I’m not going to lie—the news industry is in a huge transition. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of newsroom jobs nationwide has fallen 25 percent in the last 10 years to 86,000, and nowhere has the decline been more evident than at the country’s newspapers.
Economists describe this transition or loss of jobs as a period of creative destruction, a theory by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter that explains how innovation inevitably leads to the demise or destruction of what existed before it. The Internet has completely transformed the news industry’s business model. Classified advertising has moved almost exclusively online, where the primary beneficiaries of the change are technology companies like Google and Facebook. Newspapers are also moving online but not as quickly as the market demands, and many are having trouble convincing their audiences to pay for digital subscriptions when they’ve been habituated to think of any content they find online as “free.”
But there is also a case to be made that the industry is starting to reap the benefits of this disruption. Schumpeter believed that companies that embrace creative destruction will emerge more prosperous and more productive, while those that resist will suffer from stagnation and decline. The New York Times is an example of the former. Contrary to references to the paper as the “failing New York Times,” the news outlet is profitable, earning nearly $44 million in the third quarter of 2019, beating market expectations. It also just reported its best-ever third quarter for digital news subscriptions, with 273,000 new subscribers signing up. And in what’s sometimes referred to as the “Trump Bump,” the total number of subscribers is now 4.9 million, almost triple the level in November 2016. The New York Times says its goal is 10 million paying readers by 2025.
While the New York Times is a bit of unicorn, it is proof that the news industry can adapt, and that the public can be convinced to pay for newsgathering that is so vital to our democracy. So for those considering a career in journalism, I reject the notion that the news business is a dying industry. There are jobs, but the next generation of journalists will need multiplatform storytelling skills in addition to traditional reporting and writing fundamentals. Entry-level journalists will need to be proficient in the use of social media, online publishing and even coding, and must also be willing to consider start-ups or non-traditional outlets such as, for example, LinkedIn. That social media network now employs 65 journalists covering professional and business news, and just announced it is hiring more.
There is a caveat to Schumpeter’s hypothesis, and that is that businesses trying to reap the gains of creative destruction without the attendant pains will experience the inverse: all pain and no gain. That seems to argue for a full-scale (and faster) transition to a digital model and makes it even more crucial for news consumers to do their part and support journalism through subscriptions. But (optimist that I am), once the transition is complete, it also augurs well for a new golden age of journalism for the next generation of multimedia storytellers equipped with the skills and passion to carry on the legacy of the Fourth Estate.