March 17, 2008

Financial Woes Now Overshadow All Other Concerns for Journalists

Section I: Impact of Financial and Business Pressures

A growing proportion of journalists believe that increased bottom-line pressure is not just changing the ways things get done in newsrooms. In addition, it is hurting the quality of news coverage. Roughly two-thirds of internet (69%), national and local journalists (68% each) say that increased bottom-line pressure is seriously hurting the quality of news coverage, rather than just changing the way news organizations operate.

The proportion of national and local journalists saying commercial pressure is negatively affecting coverage has climbed dramatically since the 1990s. In 1999, just 49% of national journalists and 46% of local journalists said that intensified bottom-line pressure was having a negative effect on news coverage.

Print Journalists Face Staff Cuts

Journalists, particularly those who work in print and online, say that financial pressure on their news organizations has increased in recent years. The sense of growing pressure is overwhelming in print newsrooms: 87% of national print journalists and 88% of local print journalists say financial pressure has grown in the past three years. About eight-in-ten internet journalists (79%) also think financial pressure has increased.

Somewhat fewer TV and radio journalists at the national and local level say that the financial strain on their news organizations has increased in the past three years. However, the perception that financial pressure is growing is widespread here as well — 73% of local broadcast journalists and 61% of their national counterparts say pressure is growing.

Large proportions of print journalists report that there have been staffing cutbacks in their newsrooms in the past three years. Fully 82% of local print journalists and 69% of national print journalists say that the reporting and editorial staffs at their news organizations have decreased over the past three years.

Yet a majority of internet journalists (52%) also say that the staffs at their organizations have been reduced over the past three years.

Far fewer journalists who work in TV or radio (broadcast or cable news outlets) say the staffs in their newsrooms have been decreased. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed from national TV and radio outlets (45%) say staffs at their organizations have increased when compared with three years ago. A plurality of local TV journalists (47%) says the staff in their newsroom has stayed the same when compared with three years ago.

Most journalists do not expect to see their own positions eliminated in the next three years, but substantial minorities are concerned. For example, 34% of national print journalists and 28% of local print journalists say it is very or somewhat likely that their jobs will be cut in the next few years. A quarter of internet journalists and national TV and radio journalists say the same.

In addition, relatively few journalists feel very secure in their current positions. About half of local TV journalists (49%) say it is “not at all likely” that their job will be eliminated, but much smaller percentages of other local and national journalists express the same level of confidence that their positions will not be eliminated.

Reasons for Declining Audiences

Large majorities of journalists blame changes in the media environment for the erosion in news audiences in recent years. More than eight-in-ten local journalists (84%), and comparable proportions of internet (82%) and national journalists (81%), say that the public’s wider range of news choices is a major factor for why some types of news media have lost audience.

Majorities also point to the rise of specialized news outlets, which allow people to get only the news they want. In the 1999 survey of journalists, just 40% of national and local journalists said specialized news outlets were a major factor for declining audiences; currently, 57% of national journalists and 55% of local journalists view this as a major reason for diminished news audiences.

About half of national, local and internet journalists say the fact that “Americans are too busy these days” is a major reason for smaller news audiences. Fewer journalists blame specific aspects of news coverage — an overemphasis on scandal and sensationalism, reporting stories that are not meaningful to average people, and providing coverage that is boring and static.

TV and radio journalists are more likely than others to say that a focus on scandal is a main factor behind smaller news audiences. Six-in-ten national TV and radio journalists cite this as a major reason for why audiences have declined, compared with just 28% of their print counterparts. Similarly, more than twice as many local TV journalists as local print journalists say an excessive focus on scandal is a major factor for the decline in news viewership and readership.

Commercial Influences on Coverage

The vast majority of national and local journalists say that owners and advertisers do not have much influence over which stories get covered or emphasized by their news organizations. About a quarter see owners or advertisers having a great deal or a fair amount of influence over coverage.

Internet journalists, however, are far more likely to say that both corporate owners and advertising concerns have substantial influence on news coverage. Nearly half of internet journalists (48%) say that corporate owners have a great deal or fair amount of influence over coverage, while 46% say the same about advertisers. This is especially notable, considering that most of the internet journalists in the sample work for the online operations of traditional print and broadcast outlets.

Divided Over Management’s Priorities

Journalists have a fairly skeptical view of the commitment of their news organization’s senior managers to the public interest. Only about half of the national, local and internet journalists surveyed say their news organization’s top management gives higher priority to the public interest than to the organization’s financial performance.

Among local journalists, a large majority of news executives (65%) says that their organization’s senior managers place greater priority on serving the public’s interest than on financial performance. Editors and reporters at local news organizations disagree; only about a third (34%) say top managers at their news outlets place a higher priority on the public interest, while 56% say they are more concerned with the organization’s financial performance.

Journalism as a Career

The concerns that journalists express about job security and financial problems are reflected in views of whether they would like to see a son or daughter follow them into the field. Majorities of national (63%), internet (57%) and local journalists (53%) say that if they had a son or daughter they would want him or her to become a journalist.

Those who say they would like their children to become journalists point to the public-service aspects of journalism as well as the chance to do work that is important and intellectually challenging. Other journalists point to the opportunity to do meaningful and fun work.

Journalists who would not like to see a child enter journalism most frequently cite the financial problems facing the industry. Nearly half (45%) cite the uncertainty in the field or the decline of journalism. An additional 30% mention low pay or job insecurity, while 15% cite the long hours required in journalism and the stress that this places on one’s personal and family life.