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The State of the Media 2006: More Outlets Covering Fewer Stories with Reduced Staff and Making Less Money



The best news for newspaper industry types in the Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the Media 2006 study falls in this quote: "For now, the evidence does not support the notion that newspapers have begun a sudden death spiral."

The bad news: That's about as good as it gets for newspapers, which are shown in the PEJ's exhuastive study to be nibbled to death by inches -- small, yet significant circulation decline of 3 percent; stock price of publicly held newspaper companies down 20 percent; staff reductions totaling 3 percent or so. Bad as 2004 was for newspapers, the study concludes, 2005 was three times worse.

The PEJ is a media think tank which assembles an exhaustive report on the state of the media industry each year. Totalling more than 700 pages this year, the report on media in 2005 -- to be released today -- describes an industry fragmented by the spread of digital technology, which allows consumers a greater voice in what they consume and even allows them to create their own news media.

"Journalists need to redefine their role and identify which of their core values they want to fight to preserve -- something they have only beun to consider," reads one sentence from the report's overview.

The big points:

* Today's media offers more outlets covering fewer stories
Thanks to cable and the Internet, we have more news outlets than ever. But they are often manned by smaller staffs covering the same few news stories thought to be of highest public interest. This can make news media more controllable, as authorities manipulate journalists' access to newsmakers to influence coverage of stories.

* The hardest-hit type of newspaper is the big-city metro paper
The largest newspapers in the country -- USA Today, New York Times and Wall Street Journal -- didn't see big circulation declines in 2005. Instead, it was big-city metro newspapers -- the Atlanta Journal-Constitutions, Boston Globes, Los Angeles Times and Miami Heralds (the St. Petersburg Times is also at the edge of this trend) which have been hardest hit -- trying to deliver quality local news, suburban coverage, national and regional news all at the same time.

* No More Room for Idealism
Journalists have been fighting the bean counters for years in newsrooms, arguing for resources to produce journalism which may not make money, but informs the public. That battle, the report says, is now over in many newsrooms. Because of rising newsprint costs, newspapers are shrinking and stories are shorter; TV outlets air less longform reporting as well, focusing their shrinking staffs on subjects they know will draw viewers. The idea of journalism purely for the public interest is a shrinking notion.

* An Acceptance of Technology
More news outlets are accepting the notion of covergence and the need fr a strong online presence. Especially at newspapers, where revenue from online platforms may slow or halt economic declines, leaders are finally realizing the need to integrate online platforms significantly into their products and monetize (or, make money off of) them.

* News is more transitory
Stories covered one day might not be covered two days later; many stories, especially on TV, had just one or two sources; consumers need to spread their news consumption over many different types of media to get a well-rounded picture of the day's news.

The PEJ report offers much more detail for wonks like me to digest, including a look at how a single day, May 11, 2005, unfolded in news coverage across TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and more. Many of these conclusions are things the good folks at PEJ have been saying for months and years -- see my media diet story for example -- but it is always good to see such conclusions verified through data collection and evaluation.

Got any observations of your own?

Knight Ridder Bought By McClatchy -- NYT

According to the New York Times, the McClatchy Company -- owners of the Sacramento Bee, Minneapolis Star Tribune and 10 other newspapers -- has been approved to purchase the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain for $4.5-billion.

It's a classic good news/bad news scenario for the industry. Good news, because the purchase price was 25 percent above Knight Ridder's stock valuation when the drive to sell was announced. Bad news because McClatchy was the only newspaper company to submit a final bid, indicating a weakness in the sector.

Employees at the Knight-Rider owned St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press are also reeling, afraid that longtime competitor McClatchy will close or merge their paper with the Star Tribune to create one big metro newspaper there.

Indeed, as McClatchy struggles to assimilate a chain nearly three times bigger than itself and pay off the debt incurred to purchase it, it may streamline operations, sell newspapers or trim staffs in many places. Life in the print journalism world is about to get a lot more interesting.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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