Recession Continues To Challenge News Industry
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.
As the economy starts to rebound from the recession, a lot of people in the new business wonder if this includes them. The number of readers and viewers began to dwindle well before the economic crisis struck and continues to spiral downward, along with projected revenues.
But there are exceptions. Cable TV news emerged nearly unscathed last year, and both citizen journalism and social media expanded rapidly. And while newspapers, magazines, TV networks and local TV news cut staff, the notion that the news media are shrinking overall leads to consider new kinds of growth.
Those conclusions from the annual State of the News Media from the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center, out just today. Director Tom Rosenstiel joins us in just a moment.
If you're in the news industry or used to be, how has your role in the media changed? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Tom Rosenstiel joins us here in Studio 3A. Tom, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. TOM ROSENSTIEL (Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Research Center): Good to be here, Neal, thanks.
CONAN: And before we get to the specifics of this year's report, I want to ask you to step back a bit. You've been with us several years in a row now. What strikes you as the most important trend over the what, the past five, six, seven years.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, it's that the audience for old media or traditional news values, the kinds of things that journalists have done for many, many years, continues to have an audience. That audience is often now migrating to the online version, but the old media are holding on to their audience.
CONAN: That surprises you.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, many people predicted that, you know, once they could be rid of the annoying, obnoxious filters of old media...
CONAN: Those terrible gatekeepers.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: And all of their fallacious ideas about objectivity and neutrality, that people would gravitate to other kinds of media and maybe just the media that they agreed with. That's not what's happening when you look closely, particularly at the online data and where people are going and how they're congregating.
There was also the theory of the long tail, which was basically simply put, meant that all these small Web site would collectively have a bigger audience than the old mass media did online. And that's also not true.
What has happened is something unexpected, which is that advertisers are not migrating to these old media Web sites along with the audience. The Internet has, in some ways, decoupled advertising from news, and so journalism's problem, as we've said here before, is more of a revenue problem.
CONAN: A business model problem.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: More of a business model problem. Even in cable, which we say is the only platform that really didn't suffer revenue declines, one reason is because they get half their money from subscriptions built into their cable payments, and they're not entirely dependent on advertising.
So even the people in network news, who have a much bigger audience than the cable news audience for any given program, say we're not competing against content, we're competing against a business model.
CONAN: And you say that the old, established news media, that their Web sites continue to attract the most, or is this relatively new?
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, it's grown actually. I mean, we've seen some new media sites, you know, arrive at that, into the top 50 or top 20, but to put it this way, we looked at all 4,600 news and information Web site that Nielson Net Ratings tracks. The top seven percent of those, which is about 300 and something, get 80 percent of all the traffic, and if you go to the very top, the top 20, they get half of all that 80 percent of traffic.
Now, who are those top 20? Well, they're either legacy media, like CBS News or ABC News or the New York Times, or they're aggregators like Yahoo who are aggregating old media. And at the same time, the revenue problems are not only severe, they're accelerating.
CONAN: So that even as old-line media continue to play their role as gatekeepers for most of the people most of the time and continue to attract eyeballs, whether on the Internet or on newspapers, magazines, television, they're not figuring out how to make money out of it.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Right, now there are various explanations for this. Some old-media people say well, it's because we've been giving this stuff away on the Internet.
CONAN: And the New York Times plans to charge. They try the subscription model again next year.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Right, if we can charge for this content, then it'll make a big difference. Other people, if you talk to executives at Google, they say you know what? That's not the way the Internet works. What you need to do is develop more-sophisticated advertising. Figure out a way, as we have at Google, to target that advertising.
So if you're reading a story about X, the ads that show up next to it are really specific, are geo-coded and coded with algorithms so that you know the people are going to be interested in that ad because of the story they're reading. Most news Web sites don't have anything with that kind of sophistication and targeting to them.
The other problem is that for newspapers in particular, most of what we thought of as classified advertising, which was the most profitable part of newspaper advertising...
