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The Inside Story on Newspaper Jobs

The economic downturn hit the newspaper industry hard. Expenses went up and revenue -- through ad sales and subscriptions -- went down.

Want ads were once the most profitable sections of many newspapers. Now millions of people advertise on websites like eBay and Craigslist instead of in their local paper.

As a result of these trends, budgets have been slashed. Newspaper employees have been laid off. Some major newspapers have even folded. And that means fewer jobs for print journalists.

"We're in a real time of transition. Not only with the economy and the layoffs, but as we move toward the Internet and new media," says Mary Agnes Welch. She's president of a journalism association and a public policy reporter.

By their very nature, print editions aren't able to keep pace with news sources on the web. Even 24-hour cable news channels have trouble keeping up with instant online news updates. Many people now get their breaking news through online social networking sites like Twitter.

"Nobody's quite figured out yet what the industry is going to look like in five or 10 years," Welch says.

In an effort to stay relevant, most newspapers have added online editions. That brings additional concerns, like readers who once paid for delivery now expecting to get their news online for free.

"As much as it's in fashion to say the newspaper industry must move to the web or die, it's actually the industry's embrace of the web that is killing it," says Adam Stone. He's publisher of The Examiner, a weekly newspaper in New York State.

"Newspaper publishing companies and their business models are not designed to generate and sustain enough advertising to, at the same time, operate daily online and print editions."

Newspapers make 99 percent of their revenue off the print edition, says Welch. "So if print doesn't find a way to survive, that entire chunk of journalism will be gone," she says.

"I cannot see that it will be allowed to happen, or that the market will allow that to happen. But I think there are going to be some painful years until we figure out what it's actually going to look like."

The industry's business model is changing, but ultimately it will emerge stronger and more relevant than ever, says Jon Ortiz. He's a columnist and reporter for The Sacramento Bee in Sacramento, California. Virtually all newspapers are trying to find a balance that works.

"When things turn around, there will be a huge demand [for print journalists]," says Ortiz.

"The last time the industry shed jobs was during the dot-com bust. Many of those jobs came back as the economy and newspapers recovered. Once print figures out its new business model, it will begin to expand -- and need lots of reporters."

The demand for news and information will always be there, but the method of delivery will change, according to Deirdre Childress. She's the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer's Weekend Magazine. She also serves as secretary of the National Association of Black Journalists.

"Today's journalist is best prepared if they understand several multimedia skills -- like the early journalists in this country who reported, wrote and printed their own stories," she says.

With online news, you have to be fast, and post breaking news immediately -- as it happens. So, sometimes stories are posted before they're fully formed. As the facts unfold, the online story is updated and polished.

The web also allows for expanded coverage of news stories and more room for charts, graphs, links to photos, and audio and video clips.

"I don't think there's such a thing as print-only journalism anymore," says Jennie Pollock. She's the deputy managing editor at Rockford Register Star in Rockford, Illinois.

"All media are moving toward multiple platforms. In my job, for example, I edit for daily, non-daily and web products. I write two blogs. I edit a print magazine with its own website. I go on TV once a week. I've taken my own photos for stories. I've even appeared on the radio a handful of times."

Even though the print side of some newspapers is shrinking, in some cases the overall number of readers -- print and online combined -- is actually growing.

"The Sacramento Bee now reaches more readers than ever, and like many papers, it's developing niche online products to target narrow bands of online users," Ortiz says. "We've also developed an online version for hand-held devices like the iPod."

The demand for well-written and researched news stories is not likely to go away. People will always need to know what's going on in their communities. Meanwhile, the ethical standards and reporting skills of print journalists will carry over to future formats.

"The skills to gather and write those kinds of articles will never go away, but the platform for delivering those stories will change," says Jerry Large. He's a columnist for the Seattle Times.

"Print may mean an electronic reader a few years from now. The web will continue to carry information produced by 'print' journalists. Someone will solve the problem of how to pay for high-quality journalism, but we will have lean times until that happens."

One way newspapers might survive during those lean times is by reducing the number of editions they publish.

"People are dropping their Monday editions or going to three days a week," Welch says. To do that successfully, she expects those papers to have more magazine-style articles. "It will be more analytical, you'll get more of a bird's-eye take on what happened yesterday."

Welch believes circulation will continue to drop. "I'm hoping it will level off and there will still be this core group of people who want to get the paper every day," she says.

Although the delivery method is rapidly changing, tomorrow's print journalists should prepare for their careers the same way today's journalists did: read everything you can, hone your writing skills, learn how to research (beyond Wikipedia), and ask lots of questions.

"Get involved with your school's paper, get clips, practice the craft. I read plenty of interns' copy and invariably it needs major work," says Howard Cohen. He's the city and lifestyle reporter for the Miami Herald. "Writing for a newspaper is not like tweeting on Twitter."

Childress suggests visiting real newsrooms and shadowing reporters and editors while they work.

"Experiment personally and professionally with multimedia and the web -- social networking, photos, videos, blogs, slide shows, podcasts -- so you know how to tell stories differently and how to use the technology behind them," says Pollock.

Asked if she'd still choose to major in print journalism if she were a student today, Welch says yes. "Because even at its worst, journalism -- and print journalism in particular -- is still at its core totally fun."


Newspaper Association of America
Find newspaper industry facts, events and resources

National Association of Black Journalists
Learn about this organization, which advocates on behalf of black journalists worldwide

Journalism Jobs
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