Research - Journalism Interactive

Embargoed for Release
Thursday, July 26, 2001, 1 p.m.

Journalism Interactive

New Attitudes, Tools and Techniques
Change Journalism's Landscape

A Study Conducted for:
Associated Press Managing Editors
Pew Center for Civic Journalism
National Conference of Editorial Writers

Conducted by:
Campaign Study Group
Springfield, Virginia

Detailed Findings Part Three

Trends in Coverage

Depending upon how one measures it, as many as a third of the newspapers represented in the study are covering more geographic territory now than they did 10 years ago. Thirty-four percent of the editors indicated that their papers are currently covering more towns or townships than they were a decade ago. Forty-eight percent indicated that they are covering the same number of towns, and 18 percent said they had experienced a geographic retrenchment.

An almost identical 32 percent of those surveyed said their newspapers had added additional school districts to their coverage during the 10 years. Slightly more than half indicated they are covering the same number of school districts, while 16 percent reported cutbacks in this area.

Slightly less than one-quarter of all editors reported that their current coverage encompasses a greater number of counties, with 62 percent reporting the same coverage and 15 percent citing a pullback over the last 10 years.

In all three coverage areas, newspapers with daily circulations of 100,000 or higher were more likely than their smaller counterparts to report increases. For example, while 19 percent of the papers with circulations of 50,000 or less indicated that they cover more counties now than they did 10 years ago, 42 percent of the papers with circulations of at least 100,000 made the same claim.

While many newspapers have reduced staff over the past decade-and several major newspaper chains announced layoffs shortly after this survey was completed-most editors surveyed said their staffs had at least remained constant. At the time the survey was conducted, 43 percent of all editors indicated that their own newspapers were operating with more full-time reporters than they were a decade ago. One-quarter of the editors said they have the same number of reporters at their disposal, and 32 percent indicated that cutbacks had been made.

The largest papers are more likely than smaller papers to report having larger staffs today, but the differences are not that great. Nearly half (48%) of the editors responding for papers with circulations over 100,000 said they have more full-time staff to work with now, but the same was true for 43 percent of the editors representing papers with circulations between 20,000 and 49,999 and for 41 percent of the editors from midsize papers. As heartening as these may be, the increases in most cases have been modest. Among the largest papers, the mean number of full-time reporters grew from 41 to 44 over the past 10 years.

Approximately six out of 10 (59%) editors indicated that their papers have neither increased nor decreased the number of part-time reporters over the past decade. Slightly more than one-quarter of the editors reported an increase in their part-time staff and 14 percent indicated a decline. However, the numbers of such reporters was never very large to begin with. Across all 360 newspapers, the mean number of part-time reporters stands at 2.7 today compared with 2.9 a decade ago.

In all, 24 percent of the editors responding to the survey said their papers are covering more territory with more full-time reporters than was the case 10 years ago, and 16 percent indicated that their papers were assigning more reporters to essentially the same geographic area.

Even so, there has been significant retrenchment at many newspapers. Eleven percent of those surveyed said they could muster only the same number or fewer reporters to cover more territory than they covered a decade earlier. Another 17 percent indicated that they are now covering the same territory with fewer reporters, and 12 percent said they have reduced both their staff and the territory covered. In all, 39 percent of respondents cited some form of retrenchment in either staff or geographic coverage area.

In addition, 27 percent of the editors responding to the survey indicated that their newspapers have added one or more of five non-traditional newsroom positions with an eye toward improving their community coverage. Among the 96 newspapers that have added such positions, 27 (28%) said their paper now had a reader advocate or ombudsman, 25 (26%) checked the job title "community coordinator," and 19 (20%) indicated that the job of "public editor" had been created. Looking only at papers where such jobs had been created, the largest papers (36%) were more than three times as likely as the smallest (10%) to have created a post titled "public editor." The largest papers (54%) were also more than three times as likely as their smallest counterparts (15%) to have created the post of ombudsman.


Note: Chart based only on those newspapers that have created non-traditional newsroom positions.

Story Subjects

Whether or not newspapers are covering more territory, there is an ever-growing list of subjects that editors say their papers are covering more. One-quarter of all editors say their papers are covering education issues more than they did five years ago. Twenty-four percent said their papers are covering health care, medical and personal fitness issues more than they did five years ago. More than one out of five editors (22%) indicated an increase in the coverage of business and personal finance news. Twenty-one percent reported heightened coverage of issues related to development and growth. Other issues mentioned as drawing more coverage by at least 10 percent of the editors included the environment (19%), lifestyle and family issues (14%), technology and the Internet (14%), regional and community news (12%) and demographics and issues relating to diversity (11%).

