Journalism, by the Numbers, by the Wayside

For a quick by-the-numbers lesson on the sad state of current media affairs, read the opening sentence of media guru Ken Auletta’s column in this week’s New Yorker:

In the past three years, newspaper advertising revenues have plummeted, a fourth of all newsroom employees have been laid off or have accepted buyouts, and more than a hundred free local papers have folded.

The industry’s unlikely hero, Auletta continues, is AOL, which has hired 900 journalists in the last year, adding another 40 each week to its mushrooming Patch local newsroom network. Or should that be anti-hero? The compendium of online newspapers in small, affluent communities numbers 700 in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and each is run by an editor who makes, Auletta reports, between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.

Just a few short years ago, $40k was the starting salary for a bottom-of-the-masthead magazine reporter. Not, certainly, what an effective Editor-in-Chief should even consider. Honestly, I don’t know what Patch writers make, but I know it’s not much, and that it is a source of much nervous and angry chatter among journalists who are hungry for work but unwilling to chew and swallow their pride for sustenance. It’s no wonder we’re all so fucking bitter.

Other, funnier numbers from the story include:

  • 50% of internet surfers logged on using AOL pay-per-minute dial-up service in the late 1990s
  • 35 million AOL users in 2002
  • 4 million AOL users today (and falling precipitously)
  • 75% of current AOL dial-up subscribers have DSL or cable hook-ups and don’t need AOL — but don’t realize it
  • $9.99-$25.90 per month: price of AOL’s dial-up plan options [not in the story; I added that one]

Still being able to subscribe to the New Yorker and read it in print on the subway: Priceless.

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