By Joe Coffey | The Fifth Estate
Journalists of the Corridor, you’ve chosen a career that is both dying and one of the most important jobs around. Thank you for sticking with it.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, newsroom employment across the country dropped 23 percent between 2008-2017. Let’s say a collective ‘thank you’ to the owners of Corridor media outlets because, frankly, our situation could be worse. Other markets have seen TV news stations die and their daily papers start going without Monday editions.
Recent Pew Research Center studies paint an equally dim picture:
- Total newspaper revenue in the U.S. dropped from $44.3 billion in 2001 to $16.5 billion in 2017.
- Circulation for print dailies has nosedived 50 percent since 1990.
- TV news is about to cross the tipping point – just 50 percent of adults watched TV news regularly in 2017, down from 57 percent in 2016.
- The audience for every non-internet media platform decreased in 2017.
Pew researchers found that when it comes to local news, four out of 10 people prefer local TV. A deeper dive doesn’t paint a very balanced picture. The majority of local TV news viewers are 65 and older, don’t have a college education and make less than $30,000 a year. Yesterday’s audience and associated news fodder are expiring.
For the most part, today’s journalists are young – we’re talking ‘90s-raised millennials who are in their first or second gigs. They can realign a tired profession toward their own future.
They are battling ever-shrinking attention spans while being asked to maintain work-specific Twitter and Facebook pages. The news doesn’t wait anymore, but they understand this.
They certainly aren’t in it for the money. Pew data shows that the average journalist makes well under $50,000 a year, which is a significant decrease from a decade earlier.
The fame isn’t there, either. Broadcasters and print reporters are consistently at the bottom of “worst jobs in America” lists. A 2018 list by CareerCast notes that newspaper reporters face “an increasingly polarized political environment,” and are “often inundated with negative feedback from readers and even some death threats.”
Let’s face it, this isn’t a top-10 media market bustling with crime and corruption that makes for sexy news. Technically, we’re market No. 89 according to Nielsen’s TV market universe estimates, but if you consider the parceled nature and behavior of news coverage in the Corridor, we act more like market No. 202: Fairbanks, Alaska. (In our case, Nielsen combines the populations of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Dubuque and Cedar Falls to make us a combined medium-sized market).
Media-wise, things happen here that don’t happen in markets of a similar ranking. For example, if your company has a decent press release writer and does something slightly charitable every now and then, your company has likely been on the news. If your crazy uncle with outrageous views can put a decent sentence together, he has probably had multiple letters to the editor published over the years, or maybe even an op-ed. Even if your kid is average at sports, there’s a chance you’ll see them on TV at some point.
I believe the state of our media situation is more of an opportunity. It’s time to reframe the expectations and see what tomorrow’s journalists can show us today.
So, here’s to the young journos in the Corridor, pounding the pavement for the stories that matter. You’re underpaid, but you haven’t gone to the “dark side” (non-journalism) yet. We have tax dollars and elected officials that need to be checked up on. There are untold stories about dying professions and booming businesses, uncovered truths and increasingly diverse cultures. There are narratives that need to be identified and explored, and you can suss them out better than the reporters of yesteryear. The changing media habits that cued the downward spiral of traditional audiences are catalyzing new generations of media consumers that you are uniquely equipped to serve.
As for the rest of us, let’s give them a chance. Pick up a paper, or better yet, subscribe. Check out tonight’s news. Follow a reporter on Twitter. Their careers depend on it. •
Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator and marketer in the Corridor.