April 16, 2003

Survey Says

A new survey of American journalists found that, on average, they're older, better educated, a bit wealthier, just as male and less Democratic than a decade earlier.

The Indiana University study is the fourth in a series of surveys. The first was done in 1971, the last in 1992. Here are some highlights:

 Age: The median age of journalists is 41, up five years from 1992 and generally older than the U.S. labor force. The newsroom age bubble pretty much follows the Boomer generation drawn to the profession during the post-Nixon years. [ Read more ]

 Gender: Even though more than half of new journalist (less than five years experience) are women, their percentage in the business (one-third) has stayed the same for 20 years. Retention is a problem. [ Read more ]

 Diversity: Only 9.5 percent of journalists are minorities, compared to 24 percent of U.S. college graduates. Minorities represent 12.5 percent of newspaper staffs, according to ASNE. [ Read more ]

 Salary: Journalists' median income rose to $43,588 in 2001, outpacing inflation in the last decade. Women journalists, though, make nearly 20 percent less than men. This might connect to the retention problem, you think? [ Read more ]

 Politics: I hate the liberal-conservative press debate since it's like arguing over the weather - and because I believe most newspaper journalists are reactionary (in the non-political sense) by nature, and therefore a root cause of newsroom stagnation. That said, the survey found that 37 percent of journalists identify themselves as Democrats, moving them closer to the national percentage of 32 percent. It's the lowest number since 1971 (proving, perhaps, that the greatest Democratic recruiter in the last half-century was Richard Nixon). [ Read more ]

 Morale: One-third of journalists are "very satisfied" with their jobs, up from a decade earlier but still far less than the 49 percent who felt that way in 1971. [ Read more ]

 Values: Journalists believe media owners care most about audience (89 percent) and little about employee morale (32 percent). I'm not sure if this is self-delusional, but 62 percent of journalists felt that editorial quality was rising even as newsroom resources were shrinking. [ Read more ]

 Mass vs. Class: Only 15 percent of journalists, the lowest ever, believe they should concentrate on "news which is of interest to the widest possible audience." What the survey doesn't tell us is whether this acceptance of the nichefication of news indicates an acknowledgement of the need for multiple products from the same source, or merely a surrender to a changing marketplace. [ Read more ]

 Internet: Eight of 10 journalists use the Web one a week for news; three-quarters do so for email; half scan the Net for story ideas. My comment: Why aren't they all doing it? [ Read more ]

All of these facts relate to the quality of newspapers in some way because papers reflect the biases, interests, attitudes, energy, beliefs and training of the people who write and edit them. More important, though, than the demographics of the profession is how journalists - and publishers -- act to overcome them.

Baby Boomer editors can't help being older - but they can stop writing headlines that reference 30-year-old rock songs. Newspapers can't stop the proliferation - and personalization of media - but they can embrace it instead of ignoring it. Newsrooms don't need to apologize for being male, white and monolingual - but they should get more women, more minorities and teach everyone to speak another language.

Surveys offer us facts. But we shouldn't, as we used to say in those days of higher job satisfaction, let the facts get in the way of a good story, which, in this case, is a still unwritten tale of how ink-stained traditions adapted and thrived in a digital world.

 The Face and Mind of the American Journalist

Posted by Tim Porter at April 16, 2003 08:14 AM

Mass vs. Class: I wonder if the problem is the phrase "news which is of interest to the widest possible audience", which increasingly indicates tabloid news, rather than service to the non-elites in the community.

Changing the word "interest" to "service" or "value" in the question would probably have altered the outcome radically.

Posted by: Barry Parr on April 16, 2003 12:51 PM
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