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July 23, 2008

Filed under: journalism»industry

The Changing Newsroom

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.

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