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Swiss media workforce keeps shrinking

The journalism profession is suffering as jobs disappear and people look for more lucrative job opportunities. Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

Newsroom employment dropped by a quarter between 2011 and 2019 as media jobs disappear and journalists pivot to more lucrative careers. The Swiss voted against financial aid for the shrinking sector on Sunday. 

The media industry provided 17,000 jobs in 2011, including editorial, marketing and advertising positions, according to the Federal Statistical Office. Only 13,000 people worked in the sector in 2019. Job cuts and journalists’ decision to retrain account for the steady erosion of the journalism work force.

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Journalists’ unions confirm that their ranks are growing thinner. Impressum, one of the main journalism unions in Switzerland, had some 5,000 active members in the early 2000s compared with just over 3,200 today. The union’s general secretary, Dominique Diserens, says restructuring efforts in traditional media houses have cost many journalists their jobs.

Some have left the field voluntarily. “More and more people are leaving journalism,” she notes. “They often retrain in communications, but also in teaching.”

Those who quit journalism tend to seek out better paid job opportunities that offer more regular working hours.

Financial stress

Print editors say they are under pressure. Stefan Wabel, the director of the association of German-speaking editors, Schweizer Medien, stresses that the dramatic decrease in advertising revenue and the increase in costs of paper and distribution are compelling many media companies to cut costs. “And cutting costs, when all other possibilities have been exhausted, means reducing journalism services,” he says.

Many media outlets have had no choice but to shut down. Since 2003, 70 newspapers have disappeared in Switzerland, according to the Federal Office of Communications.

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While traditional media struggle to survive and go digital, new online platforms have sprung up. Notable newcomers include French-language Heidi.news and German-language Republik. For the moment, these new ventures remain financially fragile and do not generate enough jobs to offset those lost in print media. 

“On the internet, readers’ willingness to pay is considerably weaker than in print,” says Wabel.

Subsidised since the mid-1990s, regional radio and television broadcasters have helped steady the sector.  On February 13, however, Swiss voters rejected a decision by parliament to increase public funding for print and online media. 

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The dangers of media deserts

Switzerland is not the only country with shrinking newsrooms.

In the United States, newsroom employment fell 26% since 2008, according to the latest figures of the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C. Newsroom newspaper employment recorded the biggest drop, 57%, in that same time span. This dramatic decline has led to a growing number of “media deserts” – communities, either rural or urban, that lack access to credible and comprehensive news and information pertinent for local decision-making.

This is a scenario multilingual Switzerland, known for its highly participatory approach to local decision making, should try to avoid at all costs, according to media industry experts.  “Our direct democracy and our federalism rely on strong regional media,” says Wabel.

Throughout history, Switzerland has boasted a varied and rich media landscape, including at the local level. But the current crisis poses an especially grave threat to smaller local publications, according to Nathalie Pignard-Cheynel, director of the Academy of Journalism and Media in Neuchâtel (AJM). That’s because staying afloat can require substantial restructuring and major investments.

“We don’t currently have any guarantee that this pluralism will survive,” she warns.

Next generation

Despite the difficulties, enthusiasm for the profession hasn’t waned. The AJM continues to take on 30 students a year.

But what shape will the journalism of tomorrow take? “It has always been diverse in its practices, formats and modes of expression and it must continue that way,” says Pignard-Cheynel, the journalism school director.

Fields worth exploring include data processing, solutions journalism, and public service journalism. News-making is moving towards greater inclusion of the public and reflects their everyday, general concerns.

“[Public expectations] are becoming even more specific, with demand for niche, high value-added news and for original subjects and angles,” she says. 

Translated from French by Catherine Hickley

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