News Investment (Updated April 23, 2009 to reflect estimates of newsroom job losses.)1
By the Project for Excellence in Journalism and Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute
Two years ago we concluded that newsroom cutbacks had reached the point at which the ambitions of many newspapers were now diminishing.
The common claim of trimming fat no longer applied. Papers were into the bone. The result was that many had begun to concentrate their efforts on franchise areas of coverage. And the next year, that process accelerated.
In 2008, for many newsrooms, the world changed altogether.
For the year, a net of 5,900 journalism jobs were lost, about 11% of the total of 52,600 the industry was firlding as 2008 began. That was more than double the cutbacks of 2007 when 2,400 full-time professional positions disappeared in a single year.2 More deep cuts were in process early in 2009.
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Source: American Society of News Editors, Newsroom Employment Census 2008. ASNE dates its data according to the release date. PEJ presents the data according to the year the data was compiled.
By the end of 2009, the total job loss since the beginning of 2001 will likely pass 14,000 – roughly 25% of the industry’s news workforce lost in nine years.
That number may be lower than the estimates of some sources, which simply tally up announced cuts and often do not distinguish between those in newsrooms and elsewhere. Our estimates also attempt to account for those who are hired back, often on contract or to the newspaper’s websites. Given the astonishing drop in newspaper stock prices, the industry has reached a point where companies like to publicly emphasize their cutbacks, not their rehires.
In what follows, we will not only discuss these patterns, but we also will give several examples of especially noteworthy cuts at companies or individual newspapers. We will not, however, try to catalog each big layoff of 2008 – there are just too many – and the financial pressures discussed in the economics section apply all over the country.
Instead, we will focus on what has been lost and continues to be lost in news capacity and coverage.
Among the trends of note:
- As reported here last year, metro papers have felt the financial pinch most acutely and many have pulled back from coverage (and sometimes distribution) in more distant suburbs. Phil Bronstein, then executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, put it succinctly, referring to a place in the Bay area: “We can’t afford to cover the Richmond City Council anymore.”3 As that sort of trimming picked up momentum in 2008, more and more citizens who used to have at least a small group of top metropolitan reporters watching their communities had to rely on weeklies, small dailies or simply do without.
- The year brought many deep cuts in the space devoted to news. Feature, business and even the local sections were melded or jammed into the front section of the paper. Some Monday and Tuesday papers were reduced to miniatures – on the theory that there is not much news except weekend sports – and perhaps more importantly minimal advertising – on those days.
- Newspapers that were formerly intense rivals began sharing content. Examples include the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which had engaged in a bitter circulation war a decade ago. The same is now happening among the three rival South Florida papers, which had conducted their own cross-county battles for subscribers until recent years. We see many more such arrangements on the way in 2009 – eliminating duplication but also the benefits of competition.
- If we saw newspapers cutting back individually in 2006, in 2008 we reached the point where news is now going uncovered. Statehouse newsrooms sit half-empty and paper after paper has closed down or cut back their state capital bureaus, a trend well documented by Rob Gurwitt in the January 2009 issue of Governing magazine. 4 The implications are obvious – much less of the accountability reporting on state lawmaking follies that only experienced reporters with time to dig can generate.
- Much the same argument can be made for Washington and foreign coverage, trends documented by two recent PEJ studies.5 The big news organizations are still there doing the big stories. But the variety of perspectives from having multiple eyes on the Agriculture Department or the Defense Department or an international trouble spot is fading fast. James Warren, a former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, argued in an online article for The Atlantic that top senior investigative reporters are departing in the wave of layoffs and buyouts.6 It does not mean the death of high-impact projects, but it does suggest that there will be fewer.
- A host of new operators are emerging to augment what is being lost, but our sense is that at this point the additions do not come close to the subtractions. We will close this section with a look at how well digital journalism – the newspaper organizations’ own and independent sites – are replacing the content that is draining out of print newspapers. A short answer; perhaps a substitute “news ecology” will take shape within a few years. It has not yet.
The American Society of News Editors’ annual newsroom census found that 2,400 full-time professional editorial jobs were lost in calendar 2007. Another 5,900 jobs were lost in 2008. That brought total newsroom employment at American daily newspapers down to 46,700 from 56,400 as 2001 began.7
And early indicators are that 2009 will be more of the same or worse. In the first six weeks of the year, some papers and companies made cuts that had clearly been planned during budgeting last fall. With January 2009 advertising declines even worse than those of fourth quarter 2008, chains including Gannett, McClatchy and A.H. Belo announced downsizing plans for the year.
