Numbers show that newspapers are indeed doing more with less

A chart making the rounds this week showed that annual newspaper advertising revenue has fallen from a high of more than $60 billion around 2000 to about $20 billion in 2011. Stunning, yes.

Put that chart against ASNE's annual survey of newspapers' newsroom employment and you see see something else: Newspapers employ about the same number of journalists as in the late 1970s, and they're paying for them with roughly the same amount of advertising revenue as in the 1950s.

How's that for confirmation that journalists are doing more with less?

The chart posted by University of Michigan professor Mark J. Perry showed that print advertising revenue is at a 60-year-low, just over $20 billion.

Now, some of that decline has been made up with digital ad revenue, which according to Poynter's Rick Edmonds adds about $3 billion to the $21 billion from print.

Newspapers have mitigated declining ad revenue by raising the price of the paper. They used to have about an 80/20 split between advertising and circulation; now that's about 70/30 as papers get a larger share from readers. "Circulation revenues are as high as they ever were," Edmonds told me. So add another $10 billion in circulation revenue to ad revenue, and the industry takes in about $34 billion annually.

On the employment side, ASNE counted 41,600 people employed in newspaper editorial operations in 2010. That's a bit lower than it was when ASNE started tracking employment in 1978, when newsrooms employed 43,000.

Technological advances, of course, are one reason newsrooms can have 1970s-level employment with 1950s-level revenue. Other than the phone and the notepad (anyone still use those?), the toolbox of the modern journalist is a lot different than it was in the post-Watergate era of newspapering.

And then there are the demands: a news cycle measured in minutes; a proliferation of publishing platforms, including blogs and social media; and the time spent promoting one's work and responding to readers.

And yet reporters aren't the ones who have seen the most change. That would be the folks who work while they're asleep, running the presses, inserting ads and hauling the bundles around.

The decline in newspaper editorial employment, however, doesn't signal an overall decrease in journalism-related employment. In 2010, Michael Mandel used Bureau of Labor Statistics figures to show that the number of “news analysts, reporters, and correspondents” had rebounded after dropping.

I think his conclusions are still relevant:

  • The hiring is happening in nontraditional industries.
  • More journalists are self-employed.
  • Strong employment figures don't mean that these people aren't being asked to work longer or accept lower pay.

Related: Ken Doctor poses some questions publishers should consider as they try to shift their business from print to digital (Newsonomics)

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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