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!

Engineers, no. Scientists, yes.

Short answer: Since the first half of 2007, the number of employed engineers is down 12%, while the number of employed scientists is up 3%.  Perhaps a sign that we are keeping the R in R&D, while losing the D. A decline in the number of engineers is *not* a good thing.

Long answer: I just updated my analysis of engineering and science jobs during the recession. Using data from the  Current Population Survey, I calculated the number of employed engineers in the first half of 2010, and compared it to the first halves of 2009, 2008, and 2007. I did the same thing for scientists. The results are, as we say, illuminating. Here are the charts.

Important caveat:  Because this data is drawn off a survey,  it bounces around quite a bit. So small changes are likely not statistically significant. Still the patterns look clear.

The Coming Communications Boom

Here’s a link to a memo that I just wrote for the Progressive Policy Institute, entitled 

The Coming Communications Boom? Jobs, Innovation and Countercyclical Regulatory Policy

I’m going to be writing more on countercyclical regulatory policy.

Added: Here’s a podcast from an interview I did.

Is the Stimulus Large or Small?

I’m going to show you a stimulus chart that surprised me. It’s chart #2, a bit down the page.

One important path for economic stimulus is the direct government contribution to personal income–that is, compensation of government workers plus government benefit payments to individuals. 

Chart #1:  The direct government share of personal income is at 29.3%,  the highest level in recent history (a thanks to Amity Shlaes, who asked me a question and got me thinking about this again). That’s based on the three months ending May 2010.  

(Personal income, as calculated by the BEA, subtracts out payroll tax payments. I add them back in again)

Chart #2:  The direct government contribution to personal income, adjusted for inflation, has increased only 16%  in the 2 1/2 years since the beginning of the recession. I was surprised!  Direct government contribution to personal income has not increased very much at all, despite the financial crisis. By comparison, the gain in the previous two mild recessions was about 14%.


Chart #3. The private sector contribution to personal income has plunged roughly 8%, in real terms, since the recession began. That’s how we reconcile charts 1 and 2.

Real Estate After Ten Years

We’ve just had the biggest boom and bust in real history in recent history.  Nevertheless, real estate has still greatly outperformed the stock market over the past ten years.

The bust was not enough to wipe out the early gains. That’s just interesting.

On Innovation, Jobs, and the Coming Communications Boom

I will be speaking next Tuesday on Capitol Hill on “The Coming Communication Boom? Jobs, Innovation and Countercyclical Regulator Policy.” This comes off a policy memo I did for the Progressive Policy Institute on an alternative to fiscal stimulus in today;s economy.

Innovation television show

A bit ago I taped a PBS show on the innovation shortfall–part of  a thoughtful series called Ideas in Action with James Glassman. It’s airing this week, and you can see it here.