Newspaper Newsroom Staff Are At Lowest Point Since 1978

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 18 2013 4:22 PM

Newspaper Newsroom Staff Numbers Are at Lowest Point Since 1978

Screen shot 2013-03-18 at 3.48.07 P

Pew "State Of The Media" report.

Want to get depressed about the current state of journalism? Be sure to check out Pew's annual "State of the News Media" report, released Monday, that points out for the first time since 1978 fewer than 40,000 people are working staff jobs in newspaper newsrooms.* That's a 30 percent drop since 2000.

But the report is less interesting for its grim take on the journalism industry's staffing numbers than it is for what seems to be an early look at how those staffing cuts are affecting the content of news programs. The image up top shows a graph from Pew illustrating the percentage of reported stories on national cable news channels. 

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As you can see, CNN's evening airtime for reported packages dropped nearly in half since 2007, according to Pew. In a separate analysis, researchers noted that CNN is the only cable news channel devoting more time to reporting (54 percent) than to opinion (46 percent). Overall, 63 percent of cable news airtime is devoted to opinion and commentary. And on local news, 40 percent of airtime is devoted to sports, traffic, or weather, up from 32 percent in 2005.

Pew's overview of their findings points to a few other worrying details:

A growing list of media outlets, such as Forbes magazine, use technology by a company called Narrative Science to produce content by way of algorithm, no human reporting necessary. And some of the newer nonprofit entrants into the industry, such as the Chicago News Cooperative, have, after launching with much fanfare, shut their doors. This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.

This plays out most obviously in political reporting, as they note in an analysis of political coverage:

A Pew Research Center analysis revealed that campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans.  That meant more direct relaying of assertions made by the campaigns and less reporting by journalists to interpret and contextualize them.

Unsurprisingly, 31 percent of adults have abandoned a news outlet because they're no longer getting the quality of information from that source that they previously received.

Correction, March 18: This article originally stated that for the first time since 1978 fewer than 40,000 people are working staff jobs in newsrooms. It should have specified the number referred exclusively to newspaper newsrooms.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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