Newspapers aren’t reaching the front porch

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism today released its seventh annual report on The State of the News Media. While it covers all variety of media, it certainly bears out the concerns about my old stomping ground — newspapers. (I’m old enough to remember the transition from typewriters to word processors in the newsroom.) Here’s the metaphor the report uses for newspapers: people who deliver the newspaper “are complaining that the Monday edition doesn’t have enough throw-weight to get all the way up the porch.”

The local daily certainly bears that out. A significant problem, of course, is revenues, an area in which newspapers are not the only ones suffering. The study indicates that newspaper ad revenue fell 26% during 2009, bringing the total loss over the last three years to 43%. Both radio and local television ad revenue fell 22% last year, magazine ad revenue dropped 17% and network TV 8% (and news alone probably more). But the real kicker for newspapers is that the study estimates the industry has lost $1.6 billion in annual reporting and editing capacity since 2000, or roughly 30%.

In 2009 alone, an estimated 5,900 full-time newspaper jobs were shed, numbers similar to 2008. hat means roughly one-third of newsroom jobs in American newspapers that existed in 2001 are gone, with the cuts coming in significant part from specialty beats like science, the arts, suburban government and statehouse coverage. These figures threaten an outcome that may make throw-weight concerns irrelevant: newspapers “are flirting with a tipping point where the cutbacks are so great that even loyal audiences give up.”

Across the media board, some of the damage may well be self-inflicted. Attributable in part to cable television and radio, the executive summary observes that 71% of Americans believe most news sources are biased and 70% feel overwhelmed rather than informed by the amount of news and information they see. “Quantitatively,” the study notes, “argument rather than expanding information is the growing share of media people are exposed to today.”

To me, that is more disconcerting than throw-weight: fewer outlets elevating argument over information and objectivity. Combine it all and it’s not a good formula for a marketplace of ideas.

The losses suffered in traditional news gathering in the last year were so severe that by any accounting they overwhelm the innovations in the world of news and journalism[.]

Press release for State of the News Media 2010

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