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Journalists get left behind in the industry’s decline

“There are lots of efforts to bolster print and local media, but there aren’t many structures in place to support journalists struggling with job insecurity or job loss.”

In 2019, both digital and print media faced new, painful rounds of layoffs and closures, from BuzzFeed News to Gannett to GateHouse to The Times-Picayune to Vice to Splinter, among many others. Entire publications ceased to exist. With each set of firings came the collective hand-wringing and unconvincingly upbeat tweets from newly unemployed journalists that make your heart ache.

By one estimate, nearly 8,000 media jobs were lost this year. CJR puts the number of journalist jobs lost at more than 3,100. I’ve witnessed talented reporters lose their jobs and opt out of traditional journalism jobs — or media altogether — so they can support themselves.

It’s not just that journalists are losing their jobs. It’s also the journalists forced to work freelance, part-time, as contractors, or in temporary fellowships as they struggle to find or stay in staff positions that offer stability and health benefits.

There are lots of efforts to bolster print and local media, but there aren’t many structures in place to support journalists struggling with job insecurity or job loss. There are, of course, job boards, journalism organizations, and job newsletters, but many of the efforts I’ve seen are informal efforts by individuals or a patchwork of disparate resources.

In debates about the future of media, more attention has been paid to keeping companies alive than to the fate of the individuals losing their jobs. We desperately need solutions to make media sustainable for the future, but we also need to address unemployed journalists’ immediate professional, financial, and psychological needs.

I’ve personally experienced the turbulence of this industry — getting laid off from a staff job after relocating, taking jobs without benefits, and working time-limited positions. And as the manager of a large-scale collaborative project, I keep track of partner journalists who have changed jobs, were laid off, or had their newsroom shut down altogether. Out of the hundreds of journalists who have worked on the project, there are now close to 200 people on the offboarding list. Some have gone on to get other jobs in journalism, but others have chosen different careers.

When newsrooms permanently shed jobs, it isn’t just harmful to journalists, or dangerous for local communities and democracy. It’s also bad for the media ecosystem as a whole, especially as journalism increasingly relies on collaboration. Projects like the ones I work on in my newsroom depend on local newsrooms, and our ability to reach wider audiences and tell more stories is hampered by the diminishing number of reporters on the local level. When it comes to collaboration, we are only as good as the sum of our parts.

I fear the situation won’t improve in 2020. Journalists will continue to lose their jobs and have to make important decisions about their livelihoods. They’ll continue to take jobs without security or benefits, or try to make a living as freelancers. Some journalists will leave media for good.

Writing about the implosion of digital media, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan warned last year that “journalism stands to lose a generation of diverse talent.” There’s a lot more that needs to be done to address the crisis in journalism, and to recognize that it’s not only a business problem, but also a human resource problem.

Rachel Glickhouse is a journalist at ProPublica.

In 2019, both digital and print media faced new, painful rounds of layoffs and closures, from BuzzFeed News to Gannett to GateHouse to The Times-Picayune to Vice to Splinter, among many others. Entire publications ceased to exist. With each set of firings came the collective hand-wringing and unconvincingly upbeat tweets from newly unemployed journalists that make your heart ache.

By one estimate, nearly 8,000 media jobs were lost this year. CJR puts the number of journalist jobs lost at more than 3,100. I’ve witnessed talented reporters lose their jobs and opt out of traditional journalism jobs — or media altogether — so they can support themselves.

It’s not just that journalists are losing their jobs. It’s also the journalists forced to work freelance, part-time, as contractors, or in temporary fellowships as they struggle to find or stay in staff positions that offer stability and health benefits.

There are lots of efforts to bolster print and local media, but there aren’t many structures in place to support journalists struggling with job insecurity or job loss. There are, of course, job boards, journalism organizations, and job newsletters, but many of the efforts I’ve seen are informal efforts by individuals or a patchwork of disparate resources.

In debates about the future of media, more attention has been paid to keeping companies alive than to the fate of the individuals losing their jobs. We desperately need solutions to make media sustainable for the future, but we also need to address unemployed journalists’ immediate professional, financial, and psychological needs.

I’ve personally experienced the turbulence of this industry — getting laid off from a staff job after relocating, taking jobs without benefits, and working time-limited positions. And as the manager of a large-scale collaborative project, I keep track of partner journalists who have changed jobs, were laid off, or had their newsroom shut down altogether. Out of the hundreds of journalists who have worked on the project, there are now close to 200 people on the offboarding list. Some have gone on to get other jobs in journalism, but others have chosen different careers.

When newsrooms permanently shed jobs, it isn’t just harmful to journalists, or dangerous for local communities and democracy. It’s also bad for the media ecosystem as a whole, especially as journalism increasingly relies on collaboration. Projects like the ones I work on in my newsroom depend on local newsrooms, and our ability to reach wider audiences and tell more stories is hampered by the diminishing number of reporters on the local level. When it comes to collaboration, we are only as good as the sum of our parts.

I fear the situation won’t improve in 2020. Journalists will continue to lose their jobs and have to make important decisions about their livelihoods. They’ll continue to take jobs without security or benefits, or try to make a living as freelancers. Some journalists will leave media for good.

Writing about the implosion of digital media, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan warned last year that “journalism stands to lose a generation of diverse talent.” There’s a lot more that needs to be done to address the crisis in journalism, and to recognize that it’s not only a business problem, but also a human resource problem.

Rachel Glickhouse is a journalist at ProPublica.

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