The Evolution of the Journalism Job Market

As I travel around the country talking about the economy and journalism, I usually make two points. First, the next jobs expansion is likely to be driven by a communications boom (see this paper I did for the Progressive Policy Institute). Second, we may be headed into a Golden Age of Journalism, where the combination of the falling cost of communications and the high demand for news just opens up all sorts of possibilities for doing journalism in different ways. (I’ve put my money where my mouth is, starting a new venture, Visible Economy LLC, which does a combination of news and education).

In this post, I want to look at the evolution of the journalism job market over the past three years. Back in September 2009, in a previous incarnation, I did two extended blog posts on the journalism job market (here and here). I used data from the Current Population Survey to conclude back then that “there is no convincing evidence yet of a long-term secular decline in the journalistic occupations” (September 2009).

Now we have nine more months of data, and my conclusion is surprisingly positive.

In terms of jobs, journalistic occupations are outperforming the overall economy. However, many of the journalistic jobs are not being created in conventional journalism industries.

Let’s start by looking at a chart (why not? I love charts, and you should too).

Now that’s a recovery! This chart reports the average number of employed “news analysts, reporters and correspondents” for the prior 12 months (so the number for June 2010 includes July 2009-June 2010). These numbers are based on the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of roughly 60,000 households conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. As part of the survey, respondents are assigned occupations on the basis of the “the kind of work the specified person usually does and on a description of his/her most important activities or duties.” (A direct quote from the CPS interviewing manual)

The occupational category of “news analysts, reporters, and correspondents” includes 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

So in theory this survey is picking up, with a wide range of statistical sampling error, the number of people who work as reporters and correspondents, whether or not that is their actual title.

What we see here is that after taking a sharp dip, the number of news analysts, reporters and correspondents–let’s call them ‘journalists’ for brevity’s sake, has rebounded sharply.

It’s worth comparing the job performance of this occupational group against the overall population, and against the population of college graduates.

Overall the number of employed journalists, based on the CPS, has increased by 19% over the past three year. Meanwhile, the number of employed college graduates has risen by only 3%, and overall employment, as measured by the CPS, has dropped by almost 5%.

How can the number of employed journalists rise, given that employment in the publishing and broadcasting industries has fallen? Over a comparable time period, employment in newspaper publishing has fallen 26%; periodical employment is down 16%; and radio and television broadcasting is down 11%.

Explanation #1: Journalists are being hired in nontraditional industries. Yahoo, for example, hired Jane Sasseen, BW’s very good Washington Bureau chief, to help beef up politics coverage. That job likely shows up in the industry “internet publishing and broadcasting and web search portals”, which has grown by 22% over the past three years. Or take my business, Visible Economy LLC. We’ve hired three young journalists, but it’s tough to say whether these jobs would show up in educational services or in journalism.

Explanation #2: Some of the gain in journalist jobs simply represents an increase in self-employment. True, but as it turns out, the number of the number of “news analysts, reporters, and correspondents” employed by others has risen by 15% over the past three years. That’s not as big as 19%, but it isn’t bad.

Explanation #3: Reporters have done better, jobwise, than editors and production support personnel. Generally speaking, the new technologies allow a delayering of journalistic organizations–fewer editors and production support personnel needed to get out the same amount of content.

Take a look at this chart, which shows the number of people employed in the broad category of ‘editors’.

Unlike reporters, the number of editors is down over the past three years, by about 2%. However, if we add together the two categories (“news analysts, reporters and correspondents” plus “editors”) the total employment gain over three years for “journalistic occupations” is a decent 5%, beating out the overall gain for college grads.

Explanation #4: Maybe the jobs are there, but it’s possible they could be worse-paying, fewer hours etc. There is certainly some truth to this. The median weekly wage for full-time reporters et al fell by 1.5% between 2008 and 2009, according to BLS calculations. Meanwhile, the median weekly earnings for all managers and professionals rose by 1.9%. I don’t yet feel confident to extend the wage analysis to 2010.

All four explanations are true simultaneously, I think: A shift in journalistic employment to nontraditional industries, an increased in the self-employed, a delayering of journalism, and perhaps lower pay.

So…a Golden Age of Journalism…it may not pay as much, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun!

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About Michael Mandel 126 Articles

Michael Mandel was BusinessWeek's chief economist from 1989-2009, where he helped direct the magazine's coverage of the domestic and global economies.

Since joining BusinessWeek in 1989, he has received multiple awards for his work, including being honored as one of the 100 top U.S. business journalists of the 20th century for his coverage of the New Economy. In 2006 Mandel was named "Best Economic Journalist" by the World Leadership Forum.

Mandel is the author of several books, including Rational Exuberance, The Coming Internet Depression, and The High Risk Society.

Mandel holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

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