With print advertising revenues steadily falling, there is no doubt that this is a tough time for the news industry. By extension, a few recently-published articles have argued that it is also becoming an increasingly tough time for news readers, as the pressures on newspapers are harming their ability to serve communities.
The first is an article by Dan Mitchell for CNN Money, which criticises Advance Publication’s decision to reduce printing of the The New Orleans Times-Picayune to three days a week.
Mitchell suggests that Advance is making a decision without regarding the needs and habits of the Times-Picayune readers. “The Times-Picayune's penetration — the proportion of the potential audience that actually reads the paper — is among the highest in the country, at more than 75 percent,” he writes, “And although Advance spins its plans as a bold step into the digital future (it promises more emphasis on its typically terrible Web site), more than a third of New Orleans' population has no Internet access.”
Mitchell is especially critical of the decision, because, although he doesn’t cite figures, he contends that “the paper reportedly is profitable — it's just not profitable enough for Advance.”
The second danger to newspapers’ role in serving the public is suggested by New York Times journalist David Carr in an article titled “Newspaper as Business Pulpit”. Carr writes that, “there is a growing worry that the falling value and failing business models of many American newspapers could lead to a situation where moneyed interests buy papers and use them to prosecute a political and commercial agenda.” He goes on to argue that this scenario has already become reality for The U-T San Diego, a paper bought up by the developer Douglas F. Manchester, which often “seems like a brochure for his various interests.”
Carr suggests that public figures or agencies opposed to Manchester’s plans “have found themselves investigated in the news pages of The U-T” and writes that “the newspaper has published front-page editorials and wraparound sections to promote political allies who share its agenda.” Carr writes that the paper’s CEO, John T. Lynch, who also owns part of the business, fired a sport reporter named Tim Sullivan, who held different views to Lynch and Manchester about the construction of a new football stadium, although he adds “Mr. Sullivan has since entered negotiations over his departure and would not discuss the specifics of his firing."
A third danger represented to news reporting from cuts is suggested in an extract from Paul Marsden’s book “What do we mean by local,” reposted by Guardian journalist Roy Greenslade on his blog a little over a month ago.
Marsden writes that cuts to the local news media have simply resulted in lots of important local news either not being covered or being covered badly. He quotes a district council affairs reporter, who said that as a result of cuts "[The] quality is getting worse and worse… This is bad for society and the industry as a whole in terms of a lack of reporting of current affairs and politics. The shocking level of inaccuracy also gives an inaccurate perception of events to society."
Nevertheless, the articles do not suggest easy solutions to these problems, and there are important objections to be raised to their arguments. To take one example, although Mitchell says that the Times-Picayune is currently profitable, these is no doubt that print revenues overall are in decline. An article by respected media analyst Ken Doctor about the Times-Picayune noted that although the paper was “profoundly a print habit” for New Orleans residents, “newsprint is going the way of the steam engine, to be visited in theme parks. US newspaper companies are using only a little more than half of what they consumed, in newsprint, a decade ago.” More importantly, none of the articles are intended to address the growth of public interest journalism in new, digital forms.
Yet although this is the case, these articles still all highlight that, as the news industry thinks about the future of its profits, it is fundamental that it thinks about the future of its readers as well.