CONAN: 3 Rms Riv Vu.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Right. That's just gone. It's just disappeared. Craig's List, in particular, the free classified Web site, has destroyed what was a revenue source and made it into a free source, and that's had really a devastating impact on newspapers all across the country. It would be hard to overstate the impact of the loss of classified - not to competitors, but to a non-paying model altogether.
CONAN: We're talking with Tom Rosenstiel of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Their annual report on the state of the news media is out today.
We want to talk with those members of audience who are in the news business or used to be. How has your part changed? 800-989-8255. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll start with Brian(ph). Brian's calling us from Dubuque in Iowa.
BRIAN (Caller): Hi, gentlemen, how are you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
BRIAN: Let me just say it's a privilege to talk to you, sir.
CONAN: Oh, well thanks very much.
BRIAN: My pleasure. I'm in the newspaper business for 27 years, and you know, looking at it, I never dreamt that it would kind of spiral down as fast as it did. I mean, I'm one of those kind I'm very nostalgic, and so I'd hate to see newspapers go by the wayside.
I think people not getting off on a rabbit shot here I think people would be really sorry to see that happen. I think they rely on them a lot more than they think. But that being said, the most difficult thing, for me working in this medium for so long, is their inability to they're more reactive than anything. It's like they're always reacting to it after the problem has gotten almost too big to handle.
You know, a lot with trying to generate online revenue and such, it's like you bring them new business ideas and new models, and it's kind of like, well, yeah, let's see how that might work. But in the meantime, you know, you've got Google and stuff who are coming out at the speed of light and doing all these things.
And it's like, it's just going to be really difficult for them in the next five years to keep up, like you said, with that business model.
CONAN: Brian, let me ask you you'll excuse me if this is a brutal question. Do you expect to make it to retirement in your newspaper job?
BRIAN: You know, it's ironic you say that. I don't expect to really make it in the next I think five years, I think I'm going long if I say five years.
CONAN: Going long if...
BRIAN: It needs to be reinvented, and I think they need to look at that and figure out because, you know, and the thing is I'm an average online reader. I'm on there only when I have to be. And so if you look at the average, I'm on there really a miniscule amount versus the younger generation, who's on there all the time.
And when I looked in the newspaper the next morning, and half of the content I'm reading I've already seen the day before online, and that's just me stumbling across it being a casual reader.
Now take the person who's on there diligently, they've seen almost maybe 100 percent of that. So how do newspaper justify, really, even being relevant?
CONAN: Well, I also think the number of readers who are curious as to how Spiderman's going to get out of this one is - that's dwindling, too.
BRIAN: Yes, yes it is.
CONAN: Well, Brian, thanks very much. Good luck to you.
BRIAN: Thank you, sir.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Brian raises an interesting point, which is how do people consume news now. And we have a survey that's in the report this year. Most people, today, get their news from multiple platforms. They get television news, radio news, some print, online.
The number of people who only get news from one platform is just seven percent of Americans. And online, most people go to they graze across a number of Web sites but a limited number. Two to five Web sites is where most people are going.
What's interesting about this is the idea that you, that one news organization can be the sole news provider for somebody, their gatekeeper, is obsolete. If I'm getting news all across the day from multiple places, then what it is that each news organization's got to do to be essential has changed, because I'm no longer the one who's telling you here's what's new.
CONAN: Let's go next to Paul(ph), and Paul's calling us from Los Angeles.
PAUL (Caller): Hi, I am a magazine writer and editor. I've been downsized three times in three years. Once, my position was eliminated in favor of a Web position. Once, the budget for my position was eliminated. And once, my company went out of business.
And I think that what's happening right now in magazines, with print versus online, is really insane. Because, even as readers say that they trust print magazine ads more there was a study that came out I think last week, showing twice as much trust among readers of ads they see in print than ads they see online even as that is true, all of the advertising money is migrating to online.
