The Journalism Job Market: Part II, Downturn

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 This is unpublished data from the CPS—that is, “don’t try this at home kids.”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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