It's obvious to anyone following the media industry over the past few years that there has been a huge cull in the number of staff journalists.
Laid Off (via Journalism.co.uk), a study of redundancies among UK journalists published last September, estimated the number of jobs in mainstream media has fallen by between 15,000 and 20,000 since 2001.
The report says: "Based on a revised 2001 baseline estimate of 55,000 to 60,000 jobs in the mainstream media... the UK's mainstream journalism corps has shrunk by between a quarter and a third (27 percent - 33 percent) to around 40,000."
When I saw the complaint by the Solent news agency, that its exclusive interview with the father of murdered Jo Yeates was lifted by the Press Association Loading... news agency as soon as it went up online at the Southern Daily Echo Loading... , it made me wonder about the wider picture.
How many journalists are gathering news - and how many are just processing and repackaging it?
The quote that struck me was from Solent's David Holt: "Since Ms Yeates went missing we have had a team of reporters working on the story every day.
"It has been difficult to cover; terribly moving and upsetting. Four of our staff have had first-hand contact with Mr and Mrs Yeates over the past week. They worked right through Christmas and our reporters were visibly upset when news came through that a body had been found."
Holt contrasted this style of newsgathering to how PA ended up running the story. According to Solent, PA told them: "We saw it on Sky and we went looking for it. We found it on the Southern Daily Echo website and we put it out."
I posted this on my blog: "Last year two independent news agencies, Raymonds and Kent News and Pictures, went bust. News agencies have suffered from the ever decreasing rates paid by the national press but also because it is so easy to lift stories and pictures from the internet. Exclusives don't stay exclusive for long."
"I have done a little research of my own. Did you know that there are 25 per cent fewer sports writers on the nationals filling 25 per cent more space than their predecessors of just a decade ago?
"On top of that they are expected to file copiously for their papers' online editions."
I also received this email from a journalist working on a national newspaper: "When I was a trainee reporter, on a regional evening, not very long ago, we had 14 young people supposed to dig up their own stories every day.
"Recently, working at a national paper as a sub, I was given copy that I recognised as being lifted either from the BBC or Mail's website, or sold in by an agency who had lifted it from a regional daily.
"The sources are getting fewer, the stories more alike."
I love the internet. I love all the new material and sources it produces. I love its democracy. But I do worry about the impact of having far fewer journalists left on the frontline, knocking on doors and gathering news.
The national newspaper journalist ended his email: "There's a great line in the sci-fi comedy Demolition Man when Sylvester Stallone is told: 'After the restaurant wars, now all restaurants are Taco Bell.'
"It feels like the same thing is happening to newspapers, same menu everywhere, only the surroundings change."
Update: As if to prove the point, as I was writing this post, Newsquest announced six jobs were going in Swindon and Oxford, the Cumbrian-based regional newspaper publisher CN Group said it was making 29 redundancies and Trinity Mirror revealed it was making the editor's post on the Paisley Daily Express redundant.
Jon Slattery is a freelance media journalist. He blogs about journalism at jonslattery.blogspot.com
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