The Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has
released its report on The
Changing Newsroom, and I've got some reactions:
- Most newspapers are cutting staff, but it's interesting that small
newspapers are less affected. But then, small papers may be ahead of the
curve when it comes to moves that larger papers are only now taking,
such as outsourcing coverage to wire services and aggregators.
- International news is the big loser for American papers in terms of
allocated space and resources, which, given the dreadful international
coverage available from television news, is kind of a tragedy for the
country's awareness of events outside our borders. As Ethan
Zuckerman points out, you can't just replace foreign news with
aggregation of local content from foreign sources, because they lack the
context American readers need.
- National news is also shedding column inches and losing front-page
preference as papers move toward a "hyper-local" approach--all stories
must be seen through the prism of local coverage. I have mixed feelings
about this, but I suspect it's another very bad move being made in
imitation of small papers without understanding their context. Local
coverage is great, but A) people in cities want a bigger picture and B)
it's often written from the abysmally-limited perspective of editor and
writers who are white and upper-middle class.
- Science reporting's basically doomed at this point.
- When editors reduce space allocated to crosswords, TV listings, or
stock tables, they get many more letters compared to cuts in foreign
news, investigative pieces, or specialized beats. Possible reason: Old
people write disproportionate numbers of letters. Possible caveat: Old
people may be a substantial portion of print readers these days.
- Specialized positions like photographers and narrow beats are being
cut, and other staff are being forced to generalize in order to fill
those roles. This has apparently increased the stress on staff, as well
as lowering the average level of topic experience available. It's
spurred by the increased emphasis on multimedia reporting, meaning that
each reporter has to fill lots of content holes. I think it doesn't hurt
people to learn new skills, but I suspect this is highly visible to
readers, particularly in economic reporting. When subject expertise is
lost in favor of wide skill ranges, it not only influences the reporting
directly, but also indirectly the choice of topics that editors
assign and the depth to which they're pursued. It's TV news syndrome.
- Some editors aren't afraid of the web anymore, which is nice. Some
of them are a bit too gung-ho about it, if you ask me.
- The realization may be dawning that the Internet does not turn
every newspaper into a 24-hour news network that requires constant
feeding, but does allow quality stories to be posted outside of the
morning/evening edition cycle. It also allows papers to directly compete
with TV news with timely video coverage, although I'm not sure that the
News at Nine crowd is the same as the RSS reader crowd.
- I'm not aware of, and the report doesn't mention, anyone directly
linking their web and print content through technologies like URL
shorteners or QR codes. This seems like kind of a loss, particularly
given a focus on local content that could be geotagged.
- The "Mobile Journalist" is still kind of a stupid idea--not because
there's anything innately wrong with the idea of content producers
operating out in the field on a regular basis, but more because editors
continue to insist that it's some sort of special super-journalist
instead of simply a good practice.
- The wall between editors and revenue producers has started to
crumble. I worry a lot about this, as I think many people already see
the media as too corporate.
- Somehow, despite cutting back on staff, resources, specialized
coverage, and even newsprint thickness, editors at many papers are still
basically optimistic about the future. Whether this is encouraging or
evidence of delusion should be left as an exercise for the reader.