Journalism’s death knell

Yup, this graph pretty much says it all.

I always knew that I’d never be rich.

The salary and lifestyle of a journalist is certainly one that doesn’t conjure images of a life of luxury.

For me, finding a career was never about money but more so serving a purpose. Pursuing a career in journalism made me feel like I made a noble career choice that serves a purpose to a free society.

But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that after graduating college, I’d never be able to find, much less keep a job.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the print media industry that I planned to make a career out of tanked, and is now the fastest shrinking industry in the US. In the two and a half years since I graduated from the University of Florida, I’ve never had a job longer than 8 months.

This isn’t a reflection of me or my body of work, but more so the economy that I graduated into and the rise of technology indirectly eliminating jobs and industries.

Decline of newspapers

According to a March 2012 survey performed by the Council of Economic Advisers and LinkedIn, newspapers are the fastest-shrinking industry in the US.

According to Paper Cuts, a blog that monitors national newspaper layoffs, 2012 has already seen more than 1,850 newspaper jobs disappear.

So what caused so many newspapers to go under? The sharp decline in advertising revenue, the proliferation of the Internet, and an outdated business model can all account for so many newspapers closing shop.

Industry Growth

In addition to newspapers, several housing bubble industries like banking and construction along with retail, warehousing, and restaurants had the worst losses.

Derek Thompson from The Atlantic magazine points out that the overall newspaper industry averages about $20 billion per year but newspapers’ business models and payroll were built to support $50 billion to $60 billion in total advertising with the kind of staffs that a $50 billion industry can abide.

So when we hear about all of the layoffs, buyouts, and bankruptcies of newspapers, they serve as a massive correction to compensate for plummeting revenue.

That’s not to say that newspapers aren’t profitable — many still are. The $20 billion in revenue is the same as bars and nightclubs and last I checked no one is claiming those industries are dead.

Then there’s the Internet. Over the past decade, more ad dollars started flowing to websites that directly gave readers car, style, travel, or classifieds instead of having to sift through dead trees and ink to find those very ads and traditional print staff jobs became unnecessary.

Economic Cannibalism

But the decline of newspapers serves as a microcosm of a much bigger problem at hand where technology and capitalism indirectly eliminate jobs.

As technology aims to make our lives and business more efficient, while capitalism aims to become as profitable as possible, workers get displaced and professions vanish into thin air.

Think about it. Video, music, and book stores, file clerks, postal workers, toll booth operators, and sadly, many journalists have been replaced by downloads, Kindles, IT, FedEx, UPS, the Internet, push-messaging services, and Twitter.

CNN contributor LZ Granderson equates this change in employment to economic cannibalism.

Fluctuations by Year

Finding a New Path

As all signs point to more journalism jobs disappearing, the skills of a journalist — organizing and simplifying complex ideas for mass consumption along with general editing, writing and communications skills — will always be in demand for businesses and industries that can’t write.

Case in point: The amount of people who continually mistake there, their, and they’re; effect and affect; its and it’s; and basic subject-verb agreement to the point where I want to clean my ears with a gun.

Monetizing those skills becomes the real challenge, though.

For those still in college anxious about what the future may hold, here’s what I recommend:

Find a specialty outside of journalism — ahem, the industries doing well in the graphs above — where you can apply journalistic skills and create value.

While you’re at it, learn as many multimedia authoring and production tools as you can. In my senior year of college, I was cobbling together blogging, multimedia features, and web design all on my own whereas today colleges require that you take classes on how to do those very things.

For those coming in to college, I would consider Roger Ailes’ advice and look at a different major and minor in journalism.

And for those displaced journalists like me, I’ve tried to find another career in technical writing. I’m not sure how it will pan out but I’ve also noticed that non-profit and association work is a natural fit for many journalists, where communications skills, community knowledge, and a sense of mission are all big assets.

For anyone contemplating a career change, dive in and immerse yourself in your new field so you can become as expert at it as you were as your last one.