The Pew Research Center just issued its sixth annual report on the State of the News Media. It begins, "Some of the numbers are chilling."
Then it offers a few: "Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23% in the last two years. Some papers are in bankruptcy, and others have lost three-quarters of their value. By our calculations, nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone, and 2009 may be the worst year yet."
After that introduction, you might expect the section that focuses on newspapers to be totally despairing. Not quite.
"The newspaper industry exited a harrowing 2008 and entered 2009 in something perilously close to free fall," it says. "Perhaps some parachutes will deploy, and maybe some tree limbs will cushion the descent, but for a third consecutive year the bottom is not in sight."
But then some good news:
"We still do not subscribe to the theory that the death of the industry is imminent. The industry over all in 2008 remained profitable."
And then more bad news:
"But the deep recession already threatens the weakest papers. Nearly all are now cutting so deeply and rapidly that simply coping with the economic downturn has become a major distraction from efforts to reinvent the economics of the business. And even once the downturn ends, growing or stabilized revenues are no sure thing."
Followed by frightening news:
"Several metro newspapers are threatened with closing – the Rocky Mountain News closed in February, for instance, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was almost certain to follow in March. There is not yet a major city without a newspaper, but that, too, could be coming soon. Among the cities faced with that distinction are New Haven, Conn., whose New Haven Register is the flagship of the bankrupt Journal Register chain, and San Francisco, whose Chronicle has been losing money for years.
"Some large newspaper companies were close to failing. The Tribune Company, burdened with the huge $13 billion debt taken on a year earlier in real estate mogul Sam Zell’s acquisition of the company, filed for bankruptcy reorganization in December. GateHouse Media was effectively broke by mid-2008, and Journal Register, Philadelphia Newspapers, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune went into bankruptcy early in 2009."
Then a reason to hope:
"Most of the papers of all these companies, however, are still profitable, and could continue in business once separated from the parent company’s debt."
But is it too late:
"Can newspapers beat the clock? Can they find a way to convert their growing audience online into sufficient revenue to sustain the industry before their shrinking revenues from print fall too far?"
Here's a taste of what Pew has to say about other media sectors:
ONLINE: "The rise in the Web ’s news audience in 2008, even at legacy news sites, only added to the crisis in facing journalism. For it also became patently clear during the year that the economic model largely responsible for financing journalism in the old media, advertising, will not do so in the new."
NETWORK TV: "Audience numbers continued to fall during the year, both for morning and evening, but more slowly than in the past. And late in the year—and on into early 2009—they began to rise as the story turned to the economy, a complex trend story rather than a binary political campaign debate."
CABLE TV: "Why did cable news outperform virtually every other news organizations? The answer begins (and perhaps ends) with the presidential election."
LOCAL TV: "In newsrooms, by the fourth quarter, cost cutting touched nearly everything and everyone, including some of the best known and most experienced on-air news people."
MAGAZINES: "For American news magazines, 2008 may be seen as the year when the traditional mass audience model finally collapsed."
AUDIO: "Radio is well on its way to becoming something altogether new — a medium called audio. And we have given that name to the chapter of this report on that sector. To a greater degree than some other media, radio is unusually well suited to the digital transition."
ETHNIC: "There were stories of revenue losses, business closings and reorganizations, and also many examples of the ethnic media continuing to fare much better than the mainstream press."