Erosion of news reporting resources in US continues: Study

Erosion of news reporting resources in US continues: Study


MUMBAI: The effects of a decade of newsroom cutbacks are real and the public is taking notice. In 2012, a continued erosion of news reporting resources in the US converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public. On a more positive note, the rise of digital paid content could also have a positive impact on the quality of journalism as news organisations strive to produce unique and high-quality content that the public believes is worth paying for.

Signs of the shrinking reporting power are documented in the latest Pew Research report. Estimates for newspaper newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30 per cent since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978. In local TV sports, weather and traffic now account for 40 per cent of the content produced on an average newscast while story lengths shrink. On CNN, the cable channel that has branded itself around deep reporting, produced story packages were cut nearly in half from 2007 to 2012.

Across the three cable channels, coverage of live events during the day, which often require a crew and correspondent, fell 30 per cent from 2007 to 2012 while interview segments, which tend to take fewer resources and can be scheduled in advance, were up 31 per cent. Time magazine, the only major print news weekly left standing, cut roughly five per cent of its staff in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs.

A growing list of media outlets, such as Forbes magazine, use technology by a company called Narrative Science to produce content by way of algorithm, no human reporting necessary. And some of the newer nonprofit entrants into the industry, such as the Chicago News Cooperative, have, after launching with much fanfare, shut their doors.

This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands. And findings from Pew’s new public opinion survey reveal that the public is taking notice. Nearly one-third of the respondents (31 per cent) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.

At the same time, newsmakers and others with information they want to put into the public arena have become more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media. They are also seeing more success in getting their message into the traditional media narrative.

This is the 10th edition of the State of the News Media produced by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. There are six trends of the year:

The effects of a decade of newsroom cutbacks are real – and the public is taking notice. Nearly a third of US adults, 31 per cent, have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were accustomed to getting. Men have left at somewhat higher rates than women, as have the more highly educated and higher-income earners—many of those, in other words, that past Pew Research data have shown to be among the heavier news consumers. With reporting resources cut to the bone and fewer specialised beats, journalists’ level of expertise in any one area and the ability to go deep into a story are compromised.

Indeed, when people who had heard something about the financial struggles were asked which effect they noticed more, stories that were less complete or fewer stories over all, 48 per cent named less complete stories while 31 per cent mostly noticed fewer stories. Overall, awareness of the industry’s financial struggles is limited. Only 39 per cent have heard a lot or some. But those with greater awareness are also more likely to be the ones who have abandoned a news outlet.

The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising. Two new areas of digital advertising that seemed to bring promise even a year ago now appear to be moving outside the reach of news: mobile devices and local digital advertising. Over all, mobile advertising grew 80% in 2012 to $2.6 billion. Of that, however, only one ad segment is available to news: display. While mobile display is growing rapidly, 72 per cent of that market goes to just six companies—including Facebook, which didn’t even create its first mobile ad product until mid-2012. Local digital advertising, a critical ad segment for news as the majority of outlets cater to a local audience, is also growing—22 per cent sin 2012.

But improved geo-targeting is allowing many national advertisers to turn to Google, Facebook and other large networks to buy ads that once might have gone to local media. In addition, Google and Facebook are also improving their ability to sell ad space to smaller, truly local, advertisers, again taking business that once went to local media. It is hard to see how news organisations will secure anything like their traditional share. Google is now the ad leader in search, display and mobile. Once again, in key revenue areas, it appears the news industry may have been outflanked by technology giants.

The long-dormant sponsorship ad category is seeing sharp growth. This is one area of growing digital ad revenue where news organisations have taken early steps to move in. Promoted tweets on Twitter account for some of the growth, along with the rise of native ads—the digital term for advertorials containing advertiser-produced stories—which often run alongside a site’s own editorial content.

Though it remains small in dollars, the category’s growth rate is second only to that of video. Sponsorship ads rose by 38.9 per cent, to $1.56 billion; that followed a jump of 56.1 per cent in 2011. Traditional publications such as The Atlantic and Forbes, as well as digital publications BuzzFeed and Gawker, have relied on native ads to quickly build digital ad revenues, and their use is expected to spread.

According to tech website PandoDaily, major publishers including Hearst, Time and Condé Nast are investing in formats to run native ads, as are many newspapers. The development, however, runs the risk of confusing readers about the difference between advertising and news content.

The growth of paid digital content experiments may have a significant impact on both news revenue and content. After years of an almost theological debate about whether digital content should be free, the newspaper industry may have reached a tipping point in 2012. Indeed, 450 of the US’ 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or pay wall plan, in many cases opting for the metered model that allows a certain number of free visits before requiring users to pay.

The trend has also spread beyond newspapers, as highlighted by popular blogger Andrew Sullivan’s recent decision to attach a fee to his site, The Dish. With digital ad revenue growing at an anemic three per cent a year in the newspaper industry, digital subscriptions are seen as an increasingly vital component of any new business model for journalism—though, in most cases, they fall far short of actually replacing the revenue lost in advertising.

Thanks in good part to its two-year-old digital subscription programme, The New York Times reports that its circulation revenue now exceeds its advertising revenue, a sea change from the traditional revenue split of as much as 80 per cent ad dollars to 20 per cent circulation dollars. Going forward, many news executives believe that a new business model will emerge in which the mix between advertising and circulation revenue will be close to equal, most likely with a third leg of new revenues that are not tied directly to the news product.

The rise of digital paid content could also have a positive impact on the quality of journalism as news organisations strive to produce unique and high-quality content that the public believes is worth paying for.

While the first and hardest-hit industry, newspapers, remains in the spotlight, local TV finds itself newly vulnerable: Local TV audiences were down across every key time slot and across all networks in 2012. And the off-peak news hours like 4:30 a.m. that stations had been adding for years seem to have hit their audience ceiling. While local TV remains a top news source for Americans, the percentage is dropping—and dropping sharply among younger generations.

Regular local TV viewership among adults under 30 fell from 42 per cent in 2006 to just 28 per cent in 2012, according to Pew Research survey data. What’s more, the topics people go there for most—weather and breaking news (and to a lesser extent traffic)—are ripe for replacement by any number of Web- and mobile-based outlets. While many stations ramped up their digital news offerings in the past year, they are late to the digital game.

Ad revenues were up for the year, but that was largely due to a windfall of $2.9 billion in political ad revenue, something that cannot be replicated in non-election years. Over all, average revenue for news-producing stations declined by more than a third (36 per cent) from 2006 to 2011.

Hearing about things in the news from friends and family, whether via social media or actual word of mouth, leads to deeper news consumption: A majority of Americans seek out a full news story after hearing about an event or issue from friends and family, a new Pew Research survey released here finds. For nearly three-quarters of adults (72 per cent), the most common way to get news from friends and family is by having someone talk to them—either in person or over the phone. And among that group, close to two-thirds (63%) somewhat or very often seek out a news story about that event or issue. Social networking is now a part of this process as well: 15 per cent of US adults get most of their news from friends and family this way, and the vast majority of them (77 per cent) follow links to full news stories.

Among 18-to-29 year-olds, the percentage that primarily relies on social media for this kind of news already reaches nearly one-quarter. And the growing practice of dual-screening major news events adds more opportunity to share news electronically. Friends and family are still just one part of most consumers’ news diets –and a smaller part than going directly to news outlet themselves, as an earlier Pew Research study revealed.

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