When Addition Equals Subtraction


"The number of full-time journalists working at daily newspapers continues to fall," reports the American Society of Newspapers Editors, summarizing its annual survey of minority employment at dailies. "Since the economic downturn of 2001, newsrooms have lost a net of more than 2,200 journalists while the number of minority journalists has increased."

Are these numbers correct? The trade publication Editor & Publisher sure thinks so, asserting as fact that "the total number of newsroom professionals has dropped 4% in four years—from 56,393 in 2001 to 54,134 in 2005."

But I think there's a strong reason to be skeptical of this survey, and of those who would pass along its findings as fact. As far as I can tell, it does not take into account the boomlet of new tabloid newspapers.

According to the ASNE. "926 of the 1,413 daily newspapers responded to the survey," and "the data from newspapers that returned the survey are used to project the numbers for nonresponding newspapers in the same circulation range." (Italics mine.) I haven't yet received a list back of which precise titles constitute the 1,413 newspapers, but you can see which ones responded stretching back to 1998, and never on any of those lists will you find a Philadelphia Metro (circulation: 150,000), a Nashville City Paper (65,000), a Dallas Quick (150,000), or (as far as I can tell) any of the scores of new tabs that have been launched in the last five years.

These papers may be unloved within the industry, but they do employ professional journalists. Saying that overall employment at dailies is decreasing, while ignoring the biggest new generator of employment, is a bit like saying TV news networks are shedding jobs while ignoring cable. And continuing to claim that the overall number of U.S. dailies is declining—from 1,472 in 1997, to 1,413 today—is just inaccurate.

In the scheme of things, this is no big deal, beyond the usual cautionary tale of trusting news outlets with math. But I'd suggest that it also falls under the rich category of news-industry professionals confusing the world they have known—fat, monopoly-style dailies—with the more interesting real world around them.

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  1. Don’t the new tabloids typically have tiny staffs? Like a couple dozen instead of hundreds or thousands?

  2. Rhywun — I’d say the average editorial staff size in a big-city tab would be something like 40, maybe a bit less. Smaller ones might have, say, 15.

    It’s hard to track down the precise number of these things, but there are at least 50; probably 12-20 of which are Nashville sized or higher. If we do 20×40, + 30×15 (and yes, I am pulling these numbers out of my arse), then we get 1,250 journalists, or half of the perceived shortfall. I suspect that the number of smaller dailies is actually higher, though some probably have as few as five reporters.

    If there was a true 50-year chart of the actual number of daily newspapers, I think you’d see it plummeting down from 1950-2000, then stabilizing, then beginning to inch upward. By 2008, that inching will be a spike. By 2010, maybe, ASNE will notice.

  3. Tempest in a teapot.

    From the article and pull this quote:

    28th annual newsroom census of the American Society of Newspaper Editors…

    Now not to quibble, but this is one of the first graphs and it DOES state that the numbers are from a “census of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.”

    In other words, it was NOT (as Matt says) just a report on “minority employment at dailies.”

    It’s a census done anually OF AND BY folks who belong to that organization.

    But the report NEVER suggests that it is a comprehensive look at ALL dailies – just the ones whose editors belong to ASNE. In fact, it’s reiterated throught the story.

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that the editors of Philadelphia Metro, Nashville City Paper and Dallas Quick DON’T belong to the ASNE.

  4. madpad — You’re wrong. Here are two quotes from the ASNE’s press release:

    “The survey data are projected to reflect all daily newspapers in the country.”

    note the word “all.” And:

    “The American Society of Newspaper Editors, with about 750 members, is an organization of the main editors of daily newspapers throughout the Americas.”

    If the ASNE had limited the survey to 750 newspapers, then I don’t really think 926 would have responded.

  5. Why are so certain the number of tabloids is increasing? Like most small startup businesses, don’t they tend to fold as quickly as new ones open?

  6. The problem with major dailies is their focus on national and international news. They’re large, unweildy and filled to the brim with junk adverts. There’s actually a decent market for tabloids. Just look at the success of the NY Post or Daily News, or the Philly Daily News. These will of course cover the largest stories, but are predonminatly about local issues.

    In an age where you get major news from literally everywhere, tabloids are the most effective way of getting local information that might actually concern you. The local sports section alone is worth the price of admission. With the cost of printing being fairly cheap, a small tabloid focusing on a specific area actually has a decent chance of success. Not great, but decent.

