Job Growth In Digital Journalism Is Bigger Than Anyone Knows

  @christopherzarac.zara@ibtimes.com on October 02 2012 3:42 PM
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A new report from Ad Age shows that Internet media is now the second-most dominant sector in the media industry, behind only newspapers in terms of employment. Reuters

You don’t need a Ph.D. in statistics to notice that the landscape of American media is changing, but employment numbers from the U.S. Labor Bureau show just how rapidly old media is being replaced by Internet media.  

And the job numbers themselves don’t even tell the whole story.  

On Monday, Ad Age posted employment figures from the last five years, covering various sectors of the media industry. The numbers, compiled by Ad Age’s DataCenter, show that Internet media is now the second-most dominant sector in the media industry, behind only newspapers in terms of employment.

According to Ad Age, the United States had 117,100 Internet-media jobs in July 2012, compared to just 76,800 in December 2007. During that same period, old-media sectors -- including newspapers, magazines, radio, broadcast TV and cable TV -- saw double-digit declines across the board. Employment in the Internet-media sector has now surpassed each of its old-media counterparts, with the exception of the newspaper industry, which still has almost twice the jobs as Internet media does.

But things won’t stay that way for long. Newspapers are one of the fastest declining industries in the country, having shrunk by 40 percent in the last decade alone. And some of the largest newspaper companies -- such as the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) and Gannett Co. (NYSE: GCI) -- being the hardest hit. According to Ad Age’s analysis, the newspaper industry has lost 51 percent of its jobs since its peak in 1990. This infographic shows the complete details.

What the job numbers don’t show, however, is the increasing difficulty of separating print and Internet employment into different sectors, particularly as the lines between old and new media grow more and more blurred. According to Bradley Johnson, the director of data analytics for Ad Age’s DataCenter, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps many new-media workers in with old-media industries.  

“It compiles statistics based what it calls ‘establishments,’ which are based on a company’s primary business,” he said in a phone interview. “That means if you’re hired to work on a magazine’s website, the bureau still considers you part of the magazine industry.”

The particulars of company-wide job descriptions may escape government census-takers, but they are important in gauging the growth of the Internet-media sector, particularly as such growth exists within a declining sector like newspapers. For instance, the Los Angeles Times has a multimedia staff of almost two-dozen employees. That includes online editors and producers, as well as experts in social media, SEO, interactive video and digital development. Indeed, for many old-media companies, digital jobs that didn’t exist a few years ago are fueling the largest areas of employment growth.

Moreover, even employees in positions that had once exclusively focused on print -- reporters and editors, for instance -- are now spending more of their time writing blog posts and doing other online-only tasks.

Johnson said that when such factors are taken into consideration, the degree to which Internet media is feeding overall media growth could be vastly understated. And yet, even if the Labor Bureau were to count the numbers differently, the substantial growth of Internet-media jobs would not be enough to offset the even more substantial decline of old media, particularly newspapers. “One of the problems is that old-line media is losing jobs faster than digital media is gaining them,” Johnson said. “When we add it up we see a loss of media jobs over time.”       

Going forward, the real challenge for old media will not be how to categorize its print and digital employees, but how to integrate the two. As Johnson points out, if an old-media company wants to survive in the future, it has one choice: become a new-media company. While such a transition may sound daunting, Johnson said history gives us a reason to be optimistic. “It’s important to remember that this has happened before,” he added. “NBC, ABC and CBS all started out as radio companies. Then they changed to become TV companies. They saw an opportunity and took it.”

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