According to media reports, the number of UK people who describe themselves as journalists has risen 20,000 this year to a new all-time high (well, since online records started in 2001) of 84,000. That is definitely not the image the media has with its constant downsizing — at least 2000 UK journalists are reported to have been retrenched this year from papers, TV and radio (with at least 20% or that figure from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Sun, the Daily Express and The Mirror. Hundreds more have gone from regional and local papers across the country).

And yet according to data from Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people claiming to be journalists rose by a third this year. The ONS collected the data annually from April to June as part of the Labour Force Survey. The figures are estimates based on a sample of around 40,000 households and 100,000 individuals.

But the puzzle is solved when the the type of employment listed is analysed. Most of the increase came from the growth self-employed journalists. The number of people describing themselves as self-employed journalists or newspaper or periodical editors increased from 18,000 in 2015 to 34,000 in 2016. That is understandable given the level of retrenchments.

But the number of people describing themselves as employees in this category increased from 45,000 to 47,000. Britain’s Press Gazette talked to the head of one university journalism school, who pointed out that the graduate and student numbers for journalism continue to rise.

The data also shows that the number describing themselves as public relations professionals has dropped over the past year, from 55,000 to 49,000. This comes after a steady increase since 2008, when there were 27,000. That is also interesting with quite a few media commentators claiming the UK was about to have more PRs than actual journalists, given the pace of retrenchments in newspaper and other media.

The Press Gazette says the ONS says there has been no change in survey methodology over the last year, which could explain the sharp increase in the number describing themselves as journalists. So stick with the obvious — retrenchment and a desire to remain in the industry, even if it is on the sidelines and no longer a paying job as an employee. The gig economy reigns. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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