Darren Fishell

Darren Fishell

Data reporter and wrangler

The decline of newspaper jobs in Maine, in 4 sad charts

Written on August 10, 2019

In the past 20 years, Maine lost more than half of its newspaper publishing jobs.

By 2018, newspaper publishing payroll jobs dwindled to a little more than 1,100, down from 2,526 in 2000.

That decline stands to increase government waste and decrease voter turnout in state and local elections, studies suggest.

By industry, only jobs in paper mills, semiconductor manufacturing, wood product manufacturing and vocational rehabilitation services fell faster during that period.

Compared with all jobs, the first sad chart speaks for itself.

Unlike manufacturing, where automation has maintained or increased output while jobs dwindled, reporting still requires a lot of shoe leather to be done properly – in a way that can serve as a watchdog over governments, businesses and nonprofits.

The picture of the industry in Maine is grimmer still: wage growth has also lagged other industries. Other industries with similar job losses posted higher wage growth.

(I can attest, from personal experience, that it is quite common to go years in newspapering without a raise.)

To put that in more detailed context: Among Maine industries with an average of at least 1,000 employees from 2000-2018, newspaper publishing had the sixth slowest growth in wages.

The data includes all payroll jobs, full- and part-time (that is why industries such as skiing facilities have such a low average weekly wage for any given year).

Viewing changes in wages and jobs together, we have the last sad chart for the newspaper industry. The scatterplot below shows what an outlier the newspaper industry is, with some of the steepest job losses and also some of the slowest wage growth.

The struggles of local and regional news have major impacts that, itself, warrants coverage and attention. Dermot Murphy, an assistant finance professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who specializes in public finance, found that the death of such news outlets translated to higher borrowing costs and less efficient operations for local governments:

We found that local government borrowing costs significantly increased for counties that have experienced a newspaper closure compared to geographically adjacent counties with similar demographic and economic characteristics without newspaper closures.

Other research Murphy cited indicates that “a lack of local media coverage is associated with less informed voters, lower voter turnouts, and less engaged local politicians.”

As for how to fix it? All I can say for sure – from experience reporting in California and Maine – is that the answer is not simply throwing money at the problem. Nor is it nostalgia.

But beyond that: It’s clearly hard tellin’, not knowin’.