So by any count, the news force is being depleted at an accelerating rate. And the effects, as we will explore later, are becoming all too evident to readers. But getting a reliable and current count is trickier than it may sound. Our earlier estimate (5,000 jobs lost in 2008) when State of the News Media was published in mid-March, for instance, was more conservative than those frequently cited from the running total on the blog Papercuts.
Here is a brief explanation of why. Papercuts, started by Erica Smith, a young graphic designer in St. Louis, reported a total of 15,581 newspaper job losses in 2008 and 2,200 more through the first week of February 2009.8
Smith gathers her data from layoff/buyout announcements, supplemented by tips from readers and then records them in map format. She includes all newspaper jobs, not just newsroom. If the paper does not break them out in the announcement, she told us, she does not know how many fall in each category. Her experience, like ours, is that accounts of actions at individual papers are often garbled on this point.
Working with these numbers for several years, we have found that the net job loss figures from the ASNE newsroom census often turn out to be somewhat less than one would infer by adding up the announced cuts and estimating smaller reductions that are not announced. We found, as did PEJ and Tyler Marshall in their study of newsroom staffing in 2008, that many papers announce and make a large group of cuts but soon after hire other staffers – younger, cheaper and with superior technology skills – especially for jobs developing websites.9
Papercuts does not attempt to measure the hires and its totals are for all announced cuts, including prospective reductions planned but not yet made.
Thus our estimate for 2008 was more than twice as much as 2007, but we doubted newsroom losses would tally close to the 15,000 charted at Papercuts, or even 10,000. But they were plenty bad, and Papercuts is a documented and easy-to-search resource for specifics. When the industry’s annual census was completed in April, it was far closer to our estimate than the unverified total at Papercuts.
To understand the cuts and begin to grapple with their implications, it may be more helpful to focus on a few major cases rather than to try to refine a long paper-by-paper list of newsroom cuts.
The Los Angeles Times – Wave After Wave. As last year’s edition of this report was being completed in February 2008, the Los Angeles Times cut 40 positions from its 900-person newsroom staff. It was by no means the first such move. The paper had more than 1,100 journalists in 2003. After clashing with Tribune Company managers over cuts and whether there was a clear plan for the future, two highly esteemed editors – John Carroll and his successor, Dean Baquet – had quit or been fired. Baquet’s successor, Jim O’Shea, quit just in advance of the February announcement.
Then in July, 135 more newsroom jobs were eliminated (and pages published per week were reduced by 14 percent). Then in October, citing a weakened economy, the Times cut another 75 in its newsroom.10 In February 2009, as a deeper recession settled in, came yet another announcement of a cut of 70 more news jobs.11
That brings the news staff to about 570 from 1,200 in 2001 – roughly halving the news effort.
It is certainly possible to publish a daily paper even about sprawling Los Angeles with a staff of fewer than 600. Many superb journalists remain. The L.A. Times was late in developing its website but was able to make big progress in its offering and traffic during 2008. So positive thinkers in management urge the remaining staff to look at resources still there rather than those that have disappeared.
But this is manifestly a different newspaper than it was six years earlier. Ambitions to rival the New York Times as tops in the United States, or compete with the Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal as papers of national rank, are gone. A Washington bureau equal in size to that of the New York Times was merged into a corporate Tribune bureau, and a subtext of the merger was to diminish the influence of the Times culture and personnel. There has been a steady drain of the top health and science writers who brought the paper several Pulitzers for long-form explanatory pieces earlier in the decade. California and extended metro coverage have thinned. A good many of the paper’s best known reporters and editors are gone. The people at the top of the paper are relative newcomers.
The Star-Ledger – The Ax Came Suddenly. The Newhouse family’s Advance Publications has a well-earned reputation for improving its papers over the last 20 years with strong editors and generous staffing. Profits, though not disclosed by this very private company, are believed to run well below the industry norm with steady investments in editorial quality.
But by 2007 and early 2008, Newhouse metros like the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Oregonian were implementing newsroom cuts, if not draconian ones, along with the rest of the industry. The Star-Ledger, in Newark, N.J., did not, honoring an informal understanding with its non-union employees that it would not lay off any of them.
