- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

Almost 6,000 newspaper journalists lost their jobs last year - the biggest one-year drop in history - according to an official account released Thursday by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), which has conducted annual newsroom surveys for more than three decades.

“Newspapers shed 5,900 newsroom jobs last year, reducing their employment of journalists by 11.3 percent to the levels of the early 1980s,” the ASNE said.

Not only were the job losses the largest annual decline in the history of the ASNE census, it follows a drop of 2,400 jobs a year ago. Jobs in print journalism now stand at 46,700 compared to 56,900 in 1990, when the numbers were the highest on record.

Some industry estimates of job losses in recent years have placed the number as high as 15,000 - with only 6 percent of the newly jobless able to get another job in journalism.

Charlotte Hall, president of Virginia-based ASNE, which represents about 600 newspaper editors around the country, decried the decline in employment, saying that “the loss of journalists is a loss for democracy.”

But she also acknowledged the new realities of a competitive marketplace. Traditional newspapers are struggling to regain their footing amid consistent losses of ad revenue and the challenges from broadcast, online and other electronic sources.

“We’ve all got to change, to grow, to become more visually fluent. Particularly editors,” Ms. Hall said.

The once-elite Washington press corps has not been immune, raising concerns in the industry that “watchdog” journalism on Capitol Hill has been compromised.

In February, a study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the past 20 years, the number of American news organizations accredited to cover Congress had fallen by two-thirds - from 564 in 1985 to 160 in early 2007. More cutbacks have been made since then, the report said.

In the mid-1980s, 71 newspapers had Washington bureaus; now there are 32. Anticipated cutbacks would further shrink that number to 25.

Policy-influencing, special-interest publications and foreign newspapers, however, have multiplied. For example, in 1968, there were 160 foreign journalists in Washington. Now there are 796, with the largest share of the influx hailing from Asia - particularly China - the Middle East and Africa.

“The picture they are sending abroad of the country is a far different one than the world received when the information came mainly via American-based wire services and cable news,” the study said.

ASNE itself is a showcase of industry woes; the group recently was forced to cancel its annual meeting to save money, and acted to distance itself from its longstanding ties in print earlier this month. Three-fourths of the membership voted to drop “newspapers” from the group’s name, replacing it with just plain “news.”

The change allowed ASNE “to reflect the fact that we serve editors who are leaders in delivering news on multiple platforms in addition to newsprint,” Ms. Hall said.

Dailies are now part of often alarmist coverage.

The exact phrase “death of newspapers” was used to headline or anchor more than 300 separate news stories in the past year, according to a LexisNexis search — that’s about 25 stories per month that have pronounced the death of the genre. “Death of print” is another favorite.

The reality?

Of the 1,437 daily newspapers across the nation, 10 have actually ceased to publish since 2007. Claims that the once-proud newspaper was dead are, perhaps, greatly exaggerated.

“We should not be yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” said Robert Steele, media ethicist for the Poynter Institute.

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