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News Investment

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Over the long term, as we have noted in earlier reports, the news media have appeared to reduce the resources devoted to original newsgathering — reporters, producers, editors, correspondents, boots on the ground.

In 2005, as was true a year earlier, that picture became more complex. The cutbacks accelerated in some media sectors, yet others were investing.

The biggest blows in 2005 appeared to come in print. After a loss of 500 jobs in 2004, the industry lost even more in 2005. By the time the tallies were in later in 2006, the industry was expected to lose between 1,500 and 2,000 newsroom professionals — editors and reporters. (Please click here for an update on final print employment tallies for 2005).

That would mean that the newspaper industry would have lost 3,500 to 3,800 newsroom professionals since 2000, or roughly 7%.

Those suffering most appear to be major metro papers — places like Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, New York, and Los Angeles.

The papers that have avoided severe cuts, such as those owned by McClatchy (a public company) and Newhouse (a private one), are those that seem dedicated to long-term investment and to building circulation. Over time, they are also the ones that have shown the best long-term results, though that has come at the expense of lower profit margins.

News magazines were also hard hit. In October 2005, U.S. News let go 10 journalists, including the magazine’s chief political writer, Roger Simon. Two months later, Time Inc. shed some 105 employees, 20 of whom were journalists at its magazines. And in January 2006 the company announced another 100 staff cuts, with 10 coming from Time itself.

The situation in radio also appeared dour. According to data from RTNDA/Ball State, the average radio station doing news produced fewer than 40 minutes of it locally each day in 2004. Nearly 20 minutes of that occurred during drive-time hours.

Two-thirds of radio news directors surveyed by RTNDA/Ball State decreased their newsroom size in 2004. Fully 77% were anticipating decreases in 2005.

On top of that, the data show that journalists working in radio lag behind most other media and most other professions. The average news director was paid $33,000.

In network news, hard hit over the last 20 years, those resources for which there are measures, such as on-air correspondents, did not appear to change much, though there is clearly a generational change occurring. Older, more experienced and pricier staff people are not having contracts renewed in favor of a younger breed.

And in cable, Fox is building, while MSNBC is cutting. Analysts projected Fox News Channel would increase programming costs by 20% in 2005, in line with the growth in revenues. It increased expenses 24% in 2004. CNN was expected to increase 4%, and that was after a cut of 8% the year before. MSNBC, however, was expected to cut costs by 10%, a repeat of what it did in 2004.

The one general sector seeing growth appeared to be online. That represents something of a change. The data are scattered and somewhat anecdotal, but in 2005 we saw evidence companies were not only beginning to invest more money, they were moving toward using the web as a platform for original content rather than an extension for their old operations. Leading the way is CBS, which hired the internet entrepreneur Larry Kramer to head CBS Digital and later thoroughly renovated its site. ABC World News Tonight, in addition to offering a newscast online three hours earlier than it does on television, updates that throughout the evening.

What is less clear, at this point, is how many new newsgatherers are being assigned to produce for the Web. For the old media, that would be their clear competitive advantage, at least at this point. The Internet-only sites offer only marginal levels of original newsgathering, and some, such as Google, offer none.