Mon, Jul 28, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Shrinking resources take a toll on US newsrooms

Stories are shorter and coverage tends to focus on local and community news at the cost of foreign and national news

By Jeremy Herron  /  AP , NEW YORK

The many and deepening cuts at newspapers across the US are starting to take a toll on their content, a study released last Monday showed.

The challenge newspapers must meet immediately is to find more revenue on the Internet, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s (PEJ) study, called The Changing Newsroom: What is Being Gained and What is Being Lost in America’s Daily Newspapers.

Newspaper managers need to “find a way to monetize the rapid growth of Web readership before newsroom staff cuts so weaken newspapers that their competitive advantage disappears,” the study said.

Stories are shorter overall, the study found, and staff coverage tends to focus on local and community news.

“America’s newspapers are narrowing their reach and their ambitions and becoming niche reads,” the study said.

Even when foreign and national news makes it into the papers, it is being relegated to less prominent pages.

“To make the front page, it has to be a significant development or a story that we can see through Florida eyes,’’ said Sharon Rosenhause, managing editor of the Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Sun-Sentinel and a longtime newspaper executive.

The reasons for the newsroom cutbacks are well known: Newsprint costs have jumped and advertising and circulation revenue have quickened their descent this year as advertisers follow readers online. Newspaper Web sites capture only a small fraction of the revenue lost as they sell fewer print ads, which fetch more money.

“The seams and threads are beginning to show in US journalism even though newspapers are by far the greatest source of news,” Lou Ureneck, chairman of the journalism department at Boston University, said on July18.

The PEJ study surveyed senior newsroom executives at more than 250 newspapers and interviewed editors at papers in 15 cities to document the way these cuts have affected newsrooms and the quality of their product.

The results show that papers carry fewer stories on foreign and national news and devote less space to business, science and arts reporting and many have reduced the crossword puzzle and eliminated television and stock listings.

Many editors said they must ask reporters to cover more beats, reducing their ability to produce authoritative stories.

Others said, in what may create a vicious circle, that staff cutbacks reduced their ability to shape coverage to fit their communities’ needs, while Ureneck said that coverage was shrinking.

“This is a strategic move not driven by lack of demand but [by] a revenue model that is broken,” Ureneck said.

Still, 56 percent of the editors surveyed felt their news product was better than it was three years ago because coverage was more targeted.

“There’s an improvement in enterprise, in investigations and in the coverage of several core beats,” the study quoted an unnamed editor of a large metropolitan daily talking about his staff’s coverage, not the makeup of the paper overall.

Local news is “very essential” to their product, 97 percent of editors surveyed said, and they said that’s where they’re putting a larger share of their shrinking resources.

“They are giving a greater piece of a smaller pie to local news,” Ureneck said.

That makes sense because where they can “develop the most expertise and strongest bond with readers is covering the local community.”

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