Hope for haters of “the media” of whatever stripe or flavor! Judging from recent events, they may not have much media to kick around any more. Things are definitely on the droop in news-media land.
One reason morale is down is reportorial work is getting exceedingly dangerous. In recent weeks Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist, was murdered in Moscow; so far this year in Iraq twenty-six journalists have been killed; and just the other day, according to the Associated Press, “Misael Tamayo Hernandez, editor of El Despertar de la Costa, was found nearly naked, with his hands tied behind his back, in a room of the Venus Motel on a highway, Zihuatanejo police officials said.” Incidents like that can put a chill on recruiting at the J-school job fair.
While foreign journalists are losing their lives, journalists in America are losing their jobs. The Christian Science Monitor reports that “daily newspapers in New York, Boston, Houston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and elsewhere are laying off or buying out hundreds of newsroom employees, as well as other workers.” And talk about covering your own funeral: The Monitor added that “last summer, The Christian Science Monitor cut newsroom jobs, too.” Those cities do not begin to exhaust the list of places where reporters and editors are being let go.
While reporters are not yet as scarce as hen’s teeth, there are far fewer of them than there used to be. Here is an instance brought to us by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, one of those high-toned outfits that studies the state of things and issues reports: “There are roughly half as many reporters covering metropolitan Philadelphia, for instance, as in 1980. The number of newspaper reporters there has fallen from 500 to 220. The pattern at the suburban papers around the city has been similar, though not as extreme. The local TV stations, with the exception of Fox, have cut back on traditional news coverage. The five AM radio stations that used to cover news have been reduced to two. As recently as 1990, the Philadelphia Inquirer had 46 reporters covering the city. Today it has 24.”
The cause of mass reporter firings are varied, but the biggest is long-term loss of circulation, sometimes slowly and sometimes shockingly quick. “Average daily circulation dropped by 2.8 percent during the six-month period ended Sept. 30, compared with the period last year, according to an industry analysis of data released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Circulation for Sunday papers fell by 3.4 percent,” wrote the New York Times. If the readers continue to disappear at this rate into the Internet or die off or opt out of word communication for pictures and music, the advertisers are going to do the same.