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The Journalism Job Market: Part II, Downturn

Posted by: Michael Mandel on September 24

Warning: I’m going to violate all the canons of journalism by putting my conclusions at the end.

In my first post on the journalism job market, I broke down journalistic employment by industry. In response, Jeff Jarvis quite correctly wondered “Is journalism an industry?”

Perhaps not—but journalism certainly is an occupation. So rather than relying on industry employment data, we can ask a simpler question (and one that might please Jeff): How many Americans call themselves journalists?

This question actually turns out to have an answer (surprise!) Each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau conduct a survey of roughly 60,000 households (this is called the Current Population Survey, or CPS for short). As part of a length list of questions, respondents are asked to identify themselves by occupation.

Since 2003, one available occupational category is “news analysts, reporters, and correspondents.” This category is supposed to include people who

—Collect and analyze facts about newsworthy events by interview, investigation, or observation. Report and write stories for newspaper, news magazine, radio, or television.

—Analyze, interpret, and broadcast news received from various sources

I thought about calling this category NARCs, but that didn’t sound right. So let’s call them journalists (leaving aside editors for the moment). This category explicitly includes self-employed journalists who state that they are working, though there’s no requirement that you actually be earning any money. In other words, we are really recording people who self-identify as employed or self-employed journalists.

So what does this data show? Well, first some caveats. This is unpublished data from the CPS—that is, “don’t try this at home kids.” I’ve got a PhD in economics, and I’ve put a lot of hours into this post to make sure my presentation is sound.

Second, the survey is conducted monthly, but the sample size is too small for the journalist numbers to be reliable. So to get a more reliable number, I averaged over 12 months at a time.

My first comparison: The pre-crisis year Sept 07-Aug 08 versus the post-crisis year of Sept 08-Aug 09.


Uh, oh. Based on this particular slice of the data, the number of workers who identified themselves as “news analysts, reporters and correspondents” dropped by 18K, or roughly 19%, over the course of one year.

To see a relevant comparison, let’s look at public relations managers and specialists over the same period.


That is, the number of workers who self-identify as “public relations managers and specialists” rose by 20K, or roughly 11%, after the crisis. (Is it a coincidence that the increase in public relations employment is roughly equal to the decline in the number of people who call themselves journalists? Who knows?)

Okay. Now that I’ve convinced you of the bad news, let me spin your head around. Take a step back and look at the past six years of data on journalists.


All of a sudden, the situation no longer looks so dire. A steep cyclical decline, for sure, but there appears to be no downward long-term trend in the numbers. In fact, fitting a linear trend line gives a slight uptrend, though nothing you can take to the bank.

Now let’s look at the occupational category of ‘editors.’ Those are defined as people who

Perform variety of editorial duties, such as laying out, indexing, and revising content of written materials, in preparation for final publication. Include technical editors.

So this include news editors, book editors, and any other kind of editors. Take a look at the long-run chart


Once again, we have a cyclical decline over the past couple of years, combined with a slight long-term uptrend.

Here’s how I would put it. Post-crisis, we’ve seen a sharp cyclical decline in the number of people who identify their occupation as journalists and editors. However, there is no convincing evidence yet of a long-term secular decline in the journalistic occupations.

This conclusion is consistent with my earlier post, which showed a pre-crisis flat trend in employment in journalistic industries, outside of newspapers.

Now, this says nothing about pay. Nor can we rule out the possibility that we’ve permanently shifted down to a lower employment level in journalism, post-crisis. But there is no compelling sign of a long-term decline, pre-crisis.

In my next post (which may not come for a couple of weeks), I’ll examine the future of journalism employment.

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Reader Comments


September 24, 2009 03:34 PM

Eh, you're just playing around with mostly meaningless data. The actual way to figure this out would be to talk to various online ad agencies about who their blogger clients are and try to get an estimate on the revenue numbers and number of bloggers that way. Since that requires actual work, nobody does it and just relies on a mostly meaningless survey of an extremely small sample done by the govt. In fact, there is no doubt that traditional journalistic jobs are declining and that's a good thing, because from that pain will come the impetus to try new business models and unlock the online content monetization puzzle. Of course, I've mentioned the solution here many times, micropayments, but the more content jobs are lost and the more pain the profession suffers, the more likely they are to actually to try different models, so this is actually a good thing. It's essentially the market punishing journalists for their economic illiteracy and how can that be a bad thing? :)


September 24, 2009 04:50 PM

I agree. Your data are worthless.


