Financial Woes Now Overshadow All Other Concerns for Journalists
The Web: Alarming, Appealing and a Challenge to Journalistic Values
Summary of Findings
The financial crisis facing news organizations is so grave that it is now overshadowing concerns about the quality of news coverage, the flagging credibility of the news media, and other problems that have been very much on the minds of journalists over the past decade.
An ever larger majority of journalists at national media outlets — 62% — says that journalism is going in the wrong direction, an increase from the 51% who expressed this view in 2004. Half of internet journalists and about the same proportion of local journalists (49%) also take a negative view of the state of their profession.
Soaring economic worries underlie these sour assessments. In an open-ended format, 55% of journalists at national news organizations cite a financial or economic concern as the most important problem facing journalism, up from just 30% in 2004. The proportion of local journalists citing an economic problem also has increased sharply since 2004 (from 35% to 52%). In addition, about half of internet journalists (48%) — those who work for web-only news organizations or the websites of print, broadcast or cable news outlets — point to a financial concern as the greatest problem facing the profession.
As financial concerns have risen, fewer journalists cite the quality of coverage and the loss of credibility with the public as the most important problems facing journalism. Among national journalists, just 22% mention the quality of coverage as the biggest problem facing the profession, down from 41% in 2004. The proportion of local journalists citing the quality of coverage also has declined since 2004, from 33% to 21%.
For many, the financial problems confronting journalism are directly tied to the rise of journalism on the internet. Overall, 16% of national journalists — including 26% of those working in print — cite the current business model for journalism, or the specific challenge of making a profit from web journalism, as the most important problem facing journalism.
However, the national and local journalists surveyed make clear distinctions between the internet’s impact on the news business, which they view with alarm, and the ways that the Web has transformed journalism, many of which the journalists view quite positively.
The survey of journalists was conducted Sept. 17-Dec. 3, 2007 among 585 reporters, editors and news executives by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Large majorities of national, local and internet journalists say it is good thing that citizens are able to post comments on news organizations’ websites. In addition, majorities in all three groups say that video-streaming websites, with YouTube by far the most well-known, have been a good thing for journalism.
Perhaps more surprising is that most national and local journalists also express positive opinions about news aggregating websites, such as Google News and Yahoo News, which have been blamed for contributing to audience declines for traditional news organizations. Notably, fewer local print journalists (53%) view news aggregating sites as a good thing for journalism than do local TV journalists (71%) or national journalists (67%).
Overall, internet journalists have more positive impressions of internet-driven innovations than do journalists who work for national and local print, TV and radio news organizations. For instance, only about a third of national (35%) and local journalists (36%) have a positive view of citizens posting news content on news organizations’ websites; by contrast, 54% of internet journalists say this is a good thing for journalism.
There is an even bigger gap in how national, local and internet journalists view the impact of news ranking sites such as reddit.com and digg.com. Nearly two-thirds of internet journalists (65%) say that reddit, digg and other sites that rank the popularity of news stories are a good thing for journalism. Only about a third of national journalists (34%) and even fewer local journalists (24%) agree.
The survey finds that while journalists welcome many of the new technologies that have revolutionized journalism, they are divided about the internet’s overall impact on the traditional values of their profession. National journalists are evenly split about whether the internet’s rise will strengthen or weaken traditional journalistic values. On balance, more local journalists say the internet will weaken (45%), rather than strengthen (34%), those values. Even among internet journalists themselves, only about half (49%) say the Web will enhance journalistic values.
Older journalists generally see the internet weakening journalistic values. About half of journalists ages 55 and older (52%) express this view. By comparison, a 49% plurality of younger journalists (ages 22-34) says the internet’s rise will strengthen journalistic values.
Those who believe that the internet will strengthen journalistic values cite several factors for this. They assert that the Web increases journalistic transparency and enables journalists to provide more detailed coverage. People who say that the internet weakens the traditional values of journalists most often cite increasing time pressures and diminished quality control in online journalism as the internet’s biggest negatives.
The surveyed journalists give the highest performance ratings to major national newspapers — 92% of national journalists, and 82% of local and internet journalists, give national newspapers grades of A or B. The grades for the websites of national news organizations are nearly as positive. Roughly eight-in-ten national journalists (82%), and nearly as many internet (78%) and local journalists (74%), give grades of A or B to these sites.
Online-only news sites, such as the magazines Slate and Salon, also are highly regarded, at least among internet and national journalists; 76% of internet journalists give these sites an A or B, as do 68% of national journalists. However, just 47% of local journalists give high marks to online-only news sites. Local journalists, especially those working in print, also give lower grades to news aggregator sites, such as Google News and Yahoo News, than do national or internet journalists.
In addition, while half of internet journalists give high marks to bloggers who write about current events, just a third of national journalists and 21% of local journalists do so. Nonetheless, the proportion of national journalists giving high marks to bloggers is twice the number giving similar ratings to local TV news (33% vs. 17%).
Most of the news professionals surveyed say that even in this era of online news, journalists still fulfill their traditional role as the “gatekeepers” of news and information. Majorities of national (64%), local (63%) and internet journalists (58%) believe that journalists still serve as information gatekeepers — and those who express this opinion overwhelmingly see this as a good thing.
The survey also finds:
- Large majorities of local print journalists (82%) and national print journalists (69%) say staffs at their news organizations have decreased over the past three years. Internet journalists are not exempt from downsizing; 52% say staffs at their newsrooms have decreased over the past three years.
- About half of internet journalists say that corporate owners and advertising concerns exert at least a fair amount of influence over news coverage decisions. Perceptions of commercial pressure are less common among print and TV/radio journalists.
- The journalists surveyed are less optimistic about the future of nightly network news than of printed newspapers. About four-in-ten national journalists (42%) say they expect nightly network broadcasts to survive for only another 10 years or less; just 17% say printed newspapers will disappear that quickly.