March 13, 2004

Journalist Survey

Commentary on the Survey Findings

By Bill Kovach, Tom Rosenstiel and Amy Mitchell

What Journalists Are Worried About
A Newsroom-Executive Divide
Specific Areas of Concern
The Internet as a Place of Confidence and Cuts

Confidence in the Public
Politics & Ideology
Crossing from Concern to Frustration

Introduction

While their worries are changing, the problems that journalists see with their profession in many ways seem more intractable than they did a few years ago.

News people feel better about some elements of their work. But they fear more than ever that the economic behavior of their companies is eroding the quality of journalism.

In particular, they think business pressures are making the news they produce thinner and shallower. And they report more cases of advertisers and owners breaching the independence of the newsroom.

These worries, in turn, seem to have widened the divide between the people who cover the news and the business executives they work for.

The changes in attitude have come after a period in which news companies, faced with declining audiences and pressure on revenues, have in many cases made further cuts in newsgathering resources.

There are also alarming signs that the news industry is continuing the short-term mentality that some critics contend has undermined journalism in the past. Online news is one of the few areas seeing general audience growth today, yet online journalists more often than any others report their newsrooms have suffered staff cuts.

Only five years earlier, news people were much more likely to see failures of their own making as more of an issue. Since then, they have come to feel more in touch with audiences, less cynical and more embracing of new technology. In other words, journalists feel they have made progress on the areas that they can control in the newsroom.

While feeling closer to audiences, however, news people also have less confidence in the American public to make wise electoral decisions, a finding that raises questions about the kind of journalism they may produce in the future.

There are also signs that the people who staff newsrooms, at least at the national level, tend to describe themselves as more liberal than in the past.

These findings, which build on work by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Committee of Concerned Journalists five years ago, mark the beginning of an annual collaboration between the Pew Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism to monitor the feelings of journalists.

In addition to assessing the change from 1999, this survey puts down some new baselines for further study-matters such as whether the press is too timid, the impact of cable, the Internet and political ideology.

Bill Kovach is chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. Tom Rosenstiel is director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Amy Mitchell is associate director.