Number of workers in public relations activites is increasing … while numbers in newspaper newsrooms continue to bottom-out.

The first two letters in the word “press” are “PR.” And that’s increasingly the case, given the relative rise of the latter and the shrinking of the former.

That’s the gist of a “True Enough: The Second Age of PR” feature by John Sullivan in the May/June issue of Columbia Journalism Review.

They say a picture’s worth 1,000 words, but the three bar charts accompanying this piece may be worth a million words, perhaps a lot more measured in the currency common to public relations. The numbers tell the story, though Sullivan makes clear that this is far from the first time journalists have bemoaned the rise of public relations at their expense:

  • .45 public relations workers per 100,000 population in 1980, compared with 0.9 in 2008. For journalists, the ratio has gone from .36 in 1980 to .25 in 2008.
  • According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, ASNE, 56,900 newspaper reporters and editors in the U.S. in 1990, 41,600 (and still falling) in 2011. “Less money means fewer reporters and editors,” Sullivan wrote in his piece.
  • Less money? He reports the Newspaper Association of America’s data that newspaper ad revenues fell from a high of $49 billion in 2000 to $22 billion in 2009.

Sullivan also reports in his CJR feature on a University of Maryland analysis of coverage of “six major story lines” (not dealing with climate change): 63 percent of the stories on those issues came from government, 23 percent from interest groups or public relations, and 14 percent “started with reporters.”

Maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. He quoted former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr., now teaching at Arizona State University while still vice president at large with the Post, as seeing no big difference in how Post reporters work: “In addition to talking to PR people, both in government and in business, our reporters want to talk to principals all the time. I don’t see a change in that relationship.”

Others — in particular the many having fewer journalistic resources than the Post and notwithstanding the greatly reduced news room size of even that paper — likely have a different perspective.

In the end, whenever it may come, it’s a continuation of the longstanding battle between the forces of journalism and those of public relations, with the public at large left to make the most of it all.