And, you know, nobody clicks maybe I'm an old fogey, but I've never met anybody who's even clicked on an online ad.
CONAN: Does your survey measure that, Tom?
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah, we asked people to what have you ever we asked Internet news consumers: How often have you clicked on an ad? Eighty, or 79 percent, said they had never or hardly ever clicked on an online ad. So Paul is not wrong in his guess, and his own behavior reflects a broader base.
CONAN: But what message do those three lost job experiences have sent you, Paul?
PAUL: Well, what it says to me is that the quality is going down because budgets are being I'm freelancing now, and you know, I used to make $2 a word, and now I make $1 a word, and I can't support a family on $1 a word. And so I'm taking a job in PR, and some 25-year-old who doesn't have anywhere near my experience is going to be filling those pages, or those screens, instead.
And so, you know, democracy suffers because we have a less-informed electorate, basically, and they're incapable of making informed decisions. And you're seeing that in the health-care debate right now.
CONAN: Paul, good luck, and maybe it'll get up to $3 a word.
PAUL: Thanks, I'll send you my resume.
CONAN: All right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Bye, Paul. We're talking about today's report on the state of the news business, gloomy to be sure, though there are some bright spots. We'll get to those in a minute.
Tom Rosenstiel directs the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. When we come back, NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik will join us.
If you're in the news industry or used to be, we hope you'll join us, too, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.
Some of the bullet points from this year's Report on the State of the News Media: interest in local news has dropped. More people want national and international coverage. Newspapers and local TV stations saw double-digit drops in revenue. Cable TV news, though, held steady.
Looking ahead, Twitter and Facebook are becoming essential news-gathering tools. Every newsroom wonders if they will get a slice of the improving economy. The Pew Research Center's for Projects Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism it matters where those apostrophes are released its annual report today. You can find it through a link at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
The director of the project is Tom Rosenstiel. He's with us here in Studio 3A, and I want to read this email that we got from Scott(ph). This says: I'm Scott Leadingham, editor of the Society of Professional Journalists' Quill magazine. I wanted to bring up something I picked up on Twitter from, I believe, David Folkenflik some time ago.
If I remember, David was attending a conference on the future of news, possibly at Yale. He brought up something one of the panelists said. To paraphrase: There's no such thing as the, quote-unquote, "death of journalism." Thats absurd. Get out of the journalism death beat, and you'll see that it's a vibrant and an innovative industry. I completely agree.
Well, David Folkenflik is with us from our bureau in New York. David, did he quote your correctly?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: I think the last two times I was in New Haven, it was for a particularly good pizza place there. So I don't think I was at that conference, but I appreciate Scott following my tweets.
I think there is a lot to be stimulated by, to be fascinated by, in the new media landscape, and yet in looking at, you know, what Tom and his crew have done in this study, you know, there are some very sobering things, as well.
You know, people would say, well, aren't you nostalgic for the old days, and I spent several years reporting, you know, simply about the cracking apart of what was old media. I think now the story has to be how things are, you know, coming together and how new experiments are coming.
In fact, one of the things the report says time and again, as I take it, is that this has to be a time of great experimentation, of people willing to try new things, both revenue streams, new kinds of collaborating in news gathering and telling of stories and that a lot of them may not work, that that's okay. We're in this kind of quasi excuse me, crazy quilt time of media, of patchwork media, if you will, that people are going to have to experiment and that some of it will be extremely exciting, and some of it may well be dismaying.
There were two findings that I think and Tom, feel free to correct me if I get this wrong but if I read this correctly, your report found that there was a drop in newspaper newsrooms across the country between 2001 and 2009 of about a third.
So think about that, one of every three journalists gone from newspapers, which are by far the largest, you know, muscle, the largest source of horsepower for journalism in the country.
CONAN: David, doesn't it make you think of those platoon movies, look to your left, look to your right?
