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.