Journalism Is Suffering in Minds of Broadcast Execs

According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, in association with the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), America's news executives are hesitant about many of the alternative funding ideas being discussed for journalism today and are overwhelmingly skeptical about the prospect of government financing.

Many news executives also sense change for the better in their newsrooms today, despite cutbacks and declining revenue:

  • Editors at newspaper-related companies praise the cultural shifts in their organizations, the younger tech-savvy staff, and a growing sense of experimentation
  • Many broadcast executives see so-called one-person crews, in which the same individual reports, produces and shoots video, as improving their journalism by getting more people on the street

Half of all those surveyed are confident their operations will survive another 10 years  without significant new sources of revenue. Nearly a third believe their operations are at risk in just five years or less.  And many blame the problems on their industry's missed opportunities.

"Our mantra this year is experiment and fail quickly," one newspaper news executive volunteered. "Don't be afraid of change and don't stick with something too long if it doesn't work."

The survey found some significant differences in the attitudes between leaders of newspaper-based newsrooms and those of broadcast. Broadcast news executives were strikingly more pessimistic, with those who see journalism headed in the wrong direction outnumbering those who think it is headed in the right direction by almost two-to-one. Leaders of newspaper newsrooms, by contrast, are split, with a slight tilt toward optimism.

Thinking About Journalism Overall In The U.S. Today, Do You Think It Is Generally Going In The Right Direction Or The Wrong Direction?

 

Right Direction

Wrong Direction

Newspaper Executives

51%

49%

Broadcast Executives

35%

64%

Total

41%

58%

Source: PewResearch, April 2010

When it comes to the often-discussed option of pay walls for online content:

  • 10% say they are working on them, though that could change
  • 32% are considering them
  • 11% have written off the idea
  • 35% have not even considered them at all
  • 15% of news executives believe pay walls will be a significant source of revenue in three years

In other discussed revenue streams, fully 75% of news executives have serious reservations about receiving government subsidies, and 78% have significant resistance to financing from interest groups. Roughly half have significant worries about funds from government tax credits and more than a third have significant doubts about private donations.

Most of the effort online is focused instead on more conventional revenue sources. Display and banner online advertising, for all that it has failed to grow, is still the No. 1 area of effort and the one that news executives pin their greatest hopes on. But second is revenue from products outside of news.

Broadcast news executives are noticeably more pessimistic about journalism's future than editors at newspaper-based operations.

  • Broadcasters think their profession is headed in the wrong direction by a margin of nearly two-to-one (64% versus 35%)
  • By contrast, editors working at newspapers were split (49% wrong direction versus 51% right direction).
  • A year ago, journalists who were members of the Online News Association surveyed by PEJ fell in between these two, 54% wrong direction, 45% right

And most news executives think the Internet is changing the fundamental values of journalism. Six out of ten feel this way, though executives from broadcast operations do so more than executives from newspapers. And their biggest concern is loosening standards of accuracy and verification, much of it tied to the immediacy of the Web.  

"Do You Think That The Internet Is Changing The Fundamental Values Of Journalism Or Would You Say That Journalism's Fundamental Values Are Transferring To The Internet?" 

 

Internet is changing values

Journalism values are transferring to the internet

Newspaper Executives

53%

46%

Broadcast Executives

62%

36%

Total

59%

40%

Source: PewResearch, April 2010

Among those who see values changing, there is a broad consensus about the direction- and it is primarily negative. When asked to explain what they meant, majorities of both groups appeared most worried about loosening standards (62% of newspaper executives and 67% among broadcasters), and the bulk of these responses referred to a decline in accuracy, a lessening of fact-checking, and more unsourced reporting.