(Soundbite of laughter)
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, it's pretty scary. And the second fact that struck me was that if I'm recalling correctly, it said that about 82 percent of links on opinionated blogs link back actually to factual reports from primary, almost old-fashioned news sources. Therefore, at a time when even the growth in media, much of it is concentrated in the blogosphere, in the opinion world, things that people are seeking out, they rely on as the raw material, time and again, on the more-factual-based reporting of the news sources.
So those original sources are no less important than they ever were. You know, I went out and did a profile. I went out to Los Angeles and interviewed Andrew Breitbart, the extremely bombastic, extremely controversial, very conservative sort of blog impresario who helped Matt Drudge and, interestingly, Arianna Huffington, create their blog or media empires online.
And one of the things he said is look, I have a very dysfunctional relationship with the old-school media. He's like, I will beat them up day after day, hour after hour, but I couldn't function without them. (Unintelligible) without the AP, without Reuters, even without some of the newspapers I mock, I wouldn't have the raw material to beat them with. And I thought that was fascinating. He was very up front about that.
CONAN: And we have the idea, Tom, of a critical mass when things get big enough to take off. Is there a reverse to that? Is there a critical minimum?
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah, I mean, the media landscape is actually expanding, but what's growing is the discussion element, as David is suggesting. The discussion component of our media consumption is growing, and the reportorial aspect is shrinking.
The net result is we're talking more about fewer things. We have fewer reporters posted at agencies and at zoning commissions around the country. More of the country is in shadow, but the lights where the lights are shining, they're brighter than they've ever been.
CONAN: And it's interesting. You were talking about the people say they're interested more in national and international news. You see bureau after bureau closing in Washington, D.C., and around the world, as TV networks and newspapers continue to withdraw, that's where they cut. That's where they cut. They say we can make a business covering local news. We have to close the Paris bureau.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: But it's also true that that's happening because everyone has access to the New York Times or the BBC Web sites, and so the idea that you need multiple reporters in all of these places strikes those news organizations that are facing drastic revenue problems as not essential to their core business.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Let's go to Trent(ph), and Trent with us from Goodyear, Arizona.
TRENT (Caller): Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
TRENT: Yes, I am a former newspaper reporter. I was at the Cincinnati Post in Cincinnati, Ohio, back when the Cincinnati Post existed. Then I was at Clear Channel, the radio behemoth, their local Cincinnati thing, as a sports reporter, and was writing online for them before they decided that they were a radio station and didn't want online written word and was laid off.
So I was laid off last April, and about that time, what I did was I said, I can complain that there are no jobs out there because, as you know, we just talked about that, newspapers are cutting left and right, or start something.
I started my own Web site, CNATI.com, covering Cincinnati sports and trying to do it from, just like David was talking, doing it from the original reporting side, not an opinionated blog as much as actual reporting from the beat.
And this is a place where Cincinnati Reds, Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, has was told to was taken off the beat by the Dayton Daily News. The Cincinnati Post was no longer. The Columbus Dispatch stopped covering them. So there were fewer sources of original content, and that was something I had hoped to rectify or help.
CONAN: And Trent, have you made a go of it?
TRENT: Yeah, well, so far so good. One of the things I did is I told my readers that I wanted to go to spring training, and to do that, I needed money. Spring training costs about $8,000 for everyone to cover. That's the basic - what a newspaper does (unintelligible). I was hoping to it for, like, four, go on the real cheap, stay with people, you know, other things. And I raised $7,000.
TRENT: Just from donations.
CONAN: There's another way to get to spring training, and that's develop a good curve ball.
(Soundbite of laughter)
TRENT: Yeah, or get on your knees, you know, either way. It's just a way to do it, and I was really blown away by the response from my readers because they were willing to put their money there. I called it kind of the NPR model or Radiohead, what Radiohead did with their album "In Rainbows."
TRENT: To go out there and try to get the money, and if people valued it, and you put a value on it, they would give.
CONAN: David Folkenflik, that's one of those innovative models that you were talking about.
