Another Nail in the Newspaper Business’s Coffin

October 25th, 2009 by Bob Bly

Newspapers are dying not only because readership is dying off, but also because few journalism students have any incentive to work for them.

When I graduated college, writing for a newspaper was glamorous — a dream come true.

After all, Superman … Clark Kent … was a newspaper reporter!

Even though I didn’t have a journalism degree (I majored in chemical engineering), I sent letters and resumes to 300 newspapers.

I got only one interview — the Associated Press in Buffalo, NY — and they didn’t hire me.

Today, if you graduate with a B.S. in journalism, you have no incentive to write for a newspaper.

It isn’t glamorous — print media are moribund — and to add insult to injury, it pays poorly vs. the Internet.

According to an article in the Folio: Superbook 2009 (p. 9), the average salary of a journalism major going to work for a daily newspaper (where pay is much higher than weeklies) is $28,000.

Beginning TV journalists don’t fare much better, with an average salary of $29,300.

The highest paying job for journalism majors is online, where the average salary is $37,400 — 33% higher than newspapers pay.

Is there ANYONE reading this blog who writes for newspapers or wants to?

If so, given the decline of the medium and the lousy pay — why?

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 25th, 2009 at 11:10 am and is filed under Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 responses about “Another Nail in the Newspaper Business’s Coffin”

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  4. Newspaper SEO said:

    It seems like a no-brainer to me that newspapers should focus on developing their online business.

  5. Kamil said:

    Very intelligent notice. I am almost sure there is nobody who writes (or want to…) for print and has your blog in RSS feed:)

    Thanks you gave us the defference!

    - Kamil

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  7. Steve Rainwater said:

    Bob,

    Back in the late 90′s when I was still in the WMS integration business, I hired a guy out of the newspaper business with about 15 years in moving through the ranks – he was at that time a GM for a small Knight-Ridder Divison. He changed industries to our distribution consulting world saying he loved the newspaper business, but that its days were numbered – even then (this was 98 or 99). He predicted to me then exactly what is coming to pass now, both from the consumer lack of interest in the medium, to the decline of ad revenue to the loss of opportunity for journalists.

    He is still creating distribution / fulfillment solutions, now for another company as a VP, hiring young people to an industry of opportunity…and higher pay. slr

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  9. Carol Magnuson said:

    Bob,

    Way back in the mid-70′s, my heroes were Clark Kent, Barbara Walters, Heraldo Rivera and the great and wondrous Woodward and Bernstein. I majored in Journalism, at San Jose State University, won a William Randolph Hearst award for my writing, but, due to “life,” only got through my junior year. I was wholly enamored of the idea of “truth, justice and the American Way.” However, in later years, working as a reporter and editor for various small, weekly rags, discovered that newspaper reporting was merely a means to feed the masses with what the “powers that be” wanted them to read. I walked away from journalism disgusted and totally cured of my idealistic fantasies.

    I was and “old-school journalism” student. My professors hammered into my psyche the ideas of objectivity, accuracy, attribution and proper use of the written word. We memorized the AP Stylebook, and slept with Strunk & White.

    Fortunately, those skills have never faded, and I use them almost daily, in my work. As for “truth, justice and the American Way”… oh well.

  10. Lou said:

    The very finest journalism in America has little to do with “truth, justice and the American Way” or Clark Kent and Lois Lane. (Well …maybe except for truth, although the less pretentious notion of “accuracy” is probably more on point.)

    Writers like Malcolm Gladwell, Philip Gourevich, Louis Menand or Deborah Solomon hardly qualify as “reporters” in the old fashioned sense (or even in the revisionist Woodward and Bernstein sense.

    The problem is (1)how many writers are able to win entry into the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and The New York Times? and (2) How much of audience is there for that kind of writing?

    On the other hand, even in a recession, there’s a burgeoning requirement for copywriters.

    Little room at the very top for a concert pianist, but much more room for one more keyboard guy who plays weddings.

    That said … copywriting has its own demands of the craft — demands not all that easy to master. Success in journalism doesn’t guarantee success in copywriting, or vice versa.

  11. Mark Keating said:

    Journalism? we still have that in this country?

  12. John Schofield said:

    When I was in j-school in the ’80s, the folks who pursued journalism for glamour usually dropped out by second year when the realized they actually had to talk to people and collect real information, real news. That’s still at the core of good journalism. For all intents and purposes, there’s no such thing as Internet news. The Internet would be nowhere without newspapers. But maybe they’ll realize one day they can’t give it away for free.