September 24, 2009 05:17 PM

Interesting numbers. Having worked on Jarvis's New Business Models for News Project for a couple of months -- as a journalist interviewing other journalists (several charlatans included) -- I would say that the term is used too loosely. Journalism by my standards is and should remain an occupation. But even the definition of occupation has been so blurred over the past few years that it's become difficult and often futile to declare someone who works outside of that field as a "non-journalist" if say, they do occasional citizen reporting in their community or contribute to a blog about women's tennis shoes.

But I think everyone agrees that there is less money to be made in the field of journalism/media as a whole and there will be less money in the new ecosystem for news.

Whether or not that will benefit the culture and integrity of what we call journalism going forward... only the next generation of economists and media gurus might be able to say for sure.

Jeff Jarvis

September 24, 2009 07:16 PM

Thanks for the shoutout but I'll bite the hand that pats my back with a few more challenges from the small economy:

* In our New Business Models for News Project at CUNY (, we projected an ecosystem made up of an equivalent number of people doing journalism pre- and post-newspaper-collapse but this work was divvied up from one company (the newsroom) to well more than 100 entities (many entrepreneurial). I think that work won't be measured by the sources you use.

* There is also the tremendous and unmeasured value of volunteerism. I've reported on my blog that Wikipedia calculated the value of just editing and found it amounted to "hundreds of millions of dollars a year." This, too, won't come up in employment stats.

So the amount of journalistic work can increase - thanks to an increase in efficiency (those entrepreneurs are all reporting, not hooking graphs and doing production) and volunteerism. Greater journalistic value is created. But where and how do you measure it?

H. Barca

September 24, 2009 11:59 PM

Jeff Jarvis would also have you believe that everyone who flips a burger at McDonalds when the timer rings is a chef.


September 25, 2009 10:42 AM


"It's essentially the market punishing journalists for their economic illiteracy and how can that be a bad thing?"

It depends what you consider to be good. If your ultimate goal is to see human beings do what is "smart" or what maximizes human capacity, then you're right.
On the other hand, if your concern is for the happiness of individual people, then this falls less into the category of "good" and more in the category of "necessary evil".


September 25, 2009 01:46 PM

CompEng, That is precisely the thinking behind the bailouts today, that temporary happiness is more important than change taking place for longer-term well-being. This downturn is nothing more than the market signaling that too many people were working in finance and construction and that they need to find something else to do. Similarly, better for journalists to be taught this lesson that their economic illilteracy has a giant price: when the tech underlying their industry changes, they're completely clueless about finding a new business model because of their economic ignorance. Of course, it's not only them, the techies could come in and build a new model but they're almost as economically ignorant. Should I care if a bunch of overpaid whiners are now paying the price for their long history of economic illiteracy, particularly when the amount of journalistic work will soon explode once micropayments are deployed? To the contrary, I relish their discomfort :) and I look forward to the day soon when this same process repeats for teachers and the medical crowd, hell, I'll try to get that day here as fast as I can. :D


September 25, 2009 02:49 PM


I don't disagree that things have to change. To the extent that people's discomfort comprises from their unwillingness to change, or unhappiness that their sense of entitlement has been punctured, I totally agree with you. If a person's people sense of self-worth derives from an illusory sense of his or her capacity, then it doesn't bother me to see that person educated.

On the other hand, if someone has spent 20 years as a journalist, and a good one, only to find that another musical chair has been pulled, I can accept that but take no joy in it. If that same person suffers financial hardship because it takes cash and time to retrain, and they always thought they were good enough to beat out the competition and stay in the game: that's just the way it goes. But that person does have my sympathy. And if that person is force to leave the game for a few years, only to get back in when things change, that feels a little wasteful, even if it can no longer be avoided.

