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The Journalism Job Market: Part I, Looking Back


I’m going to give a shot at assessing the state of the journalism job market, based on government data and what I know about the dynamics of labor markets and industries. I’ll need at least two posts, and maybe three. This first post will take the long view, looking back, to see where we’ve been. Then I’ll look at what has happened during the recession. And then, if I’m feeling really brave, I’ll take a look forward.

I’m going to base my analysis on government data, primarily from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS collects information on both industries and occupations. For this post, I’ll focus on industries.

Let me start off with the single most depressing chart.

This is, of course, employment in the newspaper industry. Basically, this is an industry in decline since the beginning of the 1990s.

In terms of job loss, the newspaper industry looks remarkably like manufacturing. Take a look at this chart.

Not good news, by any means.

But the newspaper industry is not the only place where journalists are employed. Here’s the long-run trend of employment in periodicals.

Periodicals are pretty bad, but not quite as appalling as newspapers. Until the crisis hit in September 2008, periodical employment was pretty much holding its own—down after the tech bust, but still running even compared to the first half of the 1990s. That leaves open the possibility that part of the latest decline is cyclical.

In fact, print periodicals look roughly like radio and television, in terms of jobs.

Let me put both industries on the same chart.

This chart suggests that both industries are buffeted by similar combinations of long-term competitive and cyclical pressures.

Now we get into some of the ‘new’ media, which have very different job characteristics. Let’s look at cable and subscription programming:

What’s interesting here is the way that cable employment leveled out since the 1990s boom. A visual medium, not subject to the problems of print—but no job growth.

And now we come to the Internet. The BLS has a category they call “internet publishing and broadcasting and web search portals.” I just call it “Google and Yahoo”. Here’s what it looks like:

Whee! A ski jump! The problem is that the numbers are rising, but slowly—and we still haven’t recovered back to the peak levels. That’s weird and disturbing.

Now, one final industry called “all other information services”. This is a catchall category, which includes “news syndicates” (think Associated Press). It may or may not include all or part of Bloomberg (part of Bloomberg might be under financial services). Be that as it may, here’s what it looks like:

Now there’s some upward movement! In a subsequent post, I will analyze this sector further. Just let it be said for now that someone is hiring out there.

Final thought: It seems clear that newspapers have a very different long-term job pattern than other “journalistic” industries. So let’s compare newspapers with periodicals plus radio plus TV plus cable plus internet plus other information services.

What we have is a wipeout in newspapers, plus what looks like a combination of secular and cyclical declines in other “journalistic” industries.

Important caveats: We are working with blunt tools here. It’s very hard to know exactly what’s in each of the BLS industries. Moreover, these industries may include a combination of technical, production, and journalist jobs, especially in radio, TV, cable, and internet (for newspapers and periodicals, the actual physical printing should be tracked in a separate category if it is done in a different location).

My next post on this subject, in a couple of days, will look at the effects of the downturn in more detail, including occupational data on reporters and editors.


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