The News Business’ Crisis of Productivity

Two images both via Andrew Golis. First, plummeting employment in newspapers:

chart of the day, newspaper employment 1

Second, after a period in which TV-watching was cutting into people’s reading, words are back largely thanks to the Internet:

reading 1

A large-scale study by the University of California at San Diego and other research universities revealed what some of us have long suspected: We’re reading far more words than we used to as we adopt new technologies.

Reading, which was in decline due to the growth of television, tripled from 1980 to 2008, because it is the overwhelmingly preferred way to receive words on the Internet,” found a University of California at San Diego study (.pdf) published this month by Roger E. Bohn and James E. Short of the University of San Diego.

The second trend is why the outlook for producers of written words is so very bleak. You hear a lot of talk about different kinds of ideas to bolster revenue models or get people to read more. But the reality is that the web makes it easier than ever for someone inclined to read things to read them. With global distribution, the same quantity of readers can be supplied by many, many, many, many fewer writers and editors. America produces far more manufactured goods than it did 40 years ago, even as employment in the manufacturing sector has collapsed. News writing seems to be going the same way for similar reasons. The increased productivity is very bad for people counting on jobs in the sector.