SF Bay Area Journalist Census Event Recap

Panelists at the SF Bay Area Journalist Census project presentation on April 19.Bay Area journalism job losses, which peaked in 2008 and 2009, have cut regional employment among journalists in half since 2001. That was among the findings of the San Francisco Bay Area Journalist Census report presented by its authors on April 19. They shared recommendations and hosted a panel discussion featuring current and former Bay Area journalists who described their experiences navigating the changing journalism landscape over the past decade.

Read the final report, including the complete list of recommendations, here.

“The survey data is the beginning of a move toward helping journalists navigate the new journalism economy,” said Luther Jackson, economic stimulus manager at NOVA, the workforce and economic development agency that sponsored the federally funded study. He said NOVA intends to implement the study’s recommendations, including connecting dislocated journalists with classes and other services to help them land new journalism jobs or transition to careers in other fields.

Jackson said that in his experience working with job seekers — especially ones retraining for new professions — those who maintained a positive outlook were more resilient. “When all skills are equal among a group of individuals,” he said. “The difference that makes some succeed where others don’t is attitude.”

Roger Dale, principal of the Natelson Dale Group, presented key findings from the multiphase study and explained how it was conducted. “The study began with government Census data on job loss in the Bay Area,” Dale said. The project team then used media worker and employer surveys to qualify that data.

According to Dale:

  • 717 respondents participated in the survey of media workers, 52 percent of whom were male and 48 percent of whom were female.
  • Only 3 percent of respondents identified themselves as currently unemployed, while 20 percent identified themselves as freelance journalists.
  • Job dislocations peaked in 2008 and 2009.
  • The broadcast industry has been relatively stable throughout the last 10 years. (Poynter‘s Steve Myers said via Twitter that broadcasting “wasn’t highly staffed to begin with,” which may account for the lower percentage of layoffs.)

Natelson Dale conducted 20 executive interviews which provided a “big picture” perspective on the data. One of the most common responses from those interviews was that journalists say they feel they need to improve their technical skills to find lasting employment. As one respondent put it, the movement in the industry is toward journalists being “one-person media centers.”

Natelson Dale made a variety of recommendations to NOVA based on the survey data and the information gleaned from the executive interviews. These recommendations include:

  • Engage employers from both traditional and new media sectors.
  • Maximize awareness of and access to existing training programs.
  • Serve as a national model for workforce development programs addressing the ongoing transformation of the journalism industry and other industries undergoing rapid change.

Dale’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion featuring current and former Bay Area journalists who shared their thoughts on the changing media landscape. Here are a few quotes from their conversation:

“People are still hungry for information — that has not changed. What has changed is the business model.” — Larry Olmstead, vice president, organizational development at United Way Silicon Valley

“Society is the big, big loser if we don’t,” restore journalism jobs. — Rebecca Rosen Lum, chair of the Pacific Media Workers’ Guild freelance unit

“When I became a freelancer, not having the camaraderie of the newsroom was kind of a downer. But I adapted, and I make a good living.” — Barbara E. Hernandez, freelance journalist

“The point that these skills are desirable is very true. People value good writing, being concise, being critical, there are ways you can [use those skills] even if you leave the field of journalism.” — Burt Herman, co-founder and CEO of Storify

“Nobody’s whining for long. There’s no career in whining….There can be a way for the public to support real journalism. We have to find real ways to financially back real journalism.” — Carl Hall, executive officer of the Pacific Media Workers Guild

“I want to take part in shaping [the] future. I want to help communities that don’t have access to the digital tools of creating media the way it’s currently being created.” — Jon Funabiki, professor of journalism at San Francisco State University and executive director of the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State University

The panelists acknowledged that the industry has faced serious challenges, but they also expressed optimism for the future of journalism. As Herman put it, “You shouldn’t lose that satisfaction that you get from writing a story every day just because you’re doing something new. We have to play a role in this new ecosystem and not pretend it’s not there.”

We welcome your thoughts on the changing shape of journalism. Please feel free to join the conversation in the comments.