Overall, the numbers reveal general declines in how much is invested in newsgathering in American journalism.
Newspapers today have about 2,200 fewer full-time professional newsroom employees than they did in 1990, according to data form the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Interpreting that decline is complicated. First the number of papers has declined. On the other hand, work once done by printers and composing room workers has migrated to the newsroom, adding more jobs in the newsroom related to production rather than newsgathering.
In network news, the number of correspondents since the 1980s has been cut by a third, according to data from Professor Joe Foote at Arizona State University. Correspondent workload has increased by 30 percent, according to Foote, and the number of foreign bureaus, our accounting finds, is down by half.
In local television, the Project’s surveys suggest that the average workload increased 20 percent from 1998 to 2002. Fully 59 percent of news directors reported either budget cuts or staff cuts in 2002.
In radio, from 1994 through 2001, the number of full-time radio newsroom employees declined 44 percent and part-time employees declined 71 percent, according to survey data compiled by Professor Robert Papper of Ball State University.
In cable, only Fox appears to be building its news staff, but that is on a relatively small base.
In news magazines in the past 20 years, Time has reduced its staff by 15 percent and Newsweek by a full 50 percent, according to staff boxes published in the magazines. There has without question been some shuffling of names and job titles in these staff boxes. Nevertheless, overall declines are clearly evident. The number of listed foreign bureaus at the major news magazines also has fallen, by 27 percent at Time and 31 percent at Newsweek.
Online, the investment in newsgathering is growing, but for now much of the content is subsidized by the old media.
These facts suggest a difficult environment – more pressure on people, less time to report stories and more reliance on technology, syndicated material and synthesizing second-hand information.
Some of these changes reflect more efficiency created by new technology and companies eliminating waste. Some of the investment in technology, moreover, is inevitable and necessary for modernization. In local television, the government has mandated the transition to fully digital technology within two years. But, technology can also be used to replace the newsgathering skills, homogenize the content, rely more on feed material and wires, which is cheaper than local or original reporting. It is difficult to see how news organizations can distinguish themselves and attract more audience in a more crowded environment if their content is more similar. There is a tendency for branding to be more focused around the style than the substance of reporting.