Newspaper Job Market Perks Up

By: Randy Dotinga

The slap-happy glory days of the late 1990s haven’t returned to the newspaper job market, and some observers figure they’ll never see their likes around these parts again. But the bad times have mostly vanished too, and things are actually looking up for job-seekers.

From the pages of Editor & Publisher to online job banks, the number of help-wanted ads appears to be staying steady or growing, a definite improvement from the doldrums of a year or two ago. “The number of ads started to decline in 2000 and really declined in 2001, but last year it leveled off and increased a bit,” said Brian Chester, classified manager for E&P.

Meanwhile, newspaper recruiters report that they are back in business as industry layoffs have slowed to a trickle. “It’s a good time to be looking for a job in journalism. It’s certainly a lot better than 2001,” said Dan Rohn, founder of journalismjobs.com. “I’m not hearing too many horror stories from job seekers as I used to, I’m not getting as many desperate calls looking for any lead at all.”

The increases in hiring are not just limited to the newsroom. Landmark Communications Inc. — which owns The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., and The Roanoke (Va.) Times — is looking for advertising representatives, said Recruitment Director Connie Sage. And Gannett Co. Inc., which owns 100 daily newspapers, has been bringing in more employees of all types since about the middle of last year.

“A lot of papers took a very cautious approach at the beginning of 2002, and they chose to be very deliberate in their hiring until they could get an idea of what the year could hold,” said Gannett Professional Staffing Manager Cedric Bryant. “Toward the end of last year and carrying over to this year, papers feel more comfortable moving forward and have a better grasp of what they could do in their market.”

Along with the improved economic outlook has come a thaw at newspapers with hiring freezes. “It seems that as we’ve turned into the year there was a slow shift, a glimmer of hope, as people were talking about how they were starting to unfreeze jobs,” said Eric Wee, a former Washington Post reporter and founder of journalismnext.com, which helps minority journalists find work.

But not every newspaper is on the rebound. To the West, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Seattle Times are both considering mass layoffs. The Oregonian in Portland, meanwhile, is keeping a lid on hiring.

“We’re looking at every open position and not filling it if we don’t have to,” said Thomas Whitehouse, the Oregonian’s director of human resources. Hiring is most likely in money-generating areas like the advertising department, he said. “In other areas, we’re asking everybody to pitch in and do more.” The newspaper doesn’t expect its financial picture to improve much until as late as the second half of 2004, Whitehouse said.

On the East Coast, The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., put a hiring freeze into effect two months ago after the national terrorism alert level was raised. “It seems that things just came to a halt in our area,” said President and Publisher Orage Quarles III. “We’re only filling essential positions that we have to have in order to get the paper out.” The soft economy in the state dipped even further as many residents went off to war, he said.

The economic effects of Gulf War II, of course, aren’t limited to North Carolina. Retailers and airlines are reporting drops in business, while the national employment rate remained at 5.8% in March, according to figures released today.

Other than Quarles, none of those interviewed for this story said they’d seen any immediate impact from the war upon hiring. But the conflict is still young, and its impact may affect more than advertising revenues.

“For a lot of the big-city papers, the war coverage will fill up their news hole,” said Randy Hagihara, newsroom recruiter at the Los Angeles Times. “It’s going to take a toll on their budgets.”

In other words, the economic hangover of the war may last long after the fighting stops.

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