Broken Revenue Model Leads To Newspapers Narrowing Ambitions, Reach: Survey

This story was written by Staci D. Kramer.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism takes a deep look at the "changing newsroom" and, as you might expect, it's not a pretty pictureand the survey that backs it up was done months before the latest brutal round of layoffs and buyouts. Princeton Survey Research Associates surveyed senior newspaper execs and PEJ interviewed editors in 15 cities about the effect on their newsrooms; overall, the results represent 250-plus papers. Among the findings:

-- 85 percent of the dailies surveyed have cut newsroom staff in the last three years; the number drops to 52 percent for smaller papers. More cutbacks were anticipated; some have taken place since the survey ended in Q108.

-- "Newspaper websites are increasingly a source of hope but also of fear. Editors feel torn between the advantages the web offers and the energy it consumes to produce material often of limited or even questionable value."

-- Nearly two-thirds have decreased foreign news, while more than half have cut back on national.

-- More than a third of the papers have reduced business coverage.

-- State, local and community coverage is up but cutbacks in staff is affecting the quality.

-- And yet, more than 50 percent insist "their product" is improving. One editor of a metro daily that has cut 70 newsroom staffers describes "an improvement in enterprise, in investigations and in the coverage of several core beats." (Ed. note: I strongly suggest looking for the editor with a needle in his or her arm.) This despite the various laments in the study.

Then there's this telling comment from Virginian-Pilot Editor Denis Finley: "I feel I'm being catapulted into another world, a world I don't really understand. It's scary because things are happening at the speed of light. The sheer speed (of change) has outstripped our ability to understand it all."

Lou Ureneck, chairman of the journalism department at Boston University, told AP the change in focus "is a strategic move not driven by lack of demand but (by) a revenue model that is broken."

Here's the whole study.


By Staci D. Kramer