Are Newspapers Biting the Dust?

“It has fewer pages than three years ago, the paper stock is thinner, and the stories are shorter.  The newsroom staff producing the paper is also smaller….Financial pressures sap its strength and threaten its very survival.”

Nope, that isn’t a statement about your local newspaper.  It’s a statement about the American daily newspaper of 2008, as reported by the Pew Research Center.  “This description is a composite.  It is based on face-to-face interviews conducted at newspapers across the country, and the results of a detailed survey of senior newsroom executives.  In total, more than 250 newspapers participated.”   In total, more than one in every five of the nation’s 1,217 daily newspapers participated, making it one of the broadest surveys of its kind in recent years.

The majority of newspapers are now suffering cutbacks in staffing, and even more in the amount of news they offer the public.  The forces buffeting the industry continue to impact larger metro newspapers to a far greater extent than smaller ones.

Perhaps you’ve heard the recent announcements of a further round of huge newsroom staff reductions at large papers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post, all known to be quite liberal in their perspectives. Let’s also not forget The New York Times, that bastion of bias, with a second quarter drop of 82% in revenue, with print advertising continuing to shrink.

The Pew Report was meant to document how newspapers are faring in the race between today’s financial pressures and the innovative attempts to insure the industry’s future.  Many papers are expanding their web presence and getting into web TV to mobilize the rapid growth of web readership.

One major area of concern, however, which has already cropped up in television news, is the pressure to have a constant flow of new material on the web, which means “a loss of time to organize a thoughtful attack on a story, to think through precisely why a story is being done, or how to make that story more meaningful.”  Newspapers have long had that luxury and that responsibility.  Television and radio news, with their competitive immediacy, have veered toward the unexamined and notorious for the sake of ratings. 

We should be worried.