Although jobs for reporters and correspondents fell 27 percent from 2008 to 2018, the losses were all local as reporting jobs rose 16 percent in the nation’s 10 largest metros. Let’s explore this stunning statistic.
Newspaper employment’s startling decline was cited by my Beacon colleague, Alex Zapesochny, in his discussion of a GateHouse-Gannett merger posted on July 29 : The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that national employment in newspaper publishing fell 64 percent from 2001 to 2018 (and 45 percent from 2008 to 2018).
Information technology has significantly reduced the number of labor hours required to produce a traditional newspaper. Media outlets moving online eliminate all jobs associated with printing and physical distribution.
Newspapers’ financial foundation has also been devastated: Classifieds and local advertising have been displaced by Craigslist, eBay and direct email marketing. Finally, the internet facilitated an explosion in “new media,” news outlets untethered to traditional newspapers, periodicals and television.
Core of journalism is reporting
Yet the beating heart of journalism is neither distribution nor ad sales. It’s reporting.
The chart above captures employment for the newspaper publishing industry, which includes people involved in administration, printing, distribution, information technology as well as people who report and analyze the news. BLS also publishes annual figures on occupations, however. The Occupational Employment Series estimates that the number employed as “reporters and correspondents” (both by newspapers and other industries) fell 27 percent from 2008 to 2018, much less than the 45 percent decline in newspaper publishing as an industry.
Local reporting bears burden of journalism’s transformation
The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill reported in 2018 that one in five newspapers closed in the previous 15 years and that half of the nation’s counties were left with only a single newspaper. Two hundred had none at all. UNC’s report explores other measures of media vitality, including the increasing share of surviving papers that have become shells of themselves, what UNC call’s “ghost” newspapers.
The precipitous decline in local coverage is also captured in the OES metro stats. Outside the nation’s 10 largest metro areas, jobs for reporters and correspondents fell 34 percentbetween 2008 and 2018 while jobs in the top 10 grew 16 percent.
Rochester’s newspaper publishing industry has fallen prey to the same trends. Although the decline is more irregular, total industry employment in 2018 is nearly 80 percent below that of 2008. The OES tells a similar story for the employment of reporters and correspondents: Rochester employment in this occupation fell an estimated 41 percent over the period.
What’s been lost?
Although the OES figures are survey-based estimates and have not been adjusted for changes in metro definitions and rankings, the trend toward what UNC calls the “expanding news desert” has profound consequences for the nation. How many city councils, county legislatures, town councils and village boards conduct business absent the watchful eye of a local reporter? Can reporters clustered in our nation’s largest media markets capture grassroots trends without a network of local journalists upon whom they can rely? What are the consequences of reporters and correspondents moving directly from journalism school to major markets without first serving an apprenticeship in Peoria, Little Rock or Rochester?
Kent Gardner is Rochester Beacon opinion editor.