By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
A year ago, we identified the long-term trend toward investing fewer resources in original newsgathering.
In 2004, that trend intensified in some media, but not in others, and with the economy improving, some sectors even enjoyed some qualified reinvestment.
The latest figures available for newspapers show that 500 fewer people were working in newsrooms in 2003 than the year before, according to the American Society of Newspapers employment census, and the job losses are believed to have continued in 2004. The industry has not recovered from the drop of 2,000 jobs in 2000.
Local TV newsrooms have seen modest increases in staff, but the numbers are also still below the levels of 2000, according to data from Robert Papper of Ball State University. The average TV newsroom had 33.8 staff members in 2003. But many of them are now expected to produce more hours of news than before and to supply news to other sources as well. One TV newsroom in five, in fact, now provides the content for more than one station.
Network news, which experienced significant declines in staffing and bureaus and increases in workload over the last 20 years, held steady in 2004, according to data from Andrew Tyndall ADT Research. CBS stands out, however, for having noticeably fewer correspondents on the air doing more stories, as many as 30% more than its rivals. That may have contributed to the problems during the CBS “Memogate” story.
Radio saw increases in the average salaries paid to its news personnel. Those salaries, though, are roughly half what their TV counterparts make.
But again, the most surprising indications involve the Web. Some 62% of Web professionals say their newsrooms have seen cutbacks in the last three years – despite huge increases in audiences online. That number is far bigger than the 37% of national print, radio and TV journalists who cited cutbacks in their newsrooms. Anecdotally, Web journalists say what investment there is tends to be in technology for processing information, not in journalists to gather news.
It is part of a larger trend in American journalism: much of the investment and effort is in repackaging and presenting information, not in gathering it. For all that the number of outlets has grown, the number of people engaged in collecting original information has not. Americans are frankly more likely to see the same pictures across multiple TV channels or read the same wire story in different venues than they were a generation ago.