Despite the importance of journalism, US reporter employment has been consistently falling over the past decade. One in five reporters lives in New York, Washington, DC or Los Angeles, which may skew coverage away from local issues and viewpoints. To better understand trends in the journalism industry and the challenges reporters face, we analyzed BLS data and Census rent data from 2005-2015.
We find that journalists salaries have not kept up with those in other industries. For example, public relations specialists’ salaries increased 14% over the past decade, while journalist salaries fell 7%. This trend happened in metros across the country.
Over the same time period, reporter employment fell 22% nationwide, with decreases occurring in ~80% of metros we examined. DC and LA were the biggest exceptions, along with a handful of metros with rising populations. As a result of this overall trend, however, some inland metros have fewer than 40 reporters remaining, which may result in reduced coverage of local and state issues.
Journalists play a vital role in society, keeping citizens informed on important trends and issues. Through their reporting, journalists connect citizens in different states and countries by sharing news across borders. They also hold businesses, politicians, and institutions accountable, bringing attention to stories that matter.
The rise of online news sources, however, has upended the industry and resulted in several waves of industry layoffs. Reporters tend to be located on the coasts, and some argue that this leads to skewed media coverage. Also, with rents rising in many coastal cities, many reporters likely face the same affordability crisis that their readers do, further aggravated by falling incomes.
In order to better understand employment and salary trends for journalists, we obtained BLS data from 2005 to 2015,1 and combined it with median rent data from the Census. We adjusted salary and rent data for inflation and analyzed the trends for 50 large metros across the U.S.2
Reporter salaries have fallen 7% while rents have risen 9%
We started by comparing inflation-adjusted reporter wages with median rents in the US. From 2005 - 2015, reporter wages fell by 7%, while rents increased by 9% - a total gap of 15%. A reporter making the median wage in 2005 would have had to spend 27% of income on rent, but that number increased to 32% in 2015.
In contrast to reporter wages, other occupations have seen income growth over the past decade. The median wage increased by 1% from 2005 to 2015, and PR jobs (a common path for reporters leaving the industry) have seen incomes rise by 4%. This has widened the gap between PR and reporter salaries, with the median PR salary being $56,770 in 2015, compared to $36,360 for a reporter.
The number of reporters in the U.S. has fallen 22% over the past decade
Next, we looked at employment trends by occupation. Over the past decade, the U.S. economy has lost nearly 12,000 reporters, representing a 22% decrease nationwide. During the same period, public relations (PR) jobs increased by 14% and the total number of jobs in the U.S. increased 6%. Journalist jobs started decreasing before the recession, and the number of journalists has decreased every year since 2006. While both journalist and PR jobs fell during the recession, PR jobs started growing again in 2012 while reporter jobs continued to fall.
Rents have increased more than salaries in 39 out of the top 50 metros
Rents have increased more than salaries in almost 80% of major U.S. metros. With rising rents and stagnant salaries, journalists must spend a larger share of their income on rent - on average, rents increased 19% more than salaries in the 50 metros we studied.
Even in cities where reporter incomes have increased, salaries have still not kept up with rising rents. For example, in the Portland metro reporter salaries increased 9%, but rents have increased by 20%. Reporters are hardest hit in metros like Denver where rents increased significantly (+26%), even as salaries fell (-17%).
Rents increased faster than salaries in both coastal and inland metros
The trends of rents increasing faster than salaries holds true both in coastal and inland areas of the country.
For example, in New York City where 8.5% of the country’s journalists reside, salaries decreased 8% while rents increased 14%. Seattle, San Francisco, and Miami all saw gaps in rent and wage growth of 42% or more.
Inland metros have been traditionally considered more affordable, and rents there have not increased as much as they have on the coasts. In spite of this, salaries have typically declined by more than 20% in many metros; in Nashville, for example, salaries have decreased 30% even as rents rose 14%.
Reporter employment increasing in DC and LA, but falling in other large metros
Next, we looked at how employment trends compare across large, mid-sized, and small metropolitan areas. One-quarter of U.S. reporters live in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, or Philadelphia. Despite this, four of these six metros lost a significant share of the reporters over the last decade. Since 2005, the San Francisco metro lost half of its reporters, and New York and Philadelphia both lost over one-third of their reporters.
Los Angeles and Washington, DC fared better, possibly due to their focus on entertainment and politics respectively. The number of reporters in Los Angeles increased by 3%, and the number of journalists in DC grew by almost 30%. New York had nearly 2.5x the number of reporters as DC in 2005, but that gap has shrunk to 15%.
Employment in mid-sized markets fell, except in areas with growing populations
Many mid-sized markets lost a significant share of their journalists as well. While New Orleans and Seattle lost around 12% of their reporters, Houston and Minneapolis lost larger shares, 35% and 26% respectively.
Despite the national trend of a decrease in reporters, some metros that have experienced large population growth over the past decade have gained more reporters. The number of reporters in Denver, Phoenix, and Indianapolis all grew by over 40%. Rising employment does not necessarily equal increased wages, however: in Charlotte, for example, employment is up by 32% but salaries are down 19% (even as rents rose 7%).
Some smaller metros left with as few as 40 reporters
Some smaller metros much as Youngstown, OH and New Haven, CT have lost almost 60% of their reporters. These metros had a small number of reporters to start with, but cutbacks mean that areas such as Peoria, IL and Duluth, MN only had 40 reporters in 2015.
It’s common for reporters from larger cities such as New York and DC to attempt to cover trends in these smaller metros, but reporters who do not live in these communities often miss part of the story. The sharp decline in reporters in small metros - and the fact that most reporters live in a few large cities - amplifies certain perspectives while others get overlooked.
State capitals have lost 30% to 60% of their reporters leading to a lack of coverage of state politics
The increased interest in political journalism in Washington, DC has not translated to state capitals. Raleigh has lost 60% of its reporters and is now down to only 90 reporters. Similar trends are seen in Albany, Sacramento, and other state capitals. According to a 2014 report by PEW, there were only 1,592 reporters covering statehouses, and less than half of those were full time (an average of only 15 full-time reporters for each state).
Our analysis illustrated that reporter salaries are growing slower than rents in most metros. Nationwide, reporter salaries declined by 7% over the past decade while rents increased 9%. If this trend continues, publications will struggle to hire and retain talent - already, several Pultizer prize winners have left for PR.
The decline in employment of reporters affects metros of all sizes and in all regions, but coverage in smaller metros is affected the most. Large national publications may need to play a role in adding coverage to smaller metros, perhaps sacrificing some depth in DC for greater breadth across the country. As with our teachers, society benefits when reporters can live and work in the communities that they serve, and an increased focus on local coverage can help reduce the divide between rural and urban Americans.