Smaller newsrooms. Layoffs and furloughs. Fake news. Soaring news consumption. A global pandemic. The media industry was among the hardest hit in 2020 as journalists played a vital role in informing the public during these uncertain times.

2020 was unarguably a challenging year for the ever-evolving media landscape. Journalists were preparing themselves to handle another contentious election year in the middle of their lingering battle with fake news. The unexpected tsunami of layoffs/furloughs and closures washed over newsrooms across the world as COVID-19 lockdowns hit the industry and changed, once again, how journalists work.

Business Wire recently concluded a global media survey with the goal of casting light on the key issues that journalists face at this time of unprecedented uncertainty. Our survey responses reflected that journalists are overwhelmed and overworked. However, amid the already tough circumstances, there is still an overall positive outlook on the future of the news industry.

Layoffs and Furloughs are Hurting the Journalism Industry

Recent years have not been kind to journalism. It is not surprising that only 35% of surveyed journalists said there is job security in the news industry for the next five years.

Declining resources and revenues from advertising and print subscriptions are, unfortunately, a too-familiar financial struggle for journalists. The downsizing and closure of countless newsrooms show that the media landscape is changing and has been driven primarily by one sector: newspapers.

According to recent Pew Research data, the newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers dropped by 51% between 2008 and 2019, decreasing from 71,000 to 35,000 jobs.

Even though combined newsroom employment – broadcast television, radio, cable, and digital-native – remained relatively stable, it fell far short of offsetting the total loss of about 36,000 newspaper jobs over the entire 2008-2019 period.

Newsrooms are Smaller Than Before

It’s true – small newsrooms don’t represent small journalism. Nowadays, around 65% of surveyed journalists are currently working in newsrooms with 15 people or less.

However, a majority of smaller newsrooms find themselves hard-pressed to keep up. There are fewer editors to catch mistakes, as well as fewer resources, time, and nimbleness to try things and adapt.

Although staffs have decreased in size, the pressure and amount of content being published has increased. Furthermore, journalists are continuously trying to compete with the immediate information shared on social media platforms and other websites.

So as newsrooms do more with less, can journalists keep up?

Digital and Media Consumption Grows

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in early 2020, news sites have seen an unprecedented increase in visits. Over half of our surveyed journalists (54%) primarily provide news content for websites, with 37% of them indicating a surge in online news consumption during the pandemic.

As a result, we asked our surveyed journalists what the most challenging aspects of their profession were in 2020, and among our top responses were: A lack of trust in news (45%), working from home (31%), and covering the pandemic (28%). These numbers confirmed that news fatigue didn’t escape journalists last year – in data provided by the Pew Research Center, some expressed their exhaustion with the news cycle and the seemingly endless stream of information.

Still, credible, fact-checked news has never been more valuable. Many journalists in 2020 were self-aware of their role in informing the public, countering disinformation about the virus.

The Fight Against Fake News and Misinformation Continues

As stated in a Brookings Institution report on local newsrooms, thousands have closed in recent years. As a result, over 65 million Americans live in counties with only one local newspaper—or none at all. Without a reliable source for news, creators of fake news and misinformation have seized the opportunity to grab hold of readers searching for relevant coverage.

Meanwhile, with newsrooms that are currently stretched too thin, the ability to investigate and corroborate facts has become increasingly difficult. Around 78% of our surveyed journalists agreed that there is a greater need to verify facts and information today versus in the past. 

A 2020 Business Wire survey respondent added: “Accuracy has always been paramount. It's not a question of that facts are more important now so much as the lack of experienced journalists and lack of copy being edited before publication has resulted in much lower accuracy.”

On a positive note, 69% of surveyed reporters said they have NOT experienced more criticism, distrust, or contradiction of their news coverage from the public in the past year.

When asked what their publication is doing about it, a respondent said: “We continue to report facts with accuracy, fairness, and context. We also try to be as transparent as possible about the origin of stories and the way we report them.”

Journalists are Still Optimistic About the Industry’s Future

It’s been a tumultuous year for journalism, and that’s not likely to change soon. Our surveyed journalists represent a strong and very robust news media as 50% of them indicated that they have been in the industry for more than 20 years.

Despite their continued challenges, several signs of hope still exist as 64% see themselves being in the field five years from now. More good news? Almost half (42%) of journalists were consistently optimistic about the media landscape!

Our global media survey results show once more that journalists are not giving up and neither should we. Yes, 2021 will be critical in shaping the future of media. However, it is not only up to newsrooms and journalists – the public and PR/comms professionals must help protect and strengthen the industry. We need to keep in mind that we are all part of the solution to maintain the integrity and value of the unbiased truth.

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