Journalism suffers as cash crunch impacts newsgathering

19 Mar,2013


By A Correspondent


Every year, for the last decade-odd, the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan source of data and analysis, presents a report on the health and status of American journalism. So what’s it got to do with us in India?


After all if there’s something that we haven’t blindly copied from the US of A is American news media practices. Some practices like paid content are homegrown and are flourishing.


But as the Indian news media suffers from a liquidity crunch, it’s interesting to look at the impact that cash-starved news outlets have on the American public. Here’s a look at the major findings which we have taken from the Pew Research Center communique: In the news media, a continued erosion of reporting resources has converged with growing opportunities for newsmakers, such as political figures, government agencies, companies and others, to take their messages directly to the public. The public, for its part, is not very aware of the financial struggles that have led to the news industry’s cutbacks in reporting, but nearly one-in-three (31%) say they have stopped turning to a particular news outlet because it no longer provides the news they were accustomed to getting.


Ranjona Banerji: Disquieting news for mediaAlthough the Pew Research Centre’s State of the Media report doesn’t paint a rosy picture for American media, it applies to journalism and journalists everywhere, notes Ranjona Banerji

The report pinpoints multiple signs of shrinking reporting power. For newspapers, estimates for newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put industry employment down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978. On local television, where audiences were down across every key time slot in 2012, news stories have shrunk in length, and, compared with 2005, coverage of government has been cut in half and sports, weather and traffic now account for 40% of the content. On cable, coverage of live events during the day, which often requires a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012, while interview segments were up 31%. And among news magazines, the end of Newsweek’s print edition coincided with another round of staff cuts, and Time, the only general news print magazine left, announced cuts of roughly 5% in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs.


This adds up to a news industry that is more understaffed and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.


“There are all sorts of contributors in the evolving landscape of news and, in many ways, more opportunities for citizens to access information,” says Amy Mitchell, acting director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “But there are more signs than ever that the reduced reporting power in the news industry is having an effect and may weaken both the industry’s capacity to produce in-depth journalism and its credibility with the public at the same time that others are gaining more voice.”


A video summary of lessons from the presidential election, documents this trend. Campaign reporters acted more as megaphones, rather than as investigators of the assertions put forward by the campaigns. In the 2012 race, only 27% of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists, while roughly twice that many came from political partisans. That is a reversal from a dozen years earlier when half came from journalists and a little more than one-third came from the campaigns. At the same time, the campaigns also found more ways than ever to connect directly with citizens.


Now, we may not necessarily see this happening, as our news media will continue to deploy heavy resources on the 2014 elections. Ratings and readership typically see a new high around every election and no news media organization can really afford to lose out. However, it would be interesting to see if the bigger papers and channels and magazines cut back next year due to pressures of monies.


Here are the key findings from the Pew Center report (the notings in italics at the end are our comments):

:: Limited Public Awareness of News Industry Challenges: Fully 60% of Americans say they have heard little or nothing at all about the financial problems besetting news organizations. Even so, 31% 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-demographic groups that past Pew Research studies have shown to be heavier news consumers.

The alternatives to traditional media are few in India, but there is a growing class of people who don’t like the nightly studio fights and corrupt practices in some the newspapers


:: On CNN, Fewer Produced Packages; On MSNBC, Opinion Dominates. CNN-which has branded itself around reporting resources and reach-cut its primetime story packages in half and daytime live event coverage nearly in half between 2007 and 2012. Even so, in an analysis of coverage across the entire day, CNN was the only one of the three big cable news channels to produce more straight reporting than commentary. At the other end of that spectrum lies MSNBC, where opinion filled a full 85% for the days studied. On Fox News, opinion accounted for 55% of the newshole. The report also finds a changing cable news landscape: Daytime programming now resembles primetime, with interviews and opinion replacing coverage of live events and breaking news.

Our primetime news is already full of studio discussions and hardly any news reportage. That’s a format we’ve had for some years now.


:: Despite Political Ad Windfall, Local TV Newly Vulnerable. Viewership of local TV was down in every key time slot in 2012, with an average loss of more than 6% for local affiliates of the four major broadcast networks. Local TV remains a top news source for Americans, but the percentage who say they watched it yesterday is dropping-and dropping sharply among younger people. Advertising revenues were up for the year, but were largely a result of the record $2.9 billion in political advertising. And a content analysis of local television finds that the growing areas of the newscast-sports, weather and traffic-are also those that are becoming increasingly available on-demand from a wide variety of digital sources.

Not very relevant in India. Local cable news is patchy in India, with content integrity suspect. However, there are a few bright sparks. Few and, regrettably, far between!


:: Two New Areas of Digital Ad Revenue Already Moving Out of the Reach of News. In the rapidly growing market for mobile display advertising, six companies already draw 72% of the market share-none of which produce news. Facebook is one of the six, and though its first mobile ad product came in mid-2012, the company says mobile display already accounted for 23% of its fourth quarter ad revenue. Local digital advertising, a critical ad segment for news as the majority of outlets cater to a local audience, is also growing-up 22% in 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 news media. At the same time, Google and Facebook are also moving directly into local ad sales. Google is now the ad leader in search, display and mobile.

In India, digital news media were never really as hot as the matrimonial, job and travel sites. And even if the general portals are popular, it’s because of the girlie pix upfront.


:: Sponsored Advertising Increases Nearly 40%-And Is An Area Where News Organizations Have Taken Early Steps To Move In. Though it remains small in dollars, this ad category grew 39%, to $1.56 billion; that followed a jump of 56% in 2011. 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. This may come with some risk, though, as certain news outlets have found this type of advertising can cause confusion among readers who cannot differentiate between advertising and news content.

In the US of A, they are at least tagging them sponsored/ native/ whatever. Out here there’s a general ‘advertorial/promotional feature’ label put somewhere. Paid content rules, not just on news media, but also in the form of informercials… like the paid-for Radio Jockey mentions on FM radio!


:: Paid Digital Content Experiments on the Rise. Some 450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies (33%) have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan, in many cases opting for the metered model that allows a certain level of free access before requiring users to pay. This is already helping rebalance the print industry’s heavy reliance on advertising over subscription revenue. Indeed, digital advertising for newspapers grew only at an anemic 3% rate in 2012. At the New York Times, circulation now accounts for more than advertising revenue – attributed in large part to its two year-old digital subscription program. Small and midsize papers, while not near an even split are seeing success as well.

Note: paid digital content not to be confused with the paid content we have here. Paid-for online content hasn’t really worked very well, though it’ll be interesting to know how some specialized websites are doing.


:: Friends and Family Spur News Consumption. Two-thirds of Americans at least somewhat often seek out a full news story after hearing about an event or issue from friends and family. Fully 72% get most news from friends and family via word of mouth. But social media is a growing component: 15% of U.S. adults get most of their news from friends and family through social media; that number rises to nearly a quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds.

This number isn’t as large here, but suffice to say that social media and Twitter are increasing in importance and a fair number of regulars depend on social media for their news updates.


The 2013 State of the News Media  includes an infographic of the major trends of the year, an essay on digital news developments over the last year and detailed chapters on seven major media sectors – newspapers, cable news, network TV, local TV news, audio, magazines and for ethnic media this year, African-American news outlets. There are also four special reports: a content analysis examining changes in television news in the last five years; two new national surveys examining news consumers’ attitudes and behaviors; and a video revealing five major lessons from the 2012 election. Please visit:


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