Are There Really No Jobs in Newspapers? Or is That Just A Lot of Bad Press?

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Computer network support specialists. Architectural and engineering managers. Electrical engineers.

Those all sound like pretty good careers, ones with decent employment prospects.

And yet each of those those fields employ roughly the same number of people in the U.S. – around 180,000 – as newspapers.

According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 183,200 people working for newspapers nationwide. That compares to 184,570 computer network support specialists, 179,770 architectural and engineering managers, and 178,580 electrical engineers.

The funny thing is, I haven’t read any depressing articles about how there are no jobs to be had for computer network support specialists, which I’m pretty sure is a fancy way of saying an IT person. And as the father of two college students I certainly haven’t heard any of the parents I know fretting about the lousy job prospects facing a kid majoring in electrical engineering.

Yet just about anything you read these days about careers in the news business consists of a doom-and-gloom scenario in which anyone foolish enough to major in journalism in college is bound to be on the unemployment line after graduation.

Indeed, a website called Careercast.com recently ranked newspaper reporter as one of the worst jobs out there, primarily because of the supposed dearth of openings.

So why does the newspaper business get such a bad rap? In part because of recent history. Over the last 26 years there’s been a nearly 60 percent drop in the number of people working for newspapers (in 1990 there were nearly 458,000 people working in print journalism). Continuing declines in newspaper circulation and ad revenue, coupled with the disruption wrought by the digital media age, have dealt a body blow to the industry.

But I believe another reason so much ink has been spilled over the supposedly grim employment picture in journalism is because it’s journalists who write such stories. It’s not surprising that reporters would spend a lot of time bemoaning what is happening in the profession they experience firsthand.

One only need scan the numbers to find lots of fields that employ far fewer people than newspapers, yet get none of the bad press. Health care jobs, for instance, are often touted as safe bets, career-wise. Yet there are only 157,610 medical and clinical laboratory techs in the U.S., according to the BLS, and a mere 136,060 nurse practitioners. Digital pundits claim the future is online, yet there are only 127,070 web developers.

Chefs and head cooks? 129,370. Human resources managers? 122,780. Dietitians and nutritionists? 59,740, just a third of the number working at newspapers. You get the idea.

Are there fewer jobs in print journalism now than there once were? Absolutely. But then again, the drop cited by the BLS occurred over a quarter of a century. That’s a pretty long time (about a third of the average person’s lifespan), and lots of professions will experience dramatic changes in employment over such a long period.

Going forward, there are reasons to be hopeful about the future of print journalism. After all, digital media pundits have been predicting the demise of newspapers since the dawn of the Internet age, and yet, more than two decades later, there are still roughly 1,300 newspapers publishing in the U.S.

So why haven’t newspapers gone the way of the dinosaurs and eight-track tapes? Because they continue to make money. Even now, most papers still get the majority of their revenue not from digital advertising, which has proven to be something of a disappointment, but from printed display ads.

(Online only news sites, meanwhile, are experiencing problems of their own. Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Mashable all laid off staffers recently. Both print and online news outlets continue to search for a business model that will work in the age of digital media.)

Unfortunately, the negative reporting about newspapers in particular discourages students from pursuing journalism as a career. As a journalism professor I see this all the time.

But I have a remedy. I refer worried students to Journalism jobs.com, one of the most popular media job search sites. As I write this there are 1,441 job openings listed there, and by far the most – 417 – are for newspapers and wire services.

So the next time someone tells you there are no jobs in print journalism, just tell them that’s a lot of bad press.


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