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Fewer Reporters Equals Less News

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Sky also blue, grass green, say experts.

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A study released Monday by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism raises a basic question: What would we do without experts?

The study found that continued cuts in newspapers nationwide are eroding content.

Now, who could've imagined that?

The real questions are: How did newspaper publishers miss the importance of this gizmo called the Internet, and what's going to replace the newsgathering ability of newspapers if future cuts reduce them to little more than throw-away circulars?

The study offers neither insights into prior mistakes in the newspaper industry or solid tips for future action. But it offers this gem: Newspaper publishers must "find a way to monetize the rapid growth of Web readership before newsroom staff cuts so weaken newspapers that their competitive advantage disappears."

Hmmmm, what competitive advantages do newspapers hold? Newspapers do a good job telling readers what happened yesterday, but much of that information is available for free on the Internet - and in real time, as the geeks say.

Stock quotes, baseball scores, weather, news flashes, commentary, election polls -- you name it -- are just a few keystrokes away.

"American newspapers are narrowing their reach and their ambitions and becoming niche reads," the study says.

The Internet can slice news and interests 1,001 ways and much more cheaply - so this is probably another dead end for newspapers.

For example, no newspaper company would attempt anything like Minyanville.

Here's hoping newspaper publishers figure something out in a hurry: Without newspapers to gather the news, what would all those bloggers on tricycles do except comment on each other's spelling mistakes and lousy grammar?

The newspaper death spiral looks like this: Newsprint costs continue to increase, the price of oil drives up distribution costs and advertising and circulation revenue plunges. This means endless cutbacks in the newsroom. The result: Decreased newsgathering ability, fewer pages and fewer reasons for anyone to buy a newspaper.

Electrons are cheap - non-union, too. In short, electronic distribution hold all the cards. Stories and statistics can be instantly updated on the Internet, whereas newspapers are published once a day.

Is there any reason to believe that cutbacks won't continue at major newspaper companies, including McClatchy (MNI), Gannett (GCI) or even the New York Times (NYT)? Newspaper companies continue to be evicted from the New York Stock Exchange (NYX) as they fall below listing requirements.

Newspapers have strong brand names, but their websites continue to capture only a small portion of the revenue lost by the decline in print advertising. Even classified advertising, once a huge moneymaker for newspapers, has evaporated as advertisers go online and everyone flocks to Craigslist. Auto and real estate, hammered by the current tough times, are also moving online.

This is sad, because reading the Washington Post (WPO) and the tabloid New York Post (NWS) is one of the great pleasures in life.

The survey was conducted online by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between January 29 and February 29. It includes responses from 259 newspapers.

An online survey, eh? Never mind - the dead tree media are in no mood for irony.
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