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Is the Internet killing the news media?

Alex Constantine - March 16, 2009

Pew report on state of American journalism paints bleak picture
'Net Insider By Scott Bradner
Network World - 03/16/2009

The latest Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism report on the state of the U.S. news media makes for sobering reading if you are a student thinking of pursuing a career in journalism or if you are already in the business. The bottom line is that the business is toast unless you are in the Internet side, and even there it's toast.

The report's first few sentences tell most of the story:

• Newspaper ad revenues are down more than 20% in the last two years.

• Twenty percent of the journalists who worked in newspapers have lost their jobs in that time period.

• Ad revenues were down last year in local TV news more than 5% (even in an election year).

• The traffic at the top news sites went up more than 25% last year.

• The ad-based model for funding journalism is unlikely for the future.

" ... All over America, as newspaper revenues plummet – by the end of 2008, ad sales were down about 25 percent from three years earlier – publishers cannot seem to shed editors, reporters and sections of their papers fast enough. ... "

The Conversation: What do you lose if newspapers don't survive?
The New Republic
MAR. 01, 2009

... More than any other medium, newspapers have been our eyes on the state, our check on private abuses, our civic alarm systems. It is true that they have often failed to perform those functions as well as they should have done. But whether they can continue to perform them at all is now in doubt.

Even before the recession hit, the newspaper industry was facing a mortal threat from the rise of the Internet, falling circulation and advertising revenue, and a long-term decline in readership, as the habit of buying a daily paper dwindled from one generation to the next.

The recession has intensified these difficulties, plunging newspapers into a tailspin from which some will not recover and others will emerge only as a shadow of their former selves. The devastation is already substantial.

At the Los Angeles Times, the cumulative effect of cutbacks has been to reduce its newsroom by half – and that was before its parent company, Tribune, declared bankruptcy. Another company weighed down by debt, the McClatchy chain, which includes the Sacramento Bee, the Miami Herald and 28 other dailies, has laid off one-quarter of its work force in the past year; according to one executive, the editorial downsizing is under 20 percent but is now cutting "close to the bone."

(On Friday, the Rocky Mountain News, owned by E.W. Scripps Co., published its final edition. Earlier last week, the Hearst Corp. said it will close or sell the San Francisco Chronicle if it can't cut expenses.)

Newspapers are also shrinking in numbers of pages, breadth of news coverage, features of various kinds and home delivery of print editions.

All over America, as newspaper revenues plummet – by the end of 2008, ad sales were down about 25 percent from three years earlier – publishers cannot seem to shed editors, reporters and sections of their papers fast enough. And there is more pain to come. According to a December forecast by Barclays Capital, advertising revenue will drop another 17 percent in 2009 and 7.5 percent more the year after.

Who should care

Some observers, confident of the blessings of technology, refuse to shed any tears for the traditional giants of journalism, on the grounds that their troubles are of their own making and of little consequence to the general welfare. In this view, regardless of whether newspapers successfully adapt to the Internet, new and better sources of news will develop online, and they will fill whatever void newspapers leave. Others are so angry at the mainstream media – the reviled "MSM" – that they see the economic misery of the press as a deserved comeuppance. Let the bastards suffer.

These reactions fail to take into account the immediate realities and the full ramifications of the crisis threatening newspaper journalism.

This is no time for Internet triumphalism: The stakes are too high. Nearly all other news media, except for online news, are also retrenching, and the online growth is not close to offsetting the decline elsewhere.

Despite all the development of other media, the fact is that newspapers in recent years have continued to field the majority of reporters and to produce most of the original news stories in cities across the country.

Drawing on studies conducted by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director, says that as of 2006 a typical metropolitan paper ran 70 stories a day, counting the national, local and business sections (adding in the sports and style sections would bring the total closer to 100), whereas a half-hour of television news included only 10 to 12.

And while local TV news typically emphasizes crime, fires and traffic tie-ups, newspapers provide most of the original coverage of public affairs. Studies of newspaper and broadcast journalism have repeatedly shown that broadcast news follows the agenda set by newspapers, often repeating the same items, albeit with less depth. ...


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