PR Jobs Grow, Journalism Jobs Decline and Both Industries Continue to Transform

Photo by  Bank Phrom .

Photo by Bank Phrom.

Bloomberg News recently published a story that examined the state of the newspaper industry and drew a lot of attention by citing what seemed like a startling United States Census datapoint. They noted that in 2018, there were 6.4 public relations professionals for every news reporter. That’s up from 1.9 PR jobs to every journalism job in 1998. While one can easily draw some quick conclusions based on that datapoint, and the Bloomberg News reporters certainly did, the realities behind that trend and the disparity between journalism jobs and public relations jobs is far more complicated than one field growing while the other contracts.

Public Relations Jobs Have Changed

Take a moment to consider what’s happened culturally and as far as technology between 1998 and 2018. Within those two decades, digital communications and the Internet claimed a dominant role in the daily lives of billions of people around the world. That technological and accompanying cultural shift has thoroughly impacted both public relations and journalism in ways we are only starting to really understand as both industries fumble for new footing.

Ratio of Public Relations to Journalism Jobs in the U.S.

Source: U.S. Census

In the 1990s, newspapers were king. Today, many are struggling to survive. Public relations jobs have changed too, though. The advent of the Internet and digital communications introduced whole new fields of opportunity for PR professionals and growing needs for companies. This is one of the main points one misses when they take that six-to-one ratio of journalism to public relations jobs at face value. While the number of public relations jobs are certainly growing (over 282,000 positions in the U.S. by 2026 according to the U.S. Department of Labor), the field has been adding entirely new categories of employment and services that did not exist 20 years ago.

Although it existed previously, branded content has seen exponential growth as companies pursue a content marketing strategy to get their message out and reach audiences in a way that no longer relies on traditional media outreach. Social media platforms did not exist in 1998 and today every company seems to need at least one dedicated person to manage their social media presence and reputation online, whether or not that is their full time job. There is also the increasing convergence between digital marketing and public relations that continues to change how both fields operate. On top of that, you still have the same public relations jobs that existed two-decades prior, but today they require even more manpower when corporate reputations can be made or irreparably damaged at the speed of a Tweet. The addition of content marketing professionals and social media managers alone could easily account for much of that growth in public relations jobs within that time period.

Newspaper Jobs Are Not All Journalism Jobs

Journalism jobs continue to change as well, but the decline of newspapers does not tell the entire story. We’re witnessing more of an evolution and despite claims about the end of traditional media, we’re really just in the early stages of that evolution. As newspapers struggle with dwindling circulation and advertising dollars, new digital first news outlets like The Daily Beast, The Texas Tribune and others have stepped into the ring with new models and strong partnerships with traditional media. While radio news suffers from that same drought of traditional advertising dollars and massive consolidation on the local level, podcasts have emerged as a whole new way to communicate information and ideas that matter and reach sometimes very large or even niche audiences.

Then there’s the “do more with less” approach many television stations (both local and national) have been exploring with staffing innovations like the introduction of multimedia journalists. Instead of teams that consist of a reporter, photographer and sometimes a producer, multimedia journalists are handed a camera (and sometimes a dslr camera or smartphone) and sent out to do it all on their own. They can move fast and are developing new skill sets that allow them to deliver unique reporting in new ways. Higher profile stories almost always still have a team assigned, but this is another place where we are seeing change.

You see even more unique approaches. In Shreveport, Louisiana young Reporter Timmy Lane saw holes in his local news market and jumped in to fill them on his own. Adopting the agile skill set of a multimedia journalist, he launched what has basically become his own local news outlet based primarily on Facebook. Focusing intensely on his local market, he’s also built quite the brand. As newspapers and other traditional newsrooms struggle through this time of transformation, new opportunities have emerged for those journalists most impacted by the change. Not all of the models will be successful, but some could very well become tomorrow’s model for the future of news.

Where Do Recovering Journalists Go?

After leaving the newsroom, not all journalists choose to go back. The Pew Research Center notes that between 2008 and 2017, U.S. newsroom employment fell by about 26,000 jobs. Over the same time, the number of operating newsrooms across the country dropped by 45-percent. Others continue to operate, but only as a shell with content being curated by editorial teams elsewhere and then delivered to the local market. That means many of those 26,000 journalists did not have other newsrooms where they could find new journalism jobs. So where do they go?

Newsroom Jobs Between 2008 and 2017

Source: Pew Research Center

While many paths exist (it would be curious to learn how many recovering journalists are now real estate agents), the first place many journalists look when they leave the newsroom is public relations. That’s another point to consider as we examine the disparity between journalism and public relations jobs. Public relations has swelled with journalists starting new careers outside of the newsroom and they bring their unique skill sets, create new opportunities and even begin to transform their new field that still celebrates content as king.