The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s today’s depressing chart about the state of journalism

Journalism, as you may have picked up of late, is not exactly a growth industry. This chart, built by our own Philip Bump using data from ASNE's 2015 newsroom census, shows that reality rather starkly.

Here are the raw numbers: In 2014, the workforce at daily newspapers in the United States was 36,700.  In 2015, it's 32,900.  That's a 10 percent drop --in one year! (You can see all the data behind our chart here.) Ten years ago, there were 54,100 people working at daily newspapers; that's a 39 percent drop over the last decade. GULP.

Now, yes, it is true that the ASNE numbers document only people working for daily newspapers. So, the Washington Post is included but Buzzfeed, for example, is not.  There are more than 32,000 people working in newsrooms and as journalists in the country.  Even so, the decline documented above is staggering; there's simply no way that the growth in online-only publications has made up for the massive erosion in daily newspapers.

When I posted the ASNE stats on Twitter earlier today, the response was, as you might have guessed, not so supportive of those, like me, who continue to practice journalism. Here's one of the many replies I got:

This line of thinking will surprise no one who pays even passing attention to journalism. You guys deserve what you get, the argument goes. You did this to yourself with your shilling for [fill in political party/cause/candidate]. We're on to you!

To which I say: You got us!

Except not at all. While I don't subscribe to the whole the-press-is-super-biased argument, it's hard for me to imagine that journalists with real agendas are more common in this age of transparency (and the internet) than they were in, say, 1995. And yet, lots and lots more reporters were working back in 1995 because newspapers were making tons and tons of money.

To equate bias with the struggles of daily journalism then just doesn't pass the smell test. We all know why we are where we are: The rapid changes in consumption habits occasioned by the introduction of the web to peoples' daily habits has made selling advertising considerably less profitable. The panoply of outlets competing for those dollars and, more generally, for readers' eyeballs further complicates the business model. Less money being made by newspapers means less money to spend on staff. Period.

No matter what you think of the media -- and, judging from polling, most of you don't think much of it -- the chart above is very bad news for accountability in our political system (and elsewhere). The less people watching, the lower the likelihood that attempts to skirt rules and laws get flagged.  The less people watching, the more willing people are to try things they might never do if they knew someone was tasked with keeping an eye on them.

The rapid decline in the number of journalists employed by daily newspapers isn't just bad news for members of the media. It's a very bad thing for society too.

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