MediaFile

The state of the news media? Not so hot

March 16, 2009

The Project for Excellence in Journalism published its sixth annual State of the News Media report on Monday. The report, at 800 pages and 180,000 words, is a monster. The news media that it’s analyzing, however, is turning into something quite a bit smaller.

The group, along with its chief, Tom Rosenstiel, has provided a snapshot of where the news industry is today, though with an industry so large, a snapshot this size is impossible to condense into one little blog, let alone a story for the wire. If you’re looking to wallow, dig in to the specifics, follow this link.

Here, meanwhile, are some of the introductory remarks and top findings of the study, mostly in the study’s own words. Warning: These findings are not suitable for your friends in journalism who are struggling to maintain their sense of self-worth.

  • Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23 percent in the last two years.
  • By our calculations, nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is gone, and 2009 may be the worst year yet.
  • In local television, news staffs, already too small to adequately cover their communities, are being cut at unprecedented rates; revenues fell by 7 percent in an election yetar — something unheard of — and ratings are now falling or are flat across the schedule. In network news, even the rare programs increasing their ratings are seeing revenues fall.
  • The number of Americans who regularly go online for news, by one survey, jumped 19 percent in the last two years; in 2008 alone, traffic to the top 50 news sites rose 27 percent. Yet it is now all but settled that advertising revenue — the model that financed journalism for the last century — will be inadequate to do so in this one.
  • The hastening audience migration to the Web means the news industry has to reinvent itself sooner than it thought.
  • The recession? The numbers are only guesses, but executives estimate that the recession at least doubled the revenue losses in the news industry in 2008, perhaps more in network television.

So what are the new trends emerging in 2009? The PEJ tells us:

  • The growing public debate over how to finance the news industry may well be focusing on the wrong remedies while other ideas go largely unexplored. (i.e. Stop worrying about micropayments: Try a cable TV model, or letting people buy things from local merchants through websites instead of just getting annoyed by advertisements for them)
  • Power is shifting to the individual journalist and away, by degrees, from journalistic institutions. (About time!)
  • On the Web, news organizations are focusing somewhat less on bringing audiences in and more on pushing content out.
  • The concept of partnership, motivated in part by desperation, is becoming a major focus of news investment, and it may offer prospects for the financial future of news.
  • Even if cable news does not keep the audience gains of 2008, its rise is accelerating another change — the elevation of minute-by-minute judgment in political journalism.
  • In its campaign coverage, the press was more reactive and passive and less of an enterprising investigator of the candidates than it once was.

Here are some other findings from the report.

  • The ethnic press, a growing sector the last few years, saw its audience numbers become more complicated. The circulation for most of the African American papers declined. For Spanish-language dailies, results were mixed, while Spanish television stations gained. Online, the ethnic media made more strides than in the past.
  • Perhaps the bleakest news came in for the American weekly news magazine. According to a survey, less than a quarter of American adults said they read a magazine of some kind the day before — down from a third in 1994.
  • Even while online ad spending grew about 14 percent through the first three quarters of the year, most of it benefited Google and other search providers. Revenue from the sale of banners and other display ads that news websites depend on increased just 4 percent, and estimates are that it declined by the fourth quarter.
  • We [the PEJ] estimate that roughly 5,000 full-time newsroom jobs were cut, or about 10 percent, in 2008. By the end of 2009, the newsrooms of American daily newspapers may employ somewhere between 20 percent and 25 percent fewer people than in 2001.

In an interview with Reuters, Rosenstiel offered one big caveat. Here it is:

We do not believe that the death of American newspapers is imminent. People often get the notion from reading about their difficulties that newspapers are on the brink of extinction, and that’s going too far.

Why?

Were the industry in a different position where its audience were vanishing, that would be a much darker scenario. There are newspapers in bankruptcy, but the newspapers in those companies [that filed for bankruptcy] are making a profit. There are newspapers that are dying, but… those were papers that were already legally deemed to be failing many years ago.

Why is that so when we’re hearing about Hearst possibly closing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and San Francisco Chronicle? (And don’t forget the newspapers that are starting to deliver a print edition fewer days a week)

Because, Rosenstiel said, the recession is having an outsized effect on newspapers. Sure, they already were in a race to find a way to get their huge audiences online to pay for the content as they deal with falling advertising revenue, but the recession at least doubled the problems that they are having. Once (if) that passes, perhaps the clock will give them a second chance.

Keep an eye on:

  • San Francisco Chronicle’s largest union agreed to let the Hearst Corp-owned paper cut at least 150 jobs and eliminate various benefits and rights, hoping the moves will help keep the newspaper open (Reuters)
  • Yahoo hopes to have found a sustainable model for making original video online, in part by explicitly not competing with television. (New York Times)
  • Tim Armstrong sends his first email to AOL employees (AllThingsDigital)

(Photo: Reuters)

Comments
4 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

The shift to online advertising is probably more to blame for falling newspaper ad revenues than the recession, but the really bad news for newspapers is that advertising revenues are set to fall across all media types. The customers (or readers) are turning to social media to get informed, and the users in social networks do not respond to traditional advertising. Where are the new community strategies that newspapers will need to survive?

 

Has it occurred to you that the precipitous decline in newspaper readership is a 100% direct result of Reuters and AP disseminating their articles for free through aggregators over the Internet???

The newspapers and websites can’t stop the march towards free content delivery. They either all go along, or none of them go along, but Reuters and the AP as the two primary sources of Engligh-language wire news could stop the dissemination of their articles tomorrow if either wished, thus restoring pay-for-content (ie. newspapers) news providers back into relevancy.

That’s the part I can’t fathom either; who is going to pay you guys for content if by giving away your content you drive all your customers out of business?

Posted by Noel | Report as abusive
 

The newspapers are not only give away the contents for free but also helping the search engine to bring in their revenue by using the newspapers contents(for free). It’s time for the newspapers to ask the search engine company (Google,Yahoo,etc) for a shared revenue for the news contents being used by those company.

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive
 

maybe if the news were less editorialised, the content less salacious, and the variety more than leftist to more leftist, thise newspapers might be worth reading in the first place. my local newspapers are only fit for lasagna-gardening, whilst on-line papers are diverse, thorough, and thought-provoking; iow i prefer ny strip steak to whoppers

Posted by jd | Report as abusive
 

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