30,000 UK journalists hired in 12 months and they now outnumber PR people

There are now more journalists than at any time since 2010 and approximately 30,000 journalists have been hired in the last years, suggests Gareth Thomas, managing director, UK of PAN Communications.

Journalism is in decline, so the narrative goes. But is it time to reassess this bleak story?

A look at current data tells a quite different story: people’s appetite for trusted news grew during the pandemic.

The latest Ofcom News Consumption report data reveals TV remains the most common platform for accessing local and national news. National papers are now being read - in digital or print = by more than 30 million people every day. That’s up by 18% on a year ago and if you include big local papers, daily readership tops 40 million.

The Ofcom report also shows TV and magazines are performing strongest when it comes to trust, with social media performing least well. Wider global data from Reuters Institute reveals trust in the news has grown, on average, by six percentage points in the wake of Coronavirus.

It also shows how the pandemic appears to have acted as a trigger to speed up digital transformation and diversification of revenue streams within media.

When it comes to the number of people working as journalists, the latest ONS Labour Market Statistics are fascinating. They show more people now work in journalism in Britain than at any point since 2010. And, in fact, there are now 12,000 fewer PRs than reporters1.

UK workers employment Journalism and Public Relations (including directors) 2017-2021 (NOMIS Labour Market Survey)

Moreover, if Adzuna’s ‘live advertised jobs’ tracker is accurate (more than 11,000 open journalist positions, compared to fewer than 9,000 for PRs), then the gap may widen further in the year ahead2.

All of the above is to be welcomed.

And yet, even with this rebound in journalism, I think it’s also fair to say it’s taking more skill and craft to ensure client stories become news.

Across the board, the bar for earned stories has been set higher.

A ‘spray and pray’ approach to issuing news has never been a great strategy, but at a time when there’s so much ‘hard’ news around, it’s essential to be selective with the stories you choose to share.

Exclusives for decent stories have an important role to play in the new landscape: with so many influential mainstream and trade publications adopting paywalls, they’re hungry for unique content to draw in eyeballs.

Incidentally, I’ve heard some clients question the value of coverage behind paywalls, when only around 10% of British adults pay for news. I’d counter that this 10% (approximately 5.4M people) tend to be important decision makers who value quality news.

The sector I work in - technology - has been relatively resilient during the pandemic and media organisations are investing in tech journalists. The top ten UK B2B tech titles command an impressive collective audience of 167 million monthly unique users. But even here, we see fewer specialist publications and writers covering much wider beats.

Despite more reporters coming through, most journalists I know say they are exhausted and overwhelmed with PR pitches. And reporters are getting younger too - the NCTJ’s report shows the proportion aged under 30 is up from 16% two years ago to 23%, while the proportion over 40 decreased from 64% to 48%. This perhaps suggests that there isn’t always the same level of deep technical understanding that there has been previously.

We’re finding that quality pre-written content is in high demand as editors in the trade try to sate the appetite of their always-connected subscribers. Similarly, multimedia content - be it interactive maps, video, podcast audio or widgets go down well.

For mainstream media, linking your story to the big thing in popular culture works well: for example, for a fintech client we recently drew a parallel between the Netflix smash-hit documentary The Social Dilemma and the entry of Big Tech into personal finance, landing national coverage as a result.

Brands that are doing these things well are riding the recovery in journalism and still able to generate valuable earned coverage. They’re also tracking impact through Power of Voice, rather than a purely volume-based Share of Voice as a key metric.

This - combined with the fact that media appears to be rebounding - makes me very optimistic. Rumours of the death of journalism - and PR - have been greatly exaggerated.

Additional sources

1 - According to the July 2021 NOMIS Official Labour Market Statistics, there were 112,400 people working as ‘journalists, newspaper and periodical editors’ and 68,600 people working as public relations professionals. The data set also reports a further 43,800 people in the combined category of senior 'advertising and public relations directors'. Based on the fact there are 68,600 'public relations professionals' and 43,800 'advertising account managers and creative directors' we estimated that 61% of the combined 'advertising and public relations directors' were PR directors and so added 31,537 to the total working on PR, to give us 100,137 working in PR.

2 - It’s worth noting that the situation in the US is very different: roughly equivalent data shows there are approximately five PRs for every reporter.

Article written by Gareth Thomas, managing director, UK of PAN Communications.