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!


  1. With response to your Explanation #1

    I agree that with the increase of media and broadcasting demand, journalist are being hired in nontraditional industries but is there negative effects on other-side.

  2. It’s really all about stability and income. Journalists grew fat and protected working for the newspaper monopolies in most markets but the internet opened up journalism to rabid competition, killing off the media monopolies and bringing salaries back to market levels. Now that the large employers are either dead or dying off like the NYT, journalists inhabit a more uncertain and shifting market, particularly since nobody really has a monetization solution and everybody in content is too stupid to use the obvious solution, micropayments. Micropayments will be the linchpin for the golden age of all content on the internet but until they’re deployed, there’s going to be a huge sucking sound as the internet just sucks the costs out. Frankly, I enjoy the tumult as the arrogant and long cosseted newspapers go down one by one, :) so I wouldn’t mind too much if micropayments takes longer. ;)

  3. To the comments by Ajay above saying that “Journalists grew fat and protected” working for Newspaper monopolies.

    I dont know where you get your information, but by and large journalism has NEVER been a high paying profession. There are a few high profile stars who get paid well but the average journalist is underpaid relative to their quality of education and analytical ability. This largely because management works the journalists to the bone and keeps salaries down with a steady inflow of young low paid graduate who will do anything to get published.

    Which is why historically journalist who are well paid are mostly ex journalists who have gotten kids a mortage and moved to PR or marketing in order to pay their bills and feed their kids! You wont find any army of overpaid journalists at a newspaper – even in the three-martini-lunch days journalists were not generally overpaid as a group.

    I understand your viritol againts the newspapers who generated a lot of cash from their local monopolies but that cash wasnt making journalists rich. By and large it was wasted in poor management practises, not in outlandish salaries for the folks who generated to copy.

  4. angry anon says:

    To Sam,

    “I understand your viritol againts the newspapers who generated a lot of cash from their local monopolies but that cash wasnt making journalists rich. By and large it was wasted in poor management practises, not in outlandish salaries for the folks who generated to copy.”

    Insert Car Industry or Steel Industry here and I’ve heard this before…

    The world and technology changed… I feel sorry that “journalists were never real paid well compared to education in english literature and what not” but you know…

    At least you can feel the pain of all those factory workers getting pink slips in the 80s, 90s and 2000s

    Is it a shock that that fancy degree didn’t protect you from economic reality?

  5. Sam, I knew when I wrote that that someone would bring up the old cliche that you don’t become a journalist to get rich. I never said journalism was a high-paying profession, I said it was fat and protected by the media oligopoly they worked for. You think $35-85k was low? Welcome to the new world of the internet, where market competition reigns, how much are they making now? I disagree that the average journalist was underpaid, maybe the best were, but I do believe that when micropayments are deployed, the journalism market will be deeply meritocratic. Then let’s see how much these “average journalists” make on their blogs. My prediction is that most former journalists will get out of journalism, as they won’t be able to handle the competition from random bloggers. If management was truly able to keep salaries down by bringing in “low-paid graduates,” guess what? That phenomenon has now been increased hundredfold, because any one of those people and more can start their own blog and compete. Suffice to say that with micropayments, real journalists of any stripe will soon experience a golden age :) but I suspect that a large majority of current newspaper/radio/TV journalists will not be able to hack it online.

  6. Really great post though the fact that you talk about your business but don’t link to it marks you as an old school journalist!

    • Mike Mandel says:

      Wrong conclusion.

      • Wrong conclusion?

        Which part?

        I read your bio, you’re not web bred, neither am I.

        If you have a more substantial reason to not link to your business when talking about it, I’d be very curious because I’ve just told you how it looks.

        How it really is? I don’t know but not linking appears clueless without a really great reason.

        That’s an observation, not a conclusion.

  7. Or maybe you are web bred. Doubly ungood!

  8. . . .

    Anyone ever wonder why the Bureau of Labour Statistics does not actually uses the word “journalist” ?

    . . .

  9. Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time
    deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.

    The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had to


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