The Vanishing Journalist — Only One Million Left?
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The Vanishing Journalist — Only One Million Left?

Many cries have been raised that traditional journalism is in a death spiral and the golden age of PR and in-house communications has begun.

Holmes Report

Probably one of the most liberal yet confrontational journalists of our times, Christopher Hitchens once famously said, “I became a journalist because I did not wish to rely on newspapers for information.”

The profession of Journalism today is under siege on most fronts, with declining circulations, a shrinking number of publications (even the emblematic Financial Times Deutschland closed shutters last year) and the full frontal assault by the advent of social media – which transforms every lay person into a publisher of content and thereby effective competition for journalists.

Many cries have been raised that traditional journalism is in a death spiral and the golden age of PR and In-house communications has begun. A few months back, I invited a dozen journalists in the UK (many of whom I had not been in touch with for several months) to a gala dinner event we had a table in. Four of them came back saying that they had just changed jobs and were now working in PR or public affairs firms.

Another two had joined companies as in-house communications directors. Two more had bounced emails and were untraceable. Fortunately four of them were yet in their previous roles; although two of them wrote back saying they were just too flooded with increased workloads and couldn’t make it.

A freak case or is there a wholesale trend of Journalists moving across the fence to the greener grass of public relations? Let’s look at the numbers. The truth always lies in the numbers. 

In his tell-all book (Flat Earth News) on the state of the Industry, Nick Davies chronicled in-depth the growing shortages in staff at major publications, resulting in even the most respected publications in the UK generating only 12% original content and relying on wires for the remaining 88%. 

Across the pond, correspondingly, in their book The Death and Life of American Journalism, Robert McChesney and John Nichols used data from the US Bureau of Labor to track the comparative ratio between journalism and PR from 1980 to 2008.

They discovered that, in 1980, there were 1.25 PR professionals per journalist in the country. By 2008, there had been a major jump in PR jobs and a relative decline in journalists. This skewed the ratio to 3.6 PR professionals per journalist.

In the UK, the Office of National Statistics estimates the number of journalists at around 65,000 and PR professionals at 38,000 (as of August 2012), revealing a much more favorable ratio (than the US) of 1.7 journalists for every PR professional. However there is a trend favoring PR, since in 2001 there were 59,000 journalists and 27,000 PR professionals (a ratio of 2.2 journalists per PR professional, which has since declined). 

Even in emerging markets such as India, the business chamber ASSOCHAM estimated that there were 40,000 PR professionals as compared to the 16,000 journalists reported by UNESCO (2.5 PR pros per journalist), and that the PR industry is growing at a scorching 30% annually, outpacing growth in media.

Securing worldwide figures is almost a task in futility. The best source for determining the number of journalists worldwide is the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, which holds slightly dated information from 2005-06. For the 70 countries that reported journalist numbers (out of 222 tracked by the UN) there was an approximate total of 441,000 journalists worldwide.

If the median value of 175.67 journalists per million population is extrapolated for the global population of 7 billion, we would end up with 1.2m journalists worldwide. Given that in most major countries the ratio of PR professionals averages about 40 per 100,000 population (the UK is higher at 61 and the US at 90), that would imply approximately 2.8m PR and communications professionals worldwide.

This results in a bottom line of 2.33 PR and communications professionals per journalist across the globe.

The Holmes Report, in its World PR Report 2013, stated that the global PR industry grew at 8% to cross the US$11bn mark in revenues. Conversely, an OECD report entitled 'The Future of the News & Internet' declared that 20 out of 30 OECD countries were seeing declining newspaper readerships and the global news industry, that was growing at 3-4% till 2007, flattened out in 2008 and has seen declines of 5% annually since.

Ultimately demand and economics will decide, but if the patterns continue, certainly the vanishing breed of journalists will come down below the 1 million mark in the coming years, many reinventing themselves as PR gurus instead. That is until the new Chistopher Hitchens of Generation Z arrives and jump into the news business, because, to paraphrase, “they do not wish to rely on just Twitter and Facebook for real information.”

Abhinav Kumar is chief communications & marketing officer at Tata Consultancy Services Europe.

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