ASNE No Longer Tracks Newsroom Head Counts

The last decade has seen a steady erosion in the number of media industry benchmark reports — at least those made publicly available to trade reporters and bloggers — leaving less reliable, third-party data by which to gauge the overall health of the media business.

The Publisher’s Information Bureau, which long provided quarterly and annual figures on print advertising pages and rate card revenue for magazine titles, stopped providing this data in favor of a digital audience report – which doesn’t include any information on ad revenue – in 2014.

The Newspaper Association of America, now the News Media Alliance, stopped reporting quarterly revenue figures in 2013, followed by annual figures in 2015. And the Radio Advertising Bureau jettisoned its quarterly reports on radio ad revenue in 2015, nixing annual reports soon after.

The motivation for all these decisions was not hard to deduce. In the face of long-term secular declines in the traditional media business, what was the point of publicizing each new wave of bad news, especially for trade organizations whose raison d’etre is boosterism, not emphasizing doom and gloom? 



Now they’ve been joined by another much-cited source of data on the traditional media industry. Last year, the American Society of News Editors quietly stopped providing rough estimates for the total number of journalists working in the nation’s newsrooms. For years, it was a good general indicator for the vitality of the U.S. newspaper business, and with it the overall news ecosystem.

For several decades, ASNE provided rough estimates of the total newsroom headcount as part of its annual Diversity Survey, which tracks the proportion of minority reporters working for American news organizations. The numbers were never exact, based on projections derived from long-term employment levels.

In recent years, the trend was nonetheless unmistakable. From 2001-2015, ASNE notes the total newsroom head count fell 42% from 56,400 to 32,900.

According to ASNE, it dropped the newsroom head-count portion of the Diversity Survey in 2016 because “the structure of modern newsrooms makes it impractical and error-prone to try to estimate the number of working journalists.” 

While the accuracy of such figures is obviously a valid concern, the effect of the decision is to get rid of one of the few indicators of the health of the news media – arguably more important now than ever, in light of the rise of “fake news” on social media.

There’s also no question that, like the other industry orgs listed above, ASNE’s decision to nix the head-count estimates minimizes unfavorable news that might be interpreted as damaging to the reputation of the industry. On that note, ASNE itself admitted: “Over the past few years, layoffs, buyouts and restructuring are a norm and not an isolated event in the news industry…”

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