Then with a bang, the company reversed field in late July 2008. It announced that it needed to reduce total staff by at least 20 percent, including 100 jobs in the newsroom. It also demanded that union employees give up scheduled pay raises and make other concessions. Unless both goals were met within a three-moth window, the paper and the smaller Trenton Times would be put up for sale or close, the company said.12
The Star-Ledger did meet its goals and has continued to publish. A buyout offer was oversubscribed, and the paper ended up parting with 150 news staffers – about 40 percent of the total going in.13
But if the L.A. Times and the Star-Ledger are examples of large metros that have newsrooms that are now structurally different than only a few years ago, they are not alone. The San Jose Mercury News, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, San Francisco Chronicle and Baltimore Sun are among those whose newsrooms are now roughly half what they once were.
Other news staff reductions are large, but not as great. The Washington Post, a paper that is currently run at a break-even level and whose managers have tried hard to maintain quality, has squeezed 100 jobs out of the newsroom in 2008 after smaller cuts in 2006 and 2003, a total loss of about 23%.14
The Press-Telegram of Long Beach, Calif. – Outsourced. Long Beach hasn’t been described as a boom town anytime lately, but it is still a city of nearly 500,000 with its local paper, The Press-Telegram maintaining a circulation of about 78,000. (Both the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register circulate there, too.)
So it was a civic shock when parent company MediaNews (owned by Dean Singleton) announced that the paper’s publisher and managing editor had been relieved of their jobs, their duties transferred to another MediaNews property, the Daily Breeze in nearby Torrance. Additionally, the company announced, the Press-Telegram’s copy desk would be shut down and stories would be edited at the Daily Breeze.
The city fathers, already unhappy with earlier cuts, discussed pulling local public notice advertising as a protest. This led to a bizarre scene at a City Council meeting in which the executive editor, Rich Archbold, and several dozen staffers pleaded with members not to do it. One copy editor wept as she testified that she was unsure whether she would still have a job and be transferred to Torrance. “I know how to spell your names,” she said.15
There was an element of fleeing the union in the move, and it was denounced both by the Newspaper Guild and the American Copy Editors Society. Singleton continues to praise editorial outsourcing, abroad if necessary, as a necessary response to difficult financial times. The company has made a pattern of acquiring papers concentrated in a few metropolitan areas and centralizing editing operations (the same thing has occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area).
The idea has gained only limited traction to date at other companies. Meanwhile, the citizens of Long Beach, as is true of people in various Bay Area communities as well, have a local newspaper only partly produced locally.
There are obvious perils here. Newspaper history suggests readers may revolt against such distant papers. And the chance for local interests to create a rival Web-only alternative is now greater. But the economies of scale, on the balance sheet, are obvious in difficult times.
Gannett’s 10 Percent Solution. Gannett had been making newsroom cuts piecemeal at its 85 community papers and occasionally at USA Today, too. Then in October 2008, the nation’s largest newspaper company got systematic about it.
Gannett announced that its workforce would be reduced by 10 percent – roughly 3,000 workers – by the end of the year.16 The company did not specify how many of those would be in the newsroom (though hard times have led Jim Hopkins, a former news staffer, to create a Gannett blog tracking the details).
The corporate directive style continued in early 2009, when Gannett announced that every remaining employee, including CEO Craig Dubow, would be required to take one week of unpaid leave in the first half of the year.17
McClatchy took a similar tack, mandating a 10 percent workforce cut (1,400 jobs) beginning in June 2008.18 A.H. Belo, a spinoff company with only newspapers and initially no debt, has announced two major job- and cost-reduction programs in its first year – 500 jobs in July 2008 and another 500 in January 2009, a total of more than a quarter of the company’s work force.19
Are more such target-number cuts from more companies in the offing? Undoubtedly.
Some exceptions. The New York Times (100 positions) and the Wall Street Journal (50 positions) each had small buyouts programs in the course of 2008.20 But the Journal boasted of increasing the staff and space for expanded international coverage. The Times adds blogs and multimedia content to its main news website at a brisk pace and has a research and development team refashioning its news report for mobile devices and downloadable electronic editions.
Small papers, as noted in the economics section of this report, are doing much better than metros and mid-sized papers. They were not immune from cutbacks in 2008, but our strong impression is that the rate of loss is considerably less.
Conversely, the average losses understate the impact at metros. The cuts are deeper and the new waves come after shorter intervals. It is no mean task for demoralized reporters and editors to continue to do their best work living under the volcano.
