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Newspaper job cuts surged 30% in 2011

The number of jobs eliminated in the newspaper industry rose by nearly 30% in 2011 from the prior year, according to the blog that has been tracking the human toll on the industry for the last five years.

Meanwhile, a separate analysis confirms what most of us already suspected: The proportion of cutbacks was higher in newsrooms than it was for the industry as a whole – twice as high by the calculations I will share in a moment.

First, let’s take a look at the surprising surge of job cuts in 2011, a year that many newspaper people had hoped would be a time of relative stability after five years of successive revenue declines. Instead of steadying, advertising sales slid throughout 2011 and likely will come in at less than half of the record $49.4 billion achieved as recently as 2005.

As publishers scrambled to bring costs in line with diminishing revenues, 3,775+ newspaper jobs were eliminated in 2011, according to Erica Smith, the author of the Paper Cuts blog. The toll this year is nearly 30% greater than 2,920+ cuts Smith reported in 2010.

Smith says “+” because many publishers tend to fudge the numbers when they announce staff reductions. The best Smith can do, as she is the first to admit, is tally whatever hard numbers she gleans from the press – or contained in memos that land in her email. Because many announcements don’t contain numbers, she adds a + to the statistics she assembles.

Given this limitation, it is fair to conclude her statistics understate the number of people who have lost their jobs. But the trend she faithfully has been reporting is unmistakable.

Since Smith began her running count of publishing layoffs in the middle of 2007, 39,806+ newspaper jobs have been eliminated. This represents 11% of the all the jobs in an industry that, according to the Census Bureau, employed 360,633 individuals in 2007.

The worst newspaper layoffs occurred in 2008 and 2009, when, respectively, 15,993+ and 14,285+ pink slips were issued. Newspaper ad sales, the primary source of industry revenues, plunged 17% in 2008 and 27% in 2009, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

While the layoff rate dropped to 2,920+ in 2010, things went in the wrong direction this year, as the rate surged to 3,775+ jobs with two weeks left on the calendar (though most publishers presumably will hold their fire over the holidays).

With publishers trimming expenses to keep pace with contracting revenues, Smith’s site shows that layoffs hit every level of every department. As in prior years, the positions zapped in 2011 range from senior managers and ad reps to advertising artists and pressmen.

Bunches of jobs have been eliminated over the years as publishers consolidated production in shared facilities or outsourced such functions as ad production, call centers and even copyediting and page make-up.

Nowhere has the toll been higher than in newsrooms, where staffing has slipped each year since 2005 to successively new modern-day lows.

Nearly 1 in 3 newsroom jobs have been eliminated since the number of journalists peaked at 56,900 in 1989, according to an annual survey by the American Society of News Editors. At the end of 2010, only 41,600 scribes were left on the industry’s payrolls.

If only a fifth of the cuts identified by Smith in 2011 were in newsrooms, then barely 41,000 journalists will be left at America’s newspapers at year’s end. With the ASNE reporting that 52,600 journalists were on the job in 2007, then the projected newsroom headcount at the end of this year would be 22% lower than it was in 2007.

In other words, the decline in newsroom employment has been twice as great since 2007 as the 11% drop in over-all industry employment.

This also means (as illustrated below) that newsroom staffing now is at the lowest level since the ASNE inaugurated its newsroom census in 1978.

posted by Newsosaur

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