  13. Mandy Marksteiner said:

    I just started writing for my local paper. I could probably make more money delivering the paper, but I wanted to get some good writing samples and they wanted interesting articles, so it worked out.

    But hey, I just wrote a review about your new book on my blog.

    http://blog.mandymarksteiner.com/2009/10/29/make-an-offer-they-cant-refuse.aspx

  14. Joe said:

    Bob,

    I’m late to this party but as someone who spent more than 20 years in the newspaper field, I believe I have some insight. First, the salaries you quote are, or were, lower than reality. Most decent papers pay in the high $30K to high $40K range, which is still enough to support a family in most parts of the country (albeit barely). The big ones, of course, pay more and the smaller ones pay less. I’m looking at the 40k to 100k circulation range, which is where many really good papers sit.

    However, the problem with newspapers isn’t solely the Internet, though that hasn’t helped. The problem is that newspaper managers — editors, publishers and owners — have forgotten what a newspaper should be. They are trying to BE the Internet, just as they tried being television 20 years ago.

    Maybe I’m an old fart, but to me a newspaper is still the best way to deliver the complete story in the shortest time. It’s a daily intelligence briefing delivered to your door every morning, bringing you up to speed on the world, the nation, and most importantly, your community.A good paper will deliver the objective coverage of your township, school board or city council — unlike a blogger, who typically has an ax to grind. Reporters are trained to find facts and deliver them in a cogent way — again, unlike most bloggers.

    I have to disagree with Lou, above, because most reporters realize they will never go to the Times or the Journal. Most work at local papers, covering local stories that are the most important to most newspaper readers.And most do a very good job.

    If newspapers would focus on doing what they do best, they can find their place in the world again, and maybe, just maybe, prosper. Newspapers and the Internet can have a happy marriage but newspapers should focus on their strengths and then I believe they will find their future. At least until someone invents a foldable computer that holds stories in place till you finish reading them … even if you have to stop when you bus stops or the phone rings … without refreshing the page or doing a search to find the story you were reading.

  15. Ken Norkin - Freelance Copywriter said:

    I agree with what Joe says about the value of newspapers and their potential to succeed.

    But to clarify Bob’s original message on salaries, I’m pretty sure he was quoting *starting* pay for journalism grads fresh out of school. I don’t think there are many newspapers paying 22-year-old bachelors degree graduates upper $40K their rookie year. And supporting a family is not a typical need for those folks. More often, it’s supporting themselves , including paying 1/4 to 1/2 the rent of a shared apartment — which is hard to do in many places on the money that these young journalists make.

    That’s the situation my daughter is in. She’s an editor on a fashion and lifestyle email newsletter/web site that’s owned by a print company. She doesn’t make anything like the average online salary Bob posted and she lives in an expensive city. It’s tough out there.

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  18. Mark said:

    I’m a freelance journalist with active gigs in print and online. There is no doubt which of the two I would prefer to see my work published – it’s print all the way. I love the web and digital, but to me there is an authenticity and authority in seeing your by line on a piece of paper than i can touch and hold. Thanks for the post! It’s an interesting debate…

  19. Stephen said:

    Bob:

    I’ve worked in print and broadcast news since a week after graduating from high school … 40 years ago. Here is the latest “nail in the coffin” of the newspaper business:

    Times announces newsroom layoffs

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/31/times-announces-newsroom-layoffs/

    Search the Web for “Washington Times” and “layoffs” for more articles and more detail: The sports department — eliminated; the photography department: nine photographers gone, only one photographer and a photo tech left; deputy managing editor: gone; at least two assistant managing editors: gone; at least two copy editors: gone …

    At the end of April 2008, The Washington Times cut 30 positions, including an assistant managing editor, a photographer and my Saturday night-only seat on the copy desk, only two weeks before what would have been my 10th anniversary.

    Fortunate for me, I’ve had a full-time editing job at another publication since May 2006. Because of financial cutbacks, however, I need to crack open your books again to restore the income I’ve lost.

    Best wishes, Bob, and keep up the support for the rest of us writers.

  20. Ron - SEO Sales Copywriting | Web Content Writing | Blogging said:

    Ya print media is already dying with the sudden surge in internet media. This is the place to be!

  21. Webbs said:

    This is some great info and was well worth the read. I hope to read more stuff from you in the future that is as well written as this post

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