By late 2008 and early 2009, the Associated Press and Bloomberg had announced limited hiring freezes. Until then, however, they – along with ESPN – have been bucking the industry trend, increasing news efforts robustly as the rest of the industry shrinks. Collectively, the AP, Bloomberg and ESPN employ easily 5,000 journalists. They are not included in the ASNE count. The AP’s generous staffing has an element of controversy, especially since editors at a number of AP’s member-owner papers were in open rebellion during 2008 over high fees for content with which they were dissatisfied.
When PEJ surveyed 259 newspapers in early 2008, 59 percent reported reductions in staff, but even more, 61 percent, said that less space was being devoted to news.21 In the year since, nip-and-tuck procedures have given way to amputations. The number of papers, and the size of those reductions, have been much greater.
In December 2008, editor Tom Callinan of the Cincinnati Enquirer, not the heftiest of the papers in the first place, told an alternative paper that the Enquirer was eliminating six pages of news space in its Sunday issue and 30 pages per week the other six days. The move would probably eliminate most lifestyle and features content, he said.22
What always had the potential for a reinforcing loop has now become reality: space and staff are falling quickly in tandem. With less news space, papers do not need as many reporters and editors; with fewer journalists, the papers need less space to display their work. While the cutbacks may be unavoidable, they become part of a reinforcing downward spiral. At some point, restive readers conclude that there is not much news there anymore, that the newspaper, already something fewer people wanted in print, is just not as worthwhile anymore. We believe that a number of American papers have reached or passed that point – and that skimpiness drives a share of circulation losses.
Two space-saving reductions were especially common in 2008. As papers trimmed away even more of their daily stock listings, there was not enough editorial material and advertising to fill out a six-page section. So business sections began to get folded into the front section or local news section.
Similarly, daily features sections, often padded with outsized picture packages or pick-ups from other papers, were deemed expendable. The St. Petersburg Times was among many papers folding daily fronts and separate sections for both business and features. Top editors Paul Tash and Neil Brown explained the result: business and features would still have their own display sections Sunday when readers have more time; a weekly food section and entertainment tabloid would remain. Otherwise, those staffs were encouraged to produce stories that could compete for a place on the front or local front of a weekday paper; some of the rest of what they had been doing could be reduced to brief treatment inside.
Brown also said that focus group research showed that the traditional full-menu six- section daily was more than most readers – at least those who work – want in the busy first days of the week.
So at a paper with a traditionally big news report, some carefully executed cuts may have more minimal effect. At others, less has been less for years now, and each new reduction makes for a quicker and less satisfying read.
This kind of scaling back may require a more thorough rethinking of how the newspaper should be written than is taking place. If a newspaper is smaller, what is the optimal shape of that? Should all stories simply get shorter? Or should the medium-size story be sacrificed instead, so that paper that is a rich but less time consuming read is constructed with a key group of longer stories, and many more very short stories that summarize events in brief – perhaps with longer versions of some on the Web?
A PEJ content study of a new breed of commuter papers a few years ago suggested that more very short stories – easily readable in two or three paragraphs – leaving room for real depth in others but eliminating the middle ground, might be a more satisfying alternative.
It is unclear to what extent papers, amid the economic crisis, are rethinking the way the paper is written or is just adjusting day by day to shrinking space.
We took a detailed look in last year’s report at some areas of coverage commonly being cut back and that was reinforced in PEJ’s special study of the changing newsroom.
All those trends continued and accelerated through 2008 and early 2009:
●Much less coverage of exurban areas, distant suburbs and rural communities. The Omaha World-Herald, for example, had long styled itself a statewide paper for Nebraska. It announced in late 2008 it was giving up both circulation and coverage of most of that area.
Metros, to varying degrees, have pulled back circulation and news effort anywhere slightly distant from their core. James Rainey, media writer for the Los Angeles Times, recalled that when he joined the paper in the1980s, there were bureaus with eight to ten reporters scattered through the region. “We had a guy who had covered the Kremlin for UPI in our bureau,” Rainey said. “I covered Culver City [a city where the movie studios were located in the middle of incorporated Los Angeles], but I was the No. 2 behind a more senior writer. Now all those bureaus are gone, and I would be surprised if we ran more than two or three stories from Culver City in a year.”23
To those who ask what would happen if the local newspaper disappeared, this trend constitutes a sneak preview. Thousands of municipalities and millions of citizens are now doing without the watchdog/accountability reporting that experienced metro reporters provided just a few years ago.
●Statehouse and Washington coverage are both been reduced to a fraction of what they once were. The movement began earlier but picked up a lot of steam with the cuts of 2008.
Rob Gurwitt opened a survey story in Governing magazine on declines in legislative coverage with this: “If you want to know what the dying days of a journalistic era look like, mount the marble steps to the fourth floor of Connecticut’s grand old State Capitol, climb the narrow stairway to the pressroom, and you’ll see. Mostly, it looks like a mess.
“In a large room whose inhabitants once joked that someone always had to be out reporting for everyone to fit inside, space is no longer an issue. The New York Times hasn’t had anyone here for over a year and a half; its desk is piled high with mail for various Times reporters who have long since moved on to other beats. The vacated Norwich Bulletin desk has become a repository for stray press releases. The Greenwich Time and Fairfield Bulletin desk hosts a collection of Coke and Dr. Pepper bottles that await recycling.”24
The Harford Courant still assigns several reporters. An energetic young blogger takes up some of the slack. But the “ultimate indignity,” Gurwitt wrote, came in March 2008 when the New Haven Register fired 20-year veteran Greg Hladky, the dean of the Capitol press corps, and did not replace him.
The Connecticut story is being repeated around the country, Gurwitt concluded. There is still some coverage and digital alternatives are beginning to emerge, but the depth and breadth of just a few years ago are gone.
Washington coverage is similar. The big bureaus are still there but often a lot smaller. Tribune’s merged bureau has 35 reporters in early 2009 compared to 95 at the start of 2008. Careful attention to congressional delegations or individual federal departments is on the wane. They are watched – but with fewer eyes.25
Newhouse and Copley have closed their bureaus in the last year. A PEJ study in February 2009, found that only a third of daily newspapers that had their own bureau in the 1980s still maintain one. More than half the states do not have a single newspaper reporter dedicated to covering federal government.
Despite the reduced newspaper presence, the total number of reporters on the Washington scene has stayed close to even. But that is thanks to a surge of foreign correspondents and steady growth of professional information services like CQ. Neither group’s work is readily accessible to the general public.
The New York Times Washington bureau chief, Dean Baquet, commented, “It concentrates knowledge in the hands of those who want it to influence votes. It means [for example] the lobbyists know more about Senator [Richard] Shelby than the people of Alabama. That’s not good for democracy.”
Most metros have closed all their foreign bureaus by now. Some that used to have multiple foreign correspondents – like the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times – continued to downsize their foreign presence in 2008 and early 2009.
●An assortment of specialty reporting is vanishing from most papers. Many have eliminated most of their local arts and culture staff, farming out what coverage there is to freelancers. Science writers and special weekly science sections were once standard in metros. Now both are rare except in the half-dozen biggest papers. Health and fitness, environmental reporting and the occasional story on local university research is the substitute. Feature writing, columns and business reporting are all being pruned.
●Copy desks are smaller, younger, less rooted in the community. Readers notice a rising tide of typos and substantive blunders. It is truer than ever that if you are a local mover and shaker you need to make a point of not dying on a Sunday – the skeleton crew putting out the Monday paper won’t know who you are.
●Space for international and national news is scaled back at all but the biggest papers. Many now aim to fill their front page with staff-produced stories, and continuation jumps take up some of the inside space in the section. The national/international report may be squeezed down to a handful of top stories and some short-item summaries.
As we have commented in earlier editions of this report, there would seem to be unarguable logic to the movement for a local-local emphasis in most papers. An up-to-the-minute and free national/international report from multiple sources is easily accessible on the Internet. The newspaper’s core competence, the reasoning goes, is a uniquely strong report on the local scene.
In practice, we find many metro papers stepping back a bit from the brink of an all-local emphasis. People who like newspapers seem to like their newspapers’ selection of the most relevant news from everywhere. Joel Kramer, an experienced editor and publisher, who launched the online only MinnPost.com, said one of his big surprises in his first year was that national and international content was popular.26
In summary, readers enter 2009 being offered daily papers with less of everything – breadth, depth, quantity and polish. More cuts surely await, and it is hard to envision which staples of the traditional paper are next on the hit list.
In August 2008, a big regional story created an unusual moment for Texas’s two largest papers, the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle. A church bus carrying Vietnamese Christian children from Houston to a religious retreat in Missouri crashed north of Dallas, killing 15. In flush times, staff from each paper would have leapt into action, fanning out to create a complete and multiday package of coverage.
Instead, editors at the two papers with different owners agreed informally to share content. Houston would emphasize stories of the families and church. Dallas would focus on the crash and subsequent investigation. Supplemented by Associated Press photos, each paper had comprehensive coverage for several days without having to send a reporter across the state.27
Later the same month, three competing papers in South Florida — the Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and the Miami Herald – announced a formal pact to share routine stories rather than duplicate staffing on them. As with the Houston and Dallas papers, each has a different corporate owner.
More such arrangements followed quickly:
●The St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald merged their bureaus in Tallahassee, the Florida state capital. The team hit the ground running with a series of exposes about the incoming House Speaker that led him to step down from the post.
●The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun agreed to share coverage of the section of Maryland lying between the cities.
●The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram agreed to share coverage, including some of professional sports, an odd-couple pairing since the two papers had competed fiercely for circulation in suburban Arlington a decade ago.
●The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette agreed to share news schedules and stories except for exclusive investigations.
We expect to see such combination spread quickly through the balance of 2009. They are a cost-saving efficiency. Besides, costly circulation wars are a thing of the past, and bragging rights about being the first or the best are also an expendable luxury. Some edge of competition is being lost but so is a lot of duplicated effort.
The sharing efforts also may be laying the ground for an end-around of the AP, which many metro editors complain is too expensive and ill-focused in the news report of its state bureaus. That was the motivation of a group of six Ohio dailies that began sharing content in 2008.
For all these reasons we expect the content-sharing movement to gain momentum quickly through 2009.
It wasn’t many years ago that we shared a common criticism of newspaper websites for near-total reliance on so-called “shovel ware” – recycled content from that morning’s edition. A 2004 study at the University of Texas found that 18 of 30 papers did not meaningfully update their home pages during the course of the day.28
Today that would be a misimpression. The shovel ware term itself has faded. The typical metro site regularly breaks news first on its website, adding details and perspective for the print edition rather than vice versa. There also has been a proliferation of “Web-native” features – blogs, video reports and reader contributions of photos and comments.
However, we are unaware of any attempts – by individual newspapers, the industry or scholars – to add it all up. How much content is there on a typical site that one would not have found two or three years ago?
Web audience metrics are slippery and taking a measure of content even trickier. By counting column inches, you can determine that a paper, for instance, may have eliminated 20% of news space. But there is no agreed-upon measure of the extent of a daily Web report. The report is growing at most papers, but we are unable to say by how much.
Similarly, discussion chains or a variety of local and national video news features are meant to make sites “sticky,” holding visitors longer. In fact, however, average time on sites is falling at a majority of papers, probably because tagging content and other search engine optimization devices is drawing more users via search who only read an article or two, not the whole paper.
Web design is improving but uneven. The biggest sites like those of the New York Times and the Washington Post are easy to navigate and easy to read. Others rely on templates that have become outdated and inflexible even after just a few years. Some discussions of newspaper business models treat online production as if it were free, which it is not. Some companies are finding it hard now to put together funding for “back end” improvements of their websites, and it shows.
And online breaking news is not without issues – for instance, reconciling pressure to be quick with adequate vetting of reports for accuracy and context.
There are two other factors to consider when asking whether digital is making up for losses in print. User-generated content is a staple on most newspaper websites and the mainstay of specialty sites like those for moms. Much of it is light, like pet or party pictures. Discussion/debates can draw a high volume of comment but are notorious for veering off subject or degenerating into nastiness.
New formats including searchable databases and mapped presentations can deliver valued information in nonstory form. A few papers – notably the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press – are harnessing hometown resident expertise to collaborate with professionals on investigations.
Over all, though, we think it safe to say that there is not much overlap as yet between the content that has gone missing from print papers and what users are inclined to volunteer. You’re not likely to find an informed and unbiased science story or well-versed coverage of the state legislature offered by an unpaid contributor.
One innovation of recent years is promising. Several cities now have online-only news publications. The best known – MinnPost.com and Voices of San Diego – are not as comprehensive as a newspaper but shrewdly focus their local resources on exactly the serious topics that metros are letting slide. Another set of startups – ProPublica, GlobalPost, a Kaiser Foundation news service on health policy, regional investigative units in New England and California – generate specialized reporting, in some cases sharing the work with established newspaper or television outlets. There is a Special Report on these efforts here.
Much of this work is nonprofit but not all. For instance, Pegasus in Dallas offers a feature on its site in which users volunteer some personal information and agree to let their reading choices be noted and analyzed electronically. In time, they get a version of the site with displayed stories and adverting tailored to their interests.
These are encouraging developments, and 2009 may provide the test of whether more come together quickly as traditional metro papers weaken further or even close. This year’s roster is not greatly expanded from last year’s, however. It may be that impactful independent news ventures require just the right combination of philanthropy and strong leadership and will stay comparatively rare.
A more optimistic reading is that we are seeing the beginnings of a new news ecosystem in many communities. A newspaper is part of it, but not as central as it once was and likely to continue shrinking. Alternate sources – public radio, blogs, and free-standing websites – provide a supplementary or substitute news report.
Right now, however, the new is not taking shape as quickly or providing the substantive coverage that is fading in newspapers. Civic life will be the poorer if current trends in news investment simply run their course.
1. The estimate of 5,900 newsroom jobs lost in American newspapers was updated with data from the 2009 census performed by the American Society of News Editors and released April 16, 2009. The estimate used in this report at its release in March was 5,000. We have updated the narrative and charts to reflect this figure, as well as our projection for jobs that will have been lost through 2009.
2. Newsroom Employment Census. American Society of News Editors, April 16, 2009
3. Phil Bronstein, Interview with Rick Edmonds, September 2007
4. Rob Gurwitt, “Death and Life in the Pressroom,” Governing, January 2009
5. PEJ, “The New Washington Press Corps,” Journalism.org, February 11, 2009
6. James Warren, “When No News Is Bad News,” Atlantic Online, January 21, 2006
7. Newsroom Employment Census. American Society of News Editors, April 16, 2009
8.Erica Smith, “Papercuts,” graphicdesignr.net. Also Smith, interview with Rick Edmonds, February 2009
9. Tyler Marshall and PEJ, “The Changing Newsroom,” Journalism.org., July 21, 2008
10. Roger Vincent, “Times Lays Off 10 % of Editorial Staff,” Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2008.
11. Paul McNally, “More Editorial Job Cuts at the Los Angeles Times,” The Wire, pressgazette.co.uk, February 2, 2008
12. Richard Perez-Pena, “Cuts and Concessions Demanded at New Jersey Papers,” New York Times, August 1, 2008.
13. Richard Perez-Pena. ‘Star Ledger of Newark Plans 40% Cut. New York Times. October 26, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/business/media/27paper.html?_r=1&fta=y
14. Frank Ahrens, “More Than 100 Washington Post Journalists Take Buyout,” Washington Post, May 22, 2008
15. Paul Eakins, “P-T Changes Spur Council Response,” Press-Telegram, March 5, 2008
16. Richard Perez-Pena, “Gannett to Cut 10 % of Workers As Its Profits Slip,” New York Times, October 29, 2008
17. Joe Strupp, “Gannett Announces One-Week Unpaid Furloughs,” Editor and Publisher, January 14, 2009
18. Dale Kasler, “McClatchy Cuts Jobs 10 %, Lays Off Employees at the Bee, Other Papers,” Sacramento Bee, June 17, 2008
19. “Decherd Issues Letter to Colleagues,” A.H. Belo Corporation press release, January 29, 2009
20.Erik Sass, “Fall Massacre, Gannett Cuts Thousands of Jobs,” October 29, 2008.
21. Tyler Marshall and PEJ, “The Changing Newsroom,” Journalism.org., July 21, 2008.
22.Kevin Osborne, “Paper Cuts,” citybeat.com, December 10, 2008.
23. James Rainey, Interview with Rick Edmonds, February 2009
24.Rob Gurwitt, “Death and Life in the Pressroom,” Governing, January 2009.
25. PEJ, “The New Washington Press Corps,” Journalism.org, February 11, 2009
26. Joel Kramer, “Who Will Pay for the News,” Poynter Institute conference, November 2008
27. Jeff Cohen (editor Houston Chronicle) , Interview with Rick Edmonds, August 2008
28. Rosental Calmon Alves, “Many Newspaper Sites Still Cling to a Once-A-Day Publishing Cycle,” Online Journalism Review, July 21, 2004