Journalists Unhappy with State of Profession
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Journalists Unhappy with State of Profession

Journalists are unhappy with the way things are going in their profession these days, according to a study by the Pew Research Center sponsored by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists.

Paul Holmes

Journalists are unhappy with the way things are going in their profession these days, according to a study by the Pew Research Center sponsored by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists. Many give poor grades to the coverage offered by daily newspapers, local TV, network TV news and cable news outlets. In fact, only national newspapers  and the websites of national news organizations  receive good performance grades from the journalistic ranks.

Roughly half of journalists at national media outlets (51 percent), and about as many from local media (46 percent), believe that journalism is going in the wrong direction, with significant expressing the belief that increased bottom line pressure is “seriously hurting” the quality of news coverage. That’s the view of 66 percent of national news people and 57 percent of the local journalists.

Journalists at national news organizations generally take a dimmer view of state of the profession than do local journalists. But both groups express considerably more concern over the deleterious impact of bottom-line pressures than they did in polls taken by the Center in 1995 and 1999. Further, both print and broadcast journalists voice high levels of concern about this problem, as do majorities working at nearly all levels of news organizations.

But most executives at national news organizations (57 percent) feel increased business pressures are “mostly just changing the way news organizations do things” rather than seriously undermining quality.

The survey also finds increased worries about economic pressures in the responses to an open-ended question about the biggest problem facing journalism today. The survey finds a continuing rise in the percentage of journalists who believe that news reports are full of factual errors. In the national media, this view increased from 30 percent in 1995 to 40 percent in 1999 to 45 percent in the current survey.

When asked about what is going well in journalism these days, print and broadcast journalists have strikingly different things to say. TV and radio journalists most often mention the speed of coverage  the ability to respond quickly to breaking news stories  while print journalists emphasize the quality of coverage and the watchdog role the press plays as the profession’s best features.

There is also almost universal agreement among those who worry about growing financial pressure that the media is paying too little attention to complex stories. And most journalists who worry about declining quality due to bottom-line pressures say that the press is “too timid” these days. Specifically, the poll finds that many journalists  especially those in the national media  believe that the press has not been critical enough of President Bush. Majorities of print and broadcast journalists at national news organizations believe the press has been insufficiently critical of the administration.

In terms of their overall ideological outlook, majorities of national (54 percent) and local journalists (61 percent) continue to describe themselves as moderates. The percentage identifying themselves as liberal has increased from 1995: 34 percent of national journalists describe themselves as liberals, compared with 22 percent nine years ago. More striking is the relatively small minority of journalists who think of themselves as politically conservative (7 percent national, 12 percent local).

The survey shows that journalists continue to have a positive opinion of the Internet’s impact on journalism. Not only do majorities of national (60 percent) and local journalists (51 percent) believe the Internet has made journalism better, but they give relatively high grades for the websites of national news organizations.

But news people also acknowledge a downside to the Internet  solid majorities of both national and local journalists think the Internet allows too much posting of links to unfiltered material. In addition, sizable numbers in the national (42 percent) and local samples (35 percent) say the Internet has intensified the deadline pressure they face.

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