The increased attention to a host of subjects is most noticeable at the largest newspapers, although even the smallest papers report digging deeper on a variety of topics. While coverage of education issues has increased at 23 percent of the smaller papers, 33 percent of the largest papers report such increases. One-quarter of the largest papers indicated an increase in coverage of technology issues, including the Internet, compared with just 9 percent of the smallest papers included in the study. Demographic issues have received a larger push at 7 percent of the smallest papers, but 22 percent of the largest papers are devoting more space to the subject.

 

Circulation

 

Topic

Percent Citing Increased Coverage

 

20,000-49,999

 

50,000-99,999

 

100,000 +

Education/Schools

25%

23%

25%

33%

Healthcare/Medical/Fitness

24%

23%

20%

30%

Business/Entrepreneurship/ Personal Finance

22%

20%

21%

27%

Development/Growth

21%

21%

18%

25%

Environment

19%

19%

26%

8%

Lifestyle/Family Issues

14%

13%

13%

20%

Technology/Internet

14%

9%

16%

25%

Regional/Community News

12%

10%

10%

18%

Demographics/Diversity/ New Populations

11%

7%

11%

22%

Transportation

8%

8%

4%

13%

Politics/Government

8%

9%

8%

3%

Religion

8%

5%

10%

12%

Entertainment/Arts

7%

9%

1%

10%

Local Industries

7%

5%

9%

10%

Sports

7%

7%

1%

15%

Outdoors/Recreation

5%

8%

4%

0%

Crime/Courts

5%

5%

8%

2%

Note: Percentages do not add to 100% due to multiple responses.

This broad spectrum of increased coverage is almost entirely due to two factors. Fifty-one percent of the editors responding to the survey indicated that the increased coverage was in direct response to changes in reader interest, measured at least in part through survey research. Forty-three percent said that the moves had been made in response to general societal changes or changes in their community.

Covering more territory and devoting more coverage to a variety of subjects while reducing staffs almost inevitably means that some papers will reduce their coverage in other areas. By far the biggest loser in this equation is the coverage of government, particularly governmental process. Three-quarters of those responding to the survey said that their papers are covering fewer routine local government and school board meetings. Twenty-five percent mentioned that their papers are covering politics and the governmental process less, and 21 percent cited reduced coverage of crime and the courts.

Reduced coverage of meetings was not limited to smaller newspapers. While 77 percent of the editors representing papers with circulations below 50,000 cited reduced attention to such meetings, 74 percent of those working at the largest papers also did so. In fact, the broader reduction in general political coverage was cited more frequently at the largest newspapers (37%) than at either the smallest papers (22%) or the midsize papers (24%). Four out of every 10 editors responding for papers with circulations in excess of 100,000 cited a reduction in coverage of crime and the courts. The comparable figures for editors at the smallest and midsize papers were 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Even so, while coverage of governmental process has decreased, many editors say they have increased coverage in a number of areas impacted by government. These include education, development and transportation.

 

Circulation

 

Topic

Percent Citing Decreased Coverage

 

20,000-49,999

 

50,000-99,999

 

100,000 +

Meetings (including city hall, other local government and school board)

75%

77%

71%

74%

Government/Governmental Process/ Politics

25%

22%

24%

37%

Crime/Courts

21%

15%

18%

40%

News Beyond Community (Region/State/Nation/World)

7%

7%

7%

9%

Lifestyle/Society Page/Community Announcements

7%

7%

7%

5%

Local Industries

6%

5%

8%

5%

Other

19%

17%

15%

32%

Note: Percentages do not add to 100% due to multiple responses.

Fifty-five percent of the editors who indicated that their papers had cut back on coverage blamed the decline on staff reassignments and the fact that they had fewer staff overall. More than one-quarter (28%) said the cutbacks in coverage were the result of conscious editorial decisions to cover other areas. Echoing this general theme, one editor noted that fewer governmental meetings were being covered "to free reporters up for more enterprise" reporting.

Twenty-two percent cited declining reader interest in a particular subject or subjects, while 14 percent noted that the issue or story had evaporated or was no longer viewed as compelling. Explaining his newspaper's decision to scale back coverage of more routine governmental meetings, one editors put it very bluntly, "political pissing contests and personality conflicts-these things, unless they actually affect real people, are pointless."

Another editor described his reasons for reducing crime coverage by noting that "traditional court coverage is less useful to readers. We prefer to have reporters not cover cases gavel to gavel, but rather look for criminal justice themes that apply more to life."

In other words, while process stories have taken a major hit at many newspapers across the country, editors at those papers frequently note that the emphasis has been shifted to stories that deal with broader issues, outcomes and ramifications.

Newsroom Organization

The traditional beat structure remains the organizing principle for a strong majority of newsrooms across the country. Overall, 61 percent of those responding indicated that their newsrooms are organized exclusively around beats.

