News and journalism ‘more popular than ever’ as journalists outnumber PRs

News and journalism are more popular than ever, with more journalists than PR professionals currently working in the UK, according to new research that challenges the oft-cited death knell for traditional media.

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The findings are based on analysis by Gareth Thomas, managing director, UK of PAN Communications. He pointed to new ONS labour market statistics that show more people now work in journalism in Britain (112,400) than at any point since 2010 – and estimated that there are almost 12,000 more journalists than PRs*.

Thomas said the data also suggests the pandemic has sped up digital transformation and diversification of revenue streams within media.

Citing Adzuna’s ‘live advertised jobs’ tracker (more than 11,000 open journalist positions, compared to just over 9,000 for PRs), the gap may widen further in the year ahead, he suggested.

Thomas said: “People’s appetite for trusted news actually grew significantly during the pandemic. 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.”

His analysis indicates that the tables have turned compared to the market five years ago, when PR professionals outnumbered journalists at 83,000 to 64,000, prompting former Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade to describe the PR industry as a “colossus” and ask: “If journalism jobs keep disappearing, how will we hold power to account?”

Writing for PRWeek UK in 2015, Signal chief executive David Benigson went so far as to say: “While this can be taken as a sign that the public relations industry is flourishing, it seems to me that this is bad news for PR.”

He speculated that unless PRs were able to step up their game it could spell costly failures for a lot of agencies unable to produce high-quality work that met the editorial standards of their target media.

However, the new data appears to have averted this scenario.

What’s more, the latest Ofcom News Consumption report data reveals TV remains the most common platform for accessing local and national news at 79 per cent. More than 30 million people read national newspapers – in digital or print – every day, up 18 per cent on a year ago. Daily readership tops 40 million when the figures for large local titles are added to the total.

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 also reveals that trust in the news has grown – on average, by six percentage points – in the wake of coronavirus.

The report found strictly regulated, impartial broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 remained the most trusted outlets, followed by national broadsheet newspapers.

Thomas added: “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 much exaggerated.”

*Thomas’ analysis of the latest data takes into account there were 112,400 people working as ‘journalists, newspaper and periodical editors’ and 68,600 people working as public relations professionals. The data 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', he estimates 61 per cent of the combined 'advertising and public relations directors' were PR directors and so added 31,537 to the number working in PR, resulting in the total total of 100,137 working in PR.

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