I agree with you that teachers and the medical crowd will see that same thing occur, and it will be good to see the changes on the macro level, but with the same caveats: some people will undergo real suffering and not just minor discomfort because they bought into a false sense of the economy.

Here, I think we see the same reality, but through much different perspectives. It might be different if people lived forever and actually had a chance to learn from all their mistakes, but the span of our lives isn't really that long a term. Should you care? That's really up to you.

Amy Vernon

September 25, 2009 03:55 PM

What makes this data somewhat meaningless is that it combines employed by others and self-employed. If you separated them out, I think you'd find that the "employed by others" had declined precipitously and the "self-employed" had increased greatly. And the difference there is that many people saying they're self-employed journalists or editors or PR managers may not even have a client. They're just trying to make a go of it freelancing because they've lost their job.


September 25, 2009 03:58 PM

CompEng, first off, it's not real suffering, that's what the poor in Bangladesh or Zaire go through. Second, whatever problems they go through are a direct consequence of their own ignorance. How hard would it be for them to start a blog and set up subscriptions through Paypal? You don't need micropayments to make money online, they just make it much easier. Journalists have long worked for newspapers that were often shielded from market forces because many towns were one-paper towns, because of the idiotic and overblown economies of scale arguments I've referred to before. Papers were considered some of the most profitable businesses for decades as a result and journalists benefited from that. Now technology has changed and all that is gone, time they experienced a real market rather than the fantasy world they've long inhabited, which no doubt allowed them the luxury of their leftist delusions. It's satisfying to see these economic illiterates have to finally face up to economic reality, I love it. :)

As for your claim that's it's wasteful for them to be unemployed till the economic model is worked out, I claim it was much more harmful that they were allowed to feed their leftist delusions for so long while being shielded from a real market. This is merely a needed reeducation: welcome to the real world, where new technology can swing in and completely change your market. In fact, many old-line journalists will not be able to hack it at all in the new online market, which will be rabidly competitive. A perfect example is the editorial writers, complete dimwits like Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, or much of the WSJ editorial board. They currently exist merely to write polite nothings that resonate with some segment of the brainless or partisan masses, there will be little demand for that online. Similarly, there are many "journalists" who only worked for papers because they were able to pull wires politically and weren't really getting much done, they're goners online. So far, I see no disadvantages to this transition period between the old model and the new micropayments-driven online model that's coming. If anything, it forces some soul-searching that's long overdue and the hacks will thankfully not make the transition online.


September 25, 2009 04:44 PM

Those folks dressed as pimp and prostitute, who went into ACORN with a video camera, call themselves "journalists."

When asked what I do, I don't know what to say anymore. "Dog walker" sounds better than "journalist."

("Reporter" is better than "journalist" any day. Took me until recently to figure that one out.)


September 25, 2009 04:55 PM


"CompEng, first off, it's not real suffering, that's what the poor in Bangladesh or Zaire go through."
I suppose it's all relative. Not having experienced those things, my gauges for pain and sympathy are calibrated differently.

You're spend a lot of time projecting specific judgments against generic hypothetical journalists. Do you think it is only liberal journalists spouting nonsense that are leaving the profession? My assumption is that fact-finders are the first to go: opinions seem to be selling well. Sure, there are a lot of hypocrites out there that I would have much less sympathy for, but the hacks are doing well. People love to have their beliefs spouted back at them. Journalism as a means of education about the world is what is losing relative popularity.

"As for your claim that's it's wasteful for them to be unemployed till the economic model is worked out, I claim it was much more harmful that they were allowed to feed their leftist delusions for so long while being shielded from a real market."
That's a pretty broad brush you're painting with. Certainly in some cases you are spot on. But assume it was Mark Perry on the street somehow... would you feel the same way?


