Are There Really More Journalists Working Online Than in Print?

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The headline on a well-known journalism website – “There are now more Americans working for online-only outlets than newspapers” – seemed to be yet another one of those sign-of-the-times studies showing how print journalism is going the way of the dinosaurs in the brave new digital world.

And someone not reading the accompanying article carefully might get the impression that there are now more journalists working specifically for online-only news websites – the Buzzfeeds and the Huffington Posts of the world – than for newspapers.

But that’s not exactly what the numbers show.

The article was based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which show that as of March 2016, there are 197,800 Americans working in “internet publishing and broadcasting” vs. 183,200 people working for newspapers in the U.S.

Compare that to June of 1990, when there were nearly 458,000 people employed by papers, and just 30,000 in internet publishing and broadcasting. That translates into a nearly 60 percent drop over the last 26 years in the number of people working for papers, which comes as no surprise to those of us who follow these things. The corresponding rise in the number of people working for online-only sites over the same period was also to be expected.

The problem is, this is a case of comparing apples and oranges. As Jay Stuart, an economist with the Division of Current Employment Statistics at the BLS, explained to me in an email, “internet publishing and broadcasting” includes any kind of online-only broadcasting or publishing, regardless of the content. So while it includes news websites, it also encompasses lots (and lots) of others things, including web search portals, such as Yahoo.

The other distinction that needs to be made is the fact that since virtually all newspapers now have websites, many newspaper employees are in fact working, sometimes exclusively, in the digital realm. The BLS statistics don’t distinguish between newspaper staffers working in print vs. online.

Why is this significant, particularly for journalism students aiming for a career in the news business? First, it means there’s a lot of crossover between print and online journalism. Indeed, journalism students entering the labor force today will undoubtedly be working in the digital world, even if they are ostensibly employed in print.

(As Dan Rohn, founder of the journalismjobs.com website, told me recently, “the phrase ‘traditional journalism jobs’ is not really applicable anymore because more media companies are hiring journalists with a strong background in social media. The days of just needing to be a great reporter and writer are long gone. Now journalists need to know how to leverage social media to promote their stories and gain interviews.”)

Also, while it’s true that there are far fewer newspaper jobs now than there were a quarter of a century ago, it’s also true that newspapers remain one of the largest, if not the largest, employer of journalists in the U.S. Interestingly, the number of newspaper staffers (183,200) is about the same as the number of computer network support specialists (184, 570) nationwide, according to the BLS. Yet I haven’t heard many people bemoaning a lack of IT jobs.

Indeed, as I write this, a quick glance at journalismjobs.com shows 362 openings in the newspapers/wire services category, compared to just 122 in digital media.

And while print journalism continues to be a shrinking industry, it’s not as if online-only news websites don’t have problems of their own. Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Mashable all laid off staffers recently. Why? Because both print and online news outlets are searching for a successful business model at a time when digital advertising has in many cases failed to be the revenue generator once predicted.

So with some 1,300 newspapers still being published in the U.S., journalism school graduates still probably have the best chance of finding a job in – you guessed it – print journalism.


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