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, that's right. And you've seen models that you and I have even talked about them briefly, pop-up, where Web site multimedia efforts come, and they've, on a sort of public-radio-station model, solicited donations to help sustain what they do.
You know, you're going to see different levels of success in different markets. I think it's terrific what this reporter has done in Cincinnati to try to sustain sports, local sports journalism. And in fact, one of the things I would say in response to what the claims are of media companies, that they're only covering national and foreign coverage so that they can focus on local coverage, is you've seen a real constriction of local coverage, too.
CONAN: The city desk, way down, yeah.
FOLKENFLIK: Way down. You've seen, you major metro regionals saying we can't cover the state. Suddenly they're saying we can't even cover, you know, the exurbs of our cities. We've got to cover, basically, you know, really the city and the ring around them. In city after city, state after state, you've seen this happen, a real retreat. So even locally, you've seen a constriction of coverage.
I've got to say what he's talking about, in and of itself, is not really a financial model.
FOLKENFLIK: You know, it's a wing and a prayer, and sometimes they get answered. You know, we haven't gotten to the point where audiences, and that's what we're talking about, are trained to say this is something I value to consistently support. They see a specific project.
There's something called spot.us based out in the Bay Area, where this guy, Dave Cohn, a very young innovator, has said let's let journalists post suggested stories they'd like to work on and see what kind of contributions people are willing to make to make those stories happen.
But, you know, that does not actually seem yet to be a sustainable model, whereas while at the same time providing some journalists a little bit of support to go out and work on projects that are dear to them.
All of these things seem to me to be a marriage of funding and passion as opposed to making a living in a way in which you can rely upon the revenue source.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah, no, I think that David's right, that at this point, we're seeing a lot of experimentation on the content side that has not generated any repeatable or sustainable model on the business side.
But also in that, we're seeing a rebirth of connection to the audience. You know, in the '90s and even early in this century, there was a sense in newsrooms that the business side had taken over, to an extent, that the public interest mission in journalism was being squeezed out, and we concluded in - a few years ago that the battle between the journalists and the bean counters was now over. Well, you're seeing a rebirth of this public sense of - of this sense of journalistic mission in a lot of these small places. People are not doing this for money. And that's a really positive thing.
CONAN: Trent, before we let you go, how's that Aroldis Chapman looking?
TRENT: It's phenomenal. That's just - he's making $30 million. I am not, unfortunately.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: This is the young Cuban pitcher who the Reds spend a lot of money to sign, much to the surprise of many in southern Ohio.
(Soundbite of laughter)
TRENT: Well, there is - you know, there is vibrancy in small markets, and hopefully we can continue. As I said, this is not a sustainable model, but it's life support, and it's just a way to try to get out here and keep the product out there. And hopefully, advertising can follow or some other way can follow to pay my rent and pay for dog food. You know, those are the things that are the questions. But we're still alive for the moment.
CONAN: If you go to the spread, the clubhouse report is you can skip the dog food, Trent.
(Soundbite of laughter)
TRENT: Well, I'm talking about it for my dog.
CONAN: Oh, I see. All right.
TRENT: Also, in Major League Baseball, you have to pay for your meals. That's $7 a piece, at least in Cincinnati.
CONAN: Trent, thanks very much for the call, and good luck.
TRENT: Thank you.
CONAN: Email from Pam in San Francisco: Most of us have seen the handwriting on the wall for a long time. Newspapers can't afford to wait another minute. They need to reinvent themselves by providing us with the type of investigative news stories they've always said the public doesn't have the attention span to follow: investigating corporate greed, consumer hardship stories, white-collar crime, political impropriety. These stories take the journalistic talents and resources not available to bloggers and the online competition. Newspapers still serve a valuable purpose, but they need to stop fighting the new market and find their role in it.
And Tom Rosenstiel, there's one thing about those kinds of stories. They're expensive.