  7. joe — Because most of the ones that started up (at least that I know about) have remained in business (see recent Editor & Publisher list below); because Phil Anschutz, who publishes the SF and DC Examiners, reserved the trademark “Examiner” in 69 cities; because big newspaper companies like the Tribune Co., the Washington Post Co. & the New York Times Co. have begun launching and/or purchasing new tabloids; and because several people or entities — including Gannett, and the guy who helped launch both the Philly Metro & the DC Examiner — have announced ambitious intentions to start a bunch of these things.

    Here’s an E&P list from March 1, 2005, including launch date and owner.

    Calif. Palo Alto Palo Alto Daily News (5 zones) Knight Ridder 1995

    Riverside The D Belo 2003

    San Francisco The Examiner Clarity Media 2003

    San Mateo San Mateo Daily Journal Bigfoot Media, Inc 2000

    Santa Monica Santa Monica Daily Press David Danforth 2001

    San Diego Today’s Local News Copley Press 2004

    Colo. Aspen Aspen Daily News David Danforth 1978

    Aspen Aspen Times Swift Newspapers 1978

    Boulder Colorado Daily Randy Miller 1972

    Castle Rock Castle Rock Daily Star Richard Bangs 2002

    Denver Denver Daily News Jim Pavelich/Mike Kirschbaum 2001

    Frisco Summitt Daily Swift Newspapers 1989

    Glenwood Springs Glenwood Springs Post Independent* Swift Newspapers 2000

    Grand Junction Free Press John Duffy 2003

    Steamboat Springs Steamboat Today World West 1989

    Telluride Telluride Daily Planet Womack Family 1993

    Vail Vail Daily Swift Newspapers 1981

    D.C. Washington express Washington Post 2003

    Washington The Examiner Clarity Media 2005

    Ill. Chicago Red Streak Hollinger 2002

    Chicago RedEye* Tribune Co. 2002

    Mass. Boston Metro Metro International 2002

    N.H. Berlin Berlin Daily Sun Mark Guerringue/David Danforth 1994

    Conway Conway Daily Sun David Danforth 1989

    Laconia Laconia Daily Sun Ed Engler 2000

    N.Y. New York amNewYork Tribune N.Y. Newspaper Holdings 2003

    New York Metro Metro International 2004

    Pa. Philadelphia Metro Metro International 2000

    Tenn. Nashville Nashville City Paper Brian Brown/Thompson 2000

    Texas Dallas Quick Belo 2003

  8. Of course, they also left out small-town papers. While the circulation of those papers may be small, at least some do employ real journalists.

    Full disclosure: I am a journalist at a small-town paper. While the money and recognition are not on par with the major dailies, I have fun at my job. It’s hard to beat being your own assignment editor.

  9. I’ve been sitting on a BA in Journalism for 5 years. I have sent resumes and clippings to all the local papers, big and small ever since I got my sheepskin. In all that time I have only been able to get a part-time “stringer” job covering town government meetings. For some reason I haven’t been able to get anyone’s attention. The only people I see getting the journalism jobs are the ones who were able to spend the extra two-years in grad-school (so much for college), were able to snag an brown-nosing internship where they learn the fine art of sucking the dick of the editor (both figuratively and literally), or because their daddy plays golf with the paper’s owner.

    Yes, I’m bitter. However, given the piss-poor wages that reporters get, I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps because it’s better work than the glamorous cashier I have right now.

  10. Matt,

    My apologies – I should have read the last graph
    more carefully. I was indeed inaccurate.

    Still, I’d like to see something a little more authoritative about the actual number of daily tabloids out there before I jump on the “damn those conceited ASNE bastards” wagon.

  11. Akira,

    With ya’ there. I was a reporter for 3 years covering local business & politics on a small daily. I was making more than a lot of seasoned folks at the “big local rag.”

    Incidentally, I didn’t have to suck anyone off – literally or figuratively – for the job.

    Nonetheless, the pay still sucked and wasn’t going to get any better so I went into business.

  12. madpad — I don’t think they’re conceited; I just think they’re ignoring a booming new sector of publishing, while passing off their numbers of daily newspapers as authoritative.

  13. It’s not the size of your staff…

  14. Matt,you serious boy you…I was just having a little fun.

    Nonetheless, number 6 makes a good observation. I’m sure the small daily I worked for – which has been in circulation for almost 80 years – was also excluded from the ASNE ranking as well.

    In other words, I don’t think the new tabloids should take it personally nor do I think this type of stuff is anything new.

  15. Akira, dahhling

    Give up on chasing after the crappy pay and limited market of reporting! What can you have, perhaps three or four possible employers in one market, max? Screw that! Succumb to the siren’s song of filthy lucre! After roughly the same career clusterf*ck as your own, I finally sold my soul to the corporate world and became a technical writer. Journalism degrees are embraced here. You can still run “that blog,” or publish “that book” or “that screenplay” on the side.

