobs have been lost during the first half of the year.

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