If The Internet Is Changing The Fundamental Values Of Journalism, In What Way(S) Is It Changing Them? (Open-ended question; total may exceed 100% due to multiple responses)

 

% of Group Responding

Ways of Change

ASNE

RTDNA

TOTAL

Loosening standards

62%

67%

65%

Emphasis on speed

32

29

30

More opinion or bias

15

16

16

Less analysis / more superficial

12

14

13

Emphasis on engagement/interactivity with audience

7

4

5

Willingness to let others have a voice

6

4

4

Less transparency/openness/accountability

3

5

4

More transparency/ openness/accountability

1

3

2

Ad business tainting journalism

1

1

1

Less original content/more content based

1

1

1

Greater access to news or information

3

1

1

Miscellaneous other

19

10

13

No answer

13

8

10

Source: PewResearch, April 2010; American Society of News Editors (ASNE); Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)

Neither group of news executives, however, finds the growing role of citizens as significantly influencing the fundamentals of the industry. Just 5% of the news executives mentioned citizen engagement as a source of changing news values (with newspaper executives slightly higher at 7% and broadcast executives at 4%).

Nor is the loss of the press's exclusive role as gatekeeper of public knowledge at the forefront of change. Only 3% of newspaper executives and 1% of broadcasters volunteered greater access to news and information as an issue in changing standards.

Executives have a complex and in some ways divided view of technology, seeing it as something that embodies risk and opportunity, the latter of which many feel they were slow to embrace. When we asked news executives to volunteer what they would do differently at their organization in the last 10 years if they could do it over again, the most common response was a greater and earlier investment in new technology.

Among newspaper executives, there was a much stronger inclination to think that allowing content to be free was a major mistake. Fully 30% said they should have charged for content earlier, while only 3% of broadcasters did. Some of that difference may stem from the revenue structures of their legacy platforms. Broadcast stations, in their current form, derive no revenue from subscriptions, while newspapers today derive 20% or more from print circulation.

And finally, when asked "Without significant new funds, revenue streams or partnerships, how long do you think your news organization can remain solvent?" there is doubt in solvency in the long run.

How Long Do You Think Your News Organization Can Remain Solvent? 

Length of Solvency

% of All Respondents

Less than 1 year

1%

1 to 2 years

6%

3 to 5 years

24%

6 to 10 years

17%

More than 10 years

46%

No answer

6%

Source: PewResearch, April 2010

Though news executives do not tend to see their organizations' solvency at immediate risk, there is little doubt that most of these news operations are smaller. Fully seven out of ten of the news organizations surveyed said they had cut staff, often sizably.

Among newspaper organizations, 92% said they had cut back on news staff in the last three years. Among broadcasters surveyed, the number was 59%. Only 10% of all respondents said that they added news staff in the past three years, and far more 15% of broadcasters said they added news staff, compared to only 2% of newspaper executives. 

For additional information about this study, please visit Pew Research here.

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4 comments about "Journalism Is Suffering in Minds of Broadcast Execs".
  1. Juli Schatz from Image Grille , April 21, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

    I am happy to see such a high percentage (more than three-quarters) of newspaper executives opposed to government funding and/or private donations to subsidize operations. I am no right-wing fanatic but I think we all know that government funding can lead to only one thing: government control of the press and obliteration of our most vital basic rights: freedom of speech.

  2. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , April 21, 2010 at 11:09 a.m.

    You "think we all know that government funding can lead to only one thing: government control of the press and obliteration of our most vital basic rights: freedom of speech"? Oh, really?

    As a life-long, fully-paid member of "we all", I strongly disagree with your assumption.

    The government funds public radio and television... much less than in the past, but it does provide funding. Does the government control those outlets?

    The government also runs the FCC. Does that body control the political content of the publically owned broadcast bands?

    And to nudge the ridiculous, the government also partially funds mail delivery, ... does the government therefore tell us what to write?

    The answer to all three is "no".

    Your paranoia about "government control" could use a major tune-up.

  3. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , April 22, 2010 at 8:18 a.m.

    Chuck: Yes, close friends of those in government control outlets like NPR and all funding should be pulled that I might pay taxes for.

  4. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , April 22, 2010 at 8:24 a.m.

    A really nasty government funded NPR broadcast, for instance, consisted of a "debate" in November 2006 between 2 Democrat women and 2 "Republican" women on whether American men should be allowed to date foreign women, whom all 4 women referred to as "mail order brides". The Republicans tried to say "its a free country so it must be allowed albeit with regulation". And they were supposed to be on the side of men.

    Someday I *will* get my tax money back for the government having funded that type of outrageous nonsense which has yet to be answered. NPR would never let males have 30 minutes to defend their right to date whomever they please.

    You simply cannot let a government sponsor media at all.