Skip to Main Content

Journalism is not exactly the same thing as news. In nations where the government controls the flow of information, much of the news is produced by officials rather than by journalists. Similarly, the advertisements and public relations statements of companies and organizations are sometimes news, but they also are not journalism. Journalism is the dissemination of verifiable information through public media.

One way to understand how journalists differ from other sources of news, such as propagandists and advertisers, is to consider the detailed code of ethics that the Society of Professional Journalists has compiled. For example, the code specifies that journalists must base their stories on truthful sources; identify sources wherever possible; not stage events; avoid stereotyping; distinguish between advocacy and news reporting; avoid pandering to lurid curiosity; respect the different privacy rights of private people and public officials; and avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

Although journalism is not synonymous with news, any analysis of journalism as an industry in the United States must focus on the business of news and the media. Journalism provides much of the content that the news media disseminate, so the current state of journalism depends greatly on the health of the news media. Journalistic content now appears in more media than ever before, and the number of outlets for each medium keeps expanding, with the notable exception of the newspapers.

In 2018, about 20 percent of American adults got their news from social media, according to 2018 survey by Pew Research Center. At 49 percent, television was the top category, but this reflected a decline from 57 percent in 2016. By contrast, only 16 percent of survey respondents say they have read a newspaper, a medium that has been on a fairly steady downward path for many years; the figure was 56 percent in 1991 and 20 percent in 2016. The downward slope of radio news has been very similar, declining from 54 percent in 1991 to 26 percent in 2018. The great success story is online news, with 34 percent of U.S. adults preferring to get news via Web sites and apps, up from 28 percent in 2016.

The news business falls within several different industries that the Bureau of Labor Statistics covers. One of these is newspaper publishers, an industry that employs a total of 152,630 workers, including 17,800 journalists and about 17,900 editors. Another industry is broadcasting (except Internet), for which the total workforce comes to a little more than 216,620 including 16,540 journalists and 4,580 editors. Still another is other information services, which includes news syndicates but also other Internet publishing services; this industry employs a total of 295,760 workers, including 3,860 journalists and 8,200 editors.

A small fraction of the countless bloggers—people who maintain Web logs—do work that can be considered journalism. In fact, judges in some states have ruled that bloggers are entitled to the same right to protect their sources as newspaper employees, although the debate continues and, as of this writing, Congress was working on a "shield law" for journalists that would encompass bloggers.