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July 2, 2009

Measuring The Journalism Business (As Opposed To Journalism Itself)

Slate's Jack Shafer tries to take a long historical view of the American news business:

One imperfect measure of newspaper employment during the late-period consolidation of newspapers is the annual newsroom diversity census, produced since 1978 by the American Society of News Editors. From a base line of 43,000 newsroom employees in 1978, the numbers steadily rose to a high of 56,900 in 1990 and hovered at about 55,000 until 2008 when they dropped to 52,600. The 2009 census results of 46,700 newsroom hands indicates a genuine decline, but the loss of newspaper jobs has had more to do with the shrinking of most daily newsrooms than the closure of newspapers.
His conclusion:

The cheap tools and affordable devices the average Joe has at his disposal to produce precision journalism and distribute it around the world are enough to make the reporters of yesterday sob in envy. It's the difference between digging ditches with a spade and excavating a canal with dynamite.

If the downside of the battered-down barriers to entry is less pay and lower status, the potential upside is that a flood of new entrants into the field could portend a journalistic renaissance. No, I'm not saying that every junior blogger and pint-size videographer will immediately stand as tall as Barton Gellman and Errol Morris and that the Washington Post and NBC News should be flushed. But journalism has generally benefited by increases in the number of competitors, the entry of new and once-marginalized players, and the creation of new approaches to cracking stories. Just because the journalism business is going to hell and it may no longer make economic sense to maintain mega-news bureaus at the center of war zones doesn't mean that journalism isn't thriving.
July 2, 2009 6:53 AM | | Comments (0)

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