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David Weaver
IU School of Journalism

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, September 18, 2006

Big news covered by fewer full-time journalists, according to new book by IU faculty

Sept. 18, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The number of full-time journalists in the United States has dropped sharply over the last decade, particularly those working for daily newspapers and radio stations, according to a new book by faculty in the Indiana University School of Journalism.

Fewer journalists identify themselves as Democrats, although as a group they consider themselves more liberal than the public at large. More said they found themselves to be middle of the road or even conservative in their politics.

"This fourth study of U.S. journalists finds a more educated group of news people whose basic values and ethics persist in the face of dramatic changes in technology and workplace environments," said David Weaver, the Roy W. Howard Professor in the IU School of Journalism.

Weaver is the lead author of the new book, The American Journalist in the 21st Century (Erlbaum, 2006). It is based on the third comprehensive survey of American journalists he has done with colleagues at IU, particularly G. Cleveland Wilhoit, who retired in 2003.

The book was the result of a Knight Foundation-funded study of nearly 1,500 journalists in 2002. Bonnie Brownlee, associate dean for undergraduate studies and associate professor of journalism at IU Bloomington; and two former IUB faculty members -- Randal Beam of the University of Washington and Paul Voakes of the University of Colorado - were involved in the project.

Despite cuts in employment at many news organizations, the average journalist is older. Baby boomers are largely remaining in the profession. The largest increase in the number of reporters was the 45-to-54 age group. Nearly two-thirds of all full-time journalists are over age 35.

"A lot of younger people who are hired into journalism don't stay that long," Weaver said. "There are enough journalists who work their way up into some of the middle- and upper-management jobs and are hanging on until retirement that it forces the average up."

News organizations grew exponentially in size in the 1970s and early 1980s. Between 1971 and 1992, employment at daily newspapers grew from 38,800 to 67,207. Employment in print media organizations increased from 52,200 to 85,097 during the same time period.

In the last decade that the professors studied, from 1992 to 2002, employment at daily newspapers fell by more than 8,400, to 58,769. Similarly, employment at all print media outlets fell by 3,268, to 81,829.

"In daily newspapers, the main reason has been the loss of advertising revenue to other media," Weaver said. "Online services like Craig's List are hurting daily newspapers … and more advertising is going to television.

"The other reason is that they've been pushed by a lot of these companies that have bought them to have higher profit margins, especially if they are publicly traded companies," he said. "One way to do this is to cut the costs, and you do that by cutting the size of your news staff."

On the other hand, the number of television journalists has grown every time Weaver and his colleagues have conducted their research. The number of television journalists grew from 7,000 to 17,784, between 1971 and 1992, and was 20,288 in 2002.

The number of radio journalists grew from 7,000 in 1971 to 19,583 in 1982, but has declined since reaching that peak. Weaver said there are fewer than 14,000 journalists working in radio today.

Interestingly, online journalists tend to share the same characteristics of other reporters. For example, the media age of online journalists is 39, compared to 41 among print reporters and 40 among those in broadcast media. The Online News Association cooperated with the study.

"Journalists working for online news media were not dramatically different from those in more traditional mainstream media in terms of demographics, education, political attitudes or views about journalistic roles and the ethics of reporting," Weaver said.

Other book findings include:

While there was little change in the percentage of journalists who identified themselves as Republicans (from 16.4 percent in 1992 to 18 percent in 2002) and as Independents (from 34.4 percent in 1992 to 32.5 percent in 2002), Weaver and his colleagues saw shifts in those identifying themselves as Democrats and "Other."

The percentage of those identifying themselves as Democrats dropped from 44.1 percent in 1992 to 35.9 percent in 2002. The percentage of those who claimed some other political affiliation grew from 3.5 percent in 1992 to 10.5 percent a decade later. There also was a small increase in the number of respondents who said they didn't know or refused to answer.

"Part of that is a reluctance of journalists to say they identify with either of these political parties," Weaver said. "It could be younger journalists saying this."

The big surprise in the study is that the number of women in journalism hasn't increased. They continue to account for about a third of all full-time journalists. The percentage of women with zero to four years of experience was significantly higher in 2002 (54.2 percent) than in 1992 (44.8 percent). "If the attrition rate doesn't change, that will mean more women journalists with more experience in the future," he said.

Minority representation in American media has inched up over the years, but, at 9.5 percent by 2002, remained much below the minority percentage of the U.S. population and also the college-educated minority population. The percentage of African Americans in full-time reporting positions has remained static from 1971 to 2002, from 3.9 percent to 3.7 percent.

While U.S. census figures say Hispanics account for 13.4 percent of the total U.S. population, only 3.3 percent of all reporters and editors in 2002 were Hispanic. This was an improvement from what Weaver found in earlier studies, up from 2.2 percent in 1992 and 0.6 percent in 1982 to 1983.

Weaver suspects there is a higher level of attrition with many minority and female journalists leaving the profession within a few years.

Nearly 90 percent of all journalists have at least a bachelor's degree. The proportion of college graduates in journalism rose from 82 percent in 1992 to 89 percent in 2002. When Weaver began his research a quarter century ago, slightly fewer than 75 percent of journalists were college graduates.