Economic Transparency

I remember being taught the concept of economic transparency (or lack thereof)  in Jour200. The basic idea was that in order for newspapers to continue high profit returns, they reduce their staff and do more with less. With fewer journalists writing more stories, the overall quality in reporting decreases. However, this effect goes largely unnoticed to the public because of how cheap newspapers are. The cost is so low, the public does not expect much and the overall quality of journalism quietly decreases.

This effect  is not unique to the print industry. Economic pressures on broadcast journalism are creating the same "do more with less" business model. TV stations are looking for "backpack" or "one-man-band" journalists. Now a journalist is expected to shoot, edit, write and report an entire story on their own. It's difficult for one journalist to match the work that used to be done by a photographer, editor and reporter.

Meanwhile, many newspapers are adding video to their websites. But most traditional print journalists aren't trained in video, which is reflected in the product.

With both print and broadcast journalism looking to the Internet as the savior of their business and a portal to the next generation of journalism, the broadcast industry should have the advantage. You'd expect a TV station's online video to be of higher quality than a rookie print journalist's.

But the lower quality backpack journalist videos are less likely to out-shine a print journalist's video. With free access to the news websites, remember that the public then has lower expectations of quality. The result is that the playing field is leveled and both industries have a fair shake at winning the online audience.

Now, not all all backpack journalists produce poor videos. With journalism schools teaching the one-man-band style, the future quality of these videos will improve some. Likewise, not all print journalists produce amateur video. But the "do more with less" business model, as a whole, is negatively affecting both industries.

So is print journalism really dying? Is local TV news going the way of the dodo bird? Or is all of journalism just decaying slightly as it tries to evolve into a creature that is a little bit of print, a little bit of broadcast and has some new Internet genes?


Chris Harvey said...

Andrew, I guess I agree that for news publishers to expect any one journalist to be expert at everything -- audio/video/text/photos -- could result in inferior products all around. Most of us aren't expert at everything. But in this 24/7 news culture, I believe it is a good idea for journalists to become expert at one thing, and adept (or at least functional) at others. So a text expert should at least be able to shoot a passable (still) headshot and 30-second video, for instance -- to complement their story. And a videographer should be able to produce a still photo and a headline and blog update. Hopefully, with that in mind, we'll continue to rely on teams, rather than only one-man bands, to produce quality work. But I do believe we're all capable of being trained to do passable work in several areas, to help fill in the gaps of coverage, and to be able to speak each other's language.
--Chris Harvey

Courtney said...

When I was at The Baltimore Sun last summer I saw that, because of layoffs, tons of reporters had gained at least a working knowledge of a lot of different techniques. Reporters who had been hired just to write only two years before were now learning various multimedia methods. After observing this I felt that Philip Merrill had left me somewhat unprepared.

I now think that to fit in in a real newsroom I will need to have a lot of skills that the journalism school just hasn't taught me. Luckily, this class has helped some and I've been able to gain a lot of skills on my own. I think I could now be considered a multi-functional and valuable reporter in any major newsroom. I hope that for future students, however, Philip Merrill will update it's cirriculum.

Allison said...

I think that you are right, that newspapers will be around forever. They are a staple in our media history and there will be some demand for them. I think that this demand, however is shrinking, and will continue to shrink. News is transforming, like we learned at USA Today, and it's the media industries responsibility to transform with this change. I think the best advice we got at USA Today was to be flexible so that we can be marketable in this industry as it changes. I think as journalists we are becoming more and more responsible for for diversifying our own skills to stay employed or even get a job. I saw this article today on Romenesko. "Buffett: Wouldn’t Buy More Newspapers ‘At Any Price,’" and it shows his perspective of the newspaper industry as an investor. It's really relevant to your post! Check it out at:http://www.paidcontent.org/entry/419-buffett-wouldnt-invest-more-in-newspapers-at-any-price/