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah. They're very expensive. There was an estimate in Raleigh, that they did an investigation of murders that were committed of people who - by people who were in parole. And they were able to estimate afterwards, because they - it caused a change in the law that there were hundreds of people in that market who were alive because the paper had done this expose. The expose cost $200,000 to do, and that the newspaper now could afford to do two such investigations a year.
So you're talking about a material effect on the civic life of communities. And in some cases, you know, literally, a question of life and death from the diminution of resources that's occurring because of the collapse of advertising.
CONAN: We're talking about the state of the news media, the annual report from the Pew Resources Center. And Tom Rosenstiel's Center for Project on Excellence is out. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Also with us is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
This is from momontheedge, who tweets: I was a newspaper reporter, now a freelance writer. I started blogging three years ago for my former employer - work not as enjoyable.
And David Folkenflik, as a lot of these places reinvent themselves, they transformed a lot of staff members into freelancers.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's certainly that. There's tremendous personal dislocation and dismay and anxiety and, in some ways, you know, anguish over changed roles or sometimes severed roles, where they're no longer with the newsroom.
If you saw reports done in the last couple of weeks about ABC News, which has done a major restructuring, they're going to lay - buy out -they hope to not do layoffs - buy out hundreds of employees, you know, up to about a quarter of their staff. And yet they intend to maintain and, in some ways, increase the size and influence of its digital space. They're saying that people who are going to be left behind are going to be people who - you know, you're not just going to have the stereotype -often unfair but, you know, the idea of a correspondent who - or anchor who doesn't do his or her own writing, doesn't edit her - his or her own pieces, they're going to have to be more nimble both journalistically and technically in terms of the production of their pieces.
People in the field may shoot stories and also help physically edit them with computers from the field. These are very different roles from the days where you'd have five people going out, you know, to do a very professional television job. And, you know, that's great anxiety there. Similar thing are happening on the print side.
CONAN: Let's go next to J.R., J.R. with us from Syracuse.
J.R. (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.
J.R.: I used to sell advertising, both in print and radio. And my biggest piece and what I consider to be a part of the problem is, of course, it's always revenue. But the revenue's not being created simply because of the fact the salespeople you have are selling - instead for one radio station and target marketing and making ads that work, they're selling for five radio stations in a market.
The number-one country - the number-one station in this market area is a country station. However, it's owned by a conglomerate - or a big, huge corporation that owns four or five other stations in the market area. They have one sales force or own stations. So the people are going out and selling 10 ads and putting two of them per station, so it doesn't work. Well, if doesn't work and I'm spending money for their advertising, I'm not going to advertise with them again.
J.R.: We have uneducated people. To me, part of the problem goes back to the FCC allowing the corporations to come in and buy up a marketplace, whether it be one or two in this particular area, we have three corporations that owned every media source, television stations, radio stations and print advertising...
CONAN: And there are more than a few where one company owns all the radio stations in town. But Tom Rosenstiel, he's got a point. Lately, we've seen an uptick in ad revenue a bit. Do you think that's going to continue?
Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, I think it's going to continue as the economy improves. But I also think that the wave of consolidation that we began to see in the very late '90s and in the beginning of this decade came in at sort of exactly the wrong time, because the answer to fragmentation at that point was get bigger and economies of scale on the business side. Now we're in a new, you know, an entirely different world, where selling advertising to very small advertisers and selling a lot of it, the Google model, makes much more sense. That's the way the world is going: pennies per ad, a lot of ads, ads that are very highly targeted. And that's an extremely hard thing for the old, very large corporations that are consolidated to learn to do. They're about big clients and big accounts.
CONAN: Again, if you got - like to take a look at this year's study on the State of the News Media from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, go to our Web site: npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Our thanks to director Tom Rosentiel, who joined us here in Studio 3A, and to NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik, who joined us from our bureau in New York.
Stay with us. The Opinion Page is next. We'll be talking about the al-Qaeda 7 with Washington Post columnist Mark Thiessen.
I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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