B.C. Premier Christy Clark's director of communications Sara MacIntyre told reporters they could not talk to the premier at a photo op in 2012. Screen grab taken from CTV footage.
By Ira Basen, Future of News editor
Stop the presses! Breaking news! According to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor, the ratio of public relations practitioners to journalists in the U.S. is higher than it’s ever been.
In 2010, researchers Robert McChesney and John Nichols reported that the ratio of PR practitioners to journalists had jumped from 1.2:1 in 1980 to 4:1. Now, the Labor Department says the number has risen to 4.6:1.
For most journalists, the report simply confirms what they already knew. PR people are everywhere these days! No one—not politicians, not CEOs, not athletes, not celebrities, not even ordinary folks who happen to find themselves in the news—is prepared to meet the press without a PR person advising them.
And who can blame them? Lots of bad things can happen if you say something stupid to the media.
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But what’s the story in Canada? Given the thousands of media jobs that have been lost over the past several years, we would expect to find a similar situation as in the U.S. And we do, although the numbers reveal some surprising twists.
Fun With Numbers
According to the 2011 Statistics Canada data, there are 4.1 PR professionals for every journalist in Canada. The census has two categories that are relevant here—FO23, which allows people to identify themselves as journalists, and FO24, which covers professional occupations in public relations and communications. The chart below shows the results from both these categories from the 1991 census to the 2011 National Household Survey.
F023 – Journalists
F024 – Professional Occupations in public relations and communications
The most striking thing about the results in FO23 is that the number of journalists in Canada has remained virtually unchanged over the past 20 years (13,480 in 1991 vs. 13,270 in 2011).
This is surprising for two somewhat contradictory reasons.
First, think about how much the media landscape has changed over the past two decades. In 1991, Canadian consumers still got virtually all their news from newspapers, magazines, three TV networks and radio. Today, all those platforms are still available, but so are many more TV channels and, of course, the Internet with its insatiable demand for content.
So given how much the demand for news content has grown over the past 20 years, it would be logical to assume that the number of people supplying that content should also have grown. But that hasn’t happened. The needle has been stuck at approximately 13,000 suppliers regardless of changes in the external environment.
The second surprise lies in comparing the 2006 and 2011 results. Before the 2011 data was released, the expectation was that the number of journalists would drop significantly. Thousands of media jobs had disappeared in that period and that should have been reflected in the 2011 number, but that didn’t happen.
Why? There are two possible reasons.
First, it’s important to remember the 2011 data was based not on the mandatory long-form census, but on the voluntary National Household Survey. We don’t really know how comparable the data is. Second, remember that all this data is based on how people identify themselves. So as the number of people we have traditionally considered to be “professional” journalists has declined, the number of online content creators has increased, and many of those people may well identify themselves as journalists.
Whatever the reason, the trend that the data reveal is pretty clear: There has been no growth in the ranks of Canadian journalists over the past two decades.
The picture for Canadian public relations practitioners is considerably brighter.
In 1991, the number of Canadian PR people outnumbered journalists by about 10,000, and the ratio was under 2:1. There were slight increases in the number of communication workers in 1996 and 2001, but by the time of the 2006 census, PR employment had exploded in Canada, and that growth continued into 2011.
Today, the gap that was approximately 10,000 in 1991 has grown to roughly 41,000, and the ratio that was under 2:1 20 years ago now stands at more than 4:1, approximately the same as reported by the Labor Department in the U.S.
None of this comes as a surprise to Canadian journalists, many of whom have tales to tell about the growing role of PR in the production and presentation of news. And that’s true in both the public and private sectors.
A Freedom of Information request from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently revealed that the Alberta government spends more than $21 million a year in salaries for its communications staff. The province employs 214 communications workers, substantially more people than actually cover the Alberta government these days.
The bottom line: The demand for PR practitioners will continue to grow, there are a lot more employment opportunities in PR than in journalism and journalists will continue to feel that there are PR people behind every door, largely because there really are.
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