“Newsrooms have shrunk by 25% in three years.” —Project for Excellence in Journalism, “State of the News Media 2010”
“A large majority (75%) of editors said their story counts . . . had either increased or remained the same during the past three years.” —PEJ, “The Changing Newsroom,” July 2008
“We’re all wire service reporters now.” —Theresa Agovino, Crain’s New York Business, at a conference of women real estate writers, December 2009
“NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, in a typical day does eight to sixteen standup interviews for NBC or MSNBC; hosts his new show, ‘The Daily Rundown’; appears regularly on ‘Today’ and ‘Morning Joe’; tweets or posts on his Facebook page eight to ten times; and composes three to five blog posts. ‘We’re all wire-service reporters now,’ he says.” —Ken Auletta, The New Yorker, “Non-Stop News,” January 25, 2010
“Everyone’s running around like rats.” —a Wall Street Journal editor, June 21
“The scoop has never had more significance to our professional users, for whom a few minutes, or even seconds, are a crucial advantage whose value has increased exponentially.” —Robert Thomson, managing editor, The Wall Street Journal, in a memo to staff headlined “A Matter of Urgency,” sent May 19
“Everybody has to be on the air every day. That makes a big difference.” —Greg Guise, digital correspondent (cameraman), WUSA9-TV, Washington, D.C., June 2
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” —William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
“When asked to cite the newsroom loss that hurt the most, one editor answered simply, ‘The concept of who and what we are.’ ” —PEJ, “The Changing Newsroom”
These are challenging times in the news business. We get that, even up here in the CJR commune. I am not here to argue against experimentation, keeping up with the Huffingtons, Mike Allen-ism, or any of that. I am not anti-speed. Speed is good. It’s why there’s a news business in the first place. It’s why the man ran the twenty-six miles from the battle of Marathon. It’s why journalism starts with jour, although now it should probably be called heure-nalism. So rest assured, your writer is pro-scoop, pro-working hard, pro-update, pro-competing-for-scraps-of-news-like-a-pack-of-wild-animals, pro-video, etc., type, type, pant, pant—phew! Sorry, for a second I thought I was on DealBook.
I’m also for quantity when it comes to news—more is more, I say. Even though our readers are all supposed to be super busy, so in theory it makes no sense—at all—to be increasing the volume of random items for these harried people to sort through. You’d think we’d be decreasing our volume, and making sure each thing offered to readers is really good. But, like I said, I’ve no problem with volume, in theory.
Also, I should go on record as being pro-productivity. I’m for squeezing every last ounce from every last lazy, lucky-to-have-a-job reporter. I’m an editor, too, you know. Reporters and their “but we need time to look into stuff”—wah, wah. Don’t they know we’re in deep kimchi? “We are in a tough, take-no-prisoners, leave-no-terminal-unturned competition around the world,” as Robert Thomson reminds his staff in the memo cited above. Bleedin’ crisis, this is.
But let’s think about this for a second. Stop. Think. We’re doing more with less, the numbers don’t lie. Fewer reporters and editors. More copy. What’s the bottom line? “The bottom line culturally is this,” PEJ said in that 2008 report:
In today’s newspapers, stories tend to be gathered faster and under greater pressure by a smaller, less experienced staff of reporters, then are passed more quickly through fewer, less experienced, editing hands on their way to publication.
Logic tells us something has to give. But what? Hmm. Well, we can rule out quality. You see, CJR Reader, the quality of reporting and writing from major news organizations is better than ever—just ask senior news managers, as PEJ did in 2008:
Despite the cutbacks in staffing and space, by 54% vs. 32%, clear majorities of editors said the comprehensiveness of their news coverage had either significantly or somewhat improved . . . in the last three years. An overwhelming 94% of editors said their papers were as accurate or more accurate than three years ago. And a solid 56%, taking it all in, said the “overall quality of their news product is now better than it was before.”
Rupert Murdoch, quoted by Sarah Ellison in her new book, War at the Wall Street Journal, put a finer point on it when he compared his version of my old paper to earlier incarnations: “We produced a better paper. I’m sorry, but it’s as simple as that.”