However, nearly one-third of all respondents indicated that their newspapers have moved to a hybrid structure, combining traditional beats with a team-coverage approach. Seven percent indicated that they have entirely abandoned beats in favor of team coverage or some other scheme.

Reliance on the traditional beat structure declines steadily as daily circulation increases. Seventy percent of the 210 editors representing newspapers with circulations between 20,000 and 49,999 reported that their papers are organized in this fashion. Among the 88 midsize newspapers represented in the study-those with circulations between 50,000 and 99,999-51 percent are organized entirely around traditional beats. Just 44 percent of the 62 editors representing newspapers with circulations of 100,000 or more said their reporters organize their day around a specific beat.

Those who said their papers use the tools and techniques of civic journalism were also more likely than those who say they do not use these techniques to say their papers have moved away from traditional beats, but the differences were slight. Forty-two percent of those whose papers practice civic journalism indicated that their paper has moved away from beats to some extent. The comparable figure among those who say they do not employ civic journalism was 35 percent.

In newsrooms across the country, reporters are deployed more often on the basis of topic or subject area rather than on the basis of geography. When asked what percentage of their staff assignments are based on topic or subject area, more than half (52%) of all those responding to the question indicated that at least 70 percent of their staff are assigned in this manner. Only 3 percent of all respondents indicated that less than 20 percent of their staffs were assigned to subject-related beats. The average was 64 percent.

That average varied only slightly across the circulation spectrum. Among the smallest papers in the survey, the average was 65 percent. That figure fell slightly to 61 percent among papers with daily circulations between 50,000 and 99,999 but rose to 67 percent among papers with circulations of 100,000 or more.

Civic journalists were slightly more likely than others to take this traditional approach. Among those who practice civic journalism, the average percentage of reporters assigned to subject-area beats was 68. Among those who say they do not currently practice civic journalism in their newsrooms, the average was 62 percent.

When asked to cite a percentage of their staffs deployed on the basis of geography, the average was 37 percent. Again, that percentage held fairly steady across the circulation spectrum.

Newspaper Redesign

In hopes of making their product more accessible to readers, 89 percent of the newspapers represented in this survey have altered their design at some point during the past five years. Eighty-eight percent of the papers with daily circulations between 20,000 and 49,999 underwent some sort of redesign, as did 90 percent of the papers with circulations over 100,000. While 91 percent of the editors who said their newspapers practice civic journalism said the paper had undergone a redesign, 87 percent of professed non-adherents also did so.

Q9a. Have you altered the design of your pages in the last five years to make news and information more easily accessible?

Circulation

CJ Adherent

 

Total

20,000-49,999

50,000-99,999

100,000+

Yes

No

Yes

89%

88%

90%

90%

91%

87%

No

11%

12%

10%

10%

9%

13%

The redesigns take numerous forms and occur in dozens of combinations. At one newspaper it was "more color, more sidebars, shorter stories and more promos." Another editor cited "better indexes, bigger photos, and more feature pages." Yet another mentioned "more rails, more information and reefer boxes, more deck heads, shorter stories and fewer jumps." Redesign options mentioned by at least 5 percent of respondents included:

Methodology

This survey, conducted on behalf of the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Pew Center for Civic Journalism and the National Conference of Editorial Writers, sought responses from all 512 U.S. newspapers with circulations of 20,000 or more. The results are based on e-mail, mail, fax and telephone interviews with one senior editor at each of 360 newspapers who responded, accounting for 70 percent of the pool. The interviews were conducted between January 1 and April 3, 2001.

The initial survey design called for interviewing three editors-the Editorial Page Editor, a City or Metropolitan Editor, and a Managing Editor or Editor-at each of the 512 targeted newspapers. E-mails describing the survey were sent to each qualifying editor, along with an attached copy of the questionnaire. One week later, a second round of e-mails was sent to all non-respondents. During the last week of January, copies of the questionnaire and a cover letter were faxed to all those who had still not responded. In February, three rounds of mailings were sent to all non-respondents, and beginning in early March telephone calls were made to remind people to return their questionnaires. Finally, the Editor or Executive Editor at each newspaper where no one had responded was contacted and asked to complete the survey over the telephone. In all, at least eight attempts were made to complete interviews with each selected editor.

This process yielded 471 responses from 360 newspapers. Given that we could not prompt three editors from each newspaper to complete the survey, we selected the senior-most editor responding from each and included their answers in the final results. All other responses were not included. The final sample was comprised of responses from 80 Executive Editors or Editors, 138 Managing Editors or Deputy Managing Editors, 105 Metropolitan, City Editors or their equivalents, and 37 Editorial Page Editors.

Report continued in Topline Part One...

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