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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.

When adults are asked where they got news the previous day, 62 percent got their news from social media, according to 2016 survey by Pew Research Center. The figure for television has not changed greatly over the past decade. By contrast, only 20 percent of survey respondents say they have read a newspaper, a medium that has been on a fairly steady downward path for many years; in 1991, the figure was 56 percent. The downward slope of radio news has been very similar, declining from 54 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 2015. The great success story is online and mobile news, which has rocketed upward from 24 percent of respondents in 2004 to 38 percent in 2015. In fact, one-fifth of the respondents who say they have viewed a newspaper have accessed it through an online or mobile platform. Roughly half of those who have read the New York Times or USA Today read it mostly on a Web-based platform.

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 197,290 workers, including 21,650 journalists and about 20,000 editors. Another industry is broadcasting (except Internet), for which the total workforce comes to a little more than 221,000 including 5,470 journalists and editors. Still another is other information services, which includes news syndicates but also other Internet publishing services; this industry employs a total of 232,110 workers, including 9,460 journalists and 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 her sources as someone employed by a newspaper, although the debate continues and, as of this writing, Congress was working on a "shield law" for journalists that would encompass bloggers.