By: DOROTHY GIOBBE
DESPITE INCREASED PRESSURE to cut newsroom and editorial costs, a majority of editors who participated in a recent poll believe that the newspaper industry has largely dealt with its challenges, and most are optimistic about the future of the business.
The poll, taken in late July by Emerson, N.J.-based Technometrica Institute for Policy and Politics in collaboration with Editor & Publisher magazine, questioned 102 political editors across the country about changes in the newspaper industry.
Participating editors represent newspapers from all circulation sizes, from more than 100,000 daily to less than 50,000. Their average number of years in the newspaper industry is 23.
Pressure to boost profitability by cutting costs in the newsroom and editorial departments is currently greater than it was five years ago, reported 70% of the participants.
Some 62% said they agreed with the statement by cartoon strip character Brenda Starr that newspapers seem more interested in profits than people, however, 56% said they wished that newspaper quality could take precedence over shareholder returns.
Wickliffe R. Powell, editor of the Daily Independent in Ashland, Ky., and a survey participant, said the pressure for profitability “”varies from newspaper group to newspaper group, and within those groups, from newspaper to newspaper.””
“”My real concern is that I see it as part of a larger trend, where companies may be getting too oriented toward monthly and quarterly results when they should be looking at things in a more long-term way,”” he said.
“”I think the quality of the product is what we’re selling, and if we sacrifice quality, the industry is hurting itself in the long run,”” Powell added.
The respondents are optimistic about the future of the newspaper industry, and more than two-thirds predicted that in five years the industry will be in as good shape, or better, than it is today.
Some 60% said that the industry has coped satisfactorily with its problems and has a rosy future. About three-quarters disagreed with Ted Turner’s 1983 statement that newspapers would be dead in the next ten years.
Richard Grimes, political editor for the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, said TV remains a formidable competitor.
“”There are some things television can do that are hard for a newspaper to match, and the Internet is something that we’re going to have to respond to,”” he said. “”But I think that the art of a well-written article in the print form will always attract people.””
An overwhelming majority of the participants characterized their jobs as stressful. On average, they work at least a 10-hour day, and a five-and-one-half day workweek.
“”Most of the increased stress is the nature of the beast,”” Powell said. “”It’s inherent in the nature of any kind of business today.””
Tom Schuman, managing editor of the Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind., said that from talking with colleagues, he senses that, “”The stress has gotten worse, and the hours have increased.
“”Part of the reason for that is newspapers are trying to branch out into different areas ? expanding their coverage areas and adding online services and new publications,”” Schuman said.
Half of the editors said that their newspapers have cut staff positions over the past two years, most of which were reporting and editing positions. Some six out of 10 respondents believe, however, that current news and editorial staffing levels will be maintained over the long term.
The staff cuts mainly were attributed to escalation of newsprint and material costs and budget cuts. The results? Over half the editors reported reduced operating expense, a smaller news hole, and lower staff morale.
Tom Tashinger, editorial page editor for the 63,172-circulation Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, said that while his newspaper had experienced staffing cuts, he did not observe a significant decline in employee morale.
Suggesting that smaller newspapers may feel the impact of staff cuts more intensely, Tashinger said, “”Of course everyone would like more resources to do more things, but at a smaller paper, there are fewer bodies to go around and you notice it more.””
An increase in jobs came in electronic or new media positions, with over half of the editors reporting staffing increases in those areas. The gains came as a result of actual or anticipation of new products and services, such as the Internet and the Web.
Higher newsprint costs prompted many newspapers to create new revenue initiatives. Almost nine out of 10 editors said that their newspapers had intensified efforts to increase advertising revenue and three-quarters said their newspapers have increased circulation-boosting promotional opportunities.
Almost 60% of the editors said the price of their newspapers had risen, and one half of the participants said they had introduced new features or columns to attract new customers and retain current readers.
Despite budget pressures and high stress, many editors believe the newspaper industry has a rosy future
# Editor & Publisher n August 3, 1996
1-Year Circulation/Readership Trends
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Single copy cover price3%62%35%
Source: Technometrica Institute of Policy and Politics/Editor & Publisher magazine survey of editors