While daily newspapers decline, Spanish media is booming
By Tim McGivern
Here's a free tip for all you ambitious, self-starting and well-organized students striving for a media career. Start brushing on up your Spanish.
On the other hand, if you're the slack-jawed, frat house comedian majoring in journalism, while more accurately majoring in sex and alcohol and carrying a 2.3 GPA, here's a tip for you. Your career is going nowhere in a hurry.
Why? Because the mainstream media is in the midst of "an epochal transformation, as momentous probably as the invention of the telegraph or television," according to a new study called State of the News Media 2004. What's that mean? It means practically all of the conventional, corporate media outlets are cutting staff due in large part to a declining audience.
The study, conducted by Columbia University's Project on Excellence in Journalism, notes that daily newspaper circulation has dropped by 11 percent nationally in the last decade. In addition, network news ratings have declined by 34 percent and late night local TV news viewership is down 16 percent since 1994.
As a result, there are one-third less network television correspondents today than there were in 1985; there are 2,200 less daily newspaper employees than there were in 1990; and, in the past decade, the number of full-time employees in radio newsrooms has shrunk by 44 percent.
For Spanish-speaking media, however, the news is almost all good. Since 1990, circulation of Spanish-language newspapers has more than tripled, totaling 1.7 million copies per day. Ad revenues during the same period grew sevenfold. The bad news comes from TV and radio, where most Spanish-language content is already consolidated by two media giants, Telemundo and Univision.
Where's the love? Not surprisingly, our local market is a lot like the national standard found in the study.
Afternoon dailies have seen a precipitous decline in circulation and the Albuquerque Tribune is no different. In the past 20 years, circulation dropped from approximately 46,000 to 15,500 per day.
Kate Nelson, the Trib's managing editor, said the new study is no surprise, since the trend has been reported widely over the years. Nelson said a greater concern is the public disinterest in current events and information that the study indicated.
The Albuquerque Journal has held steady at approximately 110,000 copies daily (on Sunday the number is around 154,000) for the past decade. Stagnating, one would think, is not good news either, especially considering the metro population increased by an estimated 150,000 during the same period, according the city's website.
Kent Walz, the Journal's editor, said the challenge for all morning dailies is to attract a younger readership without offending the core subscribers that tend to be older and more conservative. Instead of remaining complacent, Walz said the Journal has changed its editorial design and content significantly over the past 10 years, specifically noting that there is much less crime coverage in the paper today than there was a decade ago. He noted the Journal has expanded in northern New Mexico and into Rio Rancho which has increased the overall reporting staff, bucking the national trend.
Then there's the Alibi. At the risk of sounding immodest ... the study revealed that circulation and revenue for alternative newsweeklies skyrocketed in the '90s and, since 1992, the Alibi has grown from 10,000 copies per week to 51,000, making it the second largest newspaper in the state in less than 10 years. Of course, most alt-weeklies, including the Alibi, have the advantage of being free.
Aound the clock fluff. Even the omnipresent 24-hour cable TV news stations are slacking, with viewership stagnating since 2000, the study found. On cable TV and the Internet, "there is a tendency toward a jumbled, chaotic, partial quality in some reports, without much synthesis or even the ordering of the information," the report states. "There is also a great deal of effort, particularly on cable news, that is put into delivering essentially the same news repetitively without any meaningful updating."
"A lot of outlets, cable news in particular, are more about disseminating the news than reporting on what is going on out there," said Dante Chinni, coauthor of the report. "There isn't a whole helluva lot of reporting—going digging for the story—on the 24-hour stations, because reporting costs money." All in all, there's a feeling out there "that mainstream media is monolithic," he added.
Perhaps most importantly, the study confirms that while average Americans have more options for news than ever before, only a few giant conglomerates own the majority of outlets that compete to retell the same few stories each day.
"Quality news and information are more available than ever before," the executive summary states, "Yet so in greater amounts are the trivial, the one-sided and the false." (Check out the study at www.journalism.org)
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