If Donald Trump really wanted to preserve the most jobs possible in one of the US’s many struggling industries, he might consider local newspapers instead of steel manufacturing.
Restoring the US newspaper industry (meaning text news, not broadcast or radio) to its 2001 employment levels would create nearly 240,000 jobs. Restoring the steel industry to the same year’s employment would create only 44,000.
The decimation of American’s newsrooms was highlighted recently by Pew Research Center, which reported July 30 that newspaper employment had dropped by 23% between 2008 and 2017. Between 2001 and 2016, employment plummeted from 412,000 to 174,000 employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Steel and iron mill employment peaked at 650,000 in 1953, and by the late 1970s was below the level of newspaper industry employment in 2001. A severe drop in demand in the 1970s and 1980s forced many companies out of business, while China began to supply cheaper steel and automation increased. By 2001, US steel and iron mills employed just 127,000 people.
Trump’s tariffs on aluminum and steel imports could create another 23,400 jobs, economists estimate, but would cost far more jobs (400,000) in other industries.
While the local and national entities that report and publish news in a print format are still called “newspapers,” by the BLS, most of them disseminate the information they collect online to more readers then via a physical paper. The shift from newsprint to the internet over the past 15 years means some printing press jobs were lost that will never return, but reporting the news still requires the same resources as ever.
A steep decline in advertising in the early 2000s was responsible for the much of the newspaper industry’s drop in revenues, and subsequent layoffs. This resulted in the closure or consolidation of dozens of local newspapers across the country. New news outlets that publish only on the internet (like Quartz) have only picked up some of the slack, employing 193,500 people in 2016.
In recent years, employment in the newspaper industry has been further devastated by owners slashing jobs in search of higher profit margins. Alden Global Capital became known as a “destroyer of newspapers” for firing hundreds of journalists in newsrooms around the country, allegedly to fund poor-performing investments in other industries. Tronc cut nearly 100 employees from the Daily News this month, halving the newsroom (while paying out $15 million in severance to former chairman Michael Ferro, who resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.)
So-called “news deserts” or areas that don’t have any local daily news reporting, have sprung up in parts of America. Lack of local daily news reporters has made it harder for the Center for Disease Control to track the spread of viruses around the country, and governments (and taxpayers) in those areas pay more to borrow money, possibly because there’s less oversight. To address the issue, the state of New Jersey is creating a $5 million taxpayer fund to support local news reporting.
However many jobs it could save, the Trump administration seems unlikely to shore up the journalism industry. The president has encouraged followers to harass the “fake news media,” and referred to it as the “enemy of the people.” Today in response to questioning from the White House press pool, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also refused to say that the press was not the enemy of the people: