The Changing Newsroom

Jul 21, 2008

It has fewer pages than three years ago, the paper stock is thinner, and the stories are shorter. There is less foreign and national news, less space devoted to science, the arts, features and a range of specialized subjects. Business coverage is either packaged in an increasingly thin stand-alone section or collapsed into another part of the paper. The crossword puzzle has shrunk, the TV listings and stock tables may have disappeared, but coverage of some local issues has strengthened and investigative reporting remains highly valued.

The newsroom staff producing the paper is also smaller, younger, more tech-savvy, and more oriented to serving the demands of both print and the web. The staff also is under greater pressure, has less institutional memory, less knowledge of the community, of how to gather news and the history of individual beats. There are fewer editors to catch mistakes.

Despite an image of decline, more people today in more places read the content produced in the newsrooms of American daily newspapers than at any time in years. But revenues are tumbling. The editors expect the financial picture only to worsen, and they have little confidence that they know what their papers will look like in five years.

This description is a composite. It is based on face-to-face interviews conducted at newspapers across the country and the results of a detailed survey of senior newsroom executives. In total, more than 250 newspapers participated. It is, we believe, the most systematic effort yet to examine the changing nature of the resources in American newspaper newsrooms at a critical time. It is an attempt to document and quantify cutbacks and innovations that have generally been known only anecdotally.

The study, by journalist Tyler Marshall and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, captures an industry in the grips of two powerful, but contradictory, forces. On one hand, financial pressures sap its strength and threaten its very survival. On the other, the rise of the web boosts its competitiveness, opens up innovative new forms of journalism, builds new bridges to readers and offers enormous potential for the future. Many editors believe the industry’s future is effectively a race between these two forces. Their challenge is to find a way to monetize the rapid growth of web readership before newsroom staff cuts so weaken newspapers that their competitive advantage disappears. In recent weeks—after this survey was completed—a new round of newsroom cutbacks, made against a backdrop of steadily deteriorating advertising revenues and rising production costs, intensifies the difficulty of the challenge.

This report is an attempt to document where newspapers are in that race. As editors cut back on coverage and staff, while at the same time building up their capacity online and in multi-media, what is being gained and what is being lost? What coverage is disappearing and what beats are considered sacrosanct? What new expertise has come into the newsroom, and what knowledge has been lost? In short, where is the industry headed?

Read the full report The Changing Newsroom on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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