September 25, 2009 05:31 PM

CompEng, regardless of how your gauge is calibrated, I don't see how you can generate much sympathy for middle- to upper middle-class professionals who are finally paying the price for decades of stupidity. As I noted, I enjoy their comeuppance. :) Journalism has been a mostly leftist profession but the ones who are less economically illiterate are doing better: the WSJ and Economist still make good money while leftist rags like the NYT flounder, I don't think that's a coincidence. I don't know precisely who's getting cut at the papers now but I'd presume the opposite, as opinion is rampant on the blogs of the internet while fact-finding is still a competitive advantage for the traditional newspaper business model. Who're the hacks who're doing well? Most likely it's the hacks who're getting cut first in these rounds of layoffs, assuming the papers have any idea what they're doing.

Actually, journalism is not losing popularity at all, plenty of people read the news online, perhaps more than ever, all that's going down are revenues and jobs because online ads are worthless. One could argue there's a lot of wasteful duplication that's being trimmed, as most papers simply reprinted mostly AP and reuters articles for a long time, until the new micropayments model comes along and monetizes a bunch of new content. As for the possibility of Mark Perry on the street, he's not a good example as he's a college professor who blogs for free. But regardless of the political persuasion of the journalist, the punishment of the market is non-ideological and just. If you are so economically illiterate that you can't figure out a way to make money when there are so many tools online, you deserve the downtime until somebody somewhere builds the model for you, regardless of whether you're a leftist or not. However, the fact that it's a mostly leftist profession explains why they're completely incapable of coming up with such business models and why they deserve the resulting pain.


September 25, 2009 05:56 PM


I'll leave most of this for now. However, I want to add that while on-line journalism is becoming more popular, more and more of it seems to be just titillating garbage. But then, if 90% of everything is crap, maybe that just proves your point?

It just seems to me that the big organizations have some sense of what sells, and most of it doesn't pass for news in my book. It naturally follows that whatever sells (and is cheap to provide: actual investigation is expensive) is what the newspapers will keep. The conservative and leftist talking heads will both be around for quite a while: they do sell.


September 25, 2009 07:02 PM

Well, most online journalism is just paper journalism put online, you're referring to the new sites like TMZ or whatever. Those gossip sites are easily explained by the economics of ads, suffice to say micropayments will pay for much better content, just as newspaper subs did in the past. Big organizations had some sense of what sold but they were intrinsically limited by their technology, paper or radio or TV, all broadcast. You had to go for a mass audience on broadcast media, whereas on the internet you'll see a giant sea of niches. Actual investigation is likely to do much better online as it can be directly paid for by those who want it, rather than having to be subsidized in traditional newspapers by the more popular stuff. It doesn't much matter what newspapers keep or toss as they won't survive the transition online, they're too used to the old broadcast model to understand and adapt to the new niche-oriented online model. However, new blogs and content filtering-sites will spring up online and provide plenty of news, all monetized by micropayments. As for partisan talking heads, I made the point previously that they will lose much of their audience, but obviously some of them will survive to some degree. It's not that everything that newspapers do is completely useless, it's that much of what they focus on now will diminish greatly in the new online market, while quality will be rewarded much more online.

David Cay Johnston

September 26, 2009 10:32 AM

Interesting idea, Michael, and ignore the narrow-minded criticisms above and keep thinking outside the box. (Among other things, while bloggers are not, in most cases, journalists or at least not reporters who check and crosscheck facts.)

That people who describe themselves as being in PR grow while the number of journalists shrinks should concern anyone who cares about how much manufactured "news" fills our minds.

Would you add here the data points for those averages in the graphics? A number in the chart or a response in comments would do it.

I and others will no doubt cite this piece if it has specific numbers that can be used in text, with appropriate caveats about your innovative use of official data.

bob stepno

September 26, 2009 10:05 PM

About the journalists-down/PR-up stats... I wonder how many out-of-work former reporters and editors print up business cards that say "public relations." That's what I did once. I even made a logo with my initials: "B.S. P.R. ... but not the usual P.R. BS."

Mike Mandel

September 26, 2009 11:40 PM


You write:

>but this work was divvied up from one company (the newsroom) to well more than 100 entities (many entrepreneurial). I think that work won't be measured by the sources you use.

Actually, because this is a survey of individuals rather than companies, it should pick up anyone who calls themselves a "news analyst, reporter, or correspondent", whether they work for a large or tiny company.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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