A year ago last week, it seemed as if print newspapers might be on the verge of a comeback, or at least on the brink of, well, survival.
Jeff Bezos, an avatar of digital innovation as the founder of Amazon, came out of nowhere and plunked down $250 million for The Washington Post. His vote of confidence in the future of print and serious news was seen by some — including me — as a sign that an era of “optimism or potential” for the industry was getting underway.
Turns out, not so much — quite the opposite, really. The Washington Post seems fine, but recently, in just over a week, three of the biggest players in American newspapers — Gannett, Tribune Company and E. W. Scripps, companies built on print franchises that expanded into television — dumped those properties like yesterday’s news in a series of spinoffs.
Even if the writing has been on the wall for some time, let’s play a bit of sad trombone for the loss of reporting horsepower that will accompany the spinoffs.
Newspapers will be working without a net as undiversified pure-play print companies. Most are being cut loose after all the low-hanging fruit, like valuable digital properties, have been plucked. Many newspapers have sold their real estate, where much of their remaining value was stored.
More ominous, most of the print and magazine assets have already been cut to the bone in terms of staffing. Reducing costs has been the only reliable source of profits as overall revenue has declined. Not much is left to trim.
The salary gap between public relations specialists and news reporters has widened over the past decade – to almost $20,000 a year, according to 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. At the same time, the public relations field has expanded to a degree that these specialists now outnumber reporters by nearly 5 to 1 (BLS data include part-time and full-time employees, but not self-employed.)
As the salary gap has grown, so too has the gap between the number of employees working in each field. There were 4.6 public relations specialists for every reporter in 2013, according to the BLS data. That is down slightly from the 5.3 to 1 ratio in 2009 but is considerably higher than the 3.2 to 1 margin that existed a decade ago, in 2004.