April 29, 2016 Last Updated 11:48 am

Digital publishing news jobs now outnumber those in the newspaper business, BLS reports

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports don’t provide a very exact picture of the print and digital media employment picture – nonetheless, the trend lines are hard to miss

The owner of one of the publishing companies I used to work for is now rolling in his grave. For many years I tried as best I could to convince this elderly publishing veteran that the Internet really wasn’t going away. But more importantly, I tried to convince him that one day soon there would be more publishing people working online than in print.

That point in time when digital jobs outnumbered print in the news business probably came long ago, but would have been hard to pinpoint. The reason is that most print news pros today already work in the digital space, they just do both. But there is the other complication when considering the statistics, that of magazines – add magazine jobs to newspapers and the industry appears quite a bit larger. Of course, most magazine pros today consider themselves in the digital media business, just like their newspaper counterparts.

Nonetheless, Bloomberg reported this week that looking at the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics one can see that we’ve crossed a point in time now when the number of those being identified as working in the newspaper business now has fallen below the number that are identified as working in Internet publishing.

The BLS numbers need to be seen with a bit of a skeptical eye as the agency describes the category the we might describe as digital media as “Internet publishing and broadcasting and web search portals” – not exactly a perfect comparison to that of the newspaper business. But then again, there is so much crossover and multitasking going on these days it would be hard to make a direct comparison.


Bloomberg’s chart is nicer than the one above, by the way, and goes back a bit further, but I think this tells the tale.

What you don’t really see in the chart above is what exactly happened to the newspaper industry, and when.

Jobs in newspapering grew in the eighties, but began to dip slightly during the recession that cost the first George Bush his office. The eighties had been an amazing time for newspapers, and much of it was driven by classified advertising.

In California, where I worked, the computer industry drove a tremendous amount of hiring, and the recruitment of those professionals drove a lot of classified advertising. The hiring drove car and home sales, two other great categories for classifieds.

The first dip in newspaper staffing levels occurred right around the time of the first Gulf War. Things had been booming but a bit of a bust was coming. My last job at a daily metro newspaper was right around this time, then I moved to McGraw-Hill.

While the nation as a whole prospered in the nineties, newspaper hiring stabilized and eventually began to fall.

The common wisdom is that the Internet killed newspapers. I’ve never bought into that because my own experience was that newspapers were struggling to compete with the competition that grew up in the nineties – direct and marriage mail, shoppers and the like – and so the Internet only seemed to b the better version of what was already hurting the newspaper industry in the early to mid-nineties.

Secondly, as I already said above, there is no reason why a newspaper professional couldn’t also be a digital media professional. The problem is that newspapers first saw the web as no threat and arrogantly refused to master its differences.* Even today, more digital sales professionals, I believe, are laid off by newspaper and magazine companies than are by the digital natives – though the print industry gets great pleasure out of reporting whenever BuzzFeed, Mashable or Al Jazeera are reported to be cutting staff. What you rarely hear, but I do, are those times when a major print publisher recruits a digital media professional because they recognize the need to improve their digital chops, then lays off that same person in the next round of cutbacks because it is always cheaper to get rid of the less veteran staffer than it is the one that has been on staff for decades. As one digital pro told me, his magazine told him that the print sales people would pick up his accounts though they have never before sold those decision makers or digital-only agencies in the past. He really had his doubts that any of the revenue would be retained.

* I think this explains why so many print publishing executives are so open to outsourcing their web and app development. It used to be a source of pride that a newspaper company was a self-contained unit containing both its production and distribution capabilities, but digital media is somehow seen as different.

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