Monday, April 14, 2008

ASNE's senselesss newsroom census

Although it’s finally pointing in the right direction, I wouldn’t put any faith in the annual newsroom census just released by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In a confounding statistical mélange of apples, bananas and bowling bowls, the association – which ought to know better – would have us believe that only 1,000 journalists (less than 1.9% of the work force) lost their jobs at America’s newspapers since 2006 and only 3,800 positions (6.7% of the work force) have been eliminated since the peak employment of 56,400 reached during the tech bubble in 2001.

Would the toll were that low. But common sense tells you it is not.

To pick one admittedly extreme example, the news staff of the San Jose Mercury News has been trimmed to 175 today from some 400 in 2001. Compare the 56% drop in headcount at the Merc to the 6.7% industry decline reported by ASNE in the same interval and you can see why I question the census provided by the group that ought to be the first to want to accurately assay the decimation of the nation’s newsrooms.

As you may recall, the ASNE last year reported that newsroom employment actually rose 4% between 2006 and 2007 to 57,000. When I asked the ASNE then how employment could have climbed after a year of relentless cost cutting throughout the industry, the answer from a spokesperson who didn’t want to be identified was that, um, well, uh, the ASNE changed the way it counted online staffers.

This year, yet a new methodology was employed to further confuse matters. Instead of saying that there were 57,000 journalists on the job in 2007, the ASNE now says there were 55,000. The difference, as explained by the ASNE, is that, um, well, uh, it is counting people who work at free papers in a different way this year than last year.

As a consequence of continuously tinkering with seemingly ineptly gathered data, it is likely that the ASNE is materially understating the decline in the newsroom population in the last half-dozen years. With apologies in advance for the complexity imposed by the association’s illogical statistics, here’s one example of how goofy this gets:

The association reported yesterday that the number of journalists at America’s newspapers fell by 2,400 between 2007 and this year, a 4.4% decline that brought total newsroom employment to 52,600, the lowest level since 1984. But the association inexplicably – and counter-intuitively – added 1,400 jobs to the industry total between 2006 and 2007, so as to report that the industry employed 55,000 journalists in 2007 vs. 53,600 in 2006.

For 1,400 new journalism jobs to have been created between 2006 and 2007, the industry would have had to be beefing up its newsrooms. I don’t recall that happening. Do you?

1 Comments:

Anonymous John Robinson said...

Exactly right except that you stopped too soon. If there is a useful purpose to the survey, it's not clear to me, and I'm a member who took it. I elaborate.

2:49 PM  

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