Deepening newsrooms cuts are changing the face of American newspapers, says PEJ study

The American daily newspaper in 2008 has fewer pages, shorter stories and younger staff, but its coverage is more targeted than ever, according to a new report.

The study released yesterday paints a grim picture of how lay-offs in US newsrooms are damaging the quality of their products – but it’s not all doom and gloom.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) study, “The Changing Newsroom: What is Being Gained and What is Being Lost in America’s Daily Newspapers” surveyed senior newsroom executives at more than 250 newspapers in the US to map the effects of these cuts.

Less foreign news

“Papers both large and small have reduced the space, resources and commitment devoted to a range of topics. At the top of that list nearly two thirds of papers have cut back on foreign news, over half have trimmed national news and more than a third have reduced business coverage. In effect, America’s newspapers are narrowing their reach and their ambitions and have become niche reads,” the study said.

Larger metro newspapers were worst hit by the cuts – 85 per cent of those dailies with circulations over 100,000 surveyed have cut newsroom staff in the last three years compared to only 52 per cent of smaller papers making cuts.

More targeted and competitive

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

The news organisations were perceived to have grown leaner and meaner and are attracting a different set of employees as a result of this:

“New job demands are drawing a generation of young, versatile, tech-savvy, high-energy staff as financial pressures drive out higher-salaried veteran reporters and editors. Newsroom executives say the infusion of new blood has brought with it a new competitive energy, but they also cite the departure of veteran journalists, along with the talent, wisdom and institutional memory they hold as their single greatest loss.”

One of those surveyed, Steven Smith, editor-in-chief of the Spokesman-Review, blogged about the study. His newspaper is also affected by the cuts, but he had the following message to his staff:

“Our readers are migrating away from print to digital platforms. We must migrate with them. Failure to change, put plainly, means failure (…) Our success will depend on the commitment of each of us to be fearless in the face of relentless, never-ending change, gritty in the face of doubt and resolute in the service of our communities who continue to rely on our journalism as never before.”

Finding “a way to monetize the rapid growth of Web readership before newsroom staff cuts so weaken newspapers that their competitive advantage disappear, ” was identified as a key concern for many editors, and 97 per cent of the editors surveyed said they are actively trying to develop new revenue streams.

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