PR industry fills the vacuum left by shrinking newsrooms

As newsrooms across the country have been shrinking, the public relations industry has boomed, John Sullivan reports at Pro Publica.

In a story co-published with the Columbia Journalism Review, Sullivan says the number of newspaper reporters and editors has fallen from a high of 56,900 in 1990 to 41,600 this year. Newspaper advertising revenue declined from $49 billion in 2000 to $22 billion in 2009. Television news outlets have fared even worse by some measures.

Meanwhile, revenues at public relations agencies rose from $3.5 billion in 1997 to $8.75 billion in 2007, and employment increased from 38,735 to 50,499. And that’s counting only employees of independent public relations agencies, not those who work for corporations, lobbying firms, ad agencies, non-profits, or government.

“What we are seeing now is the demise of journalism at the same time we have an increasing level of public relations and propaganda,” said Robert McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Illinois who has researched the issue. “I don’t know anyone who can look at that calculus and see a very good outcome.”