In its third annual state of the industry study, the Project for Excellence in Journalism
found that paradoxically, although there are many more news outlets for
readers, viewers and listeners than ever — including newspapers,
magazines, television broadcast and cable channels, radio, podcasts,
online and blogs — they are covering fewer stories, and covering them
less well.

"It’s the illusion of information," Tom Rosenstiel, project director, told BusinessWeek , "but it’s actually a lot of repetition."

Starkly put, rather than creating broader and more in-depth news
reporting, the plethora of new and old media is resulting in less not
more real news coverage. As the points of news delivery proliferate,
"the audience for each tends to shrink and the number of journalists in
each organization is reduced."

According to the study, news industry problems are endemic and
they run deep. In fact, the situation may be nearing a crisis point. As
the report begins, referring to 2005, "Will we recall this as the year
when journalism in print began to die?"

During the year, The New York Times cut nearly 60 people from its newsroom, the Los Angeles Times 85, and the San Jose Mercury News cut 16%, the Philadelphia Inquirer 15% — and that after a 15% reduction only five years earlier.

In November, one of the most cost-conscious newspaper chains of
all, Knight Ridder, went on sale. In a dire sign for the industry, most
major newspaper companies passed on the auction completely. It did
sell, however, early this week to the McClatchy Company, a publisher
half its size, for a reported $4.5 billion. As one analysts noted, "It
was like a dolphin swallowing a small whale."

The report continued, "Even if newspapers are not dying, they
and other old media are constricting, and so, it appears, is the amount
of resources dedicated to original newsgathering."

Old media is under pressure from the new. Both ad revenue and
readership are falling as news consumers migrate to alternate sources —
yet those new sources seldom have the expertise or resources to fund
effective, original newsgathering and journalism organizations. The
Times wasn’t built in a day, and neither were Hearst, CNN or the BBC.

Obviously, like it or not, good journalism is dependent on
money. But how long will it take for online media to become a major
economic engine, and will it ever be as big as print or television? As
the report surmises: "If the online revenues at newspapers continue to
grow at the current rate — an improbable 33% a year — they won’t reach
levels equivalent with print until 2017 (assuming print grows just 3% a
year). Realistically, even with the lower delivery costs online, it
will be years before the Internet rivals old media economics, if it
ever does."

To balance this bad news somewhat, some good news for newspapers was just released by the Newspaper Association of America
(NAA). Their figures showed that, for the seventh consecutive quarter,
online newspaper advertising revenue increased in the fourth quarter of
2005, rising to $552 million, 32.5% above the level recorded in the
fourth quarter of 2004.

"Despite a challenging year for advertising overall, ad spending
on newspaper Web sites was extremely strong, and newspapers enter 2006
aggressively taking steps to build audience across online and offline
platforms," said NAA CEO John Sturm. "Not only have newspaper Web sites
captured a large and growing audience, but these ad spending estimates
for 2005 demonstrate that newspapers are successfully monetizing the
value of their Internet investments, leveraging online advertising
opportunities and building consumer loyalties on the Web."

However, the key question remains whether an improving revenue picture will result in broader, deeper news coverage?

More here.