Michael Mandel, the excellent BusinessWeek economist, is writing a three-part series about the state of the journalism industry filled with scary charts. Considering that his magazine is losing more than $40 million a year and has been put up for sale for as little as $1, this is, sadly, perhaps the 21st century equivalent of studying northern Atlantic nautical charts in your bedroom chamber on the Titanic. But these charts are still useful!
Everybody knows newspapers are doing badly. The Washington Post lost $143 million in the first six months of this year, according to rumored figures. How bad are newspapers doing? Worse than manufacturing, if you look at the 20-year trend.
As for periodicals, radio and TV, the downturn isn't as dramatic, nor does it seem as systemic. The real fall-off, especially for TV, seems to be a recent phenomenon compared with newspapers, whose decline looks steady and decades in the making.
Where are these jobs going? Some are just gone. Others are going online. But to assess hires in "new media," Mandel can find only catch-all terms in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The new media categories include information services, internet publishing and web search portals. Maybe that includes bloggers like me. But it also includes hires like my close friend Mike who does search engine marketing strategy for Microsoft clients. Mike wrote some great pieces for our high school newspaper, but he'd laugh at you if you called him a working journalist.
So it's very difficult, at least with raw BLS numbers, to tease out the trend in online hiring. I'll keep up with Mandel as he continues his series on the journalism market, but for now the only clear picture he can paint is the picture we've seen all too well: The ship is sinking.