News Leaders and the Future

Apr 12, 2010

America’s news executives are hesitant about many of the alternative funding ideas being discussed for journalism today and are overwhelmingly skeptical about the prospect of government financing, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in association with the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Many news executives also sense change for the better in their newsrooms today, despite cutbacks and declining revenue. Editors at newspaper-related companies praise the cultural shifts in their organizations, the younger tech-savvy staff, and a growing sense of experimentation. Many broadcast executives see so-called one-person crews—in which the same individual reports, produces and shoots video—as improving their journalism by getting more people on the street.

But the leaders of America’s newsrooms are nonetheless worried about the future. Fewer than half of all those surveyed are confident their operations will survive another 10 years—not without significant new sources of revenue. Nearly a third believe their operations are at risk in just five years or less.  And many blame the problems not on the inevitable effect of technology but on their industry’s missed opportunities.

“Our mantra this year is experiment and fail quickly,” one newspaper news executive volunteered. “Don’t be afraid of change and don’t stick with something too long if it doesn’t work.”

“Outside funding options are a bad idea overall,” one broadcast news executive offered. “They are being used to ‘save’ old models of journalism that are no longer economically viable and will die out over time no matter what.”

The survey found some significant differences in the attitudes between leaders of newspaper-based newsrooms and those of broadcast. Among them was their view of journalism’s future. Broadcast news executives were strikingly more pessimistic, with those who see journalism headed in the wrong direction outnumbering those who think it is headed in the right direction by almost two-to-one. Leaders of newspaper newsrooms, by contrast, are split, with a slight tilt toward optimism.

These are some of the findings of the survey, conducted from December 2009 through January 2010, of members of the two major groups representing news executives from the newspaper industry and the broadcast industries, ASNE and RTDNA, conducted with the Project for Excellence in Journalism. In all, 353 news executives responded, representing 36% of those surveyed from ASNE and 24% from RTDNA.

Read the full report News Leaders and the Future on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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