    Righteous bucks, waaay more potential employers, telecommuting opportunities, no dick-sucking…what’s not to like, dahhlink?

  16. Akira,

    4 years ago and straight out of J-School I was making about 30K as the “Editor & General Manager” of a small-town Mississippi newspaper. You just have to broaden your search and be willing to move to the middle-of-nowhere and all that it entails. (For the record tho, considering the job’s responsibilities, the pay still sucked.)

    On the other hand, while I still work WITH journalists, I no longer work as one. But don’t complain to me, according to you, you’ve got something I don’t have – “a glamorous cashier.”

    I hope she’s not just glamorous, but beautiful!

  17. Rob-Does anyone go directly to the large dailies anymore?
    I think of journalism like baseball-you start in the minor leagues and try to work your way up to the big show. Or the big paycheck, anyway.
    Besides, who the hell wants to write obits and rewrite press releases for years?

  18. “I don’t have – “a glamorous cashier.””

    That was supposed to be “a glamourous cashier position.” This is another likely barrier to a reporting career: Poor proofreading skills.

    We do have some VERY good looking women working here, but sadly they’re already spoken for and I’m as ugly as sin.

    “Give up on chasing after the crappy pay and limited market of reporting!”

    I’ve thought of that. Trouble is, my attempts to find a non-jounralism job has also met with considerable failure. You’d think that a journalism student would make a decent secretery or adminstrative assistant, right? Not when you can hire a high school or tech school grad for less. Most of the businesses I’ve apply for have VERY specific qualifications. Having a general education doesn’t seem to to cut it anymore.

    I’m begining to think that I wasted 7-years and thousands of dollars for an college degree that I either can’t or am not truely qualified to use. No, going back to school is not an option, I’m too busy ringing-up ink cartridges and copy paper. Yeah, I’m being paid a few bucks abobe minimum wage, but I’ve got bills to pay and I need every dime I can get.

    I think after 30-years-old of no-where labor and no prospects I can officially declare my life a failure.

  19. There seems to be a public perception that journalists earn tons of money – especially from the right. I’m not talking NYT op-ed writer or TV talkig head, but what does a vetern journo at a major daily take home? $60k, maybe?

  20. I hear you, Akira. My five years in college were a total waste. The only thing a linguistics degree is good for is more school.

  21. Akira – Way to destroy my fantasy that it’s possible to have a job outside journalism and have a glamorous cashier!

    Number 6 – I think you’re dead-on about the minors vs. the bigs in print journalism.

    Actually, a few years back I was in a DC bar on a weekday afternoon (that turned into a late night of boozing). At said bar, I met a guy who bragged about working for one of the big DC dailies (he was right out of college). He was with his pal who was only too proud to point out that he worked for a Senator.

    But then the truth came out – the “reporter” was the guy who did the obituaries and the “Senator’s executive assistant” was an intern who produced form letter responses to constituents.

    I think that unless you want the gopher/typist job at the big daily paper, you have to start out at the smaller papers. It just seems better to me to be a big fish in a small pond and call your own shots until you can move up to calling the shots in the big pond. (I NEVER wanted to be Jimmy Olsen, I ALWAYS wanted to be Clark Kent. Even Peter Parker’s gig sucked, IMO, because he worked for an abusive idiot.)

    How writing obits prepares you to be a hard news reporter or trains you to become an editor is beyond me.

  22. “Way to destroy my fantasy that it’s possible to have a job outside journalism and have a glamorous cashier!”

    Hoe do you think I feel? This entire thread has me comtemptlating suicide.

  23. “Hoe do you think I feel?”

    ICK! See what I mean? I know damn well that it’s “how,” I just don’t think to check before I hit submit.

  24. I know the feeling, Akira. I just lucked into my job, but now that I’ve got it, I’m working my ass off trying to build a solid clip-book. I actually like what I do, though, and am perfectly content staying for a while. I’m also 30, and have felt like I wasted my degree(Poli Sci/Philosophy). You’ve just got to find the opportunity and move on it when it comes.

    As for typos-don’t worry about it too much. That’s why we have proofreaders.

  25. Akira, don’t feel bad. I didn’t actually get what I consider to be a decent gig until I was 30. And everybody makes tpyos… Heh…

    Seriously, I think that no matter how much money you do or don’t make, the secret is to find a job you like. That way you don’t spend 8 or more waking hours hating your life.

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