Newsroom budget cuts create a downward spiral
As more publications close, a new study finds few readers get the connection between funding and good coverage.
Here's another sad milestone, if you're a fan of interesting, informative and investigative news: One more city is losing an important local news outlet.
The Boston Phoenix, the alternative weekly magazine, announced last week it would cease publication after 47 years.
In a letter to staffers, Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich cited the rising challenges print media advertising has faced in recent years as the journalism landscape has radically changed and the established outlets deal with the ongoing economic sluggishness.
"Despite the valiant effort by many, many past and current staff to attempt to stabilize and, in fact, reverse our significant financial losses," he said, "we have been unable to do so and they are no longer sustainable."
A news release by the magazine's parent company, Phoenix Media, said that while the publication still has a strong local audience and advertising base, a years-long decline in national advertising dollars was the last financial straw.
The demise of the Boston Phoenix coincides with interesting new data from the Pew Research Center's annual State of the News Media report. It says the public is turning its collective back on established news organizations, which many consumers feel are dropping the ball when it comes to covering important stories. But Pew also notes that most news consumers don't get the connection between a lack of in-depth reporting and years of dramatic newsroom budget cuts.
A new public opinion survey, released with the report, found nearly one-third of respondents said they "deserted" a particular news outlet, "because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to."
Those who abandoned their traditional news sources tend to be older, well educated and wealthier than average. In other words, the survey notes, "they are people who tend to be more prone to consume and pay for news."
At the same time, more than a third of those Pew surveyed said they knew "nothing at all" about the news media's ongoing financial struggles -- or the impact those economic woes might have on the coverage of local, national and international news.
The report says a growing erosion of professionally produced news and a public disdain for those kind of news outlets, "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."
Which leads to another question: Does society today need a professional news sector, or can we get by with individual blogs, TV talking heads and information passed on via friends, family and connections on social media?
The Orange County (Calif.) Register is expanding its paper edition with new features and employees. Go figure.
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