The state of Northern Ireland’s media and PR workforces

news-bg The traditional model of the media in Northern Ireland is under pressure with smaller workforces across most areas of work. Peter Cheney analyses the Census of Employment figures for the media and PR sectors.

Northern Ireland’s media has entered a rapid decline after years of growth, according to official statistics on the size of the workforce, while the smaller PR workforce has also fallen after peaking before the recession.

The most accurate guide to the size of workforces within the economy is the Northern Ireland Census of Employment, published every two years by DETI and based on returns from all employers. It counts jobs rather than people employed. Someone holding both a full-time and a part-time job, or someone with two part-time jobs, will therefore be counted twice.

It is not possible to tell exactly how many journalists are employed in the province, as they are grouped alongside advertising, design and administration staff employed by a media outlet.

In the most recent census (for 2009), the media workforce was classified under:

• programming and broadcasting activities;

• publishing of newspapers; and

• publishing of journals and periodicals.

Previous censuses also included a breakdown of ‘programming and broadcasting activities’ between radio and television, and a separate statistic for news agency staff. Results for 2011 are due to be published this September.

Several journalists and media commentators have held that the local media was at its largest size during the Troubles. The real trend was continuously upward after 1995, peaking at 3,815 in 2003. A decline then took hold with a sudden loss of 527 jobs (14.8 per cent) between 2007 and 2009.

Print has always been larger than broadcasting due to the large number of weekly newspapers. After a gradual

(19.4 per cent) rise from 1995, the print media workforce reached its highest level in 2005 (with 2,312 jobs) but has since lost 528 staff (a 22.8 per cent decrease). Print employment is now at a lower level than in 1995.

Four out of five print staff work in newspapers. However, the papers lost 560 jobs between 2005 and 2009. Journals and periodicals (mostly magazines) made a net gain of 32 jobs in the same period.

The number of broadcasters increased by 420 (up 39.6 per cent) between 1995 and 2003 and remained steady until 191 jobs were lost in the recession (down 13.2 per cent).

Data for radio and television is limited, although TV is larger as it needs more production staff. The ratio has been roughly 80:20 since 2001 but was previously 65:35.

Radio employment slightly increased from 174 to 253 between 2001 and 2007. Television’s rise was much more dramatic (up 359 between 2001 and 2003 alone) but, due to its dominant size, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of losses have also been in that medium. The news agencies quietly continued with 30 to 40 staff but the most recent figures are not available.

Not all journalists are trade unionists but National Union of Journalists membership fluctuated around 800 at the start of the decade before increasing rapidly to 1,080 in 2005. It then levelled out around the 1,000 mark before peaking at 1,177 in 2009 and falling to 951 in 2010. The union’s current rolls have 850 members.

PR only started to feature on the statistics in 1999 and has wavered up and down since then, with a peak of 393 in 2007. This does not include public sector press officers, who are instead counted under ‘public administration and defence’.

Given the economic situation, the 2011 census is likely to show further decreases. If the 2007-2009 changes were continued, newspaper employment would fall to 1,137 with 1,480 people working in print. Broadcasting employment would decrease to around 1,068 (almost identical to 1995 levels) with the overall media workforce standing at 2,516. Statistically, the PR trend is hard to predict but either a slight decrease or slight increase seem the most likely outcomes.

Of course, these are only projections and the real numbers will almost certainly be different. The numbers do show that professional journalism is under intense pressure. Despite society’s cynicism about journalists, good quality news and analysis is vital for testing the truth of information and holding the powerful to account.

A decreasing media workforce is therefore a worrying trend for democracy.

The positive alternative, as former Fortnight editor John O’Farrell has pointed out (issue 51, page 97), would be “more journalists with more time to properly investigate and research stories” who focus on “facts rather than opinions” and treat readers as “citizens not consumers”.

Related Posts