Fifty percent of journalists plan on leaving the business in 2009, according to a new survey released by PRWeek and PR Newswire.
That is a staggering number – and scary for the future of news gathering and analysis. As Tom Foremski, the former Financial Times reporter, notes at his blog Silicon Valley Watcher: “This is stunning, I can’t imagine any other profession where one-half are the practitioners are seriously considering leaving by the end of this year.”
But is it surprising?
I left journalism in 1999 after more than 10 years as a newspaper reporter at regional publications in Massachusetts. It was a difficult decision. I loved
reporting and writing. I enjoyed the freedom and the atmosphere of intellect and curiosity that infuses most newsrooms. But even back in 1999 it was clear that newspapers were in decline.
My final – and longest – reporting gig was at the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester. At the time, the T&G was the 5th largest newspaper in New England. I joined the north regional staff of the newspaper – a wide coverage swath that included the cities of Fitchburg, Leominster, and Gardner as well as more than a dozen small and rural towns.
When I came on board in 1989 there were six news bureaus and 14 reporters covering the region – already reduced from a high of more than 20 reporters. When I left in 1999, the newspaper had closed two bureaus in the region and reduced the reporting staff to nine. This constriction wasn’t isolated to the T&G, but was happening at newspapers across the country.
That was the primary reason I left journalism. There were few opportunities for advancement – or movement. The second reason was technology. When I left the T&G there was no email communications and the newspaper had just implemented web connections, except they had only one connection per office so any reporter going on the web had to shout out his intention to connect or risk bumping another person off.
The shout of “Going online!” would echo through each office.
My first job after reporting was as a consultant with a public relations agency – The Weber Group in Cambridge (now Weber Shandwick). I received a computer, an email address, a web connection and used Lotus Notes as my desktop application. I think it speaks volumes about the mentality of the newspaper industry that a public relations agency was so far ahead of them in utilizing the latest communications tools.
Newspapers and magazines continue to be achingly slow to embrace new technologies – and this is part of the reason why they find themselves on the verge of extinction.
But even back in 1999, I wasn’t alone in leaving journalism. There has been a steady decline in journalism for more than two decades. Just look at these numbers from the Pew Project for the Excellence in Journalism released in 2008:
- News organizations covering the U.S. Congress dropped from 564 in 1985 to 160 in 2005 – a drop of two-thirds.
- There were 71 news bureaus in Washington D.C. in 1985 and by 2008 there were less than 25.
- There were 46,700 journalism jobs in 2008 compared with 56,900 in 1990.
Journalism has been dying for a long time. But the economic downturn combined with the rise of social media technologies has sped up the inevitable.
So while it might be shocking that 50 percent of journalist are planning to abandon the field in 2009 – it can hardly come as a surprise.